In Austin, you’ll find live music and delicious food at every turn, so you’ll have no problem planning a fun-filled trip. But why only check out the obvious tourist destinations when you can add exciting, unexpected — and sometimes even hidden — stops on your itinerary? Your travel companions will have you pegged for a local when you let them in on the Texas capital’s best-kept secrets.
Ciclo at the Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel Austin launched a unique new event in a private dining space this year. Animación is an animated dining experience curated for the restaurant by TableMation Studios. The dining table comes alive thanks to graphics beamed from state-of-the-art overhead projectors in between courses like citrus-marinated seabass with mushrooms, salmon roe, chives and ponzu butter, and accompanied by chablis (if opting for the additional wine pairing). Animación bookings are available Thursday through Saturday, with a new family night added on Sundays.
Garrison, Fairmont Austin’s fine-dining restaurant, sits behind the facade of a 1930s country home inside the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel. Still, that’s not even the most covert experience you can enjoy during your stay.
Ask your server about securing a reservation to Room 725, a hidden seventh-floor lounge specializing in champagne, caviar and Cuban cigars. The space, only open on Fridays and Saturdays, features a lounge singer accompanied by a piano player, completing the swanky vibe. Enjoy bubbles by the glass, bottle or flight, and indulge in four types of caviar and other luxuries, like butter-poached lobster and tuna carpaccio. The cocktail menu focuses on perfected classics with unique spins, such as the Monarch Old Fashioned, a marriage of Kentucky bourbon and Oaxacan bitters in a smoke-filled dome.
See the sky in a different light at Skyspace
Artist James Turrell plays with light as his medium in site-specific installations, often in unexpected places. One of those sites is on the rooftop of the University of Texas’ student activity center, where you can view an oval of the sky through an oculus. Twice a day — at sunrise and sunset — an LED light show contrasts the changing colors of the sky. Make a reservation and experience the spectrum yourself (seating is limited).
Experience the art of listening at Equipment Room
This lounge, inspired by the hi-fi vinyl bars of Japan, is tucked beneath Hotel Magdalena and made possible by a collaboration with Bunkhouse hotels, Josh LaRue and Gabe Vaughn of Breakaway Records, and James Moody, owner of The Mohawk, one of the city’s most iconic live music venues. Equipment Room plays LPs from start to finish, and it’s stocked with hi-fi speakers and amplifiers, plus vintage 8-track and cassette players. Stereo headphones can even be requested at the bar (find a complete list of the equipment on its website).
The cocktail menu is split into A-Sides (classic drinks) and B-Sides (creative takes on classics), all with music-inspired names. Pair your drink with well-executed bites like tomato prosciutto toast, onigiri, a seafood board and more. Reservations fill up as soon as they’re released, but the bar reserves some seats for nightly walk-ins.
Have a ball with the Secret Disco Society
In the last several years, Austin’s nightlife scene has amped up with the opening of clubs like Coconut Club, Outer Heaven Disco Club, Mayfair, Superstition and a bigger, better Kingdom. But why settle for a night of dancing in a traditional club when you can go to secret dance parties happening all over the city?
Enter Secret Disco Society, an Instagram account that promises to “turn a crowd into a community,” with DJ-fueled pool parties, neon cowboy raves and dance throwdowns with themes ranging from Jurassic Park to Star Wars. Ticketed attendees receive texts revealing the location on the day of the event. The best way to stay in the know is to give the account a follow and keep an eye out for updates.
Visit Tokyo without getting on a plane at Watertrade
Austin boasts numerous fantastic speakeasies, and most are easy enough to find with a simple Internet search. But Watertrade may be harder to find. This Japanese-inspired lounge resides at the entrance to Otoko, chef Yoshi Otai’s high-end omakase experience in South Congress Hotel. Follow the steel stairs in the hotel’s courtyard and you’ll end up inside Watertrade. If you’re lucky, you can snag walk-in seating, but reservations are recommended for this small space that’s decorated with Japanese movie posters and Tokyo subway maps.
The bartenders here are some of the best in the city, and the cocktails are next-level. Watertrade is also home to the largest selection of Japanese whisky in Texas (around 140 different bottles), as well as around 25 types of shochu and more than 50 kinds of sake. Plus, the casual, à la carte bar menu lets you taste Otoko’s exquisite food without having to secure $300 tickets months in advance.
Catch a ball game — or learn to weld — at The Long Time
It’s been too long since you last watched a proper sandlot baseball game. Just east of downtown, The Long Time is a five-acre venue featuring the Texas Playboys Baseball Club’s home field. Games occur on the second Saturday of the month from March through October, and they also have great food, drinks, music and well-designed team merchandise (most of the Playboys are artists and makers).
In addition to hosting various community events, from fundraisers to outdoor film screenings, The Long Time features Design Build Adventure, which offers both public and customized welding and design-focused camps and workshops.