Monthly Archives: April 2017

A chicken, but no eggs

Sunday afternoons are best spent in a laid back manner, maybe combining a few drinks with a chat over dinner.

Or, if you’re in Texas, you could bet on exactly where a chicken is going to defecate.

For this is Chicken Shit Bingo, where a couple of hundred people gather each weekend to experience a world famous attraction. One visitor her is from Sydney, and told me she “just had to come” and see it. Quite why is anyone’s guess, but as the tickets for each round are sold, customers make their way from the parking lot (which also doubles as a social venue in itself) inside the small bar room of the Little Longhorn Saloon.

“It’s like the Super Bowl in here,” says one patron, referring to the scramble for the best views of the coop. Whole families pose for selfies, though with a typical round lasting less than five minutes, you’d better be quick if you want the bird in the picture.

The Saloon’s current owner is Terri, who bought it four years ago. “And I say thank you for this crazy game every single day.” And here’s the thing. The Little Loghorn is fair drive into the outlying part of town. It’s on a bus route, but most people bring their cars, making a specific effort to come and watch.

The small irony is that this bar is right next to one of the best fried chicken joints in town. But don’t worry, the birds are well looked after and show no signs of stress. It’s just another reason to Keep Austin Weird.


Don’t Mess With Texas!

Among the clash of musical styles blaring out of Sixth Street, it’s easy to forget that Austin has much more to offer for an evening’s entertainment. Just a couple of miles south of downtown, at the Broken Spoke, they do both types of music – country and western. And nobody goes home disappointed. 

The Spoke is one of the last remaining traditional Texas dance halls. From the outside it resembles a shack. But inside, the back room opens up into a long dance floor lined by tables on hinges, which can be closed up to the walls should they need any extra dancing space.

The owner, James M White, is something of a local legend. He opened the venue when he left the army in 1964, knowing very little about business, other than having to offer cheap beer, basic good and a good time. It worked then and it still works today – just two weeks before my visit, country music start Garth Brooks played here. Tonight, James helps out on vocals with Two Tons Of Steel.

What’s most noticeable here is the sheer variety of customers. An old Latino man dressed entirely in white woos and dances with young girls on a hen night, without a hint of sleaze. Young couples show that they have the moves and the interest to ensure this tradition continues. I meet a couple from Brooklyn who’ve been introduced to the Spoke by a rabbi from Newcastle.

Being away from the city, it looks like the Broken Spoke is safe for now. Yet downtown is full of construction sites, making way for road improvements and new hotels.

You can’t halt progress, but mess with country music at your peril. As a heavy thunderstorm hits town, I watch a rerun on TV if the recent Country Music Awards. The guest performer? BeyoncĂ©. Her backing band is the Dixie Chicks. Disaster averted.


We Built This City (on food and soul)

“I’m going to show you where I grew up – and a place you should visit.” It’s an offer I can’t refuse, mainly because it’s come from the driver of the Aiport Shuttle bus and he’s taking a detour to avoid the Friday afternoon traffic. Nestling beneath the shiny corporate skyscrapers of downtown Austin is Rainey Street – a collection of former houses turned into a strip of fantastic bars.

This is a world away from the more famous Sixth Street and has a low key, after work feel to it. It’s also hidden away from the city centre, and somewhere I would have never without the driver’s local knowledge. And yet, plenty of visitors have found it. They include Ben, an IT consutant from Toronto who’s in town on business. It’s always good to find a drinking companion, so we work our way up to another Rainey Street favourite, the Container Bar. Made up of shipping containers. Obviously.

It’s just another reason for the city’s favourite slogan “Keep Austin Weird” – dreamt up to promote small, independent businesses like these. It’s hugely refreshing to see places like these thriving. Alongside the bars, street food trucks crowd into the car parks – ensuring plenty of variety for a night out.

Eventually, though, all roads lead to Sixth Street, and we’re joined by two of Ben’s business colleagues. Julio is from Brazil and seems suitably impressed by the array of music bars here. Nathan, on the other hand, is from Florida and has decided to dress to impress. But while many here sport baseball caps or cowboy boots, he’s in a rubber shirt. Despite the universally heterosexual nature of Sixth Street, Nathan gets an unusual amount of attention from the girls. Their boyfriends, presumably, are too scared to ask.

But nothing stops the music. It’s loud, rocky and wonderfully weird.