Darkness Descends Upon Austin, Texas

Austin is a town with a lot going on right now. The “Live Music Capital of the World,” fastest-growing city in the country, booming tech scene, food truck mecca, SXSW, Austin City Limits, breakfast tacos, hipster Shangri-La, etc. Things are happening in Austin and folks are keeping it weird. Sounds like a good destination for a bachelor party, right?

Well, about three weeks ago, I received this email from Curse of the Derse:

Alright so if you’re on this email you’ve made the rash decision to meet me in Austin next weekend. At last count there were 18 of you that have agreed to enter into this multi-day gauntlet of abuse to your heart health/liver functioning. I know this number reflects less on me and more on your deep desperate need to put a couple of states between you and your wives/children, if only for a few days.

A Derse bachelor party in Austin with 18 dudes? What could go wrong?

I won’t speak to the accuracy of his email, but what I will say is that 18 unsupervised and slightly desperate 30-something-year-olds on the loose in Austin for 48 hours is scary. We’re like teenagers, but worse – teenagers with money. If you’re a motel night staffer, bartender, stripper, taco salesman, police officer, or generally anyone in our path, this event was going to affect your life.

Austin Motel Texas SoCo South Congress Swimming Pool Neon Sign
Relaxing at the Austin Motel swimming pool Friday afternoon just before we unleashed ourselves on South Congress Street.

The bachelor party weekend started on Friday afternoon. I flew in from San Francisco on the same flight with Rodrigo, Nycz, and Hunter. I imagine the local police constable felt a chill in the air and shuddered when his sixth sense felt the presence of our plane touching down on the runway.

When we arrived at the sleepy Austin Motel – a funky but clean motor lodge, family-owned since the 1930s – the staff were immediately on high alert.

Front desk: “What brings you boys to Austin?”

Me: “Bachelor party, sir. There are 18 of us dudes. Don’t worry, sir, we’re all grown adults.”

Front desk: [blank stare] “Let me acquaint you fellas with our security policy.”

There was no point in trying to cover it up – they’d find out about us soon enough. Still, we tried our best to ease into our surroundings. At the hotel pool, we sipped mezcal from clear plastic cups and caught up with old friends. Naughton promised to buy a flat iron to straighten my hair. Scotty swam in his t-shirt.

As our crew began to roll in, we migrated to Derse’s two room suite to get “tuned up” before heading out on the town.

Hyman immediately caught us all off guard and stirred up some old emotions when he played a 60-second snippet of ATB “9 PM (Till I Come).” We told him to turn it off and everyone’s serotonin level slowly returned to normal.

At this point, Derse’s room already contained about a thousand dollars worth of hard liquor, four bags of chicharrones, and half a dozen bottles of clear “flavored” Pedialyte. Just the essentials. A crowd favorite was the aged bottle of scotch that was older than nearly everyone in the room and arrived in a small wooden box that resembled a coffin.

Austin Motel Bachelor Party Suite Room Dudes Drinking
The welcome reception inside Derse’s suite at the Austin Motel.

Our first destination Friday evening was across the street at the historic Continental Club, an Austin venue serving up live music since 1957. Blues clubs are interesting pieces of history and the band playing that night were interesting as well. The 70-year-old organ player held a corncob pipe in his teeth and banged out bass lines with his 5-inch long purple fingernails. They were so long, they curled under. He resembled a bad dream version of one of those animatronic puppets in the Chuck E. Cheese house band.

Continental Club Historic Austin Texas Live Music Blues Neon Sign Night Dusk
Juan Barle takes a FaceTime break outside the Continental Club to ensure his wife and child at home that he’s “probably going to bed soon” and they “shouldn’t worry” about him “tonight.”

The blues club was fun and all, but after a while we started feeling like caged animals. We needed to get out and taste some meat. Luckily, Hunter – the smartest guy in Texas that weekend – had the gumption to order us a monstrous party bus called the Cherry Bomb.

At first, the party bus seemed like a really bad idea. We didn’t want to look like a bunch of douche bags rolling up to the bar in that thing. Maybe they can drop us off around the block so no one sees us? But within 5 minutes of boarding that bus we were like “This is the fucking coolest thing ever.”

The Cherry Bomb was an old diesel school bus, painted silver, with a 4,500 watt sound system, LED lighting, limo seating, an ice chest for 200 beers, and – most importantly – curtains and a stripper pole in the back.

Cherry Bomb Party Bus Austin Texas
Boarding the Cherry Bomb with our skilled and experienced driver (red shirt).

We hit the ground running in this thing, immediately knowing what to do in our new environs. Beers were slammed, bottles were passed, punk rock and old school hip-hop blared over the booming soundsystem. The glove fit. The bus driver was great too. He knew all the hot spots to take us to around the city.

