Hillhurst/Sunnyside: Street Art Fun!

Hillhurst/Sunnyside (H/S) community is Calgary’s equivalent to San Francisco’s Haight–Ashbury - a haven for artists, hippies and hipsters.

While every other community surrounding downtown Calgary has been overtaken by new condos and infill homes (i.e. gentrified), much of H/S still is early 20th century cottage homes and small apartment blocks. Especially Sunnyside (east of 10th Street NW and west of Centre Street bridge).  A walk through H/S is a walk back in time. 

Calgary Street Art

One thing I love about flaneuring H/S is the funky street art you find there - in a back alleys, on abandoned buildings, community centre, schools, the side of a retail building and especially in their container park (Yes, they have a park with sea containers used for various performances and events). 

Every time I wander the community I seem to discover another piece of street art.

Link: Calgary graffiti: The good, the bad and reason it’s not all bad. 

Street Art Calgary

Not Public Art

Street art gained popularity during the graffiti art boom in New York City in the ‘70s.  It was then that graffiti evolved from small scribbles or tags to large murals, mostly with cartoon and fantasy-like characters, some with incredible skill and detail.

Originally, street art was often on blank concrete walls in rundown communities, on train and subway cars in derelict spaces.  Today, street art has become trendy.  It is often done with the approval of the landlord and is sometimes done as an anti-graffiti initative (given graffiti taggers often respect the work of street artists and don’t paint over them). 

Street art is to the late 20th early 21st century what murals by artists like Mexico City’s Diego Rivera were to the early 20th century. However, they will never last as long - often disappearing in less than a year. 

Today’s street art is also not considered to be public art as that artist has not received public funds and it is not sanctioned by a public authority. 

Despite/or in spite of this, street art can become a tourist attraction - if there is a critical mass of quality art for visitors to check out. 

Link: History of Train Graffiti

Link: 10 New York Graffiti Legends Still Kicking (Ass) 

Yes this is the infamous "Trudeau Finger" on the side of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre building.  

Yes this is the infamous "Trudeau Finger" on the side of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre building.  

I LUV Street Art why?

Street Art is usually colourful and playful, two key ingredients that appeal to my eye. As well, I love the sense of surprise, as they are often off-the-beaten path, which is synergistic to my love of flaneuring. I also love the immediacy of street art. While the technique can sometimes be refined, most often they are loose, gestural, drawings.

Street Art Calgary

Flashback

I went to NYC in 1982 to experience street art first hand. It was a time when I was an aspiring artist and felt a strong kinship with the work I was seeing in publications like ARTnews (my bible at the time). 

I came back inspired and created a series of graffiti-inspired paintings over the following two years and also organized the Street Art for Gleichen project, which eventually lead to my becoming the Director/Curator of the Muttart Art Gallery (now Contemporary Calgary) for a 10-year stint. 

It was a fun time. Thinking back, exploring those back alleys and vacant spaces of NYC was my first introduction to flaneuring!   

Last Word

Perhaps it is time for someone in to organize an outdoor art (street art, murals and public art) festival that would encourage Calgarians to get out and see, contemplate and question our outdoor art. I'd love to hear what children and teens think of the art. It is not all about just the grown ups!

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Frankfurt's Found Street Art

Austin's Amazing Outdoor Graffiti Ruins

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Calgary vs Austin / 17th Ave vs South Congress

Great cities have signature streets that capture the imagination of tourists from around the world.  Austin's signature street is South Congress in Calgary it is still up for grabs. This blog compares Calgary's 17th Avenue with Austin's South Congress as a tourist attraction. 

 

Calgary's 17th Avenue 10 blocks south of downtown is a quirky mix of restaurants, cafes and shops. 

To some, the 17th Ave SW shopping and dining corridor (2nd to 14th St. SW) is still Uptown 17, while to others it is the Red Mile and yet others (specifically the 17th Avenue BRZ), it is RED (Retail Entertainment District).  For many Calgarians, the heyday of 17th Avenue was during the 2004 Calgary Flames Stanley Cup playoff run when tens of thousands of Calgarians took over the street after every game.  The impromptu street festivals captured national and international media attention, creating an image of Calgary as a fun city. 

Austin's South Congress Avenue looking north to downtown is a major highway. 

But after the Flames lost in the Stanley Cup finals, 17th Avenue has never really been able to capitalize on the opportunity of becoming one of the great urban streets of  North America. Melrose Sports Bar, the epicenter of the Red Mile, closed in January 2014 after 23 years of operation.  It has recently opened with much fanfare as Trolley 5 Restaurant & Brewery. 

Today, 17th Avenue struggles with its branding.  Is it a restaurant row? Absolutely. It is home to Pigeon Hole, #1 in enRoute Magazine’s Canada’s Best New Restaurants (2015) and Model Milk #2 (2012). It has also become a very popular destination for pizza lovers with restaurants like Una and Cibo.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has a vibrant cafe culture. 

Is it a shopping street? Indeed. Some long-standing destination retailers include Rubiayat, gravitypope (love the new space), Reid’s Stationary and Purr, as well as two of Calgary’s best optical boutiques - Eye Candy and Brass Monocle.   Newer additions include West Elm, Modern Duke, Structube, Steelng Home and Kit and Ace.

17th Avenue's gravitypope shop is dazzling. 

Both 17th Ave and South Congress have fun candy stores....this is 17th Ave's!

Both streets have quirky retail shops...this is one of the Rubiayat's many display cabinets with unique curiosities, home decor and collectables. 

Entertainment a key element for tourists

Is it an entertainment district? In my opinion, a resounding, “No!”  There are no cinemas, no theatres and no performing arts centres. The only live music venue of any renown is the Ship & Anchor Pub.  

When I think of “entertainment,” I think of more than shopping, drinking and dining, I also think of sidewalks full of people, buskers, lots of street vendors and food trucks. This is exactly what we experienced along South Congress Avenue in Austin earlier this year with its Stampede-like atmosphere on weekends as well as Thursday and Friday evenings, despite there being nothing special happening.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has vibrant patio culture. 

Physically, South Congress Ave and 17th Ave are very similar. Both area about a 10-minute walk from downtown. Both are a mix of retail and restaurants about 10 blocks long with lots of patios. However, this is where the similarities end.

Shortly after I got back from Austin, I made a point of visiting 17th Avenue on a nice spring Saturday to check out the action. Yes, there were people on the sidewalk but it was hardly the lively impromptu street festival atmosphere experienced on South Congress.

South Congress Avenue's sidewalks on Saturday afternoon have a festival-like atmosphere.

South Congress has numerous outdoor live music spots that open out to the sidewalk. 

South Congress' corners are animated on Saturday afternoon. On the opposite corner is a lively food truck hub. 

We loved this busker on South Congress who would create a poem on the spot based on the subject of your choice.  We had him create a poem about thrifting...we loved it. 

17th Avenue's Tomkins Park on Saturday afternoon is too often devoid of any vitality. 

Creating Vitality

Firstly, there is a greater sense of spontaneity about South Congress, with buskers performing day and night.  What would be surface parking lots in Calgary were Food Truck lots in Austin. There is even an artisan market on a parking lot one night a week. And the patios are more animated, several offering live outdoor music.  

