A Local's Guide to SXSW; or, How I Learned to Stop Feeling Overprotective of My City and Start Loving the Throngs

As a native Austinite, I brace for the annual descent of SXSW madness upon my hometown with a bizarre combination of excitement and horror. When 100,000 people pour into the hippest streets of your city, stumbling around all the bars, venues, and restaurants you've loved since high school, the feeling it induces is a lot like bringing your favorite toy to school for show and tell, then having to watch while all your friends play with it at recess. It's like, fuck, man, you don't know that Green Power Ranger action figure like I know it.

Luckily, because now I am a mature and empathetic adult, I find myself able to squash those feelings of petty jealousy -- I've learned how to share. In that spirit, I've thrown together a by-no-means-comprehensive list of some of my favorite local spots for all you out-of-towners making this year's SXSW pilgrimage. Spending 17 hours a day getting your eardrums blown to oblivion is great and everything, but sometimes we all need a little reprieve from the music and heat and tattooed seas of pedestrians.

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Speaking of heat: it is going to be fucking hot. Low 80s and the equatorial Austin humidity means noticeable sweat stains on your clothes for most of the day. Just roll with it -- the beauty of Texas is that everyone gets really sweaty from March until October and no one gives a shit. There will be many budding entrepreneurs cruising downtown on bikes and hawking bottles of Aquafina for $5 a piece, but if you're trying to avoid spending as much money on water as you did on accommodations, don't forget to pack that Nalgene.

Austin may be known as the Live Music Capital of the World, but it's also the Breakfast Taco Capital of America. For folks staying near downtown, Juan in a Million provides delicious taco fare at a criminally cheap price. Sit on the patio, order extra tortillas to scoop up the errant fillings, and make sure to say hello to Don Juan himself, who personally shakes the hand of every (usually hungover) customer. Tacodeli, Tamale House, and El Chilito are a little farther from the action, but certainly worth the trek if you want to escape the hordes.

Still feeling bleary-eyed from the late-night festivities? Coffeeshop mainstays Jo's and Motzart's are great places to soak up some AC and caffeine. The latter has a beautiful wooden patio right on the lake. UT-favorite Spider House serves solid coffee, beer on tap, and a downright sinister Bloody Mary.

After taking some time to watch the world's largest urban bat colony emerge from beneath the Congress Bridge, keep walking south down Congress Avenue and you'll find an eclectic mix of thrift stores and restaurants. Guero's has some of the best Tex-Mex and margaritas in the city (although there are many Curra's devotees as well). Home Slice serves up New York-style pizza late into the night, and Amy's combines delicious, housemade ice cream -- including some beer flavors -- with a healthy dose of showmanship (be prepared to catch your ice cream in a cup as it's thrown from across the room).

These days, most of the really cool, under-the-radar bars in Austin have cropped up east of I-35. There's a sort of informal battle between West Sixth and East Sixth -- with the former attracting an older, yuppier crowd (we like to call this Dallas-ification), and the latter reveling in the grunge, grime, and cheap patio furniture of the youthful hipster demographic. Rio Rita Lounge and Shangri-La are standouts in this area. Lustre Pearl -- a historic wood-frame house that sits a little west of the highway and shares a parking lot with an I-HOP -- boasts an enormous backyard with picnic tables, hula hoops, ping pong, and a taco truck. At this point, you may be drunk enough to have obliterated all sense of shame, in which case you should seriously consider taking a ride on the Pubcrawler, a B.Y.O.B. 15-seat tandem bicycle/bar -- steered by a thankfully sober professional -- that will shuttle you around the downtown area.

For late night satisfaction, 24-hour diners Kerbey Lane and Magnolia Cafe will send you spiraling into a pancake-induced food coma. If you feel like ending on a more poetic note by returning to the tacos with which you began the day, go for the Korean-BBQ Tex-Mex fusion of Coreanos (word of warning: from midnight to 3 a.m., this place is a complete shitshow). The fast food chain Taco Cabana is another perennial favorite with locations all over the city. Rich, fluffy tortillas and a free salsa bar can make for the perfect margarita-absorption stop-off, and the entertainment value is unbeatable (I once saw a woman order food, realize that she didn't have any money, then throw her stiletto at the cashier after it was determined that she would not be allowed to use the honor system and come back to pay tomorrow).

I could say so much more, but the great thing about citywide festivals like SXSW is that you really can't go wrong -- awesome shit is going on everywhere all the time. Take advantage of the southern hospitality (it's real!), bliss out on what is sure to be a marathon session of raucous partying, and, by all means, do your best to Keep Austin Weird (but please God don't buy that tote bag).
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