Sunday, July 25, 2010


Cole Porter may have been thinking about Austin, Texas when writing the 2nd Act opener to KISS ME KATE. The title certainly applies!

I left the oppressive heat of New Jersey for the oppressive heat of Texas. Even at 7:30 in the evening, on the four block walk back to the Hilton from dinner at the Driskoll Hotel, it was brutal.

The purpose of my trip to Austin was to attend the annual conference of the National Association of Tax Professionals. This was the 18th conference I have attended during my 23 years as a member.

For years I have been begging NATP to either go north for conference (Portland, Oregon or Maine, or Seattle, Washington) or schedule it in the fall. They almost always seem to book the hottest place they can find at the height of the summer. Next year the conference is in St Louis, MO – but the temperature there on Saturday was 96 degrees!

The flight from Newark was a little under 4 hours, and the clock was put back one hour upon arrival. The Super Shuttle, which I booked round-trip, brought me to the Austin Hilton on Sunday evening.

The Hilton was excellently located. It is across the street from the uniquely designed Convention Center and its Metro Rail (apparently disliked by locals) and bus stops, and one block from the 6th Street Entertainment District (“from jazz, blues, and country to rock, hip-hop, beat, progressive, metal, punk and derivations of these, there's something to whet everyone's musical pallete”) – which is one reason for Austin being called “Live Music Capital of the World”.

The hotel, Austin’s biggest, has only one, expectedly expensive, restaurant choice for dinner, Finn and Porter (where I dined Monday evening) - although sandwiches, pasties and ice cream are available at relatively reasonable prices in the lobby’s JAVA JIVE, which is open all day.

Finn and Porter is a steak, seafood and sushi restaurant. None of these items interest me, especially sushi, so luckily my choices were limited to the least expensive items on the menu – chicken or pasta. The steak entrees were priced at $40.00 and up. I chose the half chicken, which was very good and actually filling, preceded by equally good Lobster Bisque and followed by an assortment of sorbet.

The stinger that arrived at my table (I told the waitress how it was made) was a dirty green color – and was promptly returned. The bar did not have White Crème de Menthe, so the bartender tried green. Trust me – it doesn’t work.

The hotel’s more casual Liberty Tavern is open for breakfast and lunch and, judging by the breakfast menu, is also expensive. The $15.00 breakfast buffet (actually $16.24 with tax) was barely adequate.

There are two excellent, although also pricey, restaurants very close to the Hilton. Carmelo’s Ristorante Italiano is directly across the street from the hotel, on the site of what was once the town’s rail station. Chez Nous, an authentically French eatery, is half a block away. Both were excellent, although the real find was Chez Nous. On my last night in town I dined at the 1886 Café and Bakery in the lobby of historic Driskoll Hotel on 6th Street, a more moderately priced choice.

The Hilton lobby was surprisingly empty. No gift shop or Tour Desk – or even a rack with tour information. There was only a UPS store, instead of a “Business Center”, and a clothes boutique tucked in a corner, which never seemed to be open (not that I planned to shop). I also found it inconvenient that, while there was an ice dispenser, there were no vending machines on any of the room floors. One had to trek down to the lobby to Java Jive and pay $2.50 for a soda.
I did learn while waiting for the elevator one day that the Austin Hilton is "pet friendly". For $50.00 per night extra you can share a room with your dog!
I located the Austin Visitor Center on 6th Street and booked the Austin Duck Adventure – “an amphibious {1 hour 15 minute – rdf} tour of Austin’s downtown and beautiful Lake Austin inside one of our Unsinkable, US coast guard inspected, Hydra Terra vehicles”. I had previously been on Duck tours of Branson MO, Washington DC, and Boston.

The Visitor Center was also the starting point for “Austin in 90 Minutes” — “a narrated Austin sightseeing tour that familiarizes you with over 30 of Austin's major historical, cultural, significant points of interest in just 90 minutes” – and had information on several walking tours. I did not take the 90 minute tour, and I certainly was not going to do any walking in 96+ degree heat!

The Center also had a discount table for area entertainment. I considered getting a ticket for ESTHER’S FOLLIES, a live show of “original topical satire, mystifying magic, & musical parody” with performances on Thursday thru Saturday at 8:00 and 10:00 PM on 6th Street, but the only offerings on the board were for Friday evening.

I had checked into the theatre scene before leaving home and found only a touring production of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at the Zach Theatre (I was not interested) and an Agatha Christie mystery that was too far away from the hotel. JERSEY BOYS is coming to BASS HALL in August – too late for me (I have not seen the Broadway production yet).

Austin, Texas is not a location I would have chose to visit if it had not been for the NATP conference. I am glad I came, but, unlike neighboring San Antonio (where I had attended a National Society of Tax Professionals convention several years ago) I do not plan to return to Austin. As I said upfront – it’s too darn hot!



dbltall said...

Here in Seattle it is 80 and sunny, with a light breeze. We do have a convention center and also a Ride the Ducks tour. I think your idea of coming to Seattle is great!

Anonymous said...

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is not a touring production, it's locally produced and the cast are from Austin. We have a really cool theater scene here. Sorry you're not planning on coming back to Austin b/c of the heat -- San Antonio's just as bad. I wish more visitors would decide not to come back, this city's getting bigger by the minute, flooded with Californians, and making it way too expensive for locals.

Griffin T. said...

Sounds like a great trip. Prebooking transportation in TX was a great idea!