The Texan capital has an outlaw spirit that makes it the perfect place to party, writes Ewan McDonald.
Saturday night was the bar, the band, the other bar, the next band, the cycle-cab ride home, the nightcap in the house bar. Sunday morning demands something cooked with more grease than the human frame should consume at any other time.
Pull up at a small strip mall. Check out the menu. Coffee-rubbed grilled ribeye with chillies, caramelised onions and chimichurri might do the trick; so might the Mexican Coke-marinated pork chop (no, surely chef hasn't ...); hang on, this is the go: breakfast tacos. Every food group covered, especially hangover.
Foodies will tell you breakfast tacos did not originate in Austin, Texas. This morning, they can stick their insight somewhere between the refried beans, melted cheese and the chorizo and wrap them up in a flour tortilla.
This town has perfected the dish, and if you think it's an odd way to start the day, understand that the city motto is "Keep Austin Weird".
The phrase is on bumper stickers, T-shirts and coffee mugs. It's one of two mottos that sum up the funkiest of America's smaller cities. The other is "Live Music Capital of the World". Not Nashville, not Memphis, not Chicago, not New Orleans.
Austin is an accident of history. It has been capital of Texas since its was a riverbank where stagecoaches stopped so horses could be fed and watered. Texans realised they could park the politicians and state servants there and guarantee they would be forgotten, along with the university. Other nations have chosen capitals for similar reasons: Canberra. Wellington.
Life trundled along until the 1970s. When, for a whole bunch of socioeconomic reasons, the sleepy little town exploded.
IBM, Motorola, Dell, Apple, Samsung and more moved in. By 2000 the population stood at 650,000. Now it's 1.8 million and still climbing. Houston, just down the freeway, is the fastest growing metropolis in the US; this is No2.
Looking for the heart of a Saturday night, head for East 6th St: four downtown blocks where most every old-fashioned shop is now a bar, a club, or some other place of entertainment. Or a place of some other entertainment, like a tattoo parlour.
Friday and Saturday nights, or whenever the Longhorns - the university football team - are playing, the street is closed to traffic. Crowds walk, strut, dance along the avenue, stopping off for a beer here or a band there. Maybe even a ride on a mechanical bull.
Every night more than 100 venues offer live music here and the adjoining Red River precinct. Rock. Blues. Country rock. Alt country. Irish. Tex-Mex swamp boogie. Any combination of the previous.
The crowd is mostly young, student, hipster. They are universally good-natured and polite in that American way; some affect surprise when a middle-aged tourist changes into a T-shirt mid-roadway. Hey, it might have been past midnight but it was hot in that button-down, dinnertime shirt.
"Dirty 6th" has been this way since the 60s when a country singer-songwriter who'd written hits for the likes of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline got wrung out with the Nashville scene. Came home to Austin. Got a gig at the Broken Spoke alongside Texas music legends Bob Willis and Ernest Tubb. Come on down, Willie Nelson, who even now doesn't have a permanent home, just a caravan and a PO box with an Austin zipcode.
Like Dunedin in the 80s, the words and the chords spread. Clubs like the Vulcan Gas Company featured local bands like the 13th Floor Elevators, Johnny and Edgar Winter. The Vulcan morphed into the near-mythical Armadillo World Headquarters bar and venue.
In a decade or so, Austin became the tuning-fork for Janis Joplin, Butthole Surfers, Dixie Chicks, Joe Ely, Nanci Griffiths, Shawn Colvin, Jimmy La Fave, Spoon, Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt, whom Steve Earle declared "the greatest songwriter of them all, and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and tell him so", and the city's favourite son, immortalised in a bigger-than-lifesize statue right on the shores of Lady Bird Johnson Lake: Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The Austin City Limits TV show began in 1974: over four decades of live rock, folk, country, bluegrass and zydeco later it's the longest running music television show and an annual festival. South by Southwest (SXSW), the planet's most important film, music and interactive conference, happens on four blocks of East 6th St.
A couple of blocks away is Rainey St, a Kiwi council planner's nightmare come true. They could probably invoke at least 453 clauses of the Resource Management Act.
Legally, it's a Historic District of 31 bungalow homes put up before 1934, which is pretty old around these parts. Think of Ponsonby before the Audis arrived.
The sleepy street, right next to downtown, was rezoned in 2004 to encourage development near a new convention centre. That stalled but smart young entrepreneurs found a loophole in the law: it permitted cocktail bars or restaurants without any planning permission.
Make mine a mojito, baby!
The old bungalows were turned into bars and cocktail lounges, making use of the ample backyards and porches - all legal so long as the facades and picket fences remained. Just like gentrified John St and Franklin Rd villas, only with late-night bar licences.
Pass a laid-back doorman into Bungalow, park at a barbecue bench in what was the front yard. Grab orders, head down into what was the kitchen, now fitted out with a full-service bar, cocktail fixin's and tapas servery. There's a band playing in the heady, sweaty, humid night; the funky swampy sons (or more likely grandsons) of Tony Joe White. They are two or three backyards away.
Sadly, this only-in-Austin vibe won't last. Developers are winning and the Rainey St strip is giving way to new hotel skyscrapers and apartments.
It's 2am and that's not the only thing giving way. Time to hail a cycle-cab back to America's most haunted hotel.
After tacos, just one more stop. South Congress Avenue - aka "SoCo" - is kinda like K Rd with less studied self-consciousness, more unaffected style and way more fun. Oh, and better icecream parlours and food trucks.
Starts at the bottom of a hill around Amy's icecream restaurant, across from the phallic-neon-signed Psycho-lookalike Austin Motel.
Running up the hill are boutiques that would, in any other town, be shunned as cliches. Allens Boots for hand-tooled cowboy footwear. Day of the Dead and Frida Kahlo chic at Tesoros. Bric-a-brac and brac-a-bric at Uncommon Objects. Over the top and under the other places costumes, hats and accessories at Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds: Bob Dylan came in blue jeans and leather jacket and left a riverboat gambler.
Hipster, eclectic and just plain fun, you might spot the city's most famous residents on SoCo: Sandra Bullock, Elijah Wood, Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson. There's no bike shop, so maybe not its most infamous: Lance Armstrong.
Time to head to the airport. Not on that bus: it's the 801, goes to South Park. Creator Mike Judge lives here too. Helping keep Austin weird.
Hey, hey, it's LBJ
JFK, the tragic victim. History tends to forget the survivor, even though he is just as well known by his initials. Lyndon Baines Johnson, the local who became president when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot dead just three-and-a-half hours up the road in Dallas, was vilified in the anti-Vietnam War chant: "Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"
Haunted, in the White House with his wife Lady Bird, daughters and grandchildren, Johnson elected not to run for president in 1968 and retired to his ranch outside Austin, dying in 1973.
For a foreigner to understand the aura that surrounds the presidency, it takes a visit to somewhere like LBJ's Presidential Library at the University of Texas, Austin. Unlike anything else in the state it's not large; the Longhorns' stadium next-door seats 100,000 and is often sold out.
One of 13 presidential libraries, it houses 45 million pages of historical documents. But it's the little things that mean a lot:
• Photos of the most powerful man win the world - while Vietnam was burning and the Soviet Union was toughing out the Cold War - giving his daughter away at her wedding;
• The reconstruction of Lady Bird's 60s chi chi office, orange couches, red desk;
• The re-created Oval Office, with its taping mechanism hidden in a coffee-table drawer, flags and carpet with the presidential seal, his desk - after Johnson retired he was known to come here and sit at the desk to surprise visitors.
Outside the US his name is tarnished. But LBJ was a surprisingly popular and effective president at home, and there is a steady stream of mainly Texan visitors to his memorial.
They chatter about his achievements: the "Great Society" that created Medicare; public broadcasting; aid to education and the arts; urban and rural development; public services; his "War on Poverty". His major legacy remains the civil rights and voting laws that attacked segregation - unthinkable bravery for a Texas Democrat then. Johnson was a huge man. As one photo shows he would stand over opponents - right in their faces - until he got what he wanted. It was known as "the Johnson treatment".
Next to that photo is a smaller one, taken in this room. It shows a man looking at that picture of LBJ. The observer is the first African-American president of the United States.
Getting there: From December, Air NZ flies non-stop from Auckland to Houston, with connections to Austin on partner airlines.
The writer travelled to Austin with Air New Zealand.