“Old” Austin

Colorful outdoor mural depicting an image of the capitol building with the words Greetings from Austin Capitol of Texas painted in vibrant letters
Austin mural/tourist photo op at South 1st and Annie Street (via austintexas.org)

If you live in Austin, Texas, you probably know that it has grown and changed a lot over the past decade or so. Change is inevitable anywhere, but here in Austin it feels particularly acute – maybe because Austin was a relatively small city that grew so fast, or maybe because it had a certain mystique being the capital of a large state like Texas. But if you’ve spent time in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” you’ve probably heard someone lamenting all the changes and wistfully recalling the “old days” of Austin.

I officially moved to Austin proper in 2002, but I’ve been visiting the city since 1998. So, I’m not a native Austinite, and I wasn’t around when hallowed places like Armadillo World Headquarters orĀ Liberty Lunch were the main scene (although supposedly LL is making something of a comeback). But I remember when SXSW was a rather small local festival and not the juggernaut it is now. I remember being able to park for free, not waiting for a table at restaurants, and not sitting in traffic every. single. day.

It’s easy to decry all the changes and write off present-day Austin as lacking its prior charm. But I started thinking: surely there is something of the old Austin left? And of course, there is – a lot of it actually! But how does one define “old Austin,” besides in years? I’m sure there are a million different ways. History can be a slippery thing, because there are so many stories that get prioritized over others. We can’t overlook the role that racism and segregation have played (and continue to play) here while we acknowledge that Austin is a hotbed of creativity and art. We can see and feel the clash of bright, shiny new developments with the less shiny, “hippie” parts of town that are remnants from another time. Austin may be a little less “weird” these days, but its spirit can still be found.

I began making a list of the places that I considered “old” Austin. I used the very simple criteria of “been in business for at least 20 years” (when I first wrote this list, that meant 1997 or earlier). Twenty years isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things, but hey, you have to start somewhere. I also wanted to identify places that are still in their original locations, to the best of my knowledge; some have expanded or remodeled, many have come under new ownership, but all of them, in my mind, still represent that quintessential Austin spirit.

It’s been really interesting learning a bit more about some of the different places that make this city great. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’ll probably keep adding to it. Below, I’ve ordered the places chronologically from oldest to newest, based on the year they were established.

If you’re visiting Austin for the first or 100th time, if you’ve just moved here, or even if you’ve lived here longer than I have, I hope you find your way to a piece of “old Austin” and keep the spirit alive!

Check out this brief history of Austin, courtesy of the Austin History Center, for a little more context about the city.

Scholz Garten (1866)
The Driskill (1886)
Paramount Theater/Stateside Theater (1915/1935)
The Tavern (1933)
Threadgill’s (1933)
Dirty Martin’s (1930s)
The Austin Motel (1938)
Hut’s Hamburgers (1939)
Victory Grill (1945)
Green Pastures (now Mattie’s at Green Pastures) (1946)
Sandy’s Hamburgers (1946)
Deep Eddy Cabaret (1951)
Dry Creek Cafe (1953)
Continental Club (1955)
Little Longhorn Saloon (1963)
Broken Spoke (1964)
Draught House (1968)
Posse East (1971)
Top Notch Burgers (1971)
Donn’s Depot (1972)
The Cloak Room (1970s)
La La’s Little Nugget (1972)
Hole in the Wall (1974)
Jeffrey’s (1975)
Fonda San Miguel (1975)
Texas Chili Parlor (1976)
Esther’s Follies (1977)
Trudy’s Tex-Mex (1977)
Maggie Mae’s (1978)
Cactus Cafe (1979)
Juan in a Million (1980)
Kerbey Lane (1980)
Quack’s 43rd St. Bakery (1983)
Star Seeds Cafe (mid-1980s)
Amy’s Ice Creams (1984)
Stubb’s (1986)
Crown & Anchor Pub (1987)
Magnolia Cafe (1987)
Eastside Cafe (1988)
Elephant Room (1991)
Shady Grove (1992)
Mozart’s (1993)
Spider House (1995)
Guero’s Taco Bar (1995)
Hoover’s (1998)
Vespaio (1998)

Special Concessions:

Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, TX (1967): Technically the OG Salt Lick is not located in Austin proper, but I feel like it’s still an important part of the city’s BBQ landscape.

Toy Joy (1987): I’m putting Toy Joy in the “Special Concessions” category because it’s no longer in its original location. However, it’s such a beloved Austin institution (and such a weird, cool place) and you’ve got to see it to believe it.