16-Mar-2009 (Mon) Wherein San Francisco is shown how it is done.

I'm at South By Southwest. I came for the whole thing, Interactive, Film and Music. The Interactive and Film parts are still going on, and Music starts up in a couple of days. I don't really care about any of the computer conference part of it, but I came early because I just needed to get out of town.

Austin is a pretty amazing city. The density of music venues is like nothing I've ever seen. I know we're here during a gigantic music festival, but this infrastructure doesn't just go away. I wonder what it's like at other times of year. Even though the music part of the festival hasn't even begun yet, the nightlife is just crazy. We've hardly been to a bar or club that didn't have a capacity of almost a thousand, and they have all been divided up and laid out in totally sensible ways.

There are many things about this place that shock me. The first is to see what it's like when the local government actually supports the entertainment industry. At home, the best I can ever hope for is for them to not be an active hinderance!

Right now I am looking at a street sign - a municipal street sign, presumably suported by an ordinance and everything - that says "Restricted lane, musician loading and unloading".

I am not making this up!

Another thing I find really striking is the almost complete disregard for safety and accessability. For example, a lot of this neighborhood consists of converted warehouses, so the sidewalks snake up and down the loading docks, with crumbling stairs and ramps at the street corners. This means that the main entrances to many bars and restaurants are on sidewalks where, four feet out the front door, there is a six foot drop to the street. With no railing.

Now, that doesn't sound like the best idea, granted, and accessability is nice, but think about what that lack of railing means. It means that someone opened a bar and at no point did a bureaucrat force them to spend money to protect people from themselves! It also brings to mind the image of a cop saying to a fallen drunk, "Well what'd you go and do that for? Guess you'll look where you're going next time!"

There is a dramatic lack of nanny-state here. And it seems to work just fine.

Also shocking: I have yet to see any bar or club employee treat anyone badly in any way.

I fanboyed a bouncer.

Some guy threw up on himself and passed out, and before they carried him out, they wiped off his face. And they were smiling and kind the whole time.

After they were done, I said to one of the guys, "Hey, were you the one who threw that guy out?" He said, "We prefer to think of it as 'helping him out'." Oh man. He really said that. And then I just started gushing about how amazed I was, since I can't seem to get my staff to consistently be nice to anybody. It's a constant battle.

So all of these experiences say to me that Austin understands that having an entertainment industry and a vibrant nightlife actually makes the city better, rather than being a blight that must be destroyed at all costs.

San Francisco: You got served.

By Texas.

66 Responses:

  1. black_chair says:

    Sorry -- while technically residing completely within the geographic boundaries of the state of Texas, Austin is not really a part of it. If the Houstonians and Dallasites knew they were being governed in absentia, and if they gave a damn, they might rise up.

    But I think they like the current arrangement. Austin gives them a place to dump all the liberals and hippies, and only the poor schmucks they elect have to actually go there.

    Not that I disagree with you. SF definitely got served, but by Austin. Texas still has a long way to go...

    • jsl32 says:

      what jwz talks about happens in dallas, houston, san antonio and even el paso. and also many smaller towns.

      texas is both southern and western, and that can often mean getting the best aspects (the respect for individual decisions, the politeness and kindness to lost strangers) of southernness and westernness.

      one must take the good with the bad.

      • black_chair says:

        Nah, if you live in Austin you can just take the good. :)

        I'm not just talking out of my ass here, either -- I lived in Houston for 7 years and Austin for 16 years.

        BTW, jwz, thanks for keeping the DNA Lounge update notices on LJ as well.

        • jsl32 says:

          that's not true at all, depending on where in austin you're living--gasp! same as any other small-med city, or same as any med-large city.

      • 5beroptic says:

        jsl32, I think that you summed things up perfectly. Life here in Texas is overall a way of life, you're going to get some good and some bad but OVERall its not bad. We also welcome all walks of life as long as your willing to wear a smile on your face and be your self.

        The ground shakes a lot less, I know that much. :)

    • landley says:

      I usually describe my city as "a part of upstate New York that broke off and made its way to Texas by way of California". (It was then naturalized.)

