My husband and I spent a long weekend in Austin to attend the college football season opening game of University of TX v. Notre Dame. Stephen and I went to UT for college back in the 1990’s, which is where we met, and I also attended UT for law school. We lived in Austin for about 8 years to attend school and it’s a special place to us. Honestly, I had a great college experience and felt that I not only got a great education there but I also had a lot of fun and really enjoyed living in Austin. Austin has changed a lot over the years but it’s still known for being quirky, fun, having a great music and bar scene, tons of outdoor activities and fantastic food. We mixed it up by trying some new restaurants and hitting a few of our old favorite college haunts. We ended the weekend by attending the UT football game, which was absolutely insane and probably the best football game I have ever watched live – it was a real nail biter and even went into double overtime. The quality of my pics isn’t all that great as I only brought my iphone. This trip was about relaxing and having a good time with friends so I only snapped pics when I remembered!
We arrived early Friday morning via a quick Southwest flight from Dallas (flying time is about 35 minutes) and checked into our hotel, the J.W. Marriott in downtown Austin. We have often stayed at the Four Seasons Austin, which we love, but the rooms at the Four Seasons are in need of a refurbishment and on football game weekends, they increase the rate for a basic king room to over $800 (normally around $399), which is highway robbery in my opinion. The JW Marriott is only a year old so it’s very new, sleek, modern and has great amenities such as a roof deck pool on the 5th floor with great views of Austin and the Congress Avenue “bat bridge”, several restaurant and bar choices and large, comfortable rooms with lots of space and great mattresses. The location on 2nd street is perfect – you can walk to the river for morning exercise on the jogging trail in 2 minutes, walk to bars and restaurants on 2nd street or 4th street in less than 5 minutes and easily catch a taxi or pedi cab to the Rainey Street area, the UT campus or the Capitol.
After checking in and running an errand, we walked from the hotel down to South Congress Avenue which has a collection of funky shops, restaurants, music clubs (including the famous Continental Club), bars and food trucks. After a little shopping, we had lunch at one of our favorites, Perla’s, which specializes in fresh seafood. We sampled some wood grilled oysters, some New Orleans style BBQ shrimp and I had a pan seared snapper on spinach while Steve went with a giant oyster poboy.
After stuffing ourselves, we walked over to the new South Congress Hotel to check out the bar and lobby – it had a cool, 1950’s retro Americana vibe to it. The rooms looked small online but aesthetically it was a very urban, chic hotel.
After walking back in the sweltering TX heat, we went for a quick dip in our hotel pool. By this time, people were getting checked into the hotel and it was starting to get busy. Opening game weekend is a huge weekend in Austin and the game was sold out so we knew it would be crowded. For dinner, we tried a new restaurant called Fixe located in downtown that had upscale southern cuisine. I highly recommend Fixe – we started with their made to order biscuits which go down as the best biscuits I have ever eaten. Light and flaky and you could taste the butter in them. They were heavenly. Steve had a roast pork loin with apple jus and I tried the pan seared duck breast served over pickled ramps and earthy potatoes. Both dishes were stellar.
Saturday was a walk down memory lane for us. We went to the UT campus and walked around and visited some old places, including my old college dormitory, the UT clock tower, the student union and the main lawn area known as the “six pack” because it’s bordered by 6 original buildings that are still used as classrooms. I had many, many classes in the six pack buildings which were built in the early 1900’s (and haven’t been remodeled much since then!). We also visited the University Co-op on Guadalupe Street which is right next to campus and is known as “the Drag.” It’s mostly some small stores, coffee chops and casual restaurants but the Co-op is the main store for UT merchandise and is also where the students go to buy their classroom textbooks. Afterwards, we visited a favorite restaurant for Tex-Mex called Trudy’s near campus. Back in college, we ate a lot of meals at Trudys and drank waaaay too many margaritas here after class. I pretty much pigged out on tacos, queso and guacamole like I did in the old days.
Saturday evening we took a cab to the east side of Austin and tried another new restaurant called Contigo, which was also great. I know I am saying “great” a lot but we really didn’t have a bad meal or even dish this entire trip. Contigo is an outdoor concept with picnic tables on a big lawn and patio lights strung across it – like you are dining in someone’s backyard. There is also a covered patio area but it’s also open-air and there are big fans to keep you cool. The food is an organic farm to table concept and everything we had was wonderfully prepared and so fresh, including sauteed okra, a cheeseburger for Steve and roasted chicken with mushrooms and fresh peas for me. They also do hand crafted cocktails which were excellent – it definitely has that hipster scene for which Austin is known.
Sunday was the big day – Game Day!! Steve and I are huge football fans…well, he is more so than me but I can hang. If you don’t know much about the University of Texas, you may not know that it’s one of the largest universities in the United States with just over 50,000 students in attendance. The stadium is massive and this was a sold out game. The final tally on attendance showed it broke the record – 102,315 people attended the game and that’s just in the stadium itself. It’s also surrounded by thousands and thousands of tailgaters. Needless to say, it was a very festive, albeit crowded atmosphere. It was an evening game so we had a late lunch at one of my old favorite spots in Austin – the Shady Grove.
I love the Shady Grove. It’s funky and weird with decor that you would expect to see in a crazy Aunt’s house that hasn’t been updated since 1972. The restaurant is near downtown and sits in a grove of huge pecan trees, has a great outdoor stone patio and bar and serves up home cooking fare, including chicken fried steak, burgers, wings, etc… I loved eating here in college and I always get the same thing – the Hippie Chick sandwich, which is a variety of roasted vegetables (mushrooms, eggplant, red peppers, arugula) served with a grilled chicken breast and basil pesto mayo on a seeded bun. I could eat this sandwich every day. We started with an order of their famous grilled wings and a prickly pear margarita.
After that, we were off to the game! Getting to the stadium was a beating as we tried to take a shuttle bus and ended up bailing on it half way to the stadium. The “shuttle” was an un-air conditioned school bus that was 100+ degrees inside and was not moving due to the traffic. We got off in the middle of an intersection (yes, it was that bad) and walked the rest of the way through a sea of tailgaters so we were pouring sweat by the time we reached campus – not fun.
During the game, they also introduced our new mascot – Bevo XV. UT’s mascot has been a Longhorn steer since 1916. Bevo XIV passed away last year from cancer and they just unveiled the newest Bevo at the game, which happened to also be the 100 year anniversary of Bevo.
There are some fun stories associated with various UT Bevos over the years – Bevo II charged a cheerleader at a game who defended himself with a megaphone, Bevo III escaped from his enclosure and ran amok on campus for 2 days before being caught, Bevo V broke loose and attacked the Baylor University band and in the 1920’s when money was tight, Bevo was actually slaughtered and served as BBQ on campus.
The current Bevos have been bred to be much more docile and they are “snipped” so they become steers, rather than bulls which are much more aggressive. Bevo XV seemed a little taken aback by the lights and the noise but his handlers (students known as the Silver Spurs) finally calmed him down and he spent the rest of the game peacefully munching on grass while cheering on his team.
We stopped by the alumni center pre-game for a few beers and then went and found our awesome seats in the stadium (10 yard line right by the end zone) and watched the game. It was a real nail biter as the score went back and forth in our favor to Notre Dame’s favor. It ended up going to double overtime and UT finally pulled out a win!
Monday was Labor Day so we slept in and then had a great BBQ lunch with Steve’s old college roommate so it was fun to catch up. We caught an early evening flight back home and we are still talking about our team’s victory.