Hippie Hollow Park, at Lake Travis
Austin, the capital of Texas and also the Lone Star State's most progressive and gay-friendly city, is has long been a hot gay travel destination, with its multitide of funky shops, hip hotels, fun bars, and great restaurants. Here's a photographic tour of Austin, Texas.
Hippie Hollow Park is Austin's definitive gay beach, set along the rocky and scenic shores of Lake Travis. This is a fine place for (clothing-optional) sunbathing, mingling with friends or making new ones, or boating around the lake. You can take a break from the action at the nearby Oasis Restaurant, which sits high on a bluff overlooking all the action.
The park is also home to a pair of majorly fun GLBT celebrations each year, called Splash Days - the first of these always takes place over Labor Day Weekend in early September.
Amy's Ice Cream, on South Congress
The definitive, premium ice cream company in the state of Texas, Amy's Ice Cream has about 10 locations around metro Austin, many of them with particularly gay followings (6th Street, Guadalupe, South Congress, Arboretum, etc.) as well as shops in San Antonio (at the Quarry shopping center) and in Houston. This stuff is frozen gold - rich, creamy, and with the purest and most decadent ingredients. Flavors rotate constantly but include standards like Belgian chocolate and Mexican vanilla, seasonal flavors like pumpkin pie and peach ice, and "adult" versions like bourbon chocolate walnut and Irish cream, and plenty of other fascinating choices, including blueberry muffin, chipotle peanut butter, double-chocolate banana, mango, and white-chocolate raspberry.
Hotel San Jose, on South Congress Avenue
Transformed from an ordinary old-school motor court into one of the hippest small hotels in Texas, the swank yet reasonably priced Hotel San Jose is a favorite roost of artists, musicians, and scenesters. Built in 1939, the place received a stylish makeover in the '90s and has been a white-hot, eco-conscious gay-friendly Austin lodging choice ever since. The simplest rooms, with shared baths, run for under $100, top suites run for $330 and up. It's adjacent to Jo's Coffee Shop, along the wacky South Congress retail strip.
Shops along South Congress Avenue
Cool shops and eateries line South Congress Avenue, a gay-popular part of Austin just a short drive south of downtown. Along this stretch you'll find Amy's Ice Cream, the famed Continental Club (one of the city's most famous venues for live music), and Zen vegetarian and Japanese fast-food restaurant.
Austin Motel, an inexpensive, historic classic on South Congress Avenue
Set along funky South Congress Avenue, just a 10- to 15-minute walk south of downtown, the Austin Motel (1220 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-1157) has been family-owned and -operated since 1938, offering an affordable and well-located lodging option near numerous gay-friendly shops and restaurants, such as Gueros and South Congress Cafe. As this part of town has become increasingly trendy, the 41-room Austin Motel has grown in cachet among gay travelers - the simplest rooms typically run for just under $100 nightly, while some fancier and more spacious luxury rooms and suites generally go for between $150 and $210 (with tax). Sadly, Troy, the adorable tuxedo cat who helped check-in guests in the motel's funky front office, passed away in fall 2012.
Downtown Austin Skyline at night, viewed from the Warehouse District
Austin's skyline, viewed from a restaurant in the bustling, gay-popular Warehouse District, which lies just south of downtown and north of Lake Austin. It's in the Warehouse District that you'll find a number of gay bars and gay-friendly restaurants, including Oilcan Harry's, Rain on 4th, Halcyon coffeehouse, and Kenichi sushi.
Guero's Taco Bar, on South Congress Avenue
Guero's, which opened on South Congress Avenue in 1994 inside a century-old feed store, has become one of the region's definitive spots for spicy, flavorful Tex-Mex cuisine. A vintage Gibson "folk art" guitar sits outside the restaurant, beneath its endearingly faded pink sign. Guero's has live music many nights, both in the restaurant and outside in the Oak Garden seating area. The food is out of this world - Michoacan-style beef and pork tamales, chips (you can choose from among several salsa varieties at the salsa bar), chiles rellenos, spinach-and-mushroom enchiladas, and steak tacos.
