A Designer’s Eye: Austin City Guide

A Designer’s Eye: Austin City Guide

A Designer’s Eye: Austin City Guide 800 285 Chute Gerdeman

Austin is a city that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It seems obvious, considering the unofficial-but-heavily-adopted city slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.” There’s a glimmer of wit, a clever nod, a cheeky twist, or a dash of whimsy to just about anything and everything that’s great about the city.

My first encounter with Austin was during an internship in 2004. I lived there for three months. I found it confusing, frustrating, lonely, and I wasn’t yet 21 so I couldn’t partake in the fabled 6th Street. I recently visited Austin when I attended the 2015 International Retail Design Conference (IRDC) and stayed a few extra days. It was my first time back in 11 years. Now that Uber exists, Apple Maps can tell me where to go, Yelp is there to tell me what to do, and yes, now being well over 21, the quirky capital of Texas has a newfound place in my heart.

As a brand experience designer, I always keep a keen eye out for trends when traveling. However, in a town that prides itself on it’s quirks that becomes a little difficult. With one place more unique than the next, what’s the thread that holds everything together? There was one trend that rose above, and that is the concept of reuse, renovation, and transformation. And of course, Austin does it in its own unique way. It’s houses turned into boutiques, bakeries and restaurants. It’s an old mechanic’s garage turned into a bar. It’s empty fields that are now permanent—and frequently sought out—locations of beloved food trucks. It’s those brilliant touches that keep Austin weird and wonderful all at the same time.

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TOMS Roasting Co.

Better known as the TOMS behind the shoes or eyewear, TOMS positions itself as a local café in the heart of the South Congress District (SoCo for short). By purchasing their coffee product, you are providing clean water for families within coffee-producing regions. Community is the name of the game in this house-turned-café plus shop; local events are centrally posted, and they even feature a Customer of the Month. Ever present is the “relax and stay awhile” vibe, with plenty of places to lounge both inside and out, taking advantage of the beautiful Texas weather. “Bringing the outdoors in” was another trend we saw; there was an easy flow between enclosed spaces to patios and yards, which is easy when it’s sunny and warm the majority of the year. The outdoor space included a ping-pong table, hammocks, and a fire pit. Inside, their signature map, detailing how many lives the company is changing every day.

The TOMS house is very much a retail store as well, with two rooms dedicated to footwear, eyewear, and bags, but it feels secondary (in a good way) to the cozy coffee lounge. This space is different and unique to Austin, but feels right in line with their growing fleet of stores like the Los Angeles flagship.

Rainey Street Historic District

The Rainey Street District is a tiny neighborhood adjacent to downtown where the bars look like houses, and for good reason. The community of bungalows was preserved as a historic district. What used to be a sleepy residential neighborhood was rezoned in 2004 as part of Austin’s central business district. Though the buildings themselves aren’t historic, it must be approved by the historic landmarks committee if you want to knock them down. Why mess with unnecessary construction when you have a perfectly lovely house structure with porches and trees? The homes have been repurposed as bars and restaurants, welcoming the thriving social scene that defines the Austin culture.

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Lucille is where we spent most of our time, which has several different seating areas perfect for a variety of moods. The indoor space provided a more intimate setting for pairs or small groups. The outdoor scene was open, laid-back and chill, with cornhole, a putt-putt corner, and hammocks for lounging, because why not? The second bar was outside in a hut, with TVs for those who want to watch the game.

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Standing out from the crowd, however, is Container Bar, which is a spacious venue created by shipping containers. While shipping containers obviously aren’t native to the residential street, they somehow felt just right in that they’re quirky, relaxed, and enabled a smooth indoor-outdoor flow. Just like Lucille, the different containers and open spaces allowed for different vibes in separate areas. There were spaces perfect for private parties, or if you just wanted to perch on a stool and watch the game being projected on the side of the giant structure, there was space for that too.

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Winflo Osteria

Housed in a 1922 historic craftsman-style bungalow in Old West Austin is classic Italian restaurant Winflo Osteria. This place is oozing with charm. The interior feels authentic with the fireplace, worn-wood ceiling and floors, and residential columns. The furnishings are a modern update to the traditional look that probably once resided here, while the bar’s ceiling structure adds a fresh, contemporary twist to the small space. It’s comfortable and cozy—intimate, but not in an intimidating way. The playlist was right up my alley with 80’s new wave hits. But on evenings when you want live entertainment, head downstairs to Winflo’s Listening Room, a small music venue for carefully chosen artists. The room is intended as a sensory experience, combining the art of food and music. “When an artist writes lyrics they do so with the hope that someone else will LISTEN and hear their story. When a chef creates a menu they do so with the hope someone else will SAVOR their creation. Listen at Winflo, is a one-of-a-kind dining and music experience the combines both these senses.”

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South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery

In most cities mobile food trucks are always on the go, meaning it’s a bit of hunt to find your favorites in popular hotspots. In contrast, the food truck trio, Torchy’s Tacos, Conscious Cravings and Holy Cacoa find South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery a permanent home. Well known for starting the Austin trailer park food truck movement, Torchy’s Tacos serves as the featured food attraction. Vegan food truck Conscious Cravings serves up healthy salads, wraps and smoothies, while Holy Cacao’s divine desserts provide the perfect assortment of chocolate indulgences including cakeballs.

A dozen or so covered picnic tables in an open lot provide reprieve from the hot Austin sun, and when the sun goes down a fire pit serves as the perfect centerpiece for laid back conversations. A covered pavilion adorned with gold painted ephemera creates an eclectic space to hangout with ping-pong, foosball and a large flat screen for entertainment. And as a BYOB establishment, guests can even crack open a cold one and kick back to enjoy some live entertainment from local acts.

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Garage Cocktail Bar

Garage Cocktail Bar is the highlight I wish I would’ve hit. Located inside a former valet ticketing office inside a downtown parking garage, this craft cocktail bar and live music venue is the ultimate example of why it pays to be “in the know.” The space is tucked away, making you feel like one of the cool kids upon entering. The unpretentious vibe and excellent service keep patrons coming back for more. Normally, if a bar says it specializes in “craft cocktails,” it means you’ll be waiting 15 minutes for your drink. That doesn’t seem to be the case at Garage, where each bartender’s station is designed with its own set of core ingredients and equipment in order to keep the libations flowing for the bustling crowd. A happening joint where the service is efficient? Sign me up! The bar pays homage to the midcentury building in which its located with retro 60’s-era decor. With its intriguing location and great reputation, it’s easy to see why it’s creating such a buzz (no pun intended)!

Without a doubt, the city of Austin has no limits when it comes to its charm and quirky cool character. For retail, restaurants and bars, fitting in means finding what makes you unique and connecting to the roots of the Austin community.

Photo Credit: Culture MapWinflo | Austin Chronicle | Jetson Green

post by Mary Lynn Waite

post by:

Mary Lynn Waite

Mary Lynn has mad skills developing  brands through visual communications. Leading a team of designers with style and enthusiasm that shines through on our most successful projects. Trend spotter and pop-culture enthusiast, Mary Lynn keeps our creative studio alive. You can read more posts from Mary Lynn here >

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