      However, we are texas enough that when I first moved here (in 1996), there was a local news story about how when somebody returned to their car parked near Sixth Street and found somebody trying to break into said car, and they chased said person for eleven blocks before shooting them in the back with a concealed weapon, it was ruled justifiable. (They had a permit.)

      I'm not really a big fan of firearms, but I must admit they seem to work for this city. We are fairly polite (except when driving), we are fairly low crime for a city of our size, and a random 10% of the population is packing. *shrug*

  2. wisedonkey says:

    I'd be happy if I could legally drink in my county of residence. Damn you Mississippi.

  3. editer says:

    Thanks for reminding us locals that we really do have it good here. It's easy to start taking that stuff for granted.

  4. spc476 says:

    So, hypothetically speaking (since I live in Florida, and have no stake in this horse race what so ever), if you were to move the DNA Lounge to Austin, do you think you would actually turn a profit? Or at the very least, lead a less stressful life?

    • scullin says:

      I know one Austin club owner who left to go to law school, because that's where the money went, so I'm guessing it's not all rainbows and unicorns.

    • sheilagh says:

      ...but we have limited dancing for pop/goth/rock preferences. Salsa, yes. Swing! Some hip hop. We could certainly handle more rock/pop/goth/industrial dance clubs.

      Elysium is one of the very few, and they just killed their 90s dance nite, replacing it with Rock Band on stage.

      We used to have Proteus, Lizard Lounge was 404 was a bunch of other things, across 3 levels. Limelight/Mirage/etc. Ohms. Planet Austin.... gone, gone.

      Ok, a fair set of gay clubs for dancing.

      But a great lack of not-particularly-gay clubs, all on the same night, all having dancing worth club hopping for. Thursdays used to be great for drifting from Ohms to Planet Austin to Mirage, and back, checking out other venues in between.

      A lovely Govinda show a few weeks ago was .. interlaced with a fastest-bartender contest. Like, wtf? The merry freaks who would have enjoyed the dancing were boggled by the leering frat boys who were cheering the speed-mixing bartenders. All in club with one dancefloor, squeezing it all together.

      • mhat says:

        For what it's worth, DNA is basically the best that SF has to offer. I've been completely unimpressed with every other club we've gone dancing at.

        • sheilagh says:

          what night of the week should I include in any future visit? Or more case by case based on special event timing?

  5. ding_0_ says:

    one of my fav memories of Austin was loading in and looking up and down the block to see all the other bands loading in at the same time.

    A culture that is supportive of live entertainment? weird!

  6. I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

    I'd live there.

    If it weren't in Texas.

  7. vordark says:

    What I'm not understanding, about my own "city", is how every bar in town is now offering live music, but the second, and I mean the second the term "dance club" gets mentioned, the selectmen and various other local officials go completely fucko-bazzoo and close the place down.

    It's like "Footloose" or something. :(

  8. pinoles says:

    As an upright bassist, whose car was frequently the de-facto "band van", I think I am a fanboy of that sign alone.

    The lack of nanny-state is also really appealing.

    . o O (I know some folks in Austin ... guess it's time for a visit)

  9. bifrosty2k says:

    Sad isn't it? :)

  10. 5beroptic says:

    TBH, I don't go out to the clubs anymore here in Dallas but, most of the same principles apply up here in North Texas. As long as you do not pull out an illegal weapon or start a fist fight in the street then the authority tends to leave you alone. The bottom line is, Texans don't need a babysitter and the law gets that. If you get drunk and do something retarded then you have no one but your self to blame...

    If you're in to music and arts then Austin is definitely an awesome place to be. I've always liked that you can go to bars and watch bands play and then walk over to a late night cafe and sit around and have a few "wind down" drinks without the gestapo or local thugs/gangs bothering you at three in the morning.

    This is all pure opinion though and based on the fact that I've lived here in Texas most of my life and grew up in Denton, a small college town North of the DFW area. Most people know Denton from its infamous Fry St. where in the past, people could buy bag fulls of drugs in the seventies without a care in the world. Things have changed now but growing up in the area did provide me with a crash course on what it is like to live in Texas. :)

    • pavel_lishin says:

      Not sure which part of NTX you're living in, but there are people campaigning pretty hard to evict anyone who loves having fun out of at least Lower Greenville. Well, it's more like one guy, but apparently he's annoying enough to have the ear of the local government paying more than token attention.

