Stalking the past in present-day Austin

When we hit the road with Ms. Cladrite, we make it a point to seek out whatever is left of the old days in the town in which we’re sojourning.

This past weekend, it was Austin, and we found plenty of places to live the vintage life in that very hip and contemporary town.

It began with our lodging. Ms. Cladrite considered this choice very carefully, and as she tends to to do, she hit it out of the park, choosing the Austin Motel, which opened its doors in 1938 and hasn’t closed since. Even the neon sign is original.

The rooms are modest but delightful, and we couldn’t have been happier with the hours we spent relaxing there.

Among the eateries we patronized, a few deserve special mention. Hut’s Hamburgers is an amazing burger joint housed in a building that’s been around since August 1939, when it opened as Sammie’s Drive-in. The dining rooms were added in 1947 and 1954, and in the mid-fifties, Sammie’s became Eli’s Lounge. In 1964, Eli’s gave way to the Picante Mexican Restaurant until finally, in 1969, Homer “Hut” Hudson moved his Hut’s Hamburgers from South Congress Avenue, where the Austin Motel sits, to this Sixth Street spot where, 42 years later, Hut’s is still going strong.

The food is great, and the atmophere fun and friendly. Hut’s is a must-visit when you’re in Austin.

We also popped by Sandy’s, a classic old-school drive-in that’s been around since the 1950s. Hamburgers, chili dogs, shakes, dip cones—all the classics are here, including a great old neon sign.

We didn’t get to experience a full meal here, having to limit ourselves to a quick dip cone, but if the rest of the fare stacks up to that cone, you’ll be in good hands at Sandy’s.

Then there’s Guero’s Taco Bar, a delightful taqueria on South Congress. The establishment itself is not particularly vintage—it first opened for business in 1986—but, as the Guero’s web site details, the building that houses the Guero’s dining room was built as a seed and feed store in the late 1800s. And the food’s darned tasty.

We enjoyed some vintage leisure activities, too, playing a round of miniature golf at Peter Pan Mini Golf, in operation since 1946. Peter Pan boasts two 18-hole courses, each featuring “a variety of characters, obstacles and surprises,” and the day we played both were packed with families with kids, high school and college kids on dates, and young adults.

We’re suckers for miniature golf and never pass up a chance to play a round if we can possibly fit it in. That’s not to say we’re skillful, mind you (a glance at our scorecard would tell the story there, though we will say we improved on the back nine). We love that this course, with wholesome fun for kids of all ages, has been thriving now for 65 years. That’s a true success story, in our eyes.

We also bowled a couple of games at the Highland Lanes, which appears to be a classic bowling alley that’s been updated over the years. It still retains plenty of charm, though, and for our money, the game of bowling is vintage enough that the setting doesn’t matter so much. Besides, the Highland Lanes feature a long mural depicting life in Austin that is made of carpet. What more could one ask?

On Friday night, we dipped our toes into the two-step waters with a visit to the Broken Spoke, a honky-tonk that’s been in operation since 1964, a year that’s a bit outside our usual range of interest, but 47 years of boot-scooting is nothing to sneeze at.

Neither of us had ever two-stepped before, but we paid a little extra to participate in a group lesson, and it was money well spent. We won’t win any contests, but we had a great time and didn’t embarrass ourselves too badly, traversing the floor to the classic honky tonk country of Jake Hooker and the Outsiders. The Broken Spoke was a very friendly, very welcoming place and we had a grand time. We came darned close to going back the very next night, but other activities distracted us.

A good deal of time in Austin was spent vintage shopping, and we found a number of prime spots. Perhaps our favorite was Uncommon Objects, a huge emporium that is carefully and creatively curated. One feels a bit as if one is wandering an antique mall, the kind where each nook and cranny is operated by a different vendor, except, in this case, the entire store is operated by a single proprietor. Each nook and cranny has a sort of theme (and many have a color scheme), and it’s the kind of place to which one simply can’t do justice by breezing through quickly. We made a couple of purchases at Uncommon Objects: a vintage greeting card (a birthday card meant specifically for a boy serving in the military overseas) and a trashy (or so it appears from the dust jacket, but we do recall what is said about judging a book by its cover) 1947 novel called “Illicit” by Jack Woodford, author of such classic titles as “Strangers in Love,” “Unmoral,” and “Rented Wife.”

We know nothing of Mr. Woodford’s oeuvre or his life, but we’re looking forward to getting acquainted with both.

We also paid a visit to a more traditional antique mall of the type described above, the Austin Antique Mall on the north side of town. It’s a very satisfying place to browse from booth to booth. We resisted the urge to buy a couple of vintage ties that our eye, but Ms. Cladrite picked up a like-new vintage women’s pea coat of cardinal red that was a quite a bargain and fits her to a T.

We visited a number of vintage clothing stores, as well, with the standouts being Amelia’s Retro-Vogue & Relics and Flashback Vintage, within a few blocks of each other on South First Street.

I don’t know just how long we spent at Amelia’s—time seemed almost to stand still—but we had a grand time looking through the wonderful offerings in her shop. Amelia’s focuses on clothing from the first half of the twentieth century, which is right in our sartorial wheelhouse, and we could easily have spent several hundred dollars there.

As it was, we somehow managed to limit ourselves to a plaid short-sleeved sports shirt from the late fifties that instantly became one of our favorites (and we’ve got plenty of those shirts, believe you us), a light brown Hollywood-style jacket (our first, and we couldn’t be more pleased), and a vintage linen handkerchief with our initial on it.

Next up was Flashback Vintage, where the original owner has returned and is restoring the store to its former glory.

The range of clothing featured at Flashback struck us a bit wider than at Amelia’s, and we know that some will view that as a positive (we don’t require a wider range than the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, thanks). It’s a nice shop, and we did purchase a late ’40s/early ’50s Curlee brand suit that we’re very pleased indeed with (and at a very nice price, we’re happy to say). It’s brown with tiny rust-colored stripes in the weave and the fabric’s of a very nice weight. We’ll definitely be able wear it in the spring and possibly in the summer, which often isn’t the case with vintage suits.

We enthusiastically recommend both of these fine stores; they deserve your patronage, if you’re in the area.

On Saturday, we visited Avenue Barber Shop in South Austin. It’s an old-school clip joint (in the best sense of that term) that looks today much as it has for decades, and the men manning the chairs know how to give one an old-school cut to match the setting. We were tended to by the proprietor, Kevin Lemoine, and he did a great job. Stop by, spend a little time chewing the fat, and walk out looking better than you did when you stopped in.

And when you do, be sure to tell them that Cladrite Radio sent you.

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5 thoughts on “Stalking the past in present-day Austin

  1. This has to be the best review of Austin ever written by an Oklahoma fan!

    I had completely forgotten that I’ve been to Hut’s until I saw the photos — the pennants stood out to me. Mouth watering once again. I really want to go back…

  2. Very nice write up on our lovely town! Glad that you guys made it up to the Austin Antique Mall and very nice to have you stop in the shop. Say hello next time you are through and I’ll give you the real-deal taco truck tour. Kevin

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