Austin is a Texas-sized town, but it’s about to get super crowded as an estimated 28,000 people descend on it for South by Southwest. That means a massive amount of competition for places to meet, be they bar stools, dining tables or a random patch of grass near Lady Bird Lake. Adweek asked a few SXSW veterans, including one local ringer, what are their favorite locales.
David Berkowitz, 360i’s vp of emerging media, based in New York:
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue: It’s a misnomer because this isn’t real barbecue, but it is great nouveau Texan cuisine, and the one spot I always return to every year. They make a mean cocktail, too. As an added bonus, it’s one of the only great downtown restaurants on OpenTable, which comes in handy when planning to meet clients in advance.
Sarita Bhatt, Havas Worldwide's global strategy director, based in New York:
Last year, the best place I found to take a break from all the madness, enjoy playing with Google's latest technologies, hear some smart people chat in a low-key setting and meet up with old and new pals is the Google Village. It's big enough to find a quiet corner—has WiFi and places to charge up—and most importantly, lots of outdoor seating to enjoy the Austin sun while still being immersed in the SXSWi culture. A great meet up spot! The Trio bar at the Four Seasons is a great spot to grab a cocktail and have some quiet one-on-one conversations ... you also never know who you'll saddle up next to at the bar. It's in the heart of downtown and SXSWi world, but since there are fewer sessions taking place here in comparison to other hotels, it's a little quieter and the sessions that do take place are substantive and inspiring. Another great spot is Whip In, a few miles from downtown, but if you're staying in the kind of shabby hotel/motels on the highway, it's on the way home. It's all the eclectic, awesome, kitschy-cool of Austin one would hope for if the town wasn't jam-packed with hipster cyber geeks. And it offers delicious Indian fusion food in a very energetic environment. … If you're looking for a great meal and you're tired of Tex-Mex, go here.
Christian Waitzinger, SapientNitro’s executive creative director, based in New York:
The Driskel is the classy place for client meetings while at SXSW. Prefer to get there earlier because it is not crowded yet. Overall, it is the place to talk, work things over with a bourbon on the rocks. Allens Boots is a hidden gem at SXSWi. Great reason to hop over the bridge for some shopping or a business chat. Love this side of town. There's also a vintage street market that's fun to browse around. It's like the emo vibe on that side of town. Also, there is a huge selection of cowboy boots and what is SXSW without some vintage cowboy boots.
Honestly, just go with the flow and see where you end up. I had my best experiences over the years at SXSW with clients and colleagues/past colleagues at places where I don't know the name, nor the address and probably can't remember how I ended up there in the first place.
Ly Tran, Proof’s director of digital strategy and architecture, based in Austin:
A quiet escape from downtown is a walk to the capital grounds and then sneaking over to a hidden little bar that only local politicians know about. The Cloak Room is in a dark basement at 1300 Colorado and has a great jukebox. Just don't play Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash or you'll be asked to leave. Right in the middle of 6th street is the Midnight Cowboy, a former sensual massage parlor turned speakeasy cocktail bar that is open via reservations only. Reserve a table online and ring the secret doorbell at the unmarked, no signage door and come in and get handcrafted cocktails made right at your table.
The only way to escape SXSW is to head east, and it is becoming harder and farther every year to find an escape from skinny jeans. Justine's Brasserie on East 5th Street is casual French cuisine and great cocktails in a small house on the way East Side. Playing jazz music on vinyl behind the bar and sitting in the quiet front yard playing washers while you wait for your table almost makes it worth the cab ride.
And say goodbye to trailer park eateries on South Congress (SoCo). The area that started the Austin food trailer craze is being displaced to make room for another hotel. Cupcakes, food in a cone, gyros, po-boys and other random concoctions are being forced out right after SXSW, so swing by just so next year you can say you were there when this generic hotel was a trailer park full of foodies.
Austin has live music every night, so SXSW is just more of the same. A great way to take a break from the lines and crowds and see some local flair is Ginny's on Burnett. Every Sunday is chickenshit bingo on the pool table and Dale Watson and his band on stage. Place a wager on what square the chicken will shit in and you can win big. Complete with free hotdogs and cheap longnecks, 3-8 p.m., Sundays only.