Nightlife & the Arts in Austin

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Austin Nightlife

Even when Austin was a backwater burg, it enjoyed a modicum of culture thanks to the University of Texas. The city's current culture vultures are still indebted to the construction-crazed university for its state-of-the-art concert halls like the Bass, which can accommodate grand symphonic, operatic, and theatrical performances. But in a town as creatively charged as Austin, the venues are virtually limitless, from hillsides in parks to the pavement of the Congress Avenue Bridge and from dark, smoky clubs to Victorian Gothic cathedrals.

Numerous traveling and homegrown bands play nightly in the city's music venues, many of which are clustered around downtown's 6th Street, between Red River Street and Congress Avenue. While not as famous as Bourbon Street in New Orleans, 6th Street has an entertaining mix of comedy clubs, blues bars, electronica, and dance clubs. It's also the site of two "Old Pecan Street" outdoor fairs, held in May and September, with live bands, food vendors, and craftspeople.

College students are a large presence on 6th, but the Warehouse District around 4th Street and the newer 2nd Street District (which runs between San Antonio Street and Congress Avenue for two blocks north of the river) cater to a more mature crowd looking for good food and great drinks. South Congress also has a lively scene, especially on the first Thursday of each month, when vendors set up booths with art, jewelry, and a variety of other creations all along the street. The shops stay open late, and bands perform live along the streets. (Warning: parking during "First Thursdays" is a challenge. Expect to park many blocks back and walk.)

Austin's cultural scene is getting a facelift with the opening of three major arts-related venues. The $14.7-million renovation of the Bass Concert Hall at the University of Texas Performing Arts Center (UT PAC) is set to be completed by late 2008; it will feature a five-story atrium; new seating, flooring, and lighting; better acoustics; and a restaurant. The first phase of the Mexican-American Cultural Center (MACC) on Lady Bird Lake (formerly, and still frequently referred to by locals as, Town Lake) at River Street, opened in September 2007; the MACC will eventually offer 126,000 square feet for exhibits, performances, private events, and classes. And the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts, also on Lady Bird Lake, opened in March 2008 as part of a 54-acre cultural park.

To find out who's playing where, pick up the Austin Chronicle (a free alternative weekly) or "XLent," a Thursday supplement to the Austin American Statesman.

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