Contrary to popular belief, there are a few places in the heart of downtown where you can extricate yourself from the masses, and find a little peace and quiet…or at least a modicum of tranquility. Here’s a few of my favorite escapes, when the crowded rooms and streets overwhelm me.
Trio at the Four Seasons (98 San Jacinto Blvd., intersection of San Jac & Cesar Chavez). Comfortable restaurant space, and an oasis of calm within walking distance of most of the action. Pro tip: happy hour pricing means $8 glasses of wine, and a select menu of truly inexpensive fine dining bar food like the $4 Slow Cooked Farm Egg and Grits, with green onion, chiles and Redneck Cheddar. After the rains go away, you’ll want to be seated on their patio overlooking Lady Bird Lake (act like a local and call it Town Lake).
Casino El Camino (517 E. 6th, near the intersection of 6th & Red River). Granted, Casino can get busy, especially when they’re serving up their mouthwatering burgers, chili cheese fries and hot dogs. Gentle tourist, please do not let the dungeon-chic atmosphere or surly cooks scare you. You want to chill out, enjoy the cold a/c and let your mind unwind. You also want to order a Bloody Mary. Pro tip: if you’re sitting at the bar, you may be given vodka-soaked gummy bears.
Bull McCabes (714 Red River, near the intersection of Red River & 8th). I can guarantee that Bull McCabes will be busy at night, but when you visit earlier in the evening, the vibe is chill, the beers are cold, and since it’s an Irish bar, the Jameson is plentiful. Cheerful bartenders, easygoing regulars, live music. What more do you need?
Italic (123 W. 6th, at the intersection of 6th & Colorado). Sometimes you want a plate of very good pasta, and a glass of bubbly. For those times you need to get away from the crowds, and be well fed, there’s Italic. The wine list, curated by one of my favorite Master Sommeliers, is top notch. Pro tip: during happy hour, all pizzas are half off, house wine carafes are $16, and their freshly baked foccacia of the day is served gratis with all drink orders.
Whole Foods Flagship (6th & S. Lamar). If you’re on a budget, you want out of the frenzy, but still be provided with ample people watching entertainment, visit Whole Foods. RSVP for Southwest Invasion, on the rooftop during SXSW Music. Pro tip: Bar Lamar inside near the smoked meats features $6 craft beer flights, $10 wine flights and you can pay for food at their register.
The Iron Bear (121 W. 8th, at the intersection of 8th & Colorado). It’s not just LBGT-friendly, it’s everyone friendly. This unique, low key bar particularly welcomes “all Bears, Cubs, Otters, Wolfs, Chubs, Daddies and Chasers,” but is ready with a smile and warm service for all. Pro tip: inexpensive, yet strong drinks and you won’t have to scream to be heard over the music.