Austin Insider’s Guide
by Nicole Beckley
AUSTIN’S HOMEGROWN HOLIDAY TRADITIONS
While every city observes the holidays in different ways, there are some traditions that are uniquely Austin. Since 1965, the Trail of Lights has been a staple, with visitors wishing for good luck and spinning beneath the Zilker Tree. According to the Austin History Center’s Rusty Heckaman, early on, as part of Yule Fest, the Zilker Tree was advertised as “the tallest man-made electric tree.” The trail also includes the iconic Yule Log, which in its original conception was to be lit on the first night of the Trail of Light’s opening and burn continuously, with an ember to be saved and used the next year.
According to Heckaman, in the late 1800s, Austinites celebrated New Year’s Day with open houses thrown by elegantly dressed hostesses. Neighbors would pay each other visits, with the gentlemen leaving decorative calling cards. The open house ritual was carried on at the Governor’s Mansion until the 1970s. (Of course today open houses have given way to bowl game watch parties.)
Perhaps the coldest Austin tradition happens on New Year’s Day. For more than 35 years Austinites have used January 1 to wipe the slate clean by taking the “polar plunge” into Barton Springs. For more information, head here.
NO SMALL VICTORY
With a résumé that includes time at Half Step, Weather Up and Midnight Cowboy, as well as running the bar and spirits program for Jeffrey’s, Josh Loving knows a thing or two about craft cocktails. For his new venture, Small Victory, he wanted to bring the focus back to the basics, starting with in-house cut ice. “I’m not doing a whole lot of overly creative or mixology things, just trying to keep it like a classic cocktail bar,” Loving says.
In the former Mike’s Pub space, tucked against a parking garage on East 7th Street, the approximately 800 square foot Dick Clark Architecture-designed bar lives up to its small moniker, accommodating less than 50 people. “We’re going to keep it clean and simple and high-quality,” Loving says. Cheers to that.
HOME ON THE RANGE
“I knew that I wanted to be a theater maker,” Kaci Beeler says. In 2005, the summer after graduating from Round Rock’s Westwood High School, Beeler became a regular at the Hideout Theatre, performing improvised scenes and characters. “In that summer, I started to realize improv has so many possibilities for what it can grow into. It’s kind of uncharted territory,” Beeler says. “As somebody who is also a painter, it’s pretty hard to make new discoveries in the art world, but improvisational theater felt really open and exciting.” Ten years and thousands of performances later (including shows in Ireland, England, and Australia with her group Parallelogramophonograph), Beeler is directing her eighth show at the Hideout, Boy, Howdy!, an improvised TV western, inspired by the likes of Bonanza. “It skirts this really nice line,” Beeler says, “I like doing a show that is able to be family-friendly without feeling like a kids show.”
GIFTED & TALENTED
Selecting the perfect holiday gift can be hard, but luckily Natalie Davis, co-founder of the artisan-focused Feliz pop-up shop, and owner of Canoe, has some expert recommendations:
Dr. J All-Purpose Aromatic Spritz for Space, Face and Body by Dr. J Apothecary — “It’s always really nice getting to support local makers doing something in bath and body.”
Large Ikat Scarf by Esby — “Both beautiful and handy – you can use it as a scarf, a wrap, or a throw for laying in the grass at Zilker. The grey and white Ikat pattern goes with everything and suits different tastes.”
Jams from Emz Jamz — “From maker Emily Burgess. They’re really delicious, and a good hostess gift because who doesn’t like really nice jams?”
Get Smart Gift Set by Canoe — “It’s perfect for impressing a boss or mentor. Both practical and luxurious, which means it will actually get used – no small feat.”
Workshop with Foxwares Ceramics — “[Owner Lindsey Wohlgemuth] does all sorts of beautiful serving ware and planters and glasses, and lots of lovely things that would make a great gift for anyone. She’s teaching a series of workshops in her home studio. First, she does dinner and then you make a project, which is really fun.”