With its late hours (open until 3 AM on weekends), Halcyon is the quintessential coffee bar in downtown Austin, popular at any time, and stuffed to overflowing during South By Southwest. Its location near many of the music venues is part of the attraction, as is its menu, featuring everything from smores and other desserts to breakfast sandwiches and paninis. They play great music too, if you can hear it, but Halcyon is almost always crowded and always noisy, even at 2 AM. But that’s a lot of the fun, as you begin to realize that everybody had the same idea you did…to hit up Halcyon after the last showcases were over.
TOMS began life as a shoe company, making a modified kind of Argentinian shoe for the North American market, and giving a pair of shoes to needy kids abroad for every pair purchased. This “one for one” business model proved popular, and in 2011, the company expanded to eyewear, making eye care and glasses available to the needy. Now, they have expanded again into coffee, with beans imported from Rwanda, Guatemala, Peru and Malawi, making clean, pure water available in developing countries for every pound of beans purchased. The TOMS Roasting Company shop on South Congress Avenue had been closed on Wednesday, but fortunately, on Thursday it was open, and although the line was long, it moved rapidly. Not all the menu items were available, but I was able to try a latte, which was delicious. As it was South By Southwest, a live band was playing on the back patio.
TOMS Store and Cafe
1401 South Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 350-2115 http://www.toms.com
It is possible to find free parking during SXSW if you don’t mind a fair amount of walking, so I parked over on the Eastside, north of 11th Street, and walked down the hill beside the Texas State Cemetery. When I got to 7th Street, I was in the mood for a latte, so I stopped at Vintage Heart Coffee before continuing my walk further down to East 6th Street. There, beside La Perla Bar, I noticed that the Rolling Record Store from Jack White’s Third Man Records had set up on the food trailer lot where the Sailor Jerry’s showcase was going on. I hung out there for a minute, and then walked further down to the Eastern, where a hip-hop showcase was supposed to be taking place.
Back on the downtown side of Town Lake, there were a lot of things going on, particularly a lot of events associated with the Interactive part of the South By Southwest conference. Unfortunately, the Samsung exhibit, which I had hoped to get a look at, was closed for a special private party. I walked around, considering several different places for dinner, and finally settled on one I encountered on Congress Avenue called Annie’s Cafe, which turned out to be part coffee bar and part restaurant. I opted for a bacon cheeseburger, and while my order took awhile because of how crowded everything was, the burger was really good, and the surroundings pleasant. Annie’s menu was somewhat limited, but I did notice that they feature a complete breakfast menu in the mornings.
As I do every year, I spent the late afternoon and early evening strolling around the downtown area, Sixth Street and East Austin. The crowds are usually somewhat slimmer during the Interactive part of the festival, but there were still a lot of people on 6th. A & E Network had erected a complete replica of the Bates Motel near the Convention Center, and next door Samsung had erected a huge venue which unfortunately had already closed for the day. I finally made my way over to East Austin to enjoy a dinner at Via 313 Detroit-Style Pizza, which is just about the best pizza in Austin. Down on 5th, I came to the former Progress Coffee location, which has become Wright Brothers Brew & Brew, featuring both gourmet coffee and craft beers. While I was enjoying a breve there, I noticed that there was something called the Downtown NOLA Party at a venue called Lucky’s on West 5th. It was a bit of a walk, but I decided to head over there, as anything New Orleans always grabs my attention.
Going the I-10 route through Houston as I did meant that I didn’t get into Austin until 4 in the morning on Monday, so it was nearly noon when I woke up on the first day of my South By Southwest week. After a breakfast at Jim’s, I headed over to one of my favorite Austin neighborhoods to do some record and book shopping. The North Loop neighborhood is a small stretch of funky boutiques and shops with really cool things like vinyl records, vintage clothing and books. Monkeywrench Books is a cool, left-wing bookstore with a lot of books that aren’t available elsewhere, like the really cool book I found, Michael P. Jeffries’ Thug Life: Race, Gender and the Meaning of Hip-Hop. Down the street is Breakaway Records, arguably Austin’s best vinyl store, with an emphasis on 45-RPM vinyl singles, and fairly low prices. Breakaway also sells stereo equipment and accessories. In the same shopping center is Epoch Coffee, a great place to relax and chill after an hour of strenuous vinyl shopping. I’m not even sure what is in an Iced Mojo, but it is truly amazing.
The North Loop neighborhood is located along North Loop Boulevard between Lamar and Airport Boulevard in North Austin.
While walking around downtown Charlotte, I happened to notice Bar Cocoa, a swank dessert bar adjacent to the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Lured inside by the beautiful cakes in the window, I had a hard time choosing between cupcakes, gelato, truffles, macaroons or slices of cake. I ultimately settled for a chocolate cupcake and a cup of coffee, which I took down into the lobby bar, where a smooth jazz/neo-soul band called 5th and York was playing. Deciding to hang out awhile, I ordered another cup of coffee from the lobby bar, and was amazed (and thrilled) to see it brought in a french press. Altogether, my evening at Bar Cocoa was very pleasant, and from what I could tell, there is a food menu as well.
201 East Trade Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
After I left the block party in Crosstown, I headed out to The Grindz Coffee in Cordova because I had heard that they occasionally have jazz there on Friday nights. On this particular Friday night, they were not featuring jazz, but they did have a live neo-soul/funk band called PurElegance that was rather impressive. Unfortunately, the live music on Fridays at Grindz only runs until 9 PM, so I only got a chance to check out three tunes or so as I enjoyed my latte. But the atmosphere is comfortable, and Grindz features good music and coffee.
Even the best things end eventually, and Monday morning was my last morning in Atlanta before going back to Memphis. A3C was over for the year, but I called my homeboy Fort Knox and invited him to breakfast at a place called ADios Cafe, which I had seen during Flux Night. The cafe is affiliated with the No Mas Hacienda and Cantina, which is a Mexican housewares store and restaurant in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood, so the cafe, which sells coffees, desserts and breakfasts has a pronounced Mexican theme. Nevertheless, they do sell traditional American style breakfast items as well, but the interesting things are the dishes with a slight Mexican twist, such as blue corn pancakes. The coffee is imported from Mexico, very delicious, and available to take home ground or in whole bean pound bags. It was too early to try desserts, but they looked absolutely incredible, and the ADios Cafe also features fine chocolates under the brand Chocolate of the Gods. The cafe is open every day from 8 AM-10 PM.
When the jazz band had finished playing on the rooftop at The Reserve, I walked back down to Noni’s Village and caught the shuttle back to the Melia Hotel, intending to head to the Quad, which was trending. But A$AP Ferg was performing there, and 2 Chains had tweeted that he intended to perform there, despite not being on the schedule, and the crowds that showed up resulted in hundreds of people milling around the Spring and 4th Complex entrance, and six Atlanta police cars parked out front as well. So I changed my mind and drove to Cafe Intermezzo for a late night cup of coffee and slice of dessert. With the weather so pleasant, I was able to sit out on the sidewalk promenade, and one of the improvements at the new location is the extensive amount of front outdoor seating. There’s really no better way to end a day in Atlanta.