Monday, May 13, 2013

Bats, bars, and BBQ: sampling a little more of Austin

May 7-8, 2013
Oak Forest RV Park
Austin, Texas

One of the Keep Austin Weird things to do while here is witness the 1.5 million bats, the world’s largest urban bat colony,  fly out at dusk from under the Congress Avenue Bridge downtown. We had no idea what to expect and were pretty surprised to see the bridge lined with folks, the park below filled with bat-seekers, and tourist excursion boats jockeying for position under the bridge when we arrived. Apparently, when the bridge was rebuilt in 1980, it provided the perfect bat roost. Every spring the bats return to this roost from Central Mexico to provide an eerie show for the tourists and, more importantly, fly out to eat 10-20,000 pounds of insects, many agricultural pests.

Sunset occurred at 8:13 but it took about twenty more minutes of dusk to lure the bats out of safe hiding. While we were waiting, we enjoyed people watching and seeing the lights of the city come alive. Just below the bridge, the local newspaper dedicated an area of their property, called the Statesman Bat Observation Center, which is now a park specifically for viewing the nightly emergence of the bats. They even had a cart that sold bat souvenirs such as t-shirts and bat mugs to commemorate the occasion. Once a few bats started flying out,  big oohs and ahhs eminated from the crowds and camera flashes went off in all directions. The bats were hard to photograph because of the dark background of the water and the impending dark. It wasn’t until we arrived back home, that I discovered the best view of the bats I managed to get was in the video I took.

Congress Avenue Bridge bats emerging at dusk

We heard that the music on 6th Street just starts to get going about 9 or 10 p.m., so the timing after seeing the bats was perfect to take a walk down 6th and see if we could find some live music that appealed to us. What a place!  It’s true that 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night things were barely getting started but we enjoyed all the activity and peering into the lounges to check out their acts. One very good thing is that Austin does not allow smoking in bars (like Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana do) and they also do not allow guns as evidenced by this sign posted in every bar window:

We enjoyed the stroll, but never landed on a place that had “our kind” of music. It may be that it was still too early—or maybe we were born too early???  Our backup plan was to go back to the Driskill Hotel to hear their lounge act—more our speed—plus we both had the memory of hearing about their awesome pastries.  Before we did that, here is a little glimpse of the 6th Street scene.

The Driskill Hotel, at the Congress Avenue end of 6th Street, was a quieter choice for us old-timers. The band was folksy sounding and the place had lots of character with cowhide bar stools and lamps made of six-shooters.

After a drink in the bar, we learned that the dessert menu was only available downstairs in the main café, so we finished off the evening with an indulgence, something we hardly ever do: their banana rum bread pudding and 1886 chocolate cake.

We had hoped to be in this area long enough to spend a few days in the hill country, but our Louisiana extension cut into our time here so we opted to spend our last day checking out Lockhart, a hill country town only about 30 minutes away. The small town of Lockhart, population 10,000, is known as the BBQ capital of Texas.

Supposedly, 5000 out-of-towners come to Lockhart each week to try one of their four famous BBQ joints. We had the recommendation from a butcher at Central Market in Austin to go to Smitty’s and order a pork chop and prime rib. This seemed like a lot of meat to me, but I have always wanted to try the serious BBQ that comes from the pit masters who have been smoking meat in the same brick ovens for over 100 years and it didn't look like it changed much since then. 

We did as we were told and opted to try the 2" pork chop and prime rib cut. They were already sold out of prime rib by 4 in the afternoon, so we opted to try their brisket. They serve the meat in brown butcher paper with a few pickles and your choice of a piece of white wonder bread or saltine crackers. (If you know me, I drew the line at the wonder bread) and you take it out to a separate dining room where you can order sides of  potato salad, coleslaw, or beans and wash it down with an RC. (Actually, they did have bottled beer for sale.) Very basic. Smitty’s also makes a BBQ sauce which is, of course, optional, but not necessary at all. The meat was incredibly tender, melt in your mouth delicious with just the right amount of smoke—this is serious BBQ.  

They must have about a half a dozen large brick ovens that they keep going 24-7. I asked the pit masters how they could stand it in the summer and they said they drink a lot of beer as the temps get to 110 inside the oven area. I also asked if they used any kind of rub or brine on the meat and one old timer told me just a little salt, pepper, and cayenne. Check out the wood stacks they keep ready just to keep these ovens smoking.

Our little trip to Lockhart marked the end of our Austin area adventures. We knew that three weeks to travel from Louisiana to Los Angeles was only going to allow us enough time to just get a flavor of the towns in our stops along the way. We both agree that Austin is a place we would like to spend more time, especially in to explore the surrounding area and kayak in the lakes of the hill country.  Until next time, Austin.


  1. Austin is a really cool town, and we've never seen it! But we'd definitely go there after reading your blog! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Looking at those bat pictures makes be think about being back in west Africa. I definitely would rather be in Austin:)

  3. We've never been Austin. Looks like a place we would enjoy. I love the bats!! The video is great...there are thousands of them!!! What an amazing site!

    I believe the reason there wasn't any of your kind of music is because those bands were finished and went home! Who would be out to see them at that late hour 9:30!! Haha! I couldn't resist.

    Yum! We love BBQ.

    1. Fair enough about the late nights. That may be why Breakfast Zydeco dancing suited us so well!

  4. Amazing bats. I had no idea. We have some nieces who live in and around there. So now we have even more reasons to visit. Add those desserts to that list.
    You guys are hummin' now on your way home. At the rate you're going, you are problably there by now. I'm about as far behind on my blog as you are. Thanks for that. I like good company.

  5. Had no idea about the bat viewing in Austin ... will add to list of things to do when we get there next winter. That BBQ place looks like an interesting experience ... except that I don't eat much meat. Mui would love it, though.


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