Skivvies and Tapelenders - GLBT gift, underwear, toy, and porn shop
Skivvies/Tapelenders (1114 W. 5th St., 512-472-0844), which also has a popular shop in Dallas, is Austin's premier source of gay Pride items and cards, underwear and jocks, sex toys and erotica, gay videos (adult and otherwise), and lube and safer-sex toys. The store has a huge selection of designer underwear (Diesel, Unico, GinchGonch, Priape, N2N, Timoteo, Nasty Pig, Pikante, Baskit, and more), plus other gay-popular workout gear, club-wear, and swimsuits (the perfect outfit for lazing in the sun at Hippie Hollow gay beach). The well-stocked store near downtown in the West End.
Texas State Capitol Building
Austin may be the most gay-friendly and politically progressive city in Texas, but not a whole lot of gay-friendly legislation has ever made its way through this building, the imposing Texas State Capitol. The building is a centerpiece of downtown and just around the corner from Charlie's gay bar.
El Sol Y Luna restaurant, downtown on East 6th Street
The quirky and gay-friendly Latin American restaurant El Sol Y Luna (600 E. 6th St., 512-444-7770) is a terrific little eatery in downtown Austin, near the Warehouse District. For years the eatery was beside the Austin Motel, but it's now in a larger and brighter space within steps of downtown's many music clubs and hotels. It's an excellent spot for Tex-Mex, regional Mexican, and even Central American fare, including particularly tasty breakfasts. Good bets include chilaquiles rojos, grilled catfish enchiladas, Oaxacan tamales, and barbacoa (Mexican barbecue). Local artwork is hung on the walls.
Pool table at Rain on 4th, in the Warehouse District
The front lounge at Austin's popular gay bar, Rain on 4th, is a nice spot to chill with friends and shoot pool.
Allens Boots, on South Congress Avenue
Along the offbeat and gay-popular South Congress Avenue shopping strip, Allens Boots has been an Austin cowboy tradition since it opened in 1977. It's near several other cool Austin restaurants and hangouts, and its the perfect place to pick up a pair of stylish Lucchese, Tony Lama, Justin, or Frye boots, plus Montana Silversmith jewelry, Brighton belts, Cruel Girl Western wear, Resistol Western hats.
Dance floor at Rain on 4th, in Warehouse District
A couple of doors down from Oilcan Harry's, another great Warehouse District gay bar, Rain on 4th has become a favorite spot in Austin - among both lesbians and gay men - for dancing, socializing, and partying. Off this small but pulsing dance floor, Rain has a very pleasant patio.
Boats in Lake Travis, at Hippie Hollow State Park
Pleasure boats, often with the rainbow flag hoisted, are a common site at Austin's Hippie Hollow Park, the area's official nude beach and unofficial gay beach. Spring through fall, you'll typically see these boats tied up just offshore from the limestone cliffs surrounding Lake Travis.
Oilcan Harry's gay bar, in Austin's Warehouse District
Halcyon Coffeehouse Bar Lounge, in the Warehouse District
Equal parts coffeehouse, bar, lounge, and living room, the artful and gay-friendly Halcyon lies in the heart of Austin's trendy Warehouse District, steps from Oilcan Harry's and Rain on 4th gay bars as well as countless superb restaurants. With high ceilings, art-covered walls, comfy seating both inside and on the patio, and a full menu of coffee drinks and "adult" beverages, this laid-back and artsy spot is the perfect place to relax for the afternoon or throughout the evening. Noshing highlights include the feta salad with pecans and apples, the seven-layer dessert bar (coconuts, chocolate chips...mmmmm), and the turkey-Jack sandwich with maple mustard. Order a mint-mocha frappe to cool off, or a Macallan single-malt whisky to warm up.
Jo's Coffee Shop, on South Congress Avenue by the Hotel San Jose
Adjacent to the hipster-infested Hotel San Jose, a favorite getaway among musicians and artists, Jo's Coffee Shop (1300 S. Congress Ave.) is a cool little open-air spot with ample seating and great people-watching. Drop by for chai teas, hazelnut lattes, banana nut bread, salami-and-cappacola sandwiches on onion foccacia, frito pie with pulled pork, and parsley-jalapeno cole slaw. Several beers, including Shiner Bock, are also served. On Thursdays, Jo's shows outdoor movies at 7 pm (Longneck beers are just $2 during the shows). There's a newer branch at 242 W. 2nd Street, downtown.