Speaking of music, the biggest difference between the two streets is that South Congress has several live music venues (indoor and outdoor) that add an additional element of entertainment. Live music is everywhere in Austin, including the airport lobby. Branding the city as the “Live Music Capital of the World” is very appropriate.

The Continental Club one of Austin's iconic live music venues is located on South Congress. 

A third difference is there are few financial institutions on South Congress, while 17th Avenue seems to have one on every corner.  Banks on corners are urban vitality killers – they do nothing to add to the street vitality. I realize they are prepared to pay the high rent for the corner visibility so landlords are quick to lease to them. Perhaps we need a bylaw that prevents (or limits) banks from leasing corners on pedestrian-oriented streets as part of Calgary’s new Main Streets program.  

Too many of 17th Avenue's corners are taken up by financial institutions which create no sidewalk vitality.

ATB Financial, 17th  Ave Calgary

Who needs density?

Something else struck me as unusual on South Congress – there were no highrise condos anywhere nearby.  No mid-rise condos either for that matter.

We are lead to believe by urban planners that density is the key to creating 18/7 urban vitality, yet South Congress is thriving without any significant infill projects.

17th Avenue on the other hand has numerous highrise and midrise infill condos completed over the past few years with more to come. It has also seen numerous new and renovated retail spaces open up, attracting new retailers like West Elm and Best Buy.  It will be interesting to see what impact Embassy BOSA’s new 34-storey Royal tower (223 upscale condos) with an Urban Fare grocery store at street level and second floor Canadian Tire when it opens in 2018.  

FYI: I was hoping for a cinema complex as part of the Royal development.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has several highrise condo towers, while Austin's South Congress has none. 

Streetscape Improvements

What I also found interesting is that South Congress has no significant streetscape improvements or beautification initiatives.  There were no street banners, no fancy benches and few bike racks.  The sidewalks were adequate but nothing special and it certainly isn’t a tree-lined boulevard.  In fact, it is an old fashioned, much maligned six-lane highway.  Yet, at the same time, it remains a vibrant pedestrian street. 

Neither is there a park or plaza space on South Congress for people to gather or events to take place. It has nothing to match 17th Ave’s Tomkins Park and certainly nothing like 17th Ave’s high-tech public washroom installed in the park in 2008 that attracts over 40,000 “visitors” a year.

Calgary’s 17th Avenue is currently receiving a major upgrade - new sidewalks, buried power lines, new LED streetlights, more trees and crosswalks.  While these changes will enhance the 17th Avenue experience I am not convinced they will add significantly to its vitality.  What is really needed is more entertainment – music, theatre, comedy club and cinema venues. 

Last Word

Whatever you call it - Uptown 17, Red Mile or RED – Calgary’s 17th Avenue has many of the ingredients needed to become one of North America’s BoBo (bohemian and bourgeois) streets. It has the “rich and famous” living near by in Mount Royal and the “young and restless” living in the Beltline.  It has a good mix of retail and restaurants too. But what it lacks is the 18/7 street animation and entertainment venues to become a tourist attraction like South Congress in Austin.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "17th Avenue Needs An Entertainment Scene" on September 24, 2016

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Austin vs Calgary: Sister Cities?

RED: Calgary's Urban Playground

The importance of the public realm!

Calgary's 7th Avenue: Good but not great!

Austin: An insider's guide!

It’s time to set the record straight. As one of the few remaining natives left in Austin – seriously, we’re like unicorns – I feel it’s my responsibility to share a true local’s guide to the city. I’ve lived here for over 28 years, agreeing to leave only for college and two ill-advised years in Dallas.
If you are thinking of a fun fall, winter or spring North American getaway this year, Austin should be near the top of your list.

Austin has lots of bling....

Editor's Note:

Dacyl Armendariz on a sunny patio in Austin.

When I knew I was heading to Austin earlier this year I asked Dacyl Armendariz, External Communications Manager, for car2go (whom I met at the 2014 Calgary Stampede) if she might have a few insider tips.  She sent me a very comprehensive list of suggestions, that even in two  weeks I couldn't possibly do.  When I asked her if I could post her email to me as a guest blog, she said, "Yes, but I will need to rework it a bit to make sure I have included a few things I left out."  

The following are Dacyl's wonderful insider tips to Austin.  

DA's Insider Tips

If you’ve read any “Best Places to Live” article in the past decade you’ve probably heard of Austin, TX. Apparently people take those lists and their glowing recommendations seriously, because there are now more than 150 people moving to Austin each day in search of breakfast tacos and near-constant warm weather. It would be a Texas-sized understatement to say that the state’s best-kept secret is out.

The influx of newcomers is exciting and is largely responsible for the revitalization of some of Austin’s oldest neighborhoods as well as a booming food scene. But beware – it also means there are hordes of people who just moved here and can’t wait to point you in all the wrong directions based on their limited, albeit enthusiastic, exploration of the city. Bless their hearts – they just want to help. But the truth is, there are too many new Austinites out there who might send you to Guero’s on your quest for the best Tex Mex. My personal sense of Southern Hospitality just can’t allow that.

It’s time to set the record straight. As one of the few remaining natives left in Austin – seriously, we’re like unicorns – I feel it’s my responsibility to share a true local’s guide to the city. I’ve lived here for over 28 years, agreeing to leave only for college and two ill-advised years in Dallas.

I’ve watched Austin evolve from a sleepy city in the middle of Texas to an international destination.

Yes Austin is fun, funky, quirky and many say weird....

I was here before Trader Joe’s was a fixture, I went to the inaugural Austin City Limits Music Festival and I can actually remember a time where traffic on I-35 didn’t convert it to a parking lot.

As much as I love being in Austin, I do travel quite a bit. When I visit a new place my goal is to eat the best food the city has to offer and get a taste of the culture and activities the city is known for. With that approach in mind, the following guide focuses on Austin restaurants, live music venues – we are the live music capital of the world – and a selection of some of our best swimming spots.

If you visit between the months of April through October you’ll understand why there’s a section dedicated to swimming and you’ll thank me. For good measure, I’ve thrown in a few other treasures.

As much as I will playfully beg you not to move here, I really do want you to love my city as much as I do. If you stay away from Guero’s and hit up the spots in my guide instead, I feel confident you will.

 Music Venues

Austin has fun retro element to it....

The Continental Club – 1315 South Congress Ave

An Austin institution since 1957 on one of our best streets. Live music every night.  Expect to hear blues, country, rockabilly and loud rock music here. Make sure to check out The Continental Club Gallery, an upstairs lounge with art, jazz and cocktails. The Gallery doesn’t have clear signage, head a couple of doors north of the main entrance and up the stairs.

The boys can play...

Elephant Room – 315 Congress Ave.

A basement bar where you will find a different jazz combo playing every night. Rarely a cover, always a good crowd.

Broken Spoke – 3201 S. Lamar Blvd

The quintessential Austin honky tonk. Some land developers actually purchased the land where the Broken Spoke is located and threatened to tear it down, but there was an extreme uprising from Austinites and it escaped unscathed. You’ll see the contrast of the new businesses and condos all around this Austin mainstay as evidence. This is a great dive bar where a band plays country music almost every night of the week and they have two-stepping lessons Wednesday – Saturday from 8:30-9:30 for the uninitiated so you can be prepared when the music starts. If you do the dance lessons get there by 8:00 to sign up!

