Words and Photos by Ryan Lerma
Running straight through the heart of Austin and right up to the Capitol building is South Congress Avenue. A beautiful mix of the old and the new, the latter often playing off the former. There’s a very special part of South Congress that in true Austin fashion starts at one dive bar and ends almost a mile later at another dive/karaoke bar located underneath a parking garage. While it would be a lot of fun trying to fit all of South Congress in one day, especially considering the number of great restaurants and bars along the way, it’s probably not possible. So here’s a cheat sheet for some the best spots and still a great way to spend a day.
Located in the courtyard of the South Congress Hotel is Manana. This coffee spot stands out not just for its well crafted drinks or its very delicious selection of house-made pastries, but the feeling you get as soon as you walk in. The beautiful Mexican inspired blue tilework creates a space that is very relaxing considering you are most likely going there for that caffeine craving.
A staple for the more fashion-forward in Austin, ByGeorge’s flagship location is located on South Congress. The natural lighting in this place perfectly shines on the well-curated collection of designers. Not only does the selection of designer clothing, jewelry, and home goods stand out, but so does the staff. They’re knowledgeable, helpful, and treat you like you’re as cool as the shop you’re in, which is very.
A recent addition to South Congress is Maufrais, a custom Stetson hat retailer and home goods shop. If you thought you didn’t need a Stetson hat before, this shop will make you feel differently. The design of this shop will persuade you to buy one of their hats and leave you ready to ride off into the sunset on a horse. If not a hat, you may go home with a beautiful piece of furniture that will whisper dreams of the wild west in your home.
Joann’s Fine Food
Joann’s food is an homage to retro diners coupled with a Cali-Tex-Mex diner food menu serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you aren’t familiar with that kind of menu think a balance of hearty and healthy. You could get a vegi torta, but there’s also chicken fried steak. If you’re not feeling hungry, grab a drink outside at their patio bar. The selection of Mezcal and Tequila cocktails is muy bueno (dropping in Spanish for emphasis is ok, I’m Mexican).
While Joann’s may be relatively new, the Austin Motel, which it is connected to, definitely is not. It has been a South Congress establishment since the 1930s. The latest iteration of the motel should not be missed. Stop by the lobby gift shop or get a day pass and take a swim in the retro-styled pool, have a drink from the poolside bar, and admire the long-standing neon sign that has led many to give the motel the nickname the “Phallus Palace.”
What’s more Texas than a cowboy boot store or more Austin than a giant red cowboy boot sign, that’s Allens Boots. Even if you’re not in the market for a new pair of boots for two-steppin' at the White Horse (that’s on the Eastside, save it for another neighborhood guide) go in and check it out. You’ve probably never seen so many cowboy boots and if you talk to anyone who’s been to Austin about your visit they’ll probably ask you if went to Allen’s Boots. Everyone goes to Allen’s Boots.
Stag: Provisions For Men
Stag: Provisions For Men does a perfect job of mixing vintage and modern style to provide not just clothing, but accessories, apothecary, and home goods that are going to stand the test of time and always be in style. Now offering an amazing women’s selection under their “Daughters” line as well. This shop has it all, and you can even take it all in while you enjoy a beer. Just ask someone on staff, they’ll be happy to crack open a cold one for you.
South Congress Books
South Congress Books opened up shop during a time when a lot of book stores were closing and almost a decade later has become a haven for literature fans. Despite all the noise on the busy street outside, when you walk inside, you are transported to a peaceful hideaway where you can mindfully go through shelf after shelf of used, collectible, vintage, and unique books.
June’s All Day
Elevated casual dining is being perfected in Austin and that definitely shows at places like June’s All Day. Austinites live for a restaurant with on point aesthetic and a food and drink menu to match. June’s absolutely delivers on all of that.
C Boy’s Heart & Soul
This is one of the aforementioned dive bars, opened as a tribute to Louis Charles “C-Boys” Park. A man who loved the blues and was a big influence in the early Austin music scene. So many new bars are opened that try to capture the feeling of C-boys, and while those are fun too, why not go for the real thing instead. Have a drink or two and enjoy some live music.
The love and passion for motorcycles are seen in every inch of this shop. The team at Revival did build-out of the space by hand. You see the attention to detail and craftsmanship throughout the space where they showcase clothing and accessories to capture bad boy biker looks. Think more Marlon Brando in The Wild One and less Tim Allen in Wild Hogs.
Every night at 9PM the karaoke starts at Ego’s. It’s safe to say that this is the best karaoke bar inside of a parking garage that you will find. Austin is known for its live music and this is a show not to be missed.