Kenichi Austin, in the Warehouse District
Imported from Aspen, the Austin branch of Kenichi sushi and Asian food is just as stylish as the original (there's also a branch now in Hawaii, and another planned for Dallas). The chic space in the city's chic Warehouse District is close to several gay hangouts and appeals to a well-dressed, well-coiffed crowd, serving such unusual fare as Texas Sika deer and grilled molasses-marinated quail, plus all manner of ultra-fresh sushi - try the Lone Star roll with blackened tuna, cucumber, cilantro, avocado, poblano peppers, sesame seeds, and a spicy aioli.
Mean-Eyed Cat, a Johnny Cash homage-dive bar in the West End
What's not to love about a dive-y, kitsch-filled bar that's a tribute to Johnny Cash music and memorabilia? The Mean-Eyed Cat (1621 W. 5th St., 512-472-6326) is a straight bar, to be sure (don't let the rainbow-colored lights out front fool you), but it's not at all uncommon to see a decent number of GLBT folks inside this ramshackle building that once occupied a chain-saw repair shop. Alas, high-rise condos have gone up beside the Mean-Eyed Cat, somewhat ruining the eccentric vibe of this West End/Clarksville neighborhood spot. There's live music here most evenings.
Magnolia Cafe, on Lake Austin Boulevard
With two exceedingly popular and weird locales, the endearingly quirky Magnolia Cafe has become a gay Austin fave for its outstanding breakfasts served 24 hours, dishy waitstaff, and incredibly good food. These casual diner-style eateries specialize in healthful but filling regional American chow, from the gingerbread pancakes topped with pecans to the heart-stopping Manga Cristo sandwiches (battered and grilled sourdough packed with turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss, avocado, and tomato). Great burgers, chicken or beef fajitas, and a fabulous side known as the Neptunian Landscape (seasoned grilled potatoes with avocado, scallions, verde-lemon sour-cream sauce and Jack cheese) also deserve plenty of kudos. One branch (pictured here) is just west of downtown, along Lake Austin Boulevard, and another is in the infectiously offbeat South Congress Avenue strip of cool shops and restaurants.
Oasis Restaurant, overlooking the shores of Lake Travis and Hippie Hollow Park
A sprawling Tex-Mex restaurant rising some 450 feet above Lake Travis, and offering expansive views of the gay beach at Hippie Hollow, the Oasis Restaurant is renowned for its extensive terraces and amazing views, not to mention filling if somewhat ordinary Mexican fare and very strong drinks.
This festive Tex-Mex restaurant with a gadzillion terraces and decks overlooking the lake burned almost entirely to the ground (it was struck by lightening) a few years ago, but it's been impressively rebuilt with beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces. The food's eh - decently prepared standbys like smoked-chicken enchiladas and guac-and-chips). It's a fun place for cocktails and brunch or a sunset dinner, before or after a visit to Hippie Hollow. The owners have even bigger plans for expansion underway, having opened a full outdoor retail and entertainment village. There's plenty of seating, although on weekends it can be challenging to get a table with a lake view.
Patio at Oilcan Harry's, in the Warehouse District
The patio at Austin's seminal gay cruise bar, Oilcan Harry's, is a favorite place to hobnob, listen to and watch music videos, and enjoy a break from the often crowded dance floor inside.
South Congress Cafe, on South Congress Avenue
Take a break from all the great shopping along Austin's South Congress Avenue with cocktails or a meal at the diverting South Congress Cafe, a mod, curvy space with big windows overlooking the street. A long list of wines by the glass as well as a nice range of martinis awaits diners. Brunch is a favorite meal here (try the distinctive carrot cake French toast with cream cheese-pecan syrup), but you'll find first-rate, innovative American chow for lunch and dinner, too.
Roppolo's Pizza Cart, at 4th and Colorado in the Warehouse District
When you've been hitting the gay bars in Austin's Warehouse District, such as Oilcan Harry's and Rain on 4th, into the wee hours of the night, the sight of Roppolo's Pizza Cart (generally open Thursday through Saturday nights, 8 pm till 3 am) can produce intense feelings of warmth and happiness. The unassuming stand at the corner of W. 4th and Colorado is actually a mobile branch of Roppolo's Pizzeria, at 316 E. 6th Street, which also keeps very late hours. This is New York-style pizza at its best.
Funky Austin shopping, including Uncommon Objects, Yard Dog, and Avenue Gallery
Shopping is a favorite sport along Austin's singularly offbeat South Congress Avenue. The offerings include Uncommon Objects, which carries intriguing objets d'art and housewares, and Yard Dog Folk Art, a gallery known for folk pieces from the American South (think Howard Finster, Jon Langford, Bernice Sims, and Purvis Young). Between the two shops, Avenue Gallery sells art, frames, collectibles, and such. Within walking distance are such iconic establishments as Guero's Taco Bar and the Hotel San Jose.
