“If music be the food of love, play on,” wrote William Shakespeare. He probably would have had a hell of a good time in modern day Austin, the live music capital of the world. And while there’s no Globe Theater, there are more than 250 live music venues scattered throughout the city to catch headliners and up-and-comers. Of course, it always helps to have someone in the know pointing you in the right direction. Enter Frank Everet, W Insider at the W Austin (200 Lavaca St. Tel. 512-542-3600. www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/auswhw- austin). An Austin native, Everet found familiarity with the W brand at its Dallas outpost but jumped at the chance to get back to his hometown, which he describes as “a place where labels matter less, and I can embrace comfortable fashion.” Growing up as an openly gay son of a minister, Everet has been around music his entire life as part of the regional gospel circuit. Now back home, Everet is rediscovering all that Austin has to offer, from music and dining to the great outdoors.
Before a visitor ventures out to explore the city, what are some of your favorite inhouse offerings?
Located in the center of the live music capital of the world, what would W Austin be if it didn’t incorporate the fantastic sounds of great music? The Records Room is a section of the Living Room that features more than 8,000 vinyl records from a variety of artists, from Texas classics like Willie Nelson to more current finds. In the adjacent Secret Bar, there’s a vintage McIntosh Sound System. Guest can pull vinyl off the shelves and play their choice while enjoying libations from the bar.
I suggest starting your day in our restaurant TRACE (www.traceaustin.com), which hosts some really great themed brunches. Our drag brunches are not to be missed. The menu draws inspiration from regional ingredients. Favorites include the Lavaca omelette with chile-braised beef, pastrami on rye benedict, and plenty of specialty cocktails such as the Ghost Fire (vanilla and espresso infused Texas whiskey with rumchata, cold brew, cream and chocolate. Definitely check out the WET Deck during the summertime for our signature Sunday Soundwave pool parties. They are a perfect way to celebrate your weekend.
Austin has received many accolades as one of the country’s best food cities (including two 2018 James Beard Award finalists). What is your “must eat and drink” list for first-time visitors?
There are several Austin essentials that you shouldn’t miss, which include barbecue, breakfast tacos, and a terrific cocktail lounge. LeRoy & Lewis (Tel. 512-945-9882. www.leroyandlewis.com) is a“new school” BBQ truck that focuses on alternative cuts, whole animal utilization, and responsible sourcing. You’ll find a revolving menu of some of the most unique barbecue in town, such as quail stuffed with mac and cheese and smoked beef cheeks. You can also find them at the SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown (422 Guadalupe St.) every Saturday with a Korean-inspired menu in collaboration with Casper Fermentables. Any visit to Austin must include breakfast tacos. Veracruz All Natural (www.veracruzallnatural.com) was founded by sisters Reyna and Maritza Vazquez, and the duo now has five locations around town. I stick to the classics with the potato, egg, cheese, and avocado taco. But if I’m really hungry, I’ll throw in their famous migas taco (egg, tortilla chips, Monterey jack cheese, cilantro, tomato, onion, and avocado—it’s the best! At
the Red Headed Stepchild (Floppy Disk Repair Co. 119 East 5th St.) they have a hidden entrance tucked behind a fake storefront, and you’ll need to have a code to get in. (Hint: head next door to Handlebar and order a drink. If you’re nice, the bartender may provide the code. Alternately, stalk them on social media). Two of my favorites include Nobody Actually Liked Miranda (a twist on a Cosmopolitan), and my favorite after-dinner drink, My Trix are Not For Your Kids (rum with Trix-infused milk). You can never have too much barbecue in Austin, so make sure to visit Lamberts (401 West 2nd St. Tel. 512-494-1500. www.lambertsaustin.com). This gay-owned venue is a sleek downtown space, offering a fresh take on classics such as cold-smoked rainbow trout, country style pork ribs with a fennel and coriander rub, and brussels sprouts with bacon and brown butter.
“Keep Austin Weird” is Austin’s take on supporting unique local businesses. What is your favorite spot to check out items that can only be found in Austin?
I love Uncommon Objects (1602 Fortview Rd. Tel. 512-442-4000. www.uncommonobjects.com), by far the most unique store in the city. Owner Steve Wiman fills the space with well-curated treasures and oddities, including vintage jewelry, antique furniture, and taxidermy. It’s really someplace you have to see in person to fully understand how special it is.
