36 Hours in Austin, Realistically

Mar 8, 2016

The New York Times '36 Hours' guide to Austin recommends barbecue, guitars, and more.

The New York Times featured over the weekend its travel guide to Austin, "36 Hours in Austin, Texas.” That guide inspired one "traveler" to hop on a Saturday morning plane to Austin and follow the Grey Lady's itinerary to a "T."

This is that hypothetical traveler's story.

  1. The New South — After your flight, you catch an Uber or Lyft from the airport that sets you back about $30. You sit in traffic — which seems pretty bad for a Saturday — but it gives you time to think about your costs for lodging at the South Congress Hotel, about $250 a night. You’re in the hole about $520 before you unpack. Once you do, at the Times’ behest, you take a 4 p.m. stroll down the street to Stag for a pair of Red Wing boots, which set you back $260. Before happy hour, you’ve spent $810.
  2. French Fare — Hopfields. The ride costs $10. You decide you’ll have the cheeseburger that you’ve heard so much about. $14. I'm on vacation, you tell yourself, why not have a nice glass of wine? You go with a glass of pinot noir. $10. That traffic was the worst, you think to yourself. I’m on vacationwhy not two glasses? You spend $44 before tip. You tip 20 percent. Hopfields sets you back $52.
  3. Fowl Play — After an $8 trip to Geraldine’s, you treat yourself to a local cocktail. The Ladybird seems fittingly local. $12.
  4. Historic Homes — You meet up with some friends at Container Bar. You’re feeling like a real local now. You decide to have one of these Lone Stars everybody keeps talking about. You go for two. $12. You’re hungry again. You decide to try one of these Austin food trailers you keep hearing about. You have pork cheek from the adjacent food trailer. Pork cheek from a trailer? This is so Austin! $9. The Times’ itinerary takes you and your chums to Javelina. You’re happy. The pork cheek is settling well in your stomach, which was touch-and-go for a bit. You are a visceral actualization of an emoji — fun, accessible, loved by all. In the back of your head, you hear a familiar refrain: This is Austin. You’re on vacation. This is Bat City, baby. Wait, do people call it that? You opt for a nightcap – a $9 margarita. You head back to your hotel. Thanks to surge pricing, your $5 ride costs $20. If you’re a terrible tipper, you’ve spent about $60. At the end of day one, you’ve spent a total of $932.
  5. Java Upgrade — You decide to spend a nice Sunday on South Lamar. First, coffee. You go to the paleo-friendly trailer the Times told you about, Picnik – $8 for one of those bulletproof coffees you keep reading about. Next: Ramen Tatsu-ya.
  6. Punk Ramen — According to the Times, “the city’s mainstream prefers noodles in their Italian form,” and you’re anything but mainstream – you went through a scene-kid phase, or two. But, the Times itinerary didn’t mention anything about how long the line was going to be. You wait 43 minutes. You have a flashback to the traffic from yesterday. For a brief moment, you’re just another cog in the ceaseless, undulating serpent – slithering back and forth, but never really moving – feeling so alone, so isolated in such a mass of humanity. Hunger and heat help you briefly shake it off. You order an Ol’ Skool and, after the flashback, you decide to treat yourself to a local beer: a $4 Power and Light, a good deal according to the locals. $15. The warm ramen soothes the cockles of your heart, but the existential serpent still hisses in the back of your head. Austin has a lot of lines, you think. Did I say that out loud? $955.
  7. Instruments to Go — You check back with the Grey Lady. She suggests you head north to Hill Country Guitars and buy a $4,600 guitar. $4,600, which prompts a crisis of conscience. This may be the Live Music Capital of the World, but $4,600 is too much for a guitar, right? I mean, there’s no way that’s what Bob Schneider pays, right? You try and think of how you remembered Bob Schneider’s existence. Was it an in-flight magazine? Oh, there’s another music store that’s, like, waaaay closer. You walk to South Austin Music – just to browse. In the distance, from the aether, you feel the Grey Lady’s steely gaze. I guess it doesn’t hurt to browse, you think. You buy a $425 guitar with an $80 hard-shell case – for the airplane, if nothing else. You’ve now spent as much on the guitar as you spent on your lodging, which reminds you — you’ve spent $1,460.
