KeepAustinWild.com’s Great Austin Red Line Bar Crawl: MLK Station
You may have heard that Austin has a commuter rail system, but have never actually used it. It’s probable that you have never even seen it. This is because the rail line is a sad budgetary compromise. The initial bond proposal for a commuter line was nixed by conservatives living in the outlying suburbs, leaving us instead with the cheap alternative. The CapMetro Red Line was built on existing rail lines intended for transporting aggregate from industrial mining operations north of town. As a result, the commuter rail line mostly serves a route that people don’t actually commute.
So what can you use Austin’s only commuter train for? We at KeepAustinWild.com have an answer to that:
In this article we’ll cover the entertainment opportunities surrounding the MLK Station. In particular, we’ll cover the burgeoning bar district on East Twelfth Street near Chicon. There are other opportunities for sure, including the whole stretch of Manor (we feel this is more of a Saturday morning sort of excursion, rife with breakfast food and restaurants), and notable outliers like Zed’s Ice Cream. But these businesses don’t have the advantage of being arrayed in a short line, and having exactly as many drinking stops as your liver can handle.
You will arrive at the MLK Station sometime early Saturday evening. The Red Line typically doesn’t run on Sunday, but it has roughly half hour departures all Saturday until midnight. Schedules for Austin FC games and major events like ACL and SXSW will bring a longer service schedule, so be sure to consult the website for specifics.
On our map we’ve drawn a path from the station to our first stop on the Twelfth Street crawl. The path cuts through a flood water retention field, because nothing makes you feel at home in a neighborhood quite like taking sketchy shortcuts. A couple of sights to note, you will pass by Nixta Taqueria, a James Beard-winning taco joint. If you take an early enough train you can catch a meal here, but the lines are crazy, so it’s not a mandatory stop on the crawl. You will also pass by a moontower at the corner of 13th and Coleto. Officially called moonlight towers, these triangular gantries of cast iron have been lighting Austin’s neighborhoods since the 1890s and are the only known moonlight towers still in operation in the world.
Our first stop is the Daiquiri Factory, which you will find on the porch of Sam’s BBQ. The barbecue will surely be closed by the time you get there, but the window on the porch serves multi-flavored concoctions well into the night. You can order a daiquiri if you care to, we recommend the “Hypnotic” flavor. However since this is your first stop and you’ll need to pace yourself, try the Jell-o shots, take two or three to loosen yourself up.
From the Daiquiri Factory you will walk west, traveling about half a block to King Bee. Here you find old school East Austin vibes at its best. Ignore the pool table and take your drinks outside. Pick the cleanest and best-maintained patio furniture you can find. Then kick back. Both the inside and outside of the building are painted black, because that’s the most metal color there is.
Continuing down Twelfth, you will cross Chicon. The building on the west corner is a bit of a mystery. It appears to be some sort of rehab center masquerading as a bar. It will probably be closed when you’re there, which is fine because there’s some Jesusy vibes coming off that place.
Next on the list of places which will actually serve you actual alcohol, the cute little closet-sized bar currently called, Pretty Things Bar. You will not find that name anywhere on the outside of the building, because the building is way too narrow for that, that name would never fit. Often you will find DJ’s crammed into the nook between the bar and the front window. The back patio is insanely narrow, like an alleyway in old Kowloon. You will see the patrons of the next door bar through the generous gaps in the fencing and you will be envious of their extra space and freedom to play cornhole.
Not to worry, you’re going there next.
Full Circle is a bar with games. Skee-ball ramps cover one whole wall. The bartender will probably offer you a full night of skee-balling for one low rate. A normal person will get bored by skeeball after about fifteen tosses. Since you have made a few booze stops already, it may take you up to forty tosses to wander away. The pictures in the bathroom will imply that not only are there actual grownups who play skee-ball competitively, but they also take it so seriously that they make their own player cards for it. It’s unclear how one becomes enmeshed in this social group and whether it’s super-cool or the dorkiest thing ever.
While you are at Full Circle, order a pizza from their inhouse kitchen. It is hot and cheesy and gooey, everything you need after four stops on a bar crawl.
Skip the next building, we’ll come back to that later, you’ll see why, and go to the last bar on the block. Sometime in the near future this bar crawl will continue to the far horizon, but for the moment, the last bar in the line is Skinny’s Off Track. Skinny’s is supposedly an homage to the off-track betting facilities you can find in cities out east. Yeah, it seems like a deep-cut to me too, but the actual result feels homey and comfortable. No matter what the weather is like, try their frozen drinks. The food cart out back offers something called a “potato funnel,” but to my understanding no one has ever successfully ordered one, so there is no way to tell what it actually is.
Skinny’s has TVs on every surface, and the LED screen out on the patio is so bright that you will probably need sunglasses to view the game. When the Astros played the world series on that TV, the crowd was so loud that you could hear them all the way from Comal.
Finally, you are ready for the cherry on the top of this bar crawl. Did you time how long it took you to walk from the train station to here? Because you’re going to want to catch the very last train out at the very last minute. Set your alarm now, before you get distracted, because you’re about to enter Outer Heaven.
How do we describe Outer Heaven? It’s disco-balls before swine. It’s the northernmost outpost of Austin party culture and the westernmost territory of the free-range Austin hipster. Which is to say it’s the most amazing thing in the most unlikely location. It’s a DIY dance club which is balls-out boogey-fun without the baggage or the stakes, or the jerk-wads, of dance clubs on lower-numbered streets.
During the first summer of the pandemic, we passed by Outer Heaven as the owner remodeled it from the neighborhood music venue and dive bar it used to be. Every day for weeks, as the thermometer hovered above 100, he was out there on the sidewalk, gluing individual postage-stamp-sized mirrors to the front of the building, one at a time, by hand, thousands of them. Does that tell you what sort of a venue this is? How about he’s also the DJ? And he hand-painted all the murals inside? Or that he’s a former professional photographer who routinely posts spectacular pictures of patrons in the throes of extreme booty-shaking bliss, accompanied by the longest and most emotionally raw Instagram descriptions in history?
Also, the signature cocktails have names which are so risque that we cannot reproduce them here, not even in jest. Have several. Cut a rug. And don’t miss your train!
Did we miss anything or mis-characterize anything? Leave a comment below!