Went downtown last night to finally check out the music scene on Austin's legendary 6th Street. No offense, but . . . ugh.
It reminded me of Beale Street in Memphis -- a giant tourist spot.
I really like it here in Austin, but whenever I see hawkers trying to coax people into any sort of restaurant, bar, or club, I turn the other way. It was one mostly empty joint after another. And when I found myself standing in front of a Coyote Ugly franchise, that was it. I was finished exploring.
Coyote Ugly is a great name, but the concept owes its existence to Hogs & Heifers in NYC. It was Michelle Dell, the original bartender, that started the whole bra-flinging, stomping-on-the-bar experience that made Hogs a legend. Coyote Ugly came afterward. I never ever stepped foot in it.
It was the early 90s and I was working at a wild ad agency at the time, and wouldn't you know it, it was the girls who found the place. "It's a dive somewhere down in the meatpacking district." That was all I needed to hear.
We had some absolutely wild (and insanely talented) girls in our creative group (one of them hailed from right here in Austin). A great night for them, believe it or not, started at Billy's Topless on 24th and Sixth where they would put dollar bills in their mouths and let the dancers pick 'em out. We'd get to Hogs in time to play some pool before it got too crowded, then we'd dodge pool cues, drunks, and swinging fists until the wee hours of the morning while the girls would have boob fights and make out with each other just to shock us, then they'd get up on the bar with all the other chicks and wiggle out of their bras and fling them over the giant Mako shark that hung above the bar.
This picture is from the very early days. I've heard there are thousands of bras up there now.
When you stepped into Hogs & Heifers you felt like you were taking your life in your hands. You definitely weren't in Kansas anymore. It didn't even feel like NYC anymore. It was another world entirely, and the normal laws of society didn't seem to apply. I saw one guy get his head cracked open for standing too close to the pool table. Others would get dragged outside for what seemed like no reason at all. Meat packers fresh off their shift sat in the back with their white aprons covered in blood. Things were going on in the bathrooms that you didn't want to know about. Wall Street guys snorted coke off bar stools in the back with sharp-dressed chicks who definitely weren't from the Upper East Side. Bike messengers snorted much worse.
One night Madonna started playing from the juke box. Within a second, Michelle the bartender had pulled the plug and climbed on top of the bar in her bad-ass cowboy boots. She screamed at the top of her lungs: "ANYONE WHO PLAYS THAT SH*T GET THE F*CK OUT OF MY BAR. NOW YOU CHICKS -- GET THE F*CK UP HERE AND LET'S DANCE TO SOME REAL MUSIC."
Boom. The Allman Brothers came on and she sprayed the entire bar with club soda. I swear she kept Madonna on there just for the drama of it. It worked great.
Would I go to Hogs & Heifers today? Not a chance. I bet it's a tourist spot now too.
So on the way home from 6th Street, I wanted something real, so I stopped by for a burger at a place that one of those girls, the one from Austin, told me about all those years ago. A place called Dirty Martin's KumBak Place, an Austin burger joint that's been going strong since 1926 when its dirt floors earned it its "dirty" nickname.
The dirt floors are gone, but the burgers are still great. And you can bet there were no hawkers outside. The smell alone was irresistible.
This is a bad picture of my burger. You can barely see the juicy goodness. The iceberg lettuce got in the way. Would you believe the addition of the lettuce made it a Sissy Burger? I think I'll go without it next time.
A funny/weird thing happened too. The girl that took my order looked just like the girl from Austin that told me about this place over 20 years ago! It was bizarre, because I was thinking of her when I went in, and then I saw the waitress and did a double take. It gets better.
I said what I usually say: "Hey, how are you?"
Only this girl answered: "I'm okay. Thank you for asking." No one ever answers that way. She seemed like she'd had a rough day, and that she really meant it.
Same beautiful brown hair as my old friend. Same sculpted eyebrows. Same tan skin. And she was just standing there talking to me like we were long lost friends.
I placed my order -- ordered the Sissy Burger -- she left, and then grill guy came by and introduced himself. Said he'd been there for 14 years. He asked me a little about myself and where I was from and then stepped away for a few seconds.
He came back, finished the burger, and we talked a little more.
After I told him how great the burger was, he said: "So you should come back again." But I saw he was subtly trying to tell me something, because he flicked his eyes to where she had just been standing. "No, you should really come back sometime."
I told him I definitely would, and I wasn't kidding. I didn't see her as I was leaving, but once I was outside, I looked back inside and she was standing right where I was sitting with a look like "So where did he go?"
Like I said, I really like it here in Austin.