Are there any walking or bike tours to get an immersive sense of the city?
The Austin Visitor Center (602 East 4th St. Tel. 866-GO-AUSTIN. www.austintexas.org) offers guided historical walking tours of Congress Avenue and East Sixth Street for free, and can also give suggestions for self-guided tours. Austin Tour Company (Tel. 512-ATCTOUR. www.austintourcompany.com) offers a number of seasonal food tours, brewery and urban winery crawls, and boat parties, as well as monthly events at Deep Eddie Vodka’s tasting room and an annual Big Gay River Float (typically held in June). Tech-savvy visitors can download the Wander app, which will take you on a literary choose-your-own-adventure throughout downtown.
So much live music, so little time! What’s your short-list for can’t miss venues?
Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater (310 Willie Nelson Blvd. Tel. 877-435-9849. www.acl-live.com). W Austin is connected to the famed venue, which also serves as the new home of the iconic Austin City Limits television show. It’s a larger venue by Austin standards, but still feels incredibly intimate. Clifford Antone opened the legendary venue Antone’s (305 East 5th St. www.antonesnightclub.com) in 1975. Known for hosting blues greats like Muddy Water and Jimmy Vaughn, it closed a few years back, but Austin’s own Gary Clark, Jr. decided that couldn’t be. He teamed up with another local Austinite to resurrect the club and bring the blues back to Austin. They have great shows most nights of the week, and the venue is walkable from W Austin. Broken Spoke (3201 S. Lamar Blvd. Tel. 512-442-6189. www.brokenspokeaustintx.
net) is considered by many to be Austin’s original honky-tonk bar. This place makes you feel like you stepped into a time machine and are enjoying the old Austin, before all of California moved here and no buildings downtown were taller than the Capital building. Be prepared: you’ll end up two-stepping. And if you don’t know how to, one of the cowboys will teach you.
Austin is also packed with cultural and historical activities. Do you have a favorite museum?
I love visiting The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria (3809 W. 35th St. Tel. 512-458-8191. www.thecontemporaryaustin.org). It’s the former home of artist Clara Driscoll and site of a 1916 Italian style villa on the shores of Lake Austin. The grounds are beautiful and feature an outdoor sculpture park. Drop-in tours are offered on the first Sunday of every month at 1 P.M.
Where do you steer people looking for outdoor activities throughout Hill Country?
Pick a designated driver and enjoy the 30-minute drive to Dripping Springs and the breweries and distilleries along Fitzhugh Road. From the James Beard-nominated brewery Jester King (13187 Fitzhugh Rd. www.jesterkingbrewery.com) offering farmhouse and barrel-aged ale to the mid-century modern tasting room at Goodnight Loving Vodka (12440 Trail Driver No. 103. Tel. 512-572-1139. www.goodnightlovingvodka.com), named for the Hill Country spring where the distillery gets its water, you can make an entire day of it. If you want to stay in town, I recommend a hike through Barton Creek Greenbelt (www.austinparks.org). In some sections, there are caves to explore, and if we’ve had a good rain, there are some watering holes to cool off in as well.
Where do you send guests who want to experience Austin’s queer nightlife and what might they expect when they get there?
Austin’s LBGTQ district is actually one block from W Austin where you’ll find a cluster of bars where you can grab a drink and dance, including the multi-level Highland Lounge (404 Colorado St., Tel. 512-649-1212. www.highlandlounge.com), Rain (217 West 4th St. Tel. 512-494-1150. www.rainonfourth.com) and The Iron Bear (121 West 8th St. Tel. 512-482-8993.
www.theironbear.com). For a final stop, head to Dirty Bills (511 Rio Grande St. www.dirtybillsaustin.com), a nearby dive bar that’s self-proclaimed as the “worst gay bar in Austin.”
What are some of Austin’s signature LGBTQ events?
Austin has no shortage of events. Risking sounding like someone’s dad, I have to go with the old saying, ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” It’s easy to go hard early on. Pack the right shoes, drink plenty of water and roll with what you might just happen to fall into. If you’d like to anchor your visit to a specific event, consider Austin Pride (www.austinpride.
org) held each August, and the All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival (www.agliff.com) in September. SXSW (www.sxsw.com) has also offered dedicated tracks to LGBTQIA+ programming, exploring topics such as activism, visibility, equality, and more.