On the Road
A day trip to the Round Top Antiques Fair
by Leah Ashley
Photographs by Holly Cowart, Natalie Lacy Lange and April Pizana
If you love other people’s objects, then you are going to love the Round Top Antiques Fair. Whether you’re after French antiques, unusual artifacts or bargain-bin deals, there is something for everyone at one of the nation’s largest flea markets. The fair takes place twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, and its “tents,” or “fields” (lay speak for the independent venues that make up the collective experience), manage to take over roughly 25 miles on either side of Highway 237. This year, the spring gathering runs from April 1 through April 6. I highly recommend you make the trip, even if just for a day.
Seeing all that the fair has to offer in such a quick window may seem impossible, but luckily for Austinites, Round Top is only about an hour and a half outside the city. With the right strategy and a few clever tips, you’ll be able to enjoy the magic of this unique experience and bring home a few treasures, all before sundown.
HAVE A STRATEGY
When planning your day it’s important to have an idea of what you are looking for. Every year, I make a list of items that I’m in the market for. A rug for the guest room, a vintage bed for my son’s room and side chairs for our living room are some of the things I’ll be on the lookout for this year. Plus I make sure that I have all the measurements I need, and I set a budget. It can be easy to get distracted when you see miles and miles of tents, all filled to the brim with pre-loved pieces.
WHAT TO BRING
Since I want to have a full day of shopping, digging and exploring, I usually hit the road at sunrise. The most important thing to remember is that this event takes place in cow pastures, so dress appropriately. Dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and a hat, I like to throw on my most worn-in pair of cowboy boots, because I know they will be the most comfortable for a day of exploring. I also like to wear a crossbody bag, a backpack or even a fanny pack so that my hands are free to dig and haul. A couple of things that I always throw in my bag are sunscreen, disinfecting wipes, water and cash. It’s hard to haggle on price when vendors have a credit-card transaction fee and while most dealers do take credit cards, cash is still king.
I like to start by visiting the high end venues first: Big Red Barn, Marburger Farm and The Compound. You will have to pay a $10 admission fee at Big Red and Marburger (parking included) but it’s worth it to see gorgeous antiques, sourced by individual vendors, from all over the world. These three strongholds of the fair are a great way to see trends and learn more from experts. Plus The Compound’s perfectly curated and gorgeous barns are reason enough to visit. And as with any flea market or antiques fair, even the upscale ones, there are always deals to be found. Who knows what you may stumble upon for your own space…perhaps the mid-century Italian oil painting of your dreams.
LUNCH ON THE GO
Now that you are fully inspired, it’s time to refuel at some of Round Top’s most famous spots. A favorite of mine is Royers Cafe, where the Junkberry and Texas Trash pies are to die for. I’m also a fan of the Junk Gypsies flagship store, which, yes, offers more shopping but also has food trucks and live music set up outside. And if you get stuck in the tents of Marburger, never fear – there’s an excellent open-air “cafe,” where the brisket sandwiches served up by Back Porch BBQ (out of La Grange) are always an excellent decision.
TIME TO DIG
After lunch head toward the town of Warrenton (just down the road from Round Top) to Excess 1 and Excess 2. The barn stalls here are filled with vendors that have a little bit of everything – think German beer hall picnic tables, turn-of-the-century nautical accessories and piles of French wooden cutting boards. The wares are reasonably priced but also thoughtfully collected, and you really can find some killer deals if you’re willing to dig a bit. From there head next door to the open field of Warrenton, where it’s time to explore what feels like the world’s largest garage sale! Vendors here are always open to haggle, so bring cash and your best poker face.
GIVE THOSE BOOTS A BREAK
After a full day of shopping, hunting and digging, cool down with a cold one at the famed Zapp Hall. Often, it will have a great band and even serve burgers outside. It’s a fine place to end the day and recap all the fabulous treasures you found.