Cherry Bomb Party Bus Austin Texas Stripper Pole Inside Lights
Gather ’round ye old party bus stripper pole and wait for thee twilight entertainment to arrive.

Before enlisting the help of the local stripper community, we took advantage of our transportation and visited some of Austin’s best drinking neighborhoods. I’m fairly confident we stopped at several bars over the course of a few hours, but it was all a blur and I have no idea names of any of the places. The only place I specifically remember visiting was Rainey Street, a formal residential street lined with historic bungalow house – all recently converted into bars. You could just walk right through the front door of someone’s old house and order a beer in the living room. It was very unusual.

Rainey Street Austin Texas Bars Night Blurry
Rainey Street was a blur.

At some point in the evening, a pair of coed strippers, possibly from the University of Texas, magically appeared on our bus like a poof of smoke. Young, firm, and full of anarchy, they emphasized “no rules” (except one: no cameras). We obliged, mostly. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

After saying our goodbyes our new friends and all the singles in our wallets, the driver took us right into the heart of drunken Austin – the infamous 6th Street bar district, a.k.a. “Dirty 6th.” I’m not sure if it was because of the Longhorn’s game or if this was just a normal weekend in Austin, but the streets were blocked off and filled with thousands of drunk college kids. We eventually found ourselves at a ginormous meat market night club packed with college kids with fake IDs and nice tans. It was cool for about a beer or two but it quickly reminded us why we don’t have to live life like this anymore, so we moved on to another bar.

Austin Texas 6th Street Crowd Closed Off Drinking Bars Walking Dirty Sixth
Dirty 6th Street.

I can’t really remembered how the night played out, but we somehow made it back to the hotel after the bars closed. I recall getting kicked out of Derse’s suite by hotel security for partying. From there, we shuffled the party from room to room, always a step ahead of authorities. Eventually, we got tired of partying on the run and ended up out on the sidewalk outside property limits of the motel until well after 4 AM. We were now the neighborhood’s problem.

The next thing I knew it was late morning and I was in my own bed at the motel. My head hurt.

If you have a hangover in Austin, there are only two things that can possibly save you. First, you have to put at least 3-5 breakfast tacos into your stomach immediately upon waking to absorb any remaining alcohol or other impurities from the night before. Austin considers itself the “Breakfast Taco Capital of the World”, and for good reason. They do it right. The Austin breakfast taco is closer to a mini-burrito than a taco, and they come in endless variations of eggs, bacon, potato, proteins, migas, fillings. I picked up a few from a popular local breakfast institution, Jo’s Coffee, where they’re served them pre-made in aluminum foil, “available 8 AM ’till they’re gone.”

The second hangover cure is to take a dip in the rejuvenating 68-degree waters of Barton Springs Pool. Austinites have been cooling off in this spring fed swimming hole for generations. On a hot day (it was 90 degrees while we were there), the pool is absolutely crawling with beautiful 18 year old girls from the nearby University of Texas.

Barton Springs Austin Texas Giant Swimming Pool Hole Blue Water Sunny Day
Barton Springs’ big ass swimming hole.

Barton Springs also has a very nice diving board, if you’re into that sort of thing. We spent several hours relaxing beside the water on the grassy knoll, occasionally wading into the water or jumping off the board with the local kids. A group of spectators on the side of the pool held dry erase boards above their heads to score each dive on a 1-10 scale. The hangovers slowly melted away and we were eventually coherent enough to pass around a flask and a few cans of warm beer. Teenage lifeguards kept busting people smoking grass in the trees behind the grassy knoll.

Barton Springs Diving Board Jump Swimming Pool Hole Summer Fun Competition Austin Texas
Hunter holds onto his sunglasses and braces for impact in that chilly 68-degree water.

Austin is known for BBQ, but I didn’t have a single bite while I was in town. Many of the popular BBQ joints are so crowded you have to wait an hour or more just to order. Not to mention, I’ve had Austin BBQ at a few places on previous trips and it really wasn’t anything to write home about (sorry). I wouldn’t have predicted this before the trip, but nearly every one of my meals in Austin came from a food truck – most in the form of a taco. Some of the best tacos were from Torchy’s, a local favorite with several locations in Austin. At Torchy’s, I mixed business with pleasure and ordered a breakfast taco for lunch along with a traditional fish and carnitas tacos. There’s never a bad time for a breakfast taco.

Torchy's Tacos Austin Texas Food Truck Best Tacos
From Torchy’s menu: Mr. Orange, The Democrat, and #1 Breakfast Taco

When I’d last visited Austin 5 years ago, the town felt a little like Nashville. Definitely a cool and quirky city, but at heart it’s a suburban cowboy town. I remember thinking, “Austin is cool, but it’s still Texas.” It really wasn’t really on par with hip urban areas within cities like San Francisco, LA, NY, Chicago, etc.