      • 5beroptic says:

        He's just pissed because people are walking on his front yard flowers and making his dogs bark. Every community has a rotten egg. It sounds like this guy brought office politics home with him and he wants the world to know it. If you're going to live in an rural "party" area then you need to accept the baggage.

        Currently I live in the Plano area but spent about three years in the Oak Lawn area while @ school. We ran in to a lot of the same situation there. 90% of the people were fine with the atmosphere and events but there was always a few people that disagreed with what the community was hosting.

    • option12 says:

      I though people knew denton as the setting of Rocky Horror Picture Show?

      • 5beroptic says:

        There are no "castles" w/ transvestites in Denton as far as I know. One of the writers for that film used to babysit me though so you're comment is ironic. The same goes for Pops Carters wife...

        • option12 says:

          remember the wedding in the begining? Denton. The castle, as I am sure everyone realizes, was the spaceship that brought them to our planet. I may have thought about this too much. I haven't actually seen the movie in years....

    • The bottom line is, Texans don't need a babysitter and the law gets that.

      Well, if you don't consider TABC to be "the law."

  11. mhat says:

    No kidding, met with the fire marshall Friday morning to get a venue cleared for BarCampAustin and it he was great. His attitude was 100% "How do we make this happen" rather than looking for reasons to stop it.

    Sigh. Now i'm on my way back to SF ...

  12. option12 says:

    like I said before:

    Welcome to Austin!

    don't forget the bats!

    the weather today went from 40-something to the 80s today,and will for the rest of the week.It's like this all the time, but the music is more organized during sxsw.

    and more damn californians in town. Damn tourists. make getting up 35 crazy.

    • pavel_lishin says:

      The bats smell god-awful, and aren't all that impressive.

      • option12 says:

        yeah, I never have seen the bats.

        • landley says:

          Watching the austin municipal bat population is more of a tourist attraction (and date thing) than a regular occurence for anybody who lives here.

          But the importance of the bats is that each individual "Mexcan Snub Nosed Somethingorother Bat" can eat upwards of nine hundred mosquitoes per night. (They go through them like popcorn.) Depending on time of year, there are anywhere from 750k to 1.5 million bats under the congress avenue bridge alone. Austin does not have a mosquito problem. We occasionally like to go watch the bats go about their business because we HATE MOSQUITOES. (We appreciate what the bats _do_, in a fairly concrete way, because mosquitoes are _nasty_ in places like Houston, which we're all very happy is 200 miles away and downwind. But watching them do it is like watching garbage men every morning. We'd only really miss them if they weren't there.)

          The other reason to see them is because it's hard to believe that many bats can fit under such a small, unassuming bridge. When you see the stream of bats leaving the bridge for HALF AN HOUR you think they've got to be looping back around, but no, it's a constant stream of fresh bats heading out. (Well adjusted urban bats with starbucks cards, presumably. Off to get a wake-up latte, since this is Austin.) But once you've seen 'em once, and realized they're very FRIENDLY with each other under there, you move on.

  13. pavel_lishin says:

    God, why did I ever move back to Dallas. I miss living there.

    And you're right about them handling drunks in a safe manner. Where else in the U.S. could my friend get retarded drunk, throw up in a bar, and not actually get 'accidentally' kicked in the ribs a few times on his way out?

  14. bitterjesus says:

    San Francisco service employees, from bouncers to waiters, often appear to believe that politeness is beneath them, for whatever reason. Texans, in general, are much more polite than Californians. I will leave explaining the phenomena to someone more interested in doing so.

  15. insomnia says:

    I have to agree with you about Austin and clubs... very good nightlife. It was great working with the people over at Elysium for a big LJ gathering / dance night there back around 2002. I strongly suggest you check out the club while you're in town.

    Even the airport is damn cool. You can get Salt Lick BBQ brisket right at the airport, get a big glass of Shiner -- the local beer of choice -- and watch local musicians while waiting for your plane.