P.S. there are always a handful of regulars – older gentleman who go every night to dance. They are part of what makes the place great so if they ask you to dance be sure to take them up on the offer!

She can sing and dance...

The Mohawk – 912 Red River Street

This is one of the newer venues that have become a favorite for Austinites. The music lineup is eclectic and includes Austin mainstays as well as some of the best musicians passing through town.  

Guero’s Garden Bar – 1412 South Congress Ave.

I know this seems like a confusing recommendation, give the warnings above. I stand by those warnings. Do not eat at Guero’s, no matter how many “Austinites” tell you it’s a must. The food is mediocre at best, but they have a great garden area next to the restaurant where there is always a steady stream of live music. The link above is to the music calendar so you can pick something out. They have a bar out there so you can enjoy a margarita with the free chips and salsa bar provided. This is a popular venue on sunny weekends, get there early to snag a table.

Saxon Pub – 1320 S. Lamar

Saxon Pub has been a fixture of the Austin music scene since 1990. There’s music every night of the week. Expect a cover for the night shows, but there are also free happy hour shows, weekend matinee shows and late night performances.

Austin is full of surprises...

Strange Brew – 5326 Manchaca Rd.

This is a coffee shop, a bit off the beaten path, that also has a lounge where you can find nightly live music. You’ll pay a cover, but you’ll also see some great music in a setting that most tourists miss. I highly recommend it! The link above is for their live music calendar.

C-Boy’s Heart and Soul – 2008 South Congress

A great, slightly divey, bar where you’ll find performances from some of Austin’s best musicians. If the company you keep truly says a lot about you, consider the fact that Gary Clark Jr, Leon Bridges, Larry McMurtry and Jimmie Vaughn are often seen occupying one of C-Boy’s barstools. If you’re headed there for music, check their calendar before you go, they do have the occasional off night, but they have a band in residence playing every Tuesday night and they have live music every Thursday – Saturday like clockwork. Expect to hear blues, rock, country, jazz or soul music. If you are looking for a quieter place to get a drink, head upstairs to their cozy, red-lit lounge for a more intimate vibe.

Green Spaces

Town Lake is actually a reservoir of the Colorado River in Downtown Austin. It was renamed Lady Bird Lake in honor of the late Lady Bird Johnson, but any true Austinite will tell you it’s still Town Lake to them. There’s a beautiful trail with several entry points and spots to rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards along the way. Visiting Town Lake is an Austin must.

Lady Bird Lake is a lovely oasis...

Zilker Park – 2100 Barton Springs Rd.

Zilker is our most well-known park. It’s right in the heart of the city with lots of space to roam, ride bikes, lounge, picnic, etc. The park is the site of the Austin City Limits Music Festival each September/October. Town Lake is also part of Zilker Park so you could easily fit both of these Austin icons into an afternoon.

A great time to visit is in early March for the annual Zilker Kite Festival.  The festival attracts hundreds of Autinites who fill the air with colorful kites.
Link: Austin's Kite Festival: Cheap, Colourful, Chaotic & Crazy
One of the best festivals I have ever attended and its free... .

One of the best festivals I have ever attended and its free....

Zilker Botanical Garden – 2220 Barton Springs Rd.

A beautiful botanical garden in the heart of downtown.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden – 605 Robert E. Lee Rd.

A garden featuring sculpture artwork from a wide array of artists. They also offer events and free yoga.

Mount Bonnell

A great spot for gorgeous views of the city. Be warned there are A LOT of steps to climb to get to this spot – 102 to be exact. If you don’t want to tackle the climb you could also take advantage of the same views with a stop at Dry Creek Cafe & Boat Dock (4812 Mount Bonnell Rd.). The name is misleading, the only food they have are bags of assorted chips and there’s not actually a working boat dock, but this dive bar has a patio that provides the best spot in Austin to watch a sunset. Ignore all those people who tell you to head to the Oasis, that’s where you find a huge crowd, mediocre food and overpriced drinks. Instead, enjoy your view with a $2.00 beer at this dive.

Swimming Holes/Pools

Swimming gets its own section because when it gets hot in Austin – which is most of the year – you don’t want to be outside unless you are in or around the water. Some of these spots are not IN Austin proper, but the ones outside of our city limits are short day trips and totally worth the drive.

City Centre 

Barton Springs Pool – 2201 Barton Springs Rd.

This is my absolute favorite place in Austin. It’s a pool fed from an underground spring with an average year-round temperature of 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit. There are always interesting people here and if you use the South gate entrance (700ish Robert E Lee Rd.) rather than the main entrance (2201 Barton Springs Rd.) you’ll see a collection of colorful Austinites – drum circles, people practicing acroyoga with a partner, hula hoopers and topless sunbathers. Barton Springs is synonymous with Austin. Entrance fee for non-residents of Austin is $8.00, but if you tell them you live in Austin the entrance fee is just $3.00. They never verify residence so you might as well save yourself $5.00 because when you are in Austin you become an honorary resident!

In Austin

Lake Travis or Lake Austin

You can rent boats/jet skis or even hop on a charter boat for a tour. If you’re not in the mood to swim you can also just head to one of the many restaurants/bars that offer beautiful views of these lakes.

 In Dripping Springs (50-minute drive from Austin)

Hamilton Pool Preserve – 24300 Hamilton Pool Rd., Dripping Springs, TX

A gorgeous spot where a lagoon is fed by a small waterfall. It’s about a 15 minute walk down to the water, but it’s worth the effort. If you make the trip be sure to get there early – a limited number of people are allowed in so the lines get long in the afternoon when they start their one in, one out admission.

In Wimberley (45-minute drive from Austin)

Blue Hole – 100 Blue Hole Rd., Wimberley, TX

Hands-down one of the best swimming holes in Texas, Blue Hole is lined on both banks by cypress trees. There’s also a great rope swing if you’re so inclined. Be warned though, the local teenagers grew up on this rope swing and the tricks they perform for their swimming audience could make your attempt scream “rookie.” Blue Hole is open seasonally for swimming so check the website first for the hours.

In Spicewood (45-minute drive from Austin)

Spicewood – 404 Krause Spring Rd., Spicewood, TX

There are 32 springs and two pools for swimming as well as a lovely butterfly garden

Restaurants

The Austin restaurant scene has blown up and there are tons of great choices. The key items to make sure to eat are breakfast tacos (an Austin staple), Tex Mex and Barbecue. Austin is hugely lacking in good Asian and Italian food, so keep that in mind if anyone makes recommendations in that vein.

Breakfast Tacos

If you’re not yet familiar with the glory of breakfast tacos, prepare to be indoctrinated. See below for a list of the best breakfast taco joints in Austin. Don’t forget the salsa – each of the places below have several options to try. Most of these are also great options for lunch/dinner tacos!

**An important note about breakfast tacos – unless you are gluten intolerant, breakfast tacos are meant to be eaten on flour tortillas.

Tacos are everywhere...

Tacos are everywhere...

Polvo’s – 2004 S 1st

In Austin, Tex-Mex – along with barbecue – is religion. There are tons of places to get your fix, but Polvo’s is my favorite. They have a killer salsa bar with lots of choices of varying heat levels. Make sure to try the queso here – it comes with accoutrements for you to add to your liking. My favorite item on the menu is the fish fajitas, but you can’t go wrong with anything you order here.