Things have definitely changed in 5 years.

Austin has completely blown up and now nearly every neighborhood is filled with hipster bars, restaurants, and weird shops, murals, strange art installations. The sidewalks are packed with lines of beautiful, young, broke people. Food trucks are on every corner. Art and creativity are the norm.

I’d go as far as to say that Austin is a much cooler place than San Francisco these days – I’ve never said that about any place before. The reason for this is because young, broke, creative types can still afford to live in a place like Austin. This isn’t possible in San Francisco anymore, where there are now zero affordable neighborhoods for renters. All the weird people in San Francisco have been forced out to places like Austin.

Whisler's Bar Austin Texas Murals Bikes Curse of the Derse
Curse of the Derse, meandering into Whisler’s Bar in East Austin.

As Saturday evening drew near, our squad hit the streets again and we found ourselves in East Austin at a very cool bar called Whisler’s. The downstairs at Whisler’s was a dark, swanky scene with bearded mixologists making cocktails from locally sourced ingredients and all that bullshit. Some of our crew kicked off the night with delicious artisan drinks that took 10-minutes to make. I ordered a shot of Fortaleza tequila with an Austin Beerworks Fire Eagle American IPA. I’ve never associated Texas with good craft beer, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Fire Eagle. It went well with the Moo Whan (candied pork) and jasmine rice I ordered from East Side King – a spectacular Thai food truck parked on Whisler’s patio.

Austin Beer Works Fire Eagle American IPA Excellent East Side Kings Thai Food Truck Candied Pork Whisler's Bar Austin Texas East Side Outside
Moo whan w/ nahm phrik pao served over jasmine rice $6 from East Side King food truck and Austin Beer Works Fire Eagle IPA

As the sun was going down, we realized Whisler’s had a second bar upstairs that specialized in mezcal. Inside, lights were dim, warm vinyl records played over a 1970s hi-fi, and the mezcal was poured into small ceramic “pottery” shot glasses. The room was glowing and felt like something you’d find in Joshua Tree or Laurel Canyon.

Whisler's Mezcal Bar Austin Texas Upstairs Time Lapse Dark Room Old Vintage Ceiling
The old mezcal bar upstairs at Whisler’s

After we reached peak-mezcal, we wandered a few blocks west to a nearby live music venue called the White Horse. This place was the real deal and had all the makings of a classic Austin honkey tonk. A well-worn dance floor, red curtains and lightbulbs on the stage, Lone Star beer in the cooler, whiskey on tap – it was perfect. Surprisingly, the crowd was a mix of Texas cowboys and hip young people. I think this was the first time I’ve laid eyes on the elusive hipster cowboy.

The White Horse Live Music Band Stage Instruments Drums East Side Hipster Cowboy Austin Texas Classic Roadhouse
The stage at the White Horse honkey tonk in East Austin.

We arrived before the music started and sauntered up to the bar to order cheap Texas beers and shots of whiskey so we could quickly get into the mindset for a place like this. A band of young bucks from Oklahoma called Jacob Tovar & the Saddle Tramps started things off with some traditional country western dance music. The floor was instantly packed with couples swinging, twirling, and dipping to the music. This was the Austin we’d been warned about.

Dancing White Horse Bar Country Music Hipsters Austin Texas
The dancefloor at the White Horse

From there, things got predictably hazy. We were slamming shots, drinking that sweet cheap Texas beer, and tearing up the dance floor with beautiful local women. After the show, I think I attempted to sign the Saddle Tramps to Smoothspin Records.

The next thing I knew, I was stumbling into some other live music venue down the street called the Hotel Vegas. As soon as we crawled through the door, the band on the stage ripped into the most epic note-for-note live version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” I’ve ever witnessed. A stranger with long hair and a mustache – mirror image of me – walked up and shook my hand. We didn’t exchange words, but merely nod at each other in appreciation. Things got dark at this point and my memory fades. Darkness descends upon Austin again.

The next thing I know, it’s 10 AM Sunday morning and I’m in my hotel bed with all my clothes on. My brain feels like mush. I rush to pack my belongings and catch an Uber to my 12:45 flight back to San Francisco. I’m having trouble forming complete sentences.

I eventually take a seat on my plane and gaze out the window long enough to see the Texas ground slipping quickly past me. As we ascend into the sky, my eyes close, and one last thought goes through my scrambled mind…

I survived the Curse of the Derse bachelor party.

Austin Motel Texas SoCo So Close Yet So Far Out Sign Night Neon Phallic

 

Update: Newly discovered video footage of the Curese of the Derse bachelor party has emerged.