  8. New 'Cue — You catch a ride back to the hotel because you’re carrying a guitar around and you don’t want to be that guy. $10. At the Times’ behest, you catch another ride to Micklethwait Craft Meats. You’re relieved because with the consistent traffic and the ramen line, you’re not entirely sure you possess the physical or mental constitution to stand in the Franklin line. As the $12 ride concludes, you note the “backyard party vibe” the Times mentioned in your itinerary. This place looks great, you think. So Austin. Then, you see the line. It’s a 30-minute wait. Ennui sets in. Was the headline of this itinerary item a reference to the barbecue, or a harbinger of the lineYour excitement for Texas barbecue wanes. The line has nearly broken you. You order a three-meat plate. Still reeling from the line, you tack on a beef rib to cheer yourself up. For a brief moment, you are Fred Flintstone. You get one of those sparkling waters. $43. I’m not an emotional eater, you think as you polish off the entire plate. How many pounds of meat did I just eat? At least I’m visiting those studios after this. It’ll be good to walk around. You’re drifting in and out of a food coma. Another $12 ride gets you back to your hotel. You’ve spent $1,537.
  9. Art Hungry — The physical urge to sleep overrides any brief glint of cultural curiosity. I’m sure I can see that Mark Mothersbaugh exhibit somewhere else, you rationalize. You take the greatest nap of your life.
  10. My Beautiful Laundromat — The meat sweats awake you hours later, just 20 minutes until your reservation at Launderette. You quickly call a ride. You convey the situational urgency to the driver. He knows a shortcut. You ask him if I-35 is always this bad. He responds curtly and says nothing else. $20, with tip. You order the Aleppo prawns at the Times’ behest. $18. You make friends at the bar. You talk about traffic. You have two cocktails in preparation of your Times-mandated cocktail appreciation night. $22.
  11. Craft Cocktails — The Times itinerary whisks you away to the Roosevelt Room – $10 for the ride. Somehow, you’re still uncomfortable from all of the barbecue. You power through and order a cocktail. $15.  You walk down the street to Péché. As you fork over another $15 for a cocktail, you wonder how people exist in this city. Do they just eat barbecue and drink and go to festivals all the time?  An $8 ride whisks you back to your hotel. You feel like a gluttonous local, and you’re not sure that’s a good thing. You’ve spent roughly $1,650 so far.
  12. Taco BBQ — As you awaken, you finally feel almost back to your pre-barbecue self. This is gonna be the best Monday ever, you think. You head down south to Valentina’s to try some of these breakfast tacos the New York Times and the rest of the Internet and all your friends keep telling you about. It’s 9 a.m., you’re hungover, but there’s no traffic, so you’re okay. Then, it happens. Apparently there’s construction on some road called MoPac. An hour later, the $25 ride ends and you exit the car, seemingly leaving a piece of your soul in the backseat. The gentleman suggests you get two tacos, one of which comes with either pulled pork or brisket. Your higher brain functions cease. Apparently, you unconsciously said brisket. The tacos cost $15.
  13. To the Hills — You arrive at Jester King with friends in tow. Best. Monday. Ever. They’re closed. You just paid $35 to ride out to the rustic “working ranch” only to find nary a “cedar-aged farmhouse ale.” You call the other place mentioned by the Grey Lady, Revolution Spirits. A $5 ride later, you’re at the bar, sampling a concoction called “Elegantly Wasted.” So Austin. The tour and tasting is free, and you are relieved. You think about buying a bottle of gin. I’m already checking that guitar, you think. You don’t. After a $40 ride through Austin traffic, you second-guess yourself. A pre-flight cocktail would really take the edge off. Fifty minutes later, you’re back at your hotel. After a $25 ride to the airport, your journey is complete.

All told, you’ve conservatively spent $1,790. It’s pretty steep for 36 hours, but you feel like you’ve seen it all. You feel like you could really see yourself moving here.