June 2nd, 2010

amd: green tiki

The Southern Journey, Part Two

After New Orleans, it was back on the road for a long day's drive to Austin, Texas. The hotels were packed with prom-goers, so we went across the river to the South Congress area (now called SoCo), which turned out to be very good luck indeed. Sixth Street, which I remembered as being full of bars with great live music had turned into little more than a lame frat party street like Bourbon. SoCo, however, had undergone a real revival since I lived there, great food, music, bars, and shopping. Crashed at cheap little place the first night there, then moved to excellent Austin Motel, which I'd recommend to anyone visiting.

Our first day there, we grabbed a fantastic breakfast at the Magnolia Cafe, which it turns out had been featured (rightly so) in Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, then strolled through downtown Austin, including a fun little Museum of the Weird. Then we found out about the Etsy-sponsored Renegade Craft Fair, down in SoCo of course, and headed down. There was some really nice live music and beer to entertain me, while K. browsed through aisle after aisle of cute things. We bought some very afforadable art and I met the guy who does the Wondermark comic strip. Then we we went back for a swim in the pool and grabbed dinner up at a little smokehouse on the north side of the river.

The next morning we went up to a doughnut place in Round Rocks that happened to be featured on another Food Network show we saw the previous night. Pretty much the best glazed doughnuts ever. I won't even tell you how many I ate. After that we drove out to Hamilton Pool, my favorite place in Austin. It's a natural spring, with a huge cave and a waterfall way out in the woods. So beautiful. Unfortunately, they weren't letting people swim that day because of the water quality, so we just chilled out there for a couple hours and then went down to Reimer River to swim, which was pretty fun too. Then we grabbed dinner at the only surviving branch of the family-owned Mexican restaurant chain I used to wait tables at when I was there.

Then we just had to go see a film at one of the Alamo Drafthouses. There are currently four in the Austin area. It's a movie theater that serves beer, cocktails, and food. Picture a normal theater, but remove every other row and replace with a long narrow table. Whenever you want another drink, just jot it down on a piece of paper and stick it to the end of the table, where a waiter quietly picks it up and fulfills your request. It's so nice to drink quality beer and food at the movies for about what you'd shell out for coke and popcorn at an East coast multiplex. Oh, and get to your movie early because they show 45 minutes of shorts prior to the film. We were seeing Iron Man 2, so it was bits from the old 60s Iron Man Cartoon, a Black Sabbath music video, interviews with Stan Lee, and a film of two of the theater's employees (one in a low-rent Iron Man costume) shooting bottle rockets at each other in the parking lot.

The next day, we were back at the Magnolia Cafe for another breakfast. Then we played some miniature golf, and packed up the car for the ride home. But first we hit a few thrift stores and grabbed one last lunch (including a couple margaritas for me) at Guerro's. We had some great meals in Austin, but sadly (or I suppose happily) I now make better guacamole and chile con queso at home than most of the restaurants we ate at there.

Our original route home took us through Tennessee, but with the post-flooding problems they were having, we decided to just shoot straight across to the coast and hit Savannah and Charleston on the way back.

Savannah was excellent. We stopped into the visitor's center to find a place to stay and, while perusing brochures, noticed a guy with a folding table and a plate of cake. The bed and breakfast he was representing was right in our price range, the pictures looked great, and the cake was good, so we booked it, which turned out to be a great move. A beautiful house in a gorgeous neighborhood, just down the block from Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil's murder house. There were fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies in the evening and French toast and sausage with pecan gravy in the morning.

Savannah is such a walkable city, full of little parks and lovely architecture. After checking in, we grabbed lunch at the Crystal Beer Parlor, where I had the best mashed potatoes ever, so much butter and cream! Then we spent the evening exploring the riverside.

The next morning, we toured the aforementioned Mercer House, where we expected great scandalous tales of drag queens, hoodoo, gay love, and murder. Sadly (since the house is still owned by the Mercer family), the tour was strictly about the architecture and art collection. Boring!

Fortunately, we got an unexpectedly salacious tour of the girl scout museum! Turns out Girl Scouts founder (and Savannah native) Juliette Low's husband was a big philanderer and, while dying in England, changed his will so that his mistress inherited his vast international wealth, but as he was about to die, he summoned the mistress who refused to see him, instead sending a note reading, "Why? You've already signed the will." Burn! Fortunately, for Juliette, he only had two witnesses to the will, which was enough in England, but not in Georgia, so she at least kept his American holdings. And it's rumored that after that she became lovers with Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts.

After lunch we drove up to Charleston, where we were annoyed to find that lodgings were twice as expensive as anywhere else we'd stayed and generally unimpressed with what we saw of it (typical suburban sprawl), so we got back in the car and kept driving. K. was dying to stop at the infamous South of the Border (on the North Carolina/South Carolina border), which turned out to be pretty awesome. I was picturing just a big shack that sold fireworks, but it's more like a miniature, ultra-campy version of Vegas in the 50s. Tons of neon and oversized statues decorate the restaurants, motel, amusement park, and gift shops selling an array of kitsch and fireworks. A nifty stop, especially at night. And we made it back to Philly by sunset on Saturday.