West 4th and Colorado, the heart of Austin's Warehouse District
Austin's festive Warehouse District is a hotbed of great dining and club-going, with a mix of gay bars, swank lounges, and hip restaurants. In this photo, at the intersection of W. 4th and Colorado, you can see such favorite establishments as Truluck's Seafood to the left, Roppolo's Pizza Cart on the right, and a Capital Pedicab in the foreground, awaiting business (this is a very gay-friendly company). Squint a little, and you might see the neon signage for Kenichi sushi a bit farther up Colorado. And if you really strain your eyes, you'll see the Texas State Capitol dome peeking up over the roofline of the former Starlite Restaurant, between the downtown skyscrapers. Truluck's, by the way, is an emerging Florida-based chain of steak and seafood restaurants - its slightly clubby, formal vibe seems a bit at odds with the devil-may-care Warehouse District, but the food is tasty.
Grand Suite at the Hotel San Jose, South Congress Avenue
The luxe Grand Suites at Austin's uber-cool Hotel San Jose will set you back $290 (and up), but these spacious, handsomely furnished hideaways come face a tranquil garden and are outfitted with sleek mod furniture. The on-site Jo's Coffee Shop keeps guests filled up with enticing espresso elixirs and juicy barbecue sandwiches.
Whole Foods Austin, on Lamar Boulevard
Austin-based Whole Foods, which has grown into one of the world's great gourmet food markets, offering every imaginable kind of organic food, plus great wines, an amazing cheese selection, and more. Austin's Lamar Boulevard locale is especially impressive, and it's on the edge of downtown, close to the Warehouse District.
Lake Travis, Hippie Hollow, and Oasis Restaurant
Limestone cliffs create a clothing-optional outdoor tanning salon at gay-popular Hippie Hollow Park, on the shores of Lake Travis, just west of Austin. In the distance, the fabulous Oasis Restaurant rises high atop even higher cliffs - this is a favorite place to enjoy potent drinks and somewhat mediocre Tex-Mex food (hey, you go for the view) before or after warming your buns at Hippie Hollow.
Midtowne Spa, the city's gay bathhouse and sauna, near Highland Mall (closed)
Midtowne Spa Austin has closed.
Chain Drive gay bar - closed
Note: Chain Drive has closed.
Chain Drive (504 Willow St.) has been a mainstay in a city that's scene an unusual number of gay bars come and go over the years. This relatively compact club is a favorite of leather dudes, bears, and other "men's men" looking to cruise and hang out together. Chain Drive opened in 1986 and is open Wednesday through Sunday. Although set on the edge of downtown near Town Lake, it's a tad off the beaten path - in the Rainey Street area, just off of East Cesar Chavez Street. It's a short walk from the Austin Convention Center. On the plus side for those arriving by car, there's a decent-size, free parking lot in back.
Rusty's gay bar - closed
Note: Rusty's has closed.
Opened originally as Rusty Spurs and then rebranded simply as Rusty's (405 E. 7th St.) is Austin's gay county-western club - a great place for two-stepping and line-dancing (welcoming of both beginners and advanced dancers). The spacious club with brick walls and an attractive dance floor brings in live country bands some nights, and has other theme evenings, too - show-tunes sing-alongs, karaoke, drag shows, and the like. Austin gay bars tend to be more mixed-gender than in most cities, and this is especially true of Rusty's, which draws a real mix of folks and is staffed by an outgoing, welcoming team.
Kiss and Fly gay nightclub - closed
Note: Kiss and Fly Nightclub has closed
Just around the corner from Oilcan Harry's and Rain on 4th, you'll find the newest major gay bar in Austin, the three-level Kiss and Fly Nightclub (404 Colorado St.), which draws major crowds for its circuit-style action on weekends. The spacious building, which has held other gay clubs over the years with varying success, seems to have gained traction in its new incarnation, thanks to a variety of six different bars, a large patio, circuit-style parties on weekends, some very well-attended amateur stripper nights, a cute and friendly staff, and a rockin' sound system. The club is open Wednesday through Sunday, until 3:30 am on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 am other evenings.