The Candidates' Stomping Grounds: George W. Bush's Austin

By Linton Weeks
Sunday, July 16, 2000

George W. Bush was born in New Haven, Conn., while his father was a Yale law student. Dubya was eventually elected governor of Texas in 1994 and has lived in the governor's mansion in Austin ever since. His national campaign headquarters is there also.

CHOWING DOWN: Hut's (807 W. Sixth St., 512-472-0693) in downtown Austin, says Bush's staff, is the governor's favorite burger joint. It's also the kind of place your mother warned you about, especially if Mom was concerned about your cholesterol. It reminded us of the Loveless in Nashville, but much hipper and sportier. Team pennants dangle here and there. Posters of pinups such as Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable adorn the walls. Written warnings against drinking too much or writing hot checks are tacked up near the front door. The special of the day was meat loaf, which was good, our waiter told us, "if you like meat loaf." Our friend ordered "the Wolfman Jack," a big ol' burger topped with sour cream, diced green chilies, Monterey Jack cheese and bacon. When we didn't keel over from the lunch, we pressed on.

DINING FINE: The Fonda San Miguel (2330 W. North Loop Blvd., 512-459-4121) is a mighty fine Mexican restaurant serving concoctions from central Mexico. If you want authentic, well-seasoned Mexican food, put down the chalupa and try the chili rellenos or Bush's favorite dish--enchiladas suizas. It's good, if a bit bland.

The green ceiling and pressed-tin chandeliers that look like gold bird cages give the restaurant a subtle, romantic ambiance. Bottles of white wine served in buckets of ice also help.

CHARACTER BUILDING: Despite the fact that Texas governors have, like, no power--or that George W. Bush once said fumblingly that his brother, Jeb, is the governor of Texas, George W. is the governor of the Lone Star State. His office is in the State Capitol (1100 San Jacinto Ave., 512-463-0063). More than a century old, the sunset-granite edifice sits on 22 acres atop a hill in the heart of Austin.

Free hour-long tours of the capitol begin every 15 minutes in the foyer. We were escorted by a chipper young guide who pointed out that one of the state's heroes, Davy Crockett, was really a Tennessean and another, Sam Houston, was governor of Tennessee as well as Texas.

We saw portraits of legendary Texans, such as politicians Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan and John Connally. We passed by a couple of photo collages displaying George W. along with members of the legislature. We enjoyed the seldom-visited Tejano art display near the first lady's office.

You can also tour the nearby Governor's Mansion on weekdays between 10 and 11:40 a.m. (512-463-5516). You might catch a glimpse of Bush resting on his favorite balcony.

GETTING SWEATY: Or, maybe you'll huff and puff right past the governor while he's jogging on the Town Lake trail. At dusk, you can run near Congress Avenue and maybe get a glimpse of Austin's famous Mexican free-tailed bats. During the day, this waterside series of loops is Austin's promenade--like the mall at London's St. James Park or the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Here you're liable to see celebrities and old friends alike.

Brook Stokes, 27, runs on the trail every day. She moved to town last October. She had heard that Bush trots around the track at 2 p.m every day he's in Austin. "He wears a baseball cap," she says. "He's pretty disguised."

"So you've seen him?" we asked her.

"I've looked for him," she said, wiping sweat from her face. "I haven't seen him. Yet."

COOLING OFF: By far the coolest spot in Austin--cooler than Polly Esther's disco, the Voodoo Room or the exotic animals at the Austin Zoo--is Barton Springs Pool (512-867-3080). The 900-foot-long natural swimming hole in 360-acre Zilker Park has been a hangout over the years for some of Austin's most intriguing people.

Bush told USA Today this is where he likes to take a dip. We asked Stephanie Lage, 15, if the water is as cold as people swear it is. "Nahh," she said. "It's not cold at all." Just a pleasant 68 degrees.

LEARNING SOMETHING: Though the governor and his wife, Laura, have chipped in $20,000 toward building a new $2.5 million art museum in Austin, Bush's staff had trouble coming up with the name of another museum the governor frequents. We found out, however, that Laura Bush has been spotted in Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum (605 Robert E. Lee Rd., 512-445-5582), a shady six-acre park with winding trails and creeks. One glimpse at the landscape and you'll understand the attraction. It's a lovely oasis in Austin's glaring heat. Here and there you'll find meditation benches and some 130 representational and abstract sculptures by Charles Umlauf.

STAYING PUT: Not far from the Governor's Mansion is the venerable Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St., 800-252-9367, rates $185-$225 ), built in 1886. Just a couple of weeks after the four-story neo-Romanesque hotel opened its doors, it hosted an inaugural ball for Sul Ross, the newly elected Texas governor. The bar is especially welcoming, with a fireplace and a longhorn steer head over the mantel. The Driskill offers a walking tour of its interior.

HEELS APOPPIN': The Broken Spoke (3201 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-442-6189), says Bush's staff, is one of the governor's favorite night spots. Sure enough, we saw a picture of him there posing with the owners, James and Annetta White. "Thanks for the good times," Dubya wrote. This low-ceilinged, wooden-floored, dimly lit, smoky-aired place is authentic. There's even table shuffleboard in the corner. Men in white Stetsons and women in spaghetti-strap tops two-step in a counterclockwise flow to live music, taking breaks to kiss and laugh and drink a Lone Star or two.

After a long song about a Tennessee highway, women dry their hair in front of a huge fan. This club is more Texas than a flat armadillo. It's the kind of place where men still dance with women.

In a side room, called the "Tourist Trap," you can see photos of folks who've moseyed by--Clint Eastwood and Dolly Parton. