Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dancing in the Streets

I love to travel. Being a history buff and a lover of culture, new cities and countries provide me with opportunities to explore relics of the past, great moments in time and the differences between a traditional meal or a night out in London and one in Tel Aviv. Though I relish the chance to go to these far away destinations, the same can be said of travels closer to home. The experience of a night on the town in an unfamiliar city is a window into that city's soul. And someplace that's only a few hours plane ride away from home can feel like a new and different universe when the sun goes down.

Last weekend, an old friend's wedding gave me the opportunity to head down to Austin, a place that's a mere three hour drive from the city I grew up and, and just a three hour plane ride from the city I live in now. But a trip down 6th Street on a Friday night was something altogether new to me in the world of nightlife. An experience to marvel at, to laugh at and to relish, down to every last bite.

After a pleasant, if somewhat predictable rehearsal dinner, that involved the most unusual dinner choices - vegan or duck, and the best cobbler I've had in a while, my boyfriend and I made our way back to the hotel. The historic Driskill Hotel, located conveniently at the corner of Brazos and 6th Street. My parents, also in town with us for the nuptials, headed off to bed and we changed out of our rehearsal dinner attire into something a little more Friday night friendly and headed back out.

For anyone who hasn't been to Austin, 6th Street is what you would call the main drag for bars and nightclubs. Just steps outside of our hotel they started. And as we walked down the block, we began to realize that just about every storefront was a bar, or club or music venue. There were a few restaurants thrown in for good measure, and maybe a tattoo shop here or there. And it just kept going. We were so overwhelmed by the options that we made a complete two-block circle without stepping inside a single door. But not for lack of trying on the part of the guys or girls on the doorstep of each venue, doling out promises of no cover and two dollar drink specials to us as we passed by. A far cry from the lines, guest lists and hefty cover charges that are the earmarks of a trip to just about any hotspot on Sunset or Hollywood Blvd. in the City of Angels.

With a veritable buffet of options, all with the same low cost, low commitment allure, how to choose? The live blues music coming, somewhat disconcertingly, from an Irish pub, was the draw for location one. The bar was about half-full, and we found some real estate at a small table near the front, where we nursed a couple ciders and let the sound wash over us, relishing the fact that we could just "drop in" somewhere and hear some pretty great music, complete with some incredibly impressive harmonica riffs, the likes of which I doubt any Hollywood venue has seen in some time.

When our feet started itching for a venue where we could take them out for a spin, we dropped a tip in the band's bucket and headed out. By that time, the streets were closed and there were as many, if not more people, milling around outside than there were in the clubs. An amalgam of college students, tourists, middle-aged locals and a few crazies thrown in for good measure, including the man in a sheer red tutu and a thong. A few doors down from the pub we were drawn in to a nearly empty club by the promise of a good dance beat and the now familiar lure of some good drinks at recession-friendly prices.

We started to realize that this was a late night town, much to our delight, since to us, an empty dance floor in the presence of good music is something akin to oh, say, heaven. It was our playground, and the perfect place to make complete fools of ourselves with something that I would call "dance dramatic interpretation." What the hell right? We were from out of town. As the people finally started to tumble in and fill up the floor, we took ourselves marginally more seriously. The need to entertain ourselves with our own ridiculous dancing was usurped by the entertainment that was now swirling around us. The trio who were out for a girl's night on the town, and well, on each other. They were quite enthusiastically humping each other and shunning all men who tried to break up their estrogen party. I had the misfortune to witness one of them pulling a Britney Spears, as she executed something that I guess was a dance move in far too short a skirt. I suppose she meant it to be seductive, but it really just looked like she was copping a squat. And then there was the group of four or five girls who were probably all of about 21 years and one day old. Their still-teenage bodies poured into tight shorts and heels as they danced on the speakers and gyrated their butts in the air as if their post-collegiate goals included lucite shoes and a pole.

When we were satiated from dancing, drinking and laughing, at ourselves and the colorful crowd, we stumbled, sweaty and a bit drunk, from the club into the balmy outside air. The streets were full. Laughter, music, talking and yelling filled the early summer night. The vegan rehearsal dinner (we both hate duck) had long since deserted our systems, so we followed the smell of garlic and cheese to a late night pizza shop and devoured a seriously tasty slice of doughy, melty goodness. As we left the shop and turned up the street, we realized that for the better part of the evening, we had been less than a block from our hotel.

6th Street was Austin for us in that moment, a mini-city, where you could have it all, for less than the valet parking at one Hollywood nightclub. Not that I don't enjoy a trip to the La La Land nightlife every now and again. Not to mention the novelty of a karaoke club in Tel Aviv, or the thrill of a secret underground bar in London. The real beauty was not in the cheap prices and the proximity to our hotel room, but in the uniqueness of the experience and how I will always remember my trip to Austin, partly because of one great night on one little street.

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