An important note about queso – If your previous experience with queso has anything to do with a jar or the description “cheese sauce,” that means you’ve never had queso. You’re about to have your mind blown. Pace yourself.

Other good Tex-Mex options: Tamale House East, Habanero (cash-only), Mi Madre’s, Vivo

For additional inspiration check out Austin Monthly’s recent Ultimate Guide to Tex-Mex

La Barbecue – 1906 E Cesar Chavez

You’ve likely heard of Franklin Barbecue – it’s nationally recognized as one of the very best barbecue places out there. The New York Times just did this story on it. People start queueing up for their amazing brisket starting around 6:00 AM every single morning, but if you want barbecue that’s equally great with a much shorter line, head to La Barbecue. The brisket is mandatory.

Other good barbecue options: Micklethwait Craft Meats, Stiles Switch BBQ, Freedmen’s, Lambert’s

Austin has an amazing patio culture....

Austin has an amazing patio culture....

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ – 7612 Brodie Lane

Valentina’s is the house of worship located at the intersection of the tex-mex and bbq religions. The menu spans breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’ll walk away wondering how you’ve lived this long without pairing brisket and traditional taco fillings.

Launderette – 2115 Holly St.

This is my favorite restaurant in Austin right now. Small plates – perfect for sharing – that facilitate trying a lot of the menu in one meal. If you like cheeseburgers, try theirs. It is perfect and simple. When the dessert menu comes fight the urge to order one of the fancier desserts and get the birthday cake ice cream sandwich. You can thank me later.

Uchi – 801 South Lamar

If I had to choose my last meal in Austin it would be the chef’s tasting omakase from Uchi. A sushi restaurant started by now famed chef Tyson Cole, Uchi is an innovative take on traditional sushi. The focus on traditional rolls is diminished in favor of next-level small plates. Please be warned, there is always a wait for this restaurant so make a reservation if you plan to go. Another note of warning – this restaurant is also very spendy, but worth every last penny.

East Side King – Several locations, see website

Originally a food truck opened by Top Chef winner Paul Qui and Moto Utsunomiya (fun fact – both were Tyson Cole’s protégés at Uchi), East Side King now has two locations in Austin that serve the incredible original menu – one food truck at the Liberty Bar and a brick-and-mortar on South Lamar Blvd. The East Side King family also has two recent additions called Thai-Kun that serve a playful Thai menu that is not to be missed - a food truck at the very cool bar Whisler's and brick-and-mortar in The Domain's new "Rock Rose" district.  My favorite of these spots is the original East Side King food truck behind the delightfully divey bar, The Liberty Bar, on East 6th. However, if the idea of sharing a picnic table outside, with a group of hipster strangers who are smoking American Spirits and sipping whiskey doesn’t appeal to you, hit up the brick-and-mortar location on South Lamar.

Dai Due Butcher Shop & Supper Club – 2406 Manor Rd.

Dai Due’s commitment to serving regionally sourced ingredients runs so deep that even the beer and wine list is stocked exclusively with options from Texas. The food is as good as the menu is imaginative and everything tastes like it was prepared just for you by someone who cares. Head here for thoughtful service from knowledgeable servers who act as your guide through the innovative menu.

Contigo – 2027 Anchor Lane

Contigo describes its menu as farm-fresh Texas fare. That’s not all that descriptive, but all you need to know is that the food and cocktails are great and the ambiance is quintessential Austin. What does that mean? It means that all of the seating is outside – only the kitchen is held within four walls. This qualifies as quintessential Austin because it’s warm enough here 95% of the year to get away with that. They have a great Happy Hour including $1 fried chicken on Thursdays starting at 5:00 PM until they run out!

Austin is great for BBQ...keep your hands off...

Austin is great for BBQ...keep your hands off...

Additional Austin Treasures

South Congress Avenue

South Congress is one of the best streets in Austin. Lined on either side with shops, restaurants, music venues and galleries, you could basically spend a full day walking up and down the street and never run out of things to do. On the first Thursday of each month – aptly called “First Thursday” – the shops stay open until 10:00 PM. My favorite South Congress spots include, but are not limited to:

We loved all of the vintage neon signs that were scattered around Austin...

We loved all of the vintage neon signs that were scattered around Austin...

 Parts and Labour – a great place to pick up gifts to take back to jealous friends at home, a new eclectic piece of jewelry from a local artisan or some concert artwork from one of the many amazing acts that have performed in Austin. Parts and Labour only sells goods from local Texas artists, designers, etc.

 Jo’s Coffee – stop by to order an “Iced Turbo” and take your photo by the now famous “I love you so much” graffiti on the side of the building. Show up on Sunday from 12:30 – 3:00 to check out their weekly “Sinner’s Brunch” to listen to great (FREE) live music with your coffee & breakfast taco. However, if you want to be true to the name, order a beer along with your coffee.

 Maya Star – this boutique jewelry store stocks one-of-a-kind pieces from some of the most creative designers out there. They also have a selection of adorable clothes and accessories at affordable prices.

 STAG Provisions for Men – stop in and enjoy a free Shiner Bock beer while you peruse their selection of high-end men’s clothing and accessories.

 Big Top Candy Shop – a circus-themed old fashioned candy store and soda shop where you will lose track of time while you’re reminded of all the classic candies you loved as a child.

Link: Austin: Kid In A Candy Store

Big Top Candy Shop is really really big...

Alamo Drafthouse

The world’s best movie theater chain got its start right here in Austin. Book your reserved seats on the website and prepare to enjoy the best movie-going experience of your life. Alamo has a menu of pizza, sandwiches, snacks and an excellent selection of beer and cocktails to enjoy during your flick (servers bring your order during the movie – quickly and silently like ninjas). In addition to showing new releases, Alamo offers screenings of repertory films you never thought you’d see on the big screen and incredible themed events. Think Beyoncé sing-alongs and film themed feasts.

A note about Alamo Drafthouse – this theater was founded with the mission of keeping the film watching experience sacred. If you show up late for your movie you will not be let in (so you can’t disturb everyone who made it on time) and if you talk or text during the movie you will be ejected without a refund. They take these rules seriously – don’t test them.

Harry Ransom Center

Located on the University of Texas at Austin campus (UT), the Harry Ransom Center is a library, archive and museum that exhibits rotating collections of art, manuscripts, photography, etc. Recent collections ranged from art and costumes from Gone With The Wind to a collection of art and correspondence from WWII.

Bonus – if you go to the Harry Ransom Center you’ll also get a chance to check out the UT campus where you’ll see the latest in backpack fashion and ask yourself “did I look this young when I was in college?” no less than 10 times. 

Last Word 

There you have it, Dacyl's insider tips. Enough Said!

If you go to Austin, be sure to have a car2go membership as it is the best way to get around...transit is not great...

If you go to Austin, be sure to have a car2go membership as it is the best way to get around...transit is not great...

Austin & Calgary: Sister Cities?

By the numbers, there are some amazing similarities between Austin and Calgary.  Both are young highly educated cities – Austin’s average age is 31 with 46% of Austinites having a postsecondary degree.  Calgary’s average age is 36, with 60% having postsecondary education.

Austin’s is a rapidly growing city. Its current population of 912,791 is growing by 150+ people a day.  Calgary with a population of 1,200,000 was the fastest growing city in Canada according to Stats Canada – growing 13% (from 2006 to 2011).