    That said, Austin is not as alternative or as busy most of the time. Elysium is still pretty much the one club I would go to over there 99% of the time, unless it were SXSW... in which case, yeah... everywhere.

    Oh, and you asked about how to find out prior bands that have played at DNA? What I would do is talk to the people over at SF Weekly or the like, and see if they have archives or scans of their old issues. Just check out the weekly ad listings. Trying to come up with anything relatively complete would be very difficult to do otherwise.

    • option12 says:

      every one I know who eats at the saltlick in the austin airport gets sick---stay away! Go out to the real thing if you get the chance! Family style!

      Last year I happened to get on a plane from LA, the night before SXSW. It was full of musicians on their way to do shows. Very strange plane ride

      • insomnia says:

        Really? They must've changed. That said, I haven't been there for a few years now.

        They drive the BBQ in from their main joint daily, but perhaps they're being cheap at the airport lately and keeping it around too long. But yeah, it's good to do the whole picnic thing, even though it's not right in Austin.

      • insomnia says:

        That said, the best BBQ my wife has ever had is the Salt Lick BBQ that I brought with me on my lap on my flight back to the Bay Area. They have a truly great vinegar-based BBQ sauce that I have tried unsuccessfully to recreate since.

        I was driving the people near me insane, because I had several containers full of wonderful smelling brisket, and was snacking on part of one during the plane trip, while they were eating peanuts and hating life.

    • sheilagh says:

      You probably would have dug Planet Austin, too, a decade ago. Dark & gloomy, but with tons of colored dayglo strings laced around the ceiling, and dayglo painted fish/creatures/mermaids such that the blacklights made it a glowing, deep, alien-sea grotto. Sculpted cave in the back, w/ mini bar.

      And the DJ managed to mix it up so that freaks, hippies, frat boys & girls, thugs, and others would *mingle* and be jovial rather than in your face. Somehow always felt safe, even if I was there as a solo chick. Lots of seating all around the dance floor, higher seats/balconies on the wall opposite the door, offering a "view" from many angles.

    • strspn says:

      Definitely the old copies of the SF Weekly and Bay Guardian would have to be the best source of DNA Lounge bands. I should have recommended that myself.

    • landley says:

      Rudy's brisket is better than The Salt Lick.

      (Every city has its religious wars. Who heats the best cow neck meat appears to be ours.)

      • sheilagh says:

        In the past, they've had a stage set up, musicians playing.

        Beef and pork ribs, mustard-based potatoe salad and mayo-based potato salad, black beans and bbq beans, vinaigrette cole slaw and creamy cole slaw w/ poppy seeds. Yummy choices!


  16. option12 says:

    also: Austin is in Travis county.

    Setting for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!

  17. valentwine says:

    Lots of folks like to hate on Texas, seemingly particularly those from California who, ironically, probably have more in common with Texas than any other state. The reality is that the stereotypes about Texas are pretty far from the truth. Sure, we've got our hippies, gun nuts and rednecks -- so does California and every other state in the union -- but by and large we're a friendly, peaceful, extremely laid back people. South Texas in particular is a melting pot of Germans, Czechs, and Latinos who are interested in little more than cold beer and a night at the dance hall. I grew up in the hill country between San Antonio and Austin and I'd live there to this day if I wasn't afraid I'd never do much more than the aforementioned drinking and dancing if I didn't live somewhere less comfortable for a bit.

    • unholyguy says:

      I'm sorry you are wrong, Texas and California are about a million years apart on many many things.

      Not claiming California uber alles or anything but the differnces are pretty large is all

      case in point


      "The boys say they were begging for forgiveness when Gonzalez hit them with the barrel of the shotgun and kicked them repeatedly. Then, the medical examiner testified, Anguiano was shot in the back at close range. Two mashed Twinkies and some cookies were stuffed in the pockets of his shorts.

      Another boy, Jesus Soto Jr., now 16, testified that Gonzalez ordered them at gunpoint to take Anguiano’s body outside.

      Gonzalez said he thought Anguiano was lunging at him when he fired the shotgun.