Like Calgary, Austin is young and active.  This is the pedestrian bridge over the Lady Bird Lake, aka Colorado River with Austin's 2nd Avenue condos in the background that look very much like Calgary's East Village. 

Like Calgary, Austin has a downtown skatepark, not as large as Calgary's but it definitely attracts some talented athletes. 

Calgary's Peace Bridge, designed by world famous bridge architect Santiago Calatrava is a popular playground for Calgary's young and restless. 

Love Their Rivers

Both Austinites and Calgarians love their rivers - the Colorado River and Barton Creek in Austin and the Bow and Elbow Rivers in Calgary.  Both cities have very busy river pathway systems packed with walkers, cyclists and runners when weather permits (not too cold in Calgary and not too hot in Austin). 

Austin's river pathways are very popular on weekends. 

It is very common in Austin to see boats of all types in Lady Bird Lake...in the distance is a fishing boat. 

Calgarians love their green beaches like this one in Stanley Park. 

Fishing on the Bow River in Calgary.  

River surfing on the Bow River. 

In the summer, thousands of Calgarians raft on the Elbow and Bow Rivers in Calgary. 

Party Towns

Austin’s infamous SXSW, a huge 10-day film, music, interactive media technology festival / trade show / conference generates $411 CDN million into the city’s economy in 2015 and attracted 140,000 participants.

By comparison, the 10-day Calgary Stampede annually attracts over 1 million (350,000 being out-of-town visitors) for concerts, rodeo, chuckwagon races, grandstand show, midway rides and agricultural exhibition.  Its annual economic impact is estimated at $350 CDN million.

Austin's Kite festival is an amazing site and a fun family party. 

Look carefully and you will see that most of the people are dressed up as they have just participated in Calgary's POW - Parade of Wonder as part of Calgary Expo aka Comic-Con. 

Music Cities

Austin bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” with 100+ live music venues and its world famous Austin City Lights music program.  Everybody gets into hosting live music in Austin from grocery stores to the airport.

The City’s historic music district is downtown along East 6th St. a grungy street resembles Calgary’s Electric Avenue (11th Ave) back in the ‘80s.  Home to numerous loud and seedy bars, as well as the 1929 Ritz theatre, it is more a tacky tourist street than a serious music district.  Today, the best music venues are in neighbourhoods outside of downtown.

Calgary is in its infancy as an emerging international music city boasting an International Folk Festival, SLED Island as well as numerous smaller emerging music festivals. Calgary has only a handful of live music venues and only a few that offer live music 7 days a week.  (Some of Austin’s venues offer 3 acts a day - happy hour, headliner and midnight band.)  The opening of the National Music Centre will definitely enhance our city’s reputation internationally.

Stephen Avenue is Calgary’s equivalent to Austin’s East 6th Avenue as downtown’s primary pedestrian oriented street.  However, Stephen Avenue is a more attractive and diverse street with its mix of shops, restaurants, concert and performance theatres, art house cinema and restored historical buildings. 

Just one of hundreds of live music venues in Austin offering a plethora of genres of music. 

Calgary's Tim Williams at the Blues Can. Williams won the International Blues Competition in 2014. 

Urban Living

Urban living in Austin is booming.  Although the current downtown population is only 12,000 it has been growing rapidly with 6,832 condos and apartments built since 2000 and another 2,000 currently under construction.  

However, this pales in comparison to Calgary’s 36,000 urban dwellers.  Urban living is also booming in Calgary with almost 15,000 new residential units since 2000 and 2,200 under construction.

Austin’s budding 2nd Street urban village, looks amazingly similar to Calgary’s East Village with several shinny new high-rise white condo towers, a new library and City Hall and sprinkling of shops, Whole Foods and Trader Joes grocery stores and a signature pedestrian bridge over the river. 

Austin’s 82,000 downtown employees work in 9 million square feet of office space (1.3 million square ft. under construction), 7,800 hotel rooms (2,140 under construction) and hundreds of restaurants, retailers and bars in 1.9 million square feet of commercial space.

By comparison, Calgary City Centre (downtown and Beltline) roughly the same size as Austin’s downtown) has 150,000+ employees occupying over 40 million square feet of offices, 4,000 hotel rooms (500 under construction) and 1,000+ retailers and restaurants in whopping 6.4 million square feet.

Downtown Austin has no department store, indoor mall or shopping street; shopping is scattered all over the place.  Austin has nothing to match Calgary’s historic Bay Store, Holt Renfrew or the stunning The CORE shopping centre. 

Austin also lacks a contiguous historic district like Stephen Avenue or Inglewood. However, Austin does a much better job of animating its downtown corners with outdoor patios, rather than the banks and office lobbies dominating Calgary’s corners.

A view of downtown Austin from South Congress aka SoCo.  SoCo is a an eclectic pedestrian street (despite being a major road) with shops, restaurants, music venues, great patios and numerous permanent food trucks on empty lots. 

Austin's 2nd Avenue District is blooming as an urban village with new condos, two grocery stores and shops. 

Austin's condo skyline. 

The Core in downtown Calgary is a three block long indoor shopping mall with 1 hectare indoor garden.  

Stephen Avenue is Calgary's downtown Main Street and a National Historic District linking the Olympic Plaza Cultural District with the Financial District.  Austin has nothing like Calgary's iconic Hudson Bay department store. 

Urban Street Life

Austin’s hip street is SoCo (South Congress Avenue), which, like Calgary’s Kensington Village, is on the other side of the river from downtown.  Even with South Congress Avenue’s six lanes of traffic, it supports a vibrant street life with a great mix of shops, restaurants, bars and live music venues.

What makes SoCo outstanding is its outdoor culture.  Austin’s climate allows Austinites to play outdoors year-round – there are patios everywhere, live music is played on the front lawns and empty lots and food trailers occupy what would be surface parking lots in Calgary.   Every weekend SoCo takes on a festival atmosphere!

Kensington’s container bar and a few outdoor patios pales in comparison. On the other hand, Kensington boasts a better café culture and more infill residential development.

While, SoCo provides Austinites with a vibrant street culture, it is the only game in town, with nothing to match Calgary’s 17th Ave, 11th Avenue or Inglewood.

On weekends Austin's SoCo takes on a festival atmosphere. 

Gueros on SoCo is famous for its free live entertainment. 

SoCo has numerous quirky shops. 

Austinites love their Tacos. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue is popular urban playground even in the winter; this photo was taken in February. 

Cafe Beano on 17th Avenue is perhaps where Calgary's cafe culture began back in the '80s. It is popular with both artists and CEOs. 

Analog Coffee on 17th Avenue the new kid on the block. 

Calgary's Kensington Village offers lots of urban surprises given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. 

One of the best surprises in Kensington Village is the Container Bar. 

Kensington Village is also home to Calgary's year-round flea market and summer farmers' market. 

Big Differences

The biggest difference between Austin and Calgary is in transit use.  We never saw Austin’s LRT and bus service is limited.   Thank God for car2go, which allowed us to explore Austin’s outlying business revitalization zones by day and music venues by night.

We stayed in a lovely Airbnb in the upscale Clarksville community, which we thought would be convenient for walking. We quickly discovered sidewalks in poor condition (or non-existent), and very few streetlights making walking at night treacherous.

While there were some lovely homes, Austinites’ pride of home ownership seems much lower than in Calgary’s inner-city communities – even desirable neighbourhoods have lots of unkept properties, weed-infested lawns and gardens and crumbling sidewalks.

Calgary has one of the busiest Light Rapid Transit systems in North America. 

Austinites love to dance - as soon as the music starts people get up and dance. 

Austin condos have above ground parkades like this one, whereas Calgary condos and office buildings have their parking underground. 

Downtown Calgary has 40 million square feet of office space, making it one of the top 10 in North America, compared to Austin's 10 million square feet. 

Last Word

In my humble opinion, after visits to Austin and Portland (considered by many urbanists as two of the best emerging urban cities) Calgary offers as many - or more - urban amenities.

Unfortunately, Calgary continues to fly under the radar with planners and tourists as an emerging urban playground. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald titled "City Scenes: Austin vs Calgary," June 11, 2018

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Group Think or Good Urban Planning?

Group Think Or Good Urban Planning?

Visually it is eerie how similar Austin’s 2nd Street District and Calgary’s East Village look.

On a recent trip to Austin I was amazed at how similar their 2nd Street District’s recipe for urban renewal is to Calgary’s one for East Village.   The 20-block includes numerous high-rise condos, mixed with a few mid-rise, and dashes of - a new library, city hall and signature pedestrian/cycling bridge over Lady Bird Lake (aka long narrow reservoir on the Colorado River).

While Calgary’s East Village has an old Simons Mattress building as its signature historic building on the river, Austin’s 2nd Street has the historic Art Deco Seaholm Power Plant, currently being transformed into a mixed-use building with condos, offices retail. 

Austin's downtown skyline is dominated by condo towers.

City of Austin Power Plant that is being repurposed as part of the mega makeover of their downtown next to Lady Bird Lake. 

The Simmons Limited warehouse building has been transformed into multi-tenant restaurant, cafe and bakery on RiverWalk next to the Bow River. 

Austin’s 2nd Street District, like East Village, is still a work in progress. But it is perhaps a five year head start as it already has two grocery stores (Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) and boasts 50+ upscale places to sip, savour and shop – East Village has three.

From a housing perspective, 2nd St. District has several completed high-rise condos including The Austonian a 56-storey currently the tallest building in Austin. There are also several condos under construction including The Independent, a funky chunky tower, that surpass The Austonian by 2-feet.

Calgary’s current tallest building The Bow, office tower, is 58-storeys.  And though technically in East Village, in reality it faces southwest into the downtown central business district and turns its back on East Village.

The major difference is that Calgary’s East Village has direct access to the Bow River, while Austin’s 2nd Street District is cut off from the Lady Bird Lake by a major highway (Cesar Chavez Street).  However, Austin’s 2nd Street District has much better connectivity to it’s neighbouring districts than Calgary’s East Village which is cut off from its neighbouring districts by the Municipal Building and CPR railway tracks.

Austin's 2nd Street District is cut off from the waterfront by a major highway. 

Road connecting Austin's 2nd Street District to major road along the river similar to Calgary's Memorial Drive. 

Calgary's East Village condos this summer. Residents are now moving in and new mixed-use projects are commencing construction. 

Calgarians have direct access to the Bow river from East Village.  

Fostering Urban Vitality

Interestingly the streets of Austin’s 2nd Street District were devoid of urban vitality weekdays and weekends despite thousands of residents. It was only around the James D. Pfluger pedestrian bridge and the reservoir pathway that we experienced Austin’s urban vibe. 

Like Calgary, the pathways along Lady Bird Lake were packed with people of all ages - running, walking and cycling.  I dare say they are used even more than Calgary’s. Austin’s pathways are literally just a wide “bare ground” path that weaves its way naturally along the heavily treed shoreline. There is no separation for different users.  This is very different from Calgary’s expensive, highly designed, hard-surfaced Eau Claire and East Village pathways.

As well, Lady Bird Lake has much more use than Calgary’s Bow River - there was always someone fishing, kayaking, rowing, paddle boating or paddle boarding. Though Austin’s warmer climate certainly has something to do with the increased river usage, the fact you can rent watercraft right in the City Centre makes it easy for locals and tourists to enjoy the river.

James D. Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge doesn't feel like a bridge, more like a promenade. 

East Villages George C. King bridge links East Village to St. Patrick's Island. 

East Villages George C. King bridge links East Village to St. Patrick's Island. 

As well, Lady Bird Lake has much more use than Calgary’s Bow River - there was always someone fishing, kayaking, rowing, paddle boating or paddle boarding. Though Austin’s warmer climate certainly has something to do with the increased river usage, the fact you can rent watercraft right in the City Centre makes it easy for locals and tourists to enjoy the river.

Austin's river pathway near 2nd Street District on the weekend.  

Lady Bird Lake is very animated with canoes, kayaks, fishing boasts and other water craft creating a colourful and animated sense of place. 

St. Patrick's Island in East Village is quickly becoming a popular hang-out spot for families in Calgary. 

Calgarians love to stroll along the Bow River near downtown. 

St. Patrick's pathway along the Bow River in Calgary's East Village also offers passive places to sit, think and reflect.

Too soon to judge

One can’t help but wonder if there is a real urban planner group think when it comes to creating early 21st century urban villages as they all seem to have the same formula – lots of high-end, high-rise condos for young professionals and empty nesters with a smattering of grocery stores, retail and restaurants at ground level and anchored by major public spaces and one or two mega public buildings.  

Rendering of Austin's new public library located in the 2nd Street District. The library is under construction.

Rendering of Calgary's new public library in East Village, which is also under construction. 

Austin's 2nd Street retail streetscape. 

East Villages street retail is just starting to take shape. 

View of Bow River and East Village RiverWalk from roof-top patio of the Simmons building. 

View of Bow River and East Village RiverWalk from roof-top patio of the Simmons building. 

Billion Dollar Experiments

I am reminded of some of the lessons of Jane Jacobs community vitality activist and author of the 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities that has become the bible for many urban planning. She warned, “beware of planners and urban development plans that try to encourage orderly city planning.”

I hope these billion-dollar experiments in city building in both Calgary and Austin work as planned. Only time will tell.  Calgary’s East Village experiment is looking good now, but it won’t be until 2040 that we will really know if the East Village master plan has resulted in an attractive, sustainable, vibrant urban community.

Calgary's East Village emerging skyline from St. Patrick's Island. 

Austin's downtown condo skyline at night.

Last Word

The time to judge the success of any new master planned community, urban or suburban, is about 10 to 15 years after it has been completed.

An edited version of this blog was commissioned by Condo Living Magazine. 

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Lo-Burn: Austin's Vintage District

Mid-century flaneuring always makes me happy. I think it is the cheerful colours – bright oranges, baby blues, spring greens and sunshine yellows.

If you are into vintage and visiting Austin the Lo-Burn (Lower Burnet Road) district is a “must see.”

You can't miss Top Drawer Thrift with its huge floor lamp, lime green facade and drawers on the roof.  

Lo-Burn IBIZ District

We stumbled upon this up and coming district when we entered “thrift stores” on Google Maps and saw a cluster on Burnet Road (pronounced “Burn-it” by locals) from 49th N Street to North Loop Boulevard. Conveniently, it was in the car2go home area, so off we went.