      Many people in Laredo — a town just across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where drug violence runs rampant — defended Gonzalez’s actions. In online responses to articles published by the Morning Times, comments included statements such as "The kid got what he deserved" and calls to "stop the unfair prosecution." "

      • decibel45 says:

        And CA has Rodney King and OJ.

        Both states have a decided ugly side, but what state doesn't? I grew up in Chicago and the ugly side there is definitely the political machine (I don't mention the violence because it's just commonplace).

        One thing that struck me after moving to Austin was that if someone is killed, it's headline news, because it's a very rare occurrence.

      • valentwine says:

        It's easy to find many things the two states differ on, but in violent crime, they're about even with California edging us out just slightly. The most recent Census data available at this time (2004) ranks California the 10th most violent state per capita and Texas comes in at #12 on the list:

        The two states do share quite a lot. They were both built on territory taken by force from Mexico and originally settled by Spanish missions. Both existed for a short time as independent Republics (though California's Bear Republic lasted VERY briefly). They are both similarly agrarian and share a lot of the history and mythology of the Old West. Their residents certainly share the same stubborn pride, as demonstrated by your reply. They're both border states with large immigrant populations and a thriving immigrant culture that intermixes freely with the native culture. But to really see the parallels between California and Texas you probably need to spend some quality time outside of the Bay Area. You need to go where the majority of Californians live, the vast inland and rural areas that define the state's true character.

        • unholyguy says:

          Actually I'm originally from rural Kentucky, so you are all a bunch of city folk to me.

          Culturally I find Texas and California very different though of course there are parallels. The main take away I was intending from the article I posted was NOT the violent act, or even the home defense nature, but the fact that

          1: There was a large public outcry against prosecuting the offender (never mind convicting him)
          2: That the offender got off scott free
          3: That the laws of the state of Texas supported his actions

          An interesting take on cultural diversity/uniformity within the US can be found at


          for those interested in the subject...


  18. sheilagh says:

    Hold a contest, somehow set metrics for your employees to show their best side. Those who meet the mark come on a trip to Austin to tour the clubs?

    There are service industry night offerings, but it seems to vary per club. Clubs offer employees of other clubs no cover, drink specials, or some cool deal. Like, "hey, we know this is hard, sometimes shitty work, but come share the love!"

    At Alamo Drafthouse, your service industry pay stub on a Monday night gets you cheap movie tickets. Sundays, cheap drinks all day at the Gingerman.

  19. fantasygoat says:

    You have to keep in mind that SXSW is a special case. It basically takes over the entire city, and places that normally don't have bands playing suddenly have stages for a week.

    SXSW is the premiere music event in the US so everyone is on their best behavior.

    • decibel45 says:

      Actually, it's fairly contained to downtown. If you want to see what things are like on a more normal basis, head about 8 miles north or south of downtown.

      But yes, SXSW isn't the best time to get a true feeling for what Austin is like; but it's not all that far off. There definitely isn't a nanny state (though I wish they would regulate the size of parking spaces, esp. with how many people down here drive pickups). 6th Street often isn't anywhere near as insane as it is during SXSW, but it is very common for the cops to close it to traffic (probably at least a dozen weekends a year). There is live music all over the place. You wouldn't see it downtown per-se, but there's also some awesome scenery (heh, ok, there's the female scenery downtown, but I was referring to the hill country west of Austin). Oh, and of course there's nucleartacos ;P

      • landley says:

        The peak of 6th street insanity is Halloween. Hands down.

        The first couple weekends after classes start at UT (University of Texas at Austin, campus with 50,000 students, pretty much everything from 19th street/MLK through 30th street north/south, and from I-35 through Guadalupe east/west) are pretty crazy too.

        SxSW is maybe third.

      • option12 says:

        Just look up the eoyore birthday party. There is something interesting going on just about every weekend all year, but sometimes the crowd is a little more local.

    • Is the Carousel Lounge still there? With the circus mural and the blind organ
      player and the eerily-slow linedancing people, up there near the old airport?

      That's where I was when I first realized I was in Texas.

    • And now he's spoiled FOREVER.