Here you will find not only three thrift stores, but two mid-century furniture shops, an antique store and an outlet designer women’s clothing boutique, as well as local eatery favourites - Torchy’s Tacos and Tiny Pies. If you walk further south there are some other places that look interesting…but who has time to eat when there are treasures to be found.

Top Drawer Thrift (SW corner of Burnett and W 49th St)

Top Drawer Thrift was the best thrift store we found in Austin by a long shot.  While it isn’t the largest it had great quality and selection of vintage clothing, home accessories and art. The displays were fun and exotic. The staff were friendly and the prices were great.  The electronic section was the big surprise with unusual items from a huge pile of vintage radio tubes (Brenda couldn’t resist adding one to her collection) to old film projectors.  I got a framed kitschy artwork with a Cowboy face and Old Made cards background.

Vintage radio tubes at Top Drawer Thrift

Vintage electronics at Top Drawer Thrift

Vintage Fun

Uptown Modern (5111 Burnet Rd) is like walking into a mid-century furniture art museum.  The show room is spacious and the displays are grouped by colour.  If I was starting an art collection, this is where I would head.

Gypsies Antiques (5202 Burnet Rd) is a traditional antique store with many very interesting vignettes under glass domes.  And Vin Taj (52,000 Burnet Rd) has not only interesting furniture and home accessories, but some great paintings that we would have loved to take home.  Darn those airline baggage size restrictions!

Learn more about Austin’s mid-century modern scene

Uptown Modern has a wonderful collection of vintage furniture, home accessories and art. 

One of several glass dome pieces at Gypsies Antiques

Spring Frost Boutique (5101 Burnet Rd)

Though Spring Frost is not a vintage shop (it stocks designer clothing and shoes at deep discount prices), it is worth checking out. The staff were friendly and let me take all the photos I wanted. I love photographing women shoes – to me some are like works of miniature works of art.

Spring Frost shoe fun!

American League Alliance (4901 Burnet Rd)

Across the street from Top Drawer is a large American League Alliance thrift store, which is definitely worth stopping into. checking out. They had some great deals on cowboy boots when we were there. It is staffed by charming retired ladies who are very attentive to creating wonderful displays that give the store a vintage, grandmother-like atmosphere.

Savers (5222 Burnet RD)

Savers is Austin’s equivalent of Value Village and is just three blocks north of the Top Drawer.

American League has everything including the piano. 

Refreshments

I am told Torchy’s Tacos (5119 Burnet Rd), an icon in Austin, started with a single food cart. It now has several stores across the city.  The Burnet Road eatery’s patio is good place to recharge your batteries. 

Tiny Pies (5035 Burnet Road) - Zagat says, “The pies are just like mom used to make, only much much smaller. The petite offerings are modern twists on family recipes and include everything from breakfast pies to strawberry-basil pies, plus quiche, pie pops and mason-jar desserts.”  We loved the pecan pies after our Torchy’s tacos.

There is also a fun food truck hub village across the street from Tiny Pies. A bit hidden in the parking lot at the back, but it is worth a look with its own playground and a barbershop up front. How cool is that?

Pinthouse Pizza, Apothecary Café and Wine Bar, Pinthouse Pizza and Phoenicia Bakery and Deli south of W 49th Street all looked interesting.

Torchy's Tacos hit the spot!

Lo-Burn's food cart lot includes several food carts, a barber shop and playground. Very Cool!

IBIZ 101

Of Austin’s eight IBIZ (Independent Business Improvement Zones) Lo-Burn was the most interesting.

The criteria for an IBIZ district include:

  • At least 75% locally owned businesses (currently, all districts host 95% to 100% locally owned businesses)
  • Have 20 to 100 businesses (current districts have 23 to 90 businesses)
  • No more than one mile in walkable distance (current districts range from .4 to 1 mile)

Top Drawer Thrift fashions!

Last Word

Don’t expect a lot of streetscape improvements - banners, hanging flower baskets or street furniture – along Austin’s IBIZs.  And while the distances are walkable, the sidewalks may not be in the greatest shape (nor might there always be one) and streets are more vehicle-oriented than pedestrian-friendly.

But for the urban wanderer, these are interesting places to explore. We went to Lo-Burn twice!

Bonus: We were lucky enough to have the same car2go we’d parked 3 hours ago, still parked in the same spot we left it. 

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Austin's Kite Festival: Cheap, Colourful, Chaotic & Crazy!

For a long time I have been saying Calgary needs a kite festival. What the heck every city needs a kite festival.  Here in Calgary, a kite festival would be a great signature event for Fort Calgary and East Village.  When I knew we would be in Austin in early March, I was thrilled to discover we could attend their annual kite festival – the world’s oldest.

Each year Austin’s Kite Festival attracts over 20,000 people of all ages and is one of the city’s best-known annual events. Held on the first Sunday of March, (the second Sunday of March is the alternate day if weather doesn’t cooperate),

Family fun for everyone at the Austin Kite Festival.

 

It is the kick-off to springtime in Austin

Everyone is welcome – there is no admission to attend, no obligation to participate in the contests or even fly a kite.  Most folks do try their hand at flying a kite, but some just come to see the spectacular sight of thousands of kites in the sky and to enjoy a spring day in the park. It is perhaps one of the most inclusive events I have every seen.

Too Much Fun

The festival lived up to my expectations. There was lots of excitement in the air when I arrived at 11 am in the massive park (350 acres i.e. 16 times the size of Calgary’s Riley Park). 

I overheard one kite flyer say he was there at 6 am to get the best spot. (Hmmm – sounds like something one would here on Stampede Parade Day in Calgary.)  Another guy said he had driven six hours to get there and does so every year. Many young families, pulling wagons with food, coolers and assorted paraphernalia (some even with their dog) came out for the day.

The kids were all smiles with lots of room to run, twirl and look at all of the dancing kites. I was shocked at how many young kids were actually able to fly the kites.  And while it looked very chaotic with people scattered everywhere and invisible strings being manipulated at every which angle, I saw only a few injured kites and no injured kids.  It was a Sunday miracle.

I think the photo and video speak for themselves.

A sense of the chaos that is the Austin Kite festival. 

Photographers love to get just the right perspective.

The kite festival is pure joy for little ones. 

Bubble making fun is also part of the kite festival.

It is not just kids and families that enjoy Austin's Kite Festival. 

History 

The ‘Kite Tournament’ was created in 1929 by a men’s service club called The Exchange Club of Austin with a mission to encourage creativity in children. Exchange Club President Ed St. John came up with the idea to give kids a constructive activity the community could participate in. The first Tournament was held in Lamar Park, which is thought to have been close to the intersection of Congress Avenue and 1st Street in the middle of downtown.

In 1936, the Exchange Club partnered with the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department to bring the event to newly opened and larger Zilker Park. In 1956, the Kite Tournament was opened to competitors of all ages, and to this day contest events have changed very little.

Austin’s Zilker Park Kite Festival is the longest continuously running kite festival in the United States and continues to be sponsored by the Exchange Club and the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department every year. Its lead corporate sponsor for 2016 was ABC Home and Commercial.

Last Word

Austin’s Kite Festival is cheap, colourful, chaotic and crazy – all in a very good way. 

Wouldn't it be great if this open field at Fort Calgary became the home for an annual kite festival and perhaps an informal kite flying park when not in use for festivals. 

Austin is more fun than weird!

While Austin’s moniker is “Keep Austin Weird,” I have not found anything about this city that I would call weird. On the other hand, I have found lots of fun things, which in my mind is even better as “Fun” appeals to more people than “Weird.”  

One of the first things we encountered as we headed out on the sidewalks was a neon sign “Wiggy’s Beer Wine” and thought “That’s Fun!”  Then we came upon a giant gorilla on the next block, which was an obvious “Kodak Moment.” And from there it was some fun fruit sculptures on the top of a parkade. This was all within the first 30 minutes.

One of Brenda’s observations about Austin is that it is a bit like Vegas with lots of neon signs everywhere.  While Austin’s neon signs are not big, bold and flashy like Vegas, they are fun and charming. And yes there are everywhere even in the ‘burbs. Neon is always fun.

For the first few days it seemed like it was just one fun thing after another. Here are our baker’s dozen “Austin is Fun” postcards.  

Established in 1973, the Wiggly Beer Wine neon sign marks the entrance to a tiny liquor store at the gateway to downtown along 6th Street West. 

Every city needs a good local fried chicken spot, Austin has many. Fresa's is take out only and is just a block from the Hope Outdoor Gallery, making it a popular spot with the picnickers. 

I told you Austin had more than one fried chicken spot.  This sign has is the most literal reference to Vegas. 

The name says it all - WAHOO!

Found this on a bottom shelf at HalfPrice Books at 5555 N Lamar.  Now that funny!

Found Lucy on the roof of a shop along South Congress. Lucy is fun and the play on the Beatles song is also fun. 

I have not clue what these are doing on the roof of parkade. This you could call "weird." 

Another fun name and sign of a business along South Congress in Austin. 

Every city has painted utility boxes these days, but Austin's have a fun twist.  Found these in the Clarksville community where we are staying in an apartment Airbnb. Love the cartoon narrative.  

Even the thrift stores get into Austin'd spirit of fun.  This is just one of dozens of chandeliers in the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store on South Congress. 

How fun is a bowling ball fence? 

This was the best thrift store we found in Austin. Very good product, lovely displays and good prices.  What is with the roof-top artworks? 

Airstream trailers are everywhere in Austin. You can find them in backyards and front yards on Airbnb. You can find them downtown selling custom designed boots. You can find them selling Big. Fat. Donuts! I even found one at a construction site office. 

West Austin Park pool looks lovely in winter but it only open in summer.

Last Word

We did find one weird thing about Austin and it is that  the lovely neighbourhood pool in the West Austin Park near our Airbnb (aka Austin home) is only open for two or three months in the summer.  What is weird is there is beautiful clean water in the pool year-round and it is +30 in March why wouldn't it be open now.  We asked locals and they also thought it was weird. 

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Austin's Wonderful, Wacky & Weird Outdoor Art Gallery

I had read about and seen pictures of Austin’s Hope Outdoor Gallery (HOG), but they did not prepare me for the three-storey outdoor graffiti gallery located on an abandon inner-city lot on the side of hill over-looking downtown.

Backstory: I love graffiti art. I even travelled from Gleichen, Alberta to New York City in the early ‘80s to experience graffiti art in its heyday - from subway cars to upscale art galleries. I came back and created several graffiti murals on the sides of buildings in Gleichen as well as incorporated it into my studio painting.  That was another life.

The view from the top gives you a sense of the height and scale of the project.  

From The Top

Found this spray can at the top of the Gallery, inviting me to contribute.  I am tempted to go back. 

We entered from the top of the gallery, which is not the usual entrance, which is at the bottom along Baylor Street at 11th Street. We were walking from our Clarksville Airbnb apartment so I knew we could get there taking the back route, but couldn’t quite find it. 

Knowing we were close and seeing a fireman getting out of his car at a charming historic fire station we asked him how to get to the outdoor gallery. He pointed and said, “Go to the end of the No Outlet (aka cul de sac) street that we had just passed and you will be at the top.” He also warned us to be careful if we tried to walk down as the area is badly washed out. Oh those fireman, they are always looking out for everyone’s safety.

Heading down the street we first came upon a wonderful castle-looking estate over looking the city. We soon found out its the offices of Castel Hill Partners and wondered how they liked being next to a graffiti park?

Fast-forward: When I got back to do some more research on the park, turns out Castel Hill Partners own the land, are land developers and are obviously just waiting to develop it.  I could help but wondered why they aren’t worried about the liabilities associated with letting people climb up and down their property. Somebody could easily get hurt and there are no signs saying, “use at your own risk.”

Jackson Pollock & Graffiti Art

Once we reached the edge it wasn’t as dangerous as the fireman suggested, but yes you have to be careful.  The view of the city was spectacular and the park is a kaleidoscope of colour.  It is definitely more of a graffiti park than a street art park as there are only a few areas where an individual artist’s work has been left untouched. Rather it is just layer upon layer of lines, squiggles and words in a cacophony of random colours - a Jackson Pollock-like mega 3D painting.

This was my favourite spot as you could play with the perspective of the window opening in the concrete foundation.

The intensity can be a sight for sore eyes.

Found this young lady hiding in the shadows. One of the few artworks that hadn't been covered with graffiti. 

Perfect place to sit and chat.

Found this artist putting some final touches on his contribution.

Perfect place to meet friends for a picnic.

The Gallery has many walls to create lots of different galleries. Note you can see the castle in at the top in the background.

This is the proper entrance to the Hope Outdoor Gallery on Baylor St. at 11th St. 

Better Than Public Art

I loved the scale, the energy, unique sense of place and randomness of the Hope Outdoor Gallery (HOG). While we were there a street artist was being interviewed about his work, there were lots of people milling about and even friends having a picnic.  We went by the next day which was a Saturday and it was even busier. It is heaven for urban photographers.

HOG is better than most public artworks that quickly become just a part of the urban landscape and ignored by pedestrians. HOG is an ever-changing artwork that challenges people to literally explore it and to participate.  I have now visited three times and each time I have discovered something new and always there are a dozen of so people actively looking at the art and trying to make sense of it. 

I am thinking it would be a wonderful and weird place for wedding pictures. Hey this Austin, I am thinking it has happened more than once.

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Austin: Kid in a candy store fun!

Every city should have a “must see” candy store!  Until this week my favourite was in downtown Helena, Montana, but now it just might be The Big Top Candy Shop on South Congress in Austin, Texas. 

Everyone, young and old will love its colourful candy/circus theme. Here are some postcard photos of The Big Top Candy Shop....love to hear what you think!

PS. Be sure to scroll to the bottom as there are some surprise candies for adults near the end.

Who can resist a candy shop with the name The Big Top? Not the Everyday Tourist. 

Sit down and enjoy the show.

The store is jam-packed with artefacts and fun displays. It is like a museum.

Doesn't every parent want to have a Gummi Boy!

I hope I never have to meet the Rubber Skin Girl. Yikes!

Love the sense of humour. Laughter is the best medicine. 

Who is up for a double bacon chocolate bar? 

And for dessert how about Fox's Candied Bacon.

Even the ice cream cones are special...this one has a gummi on top.

I don't think these people are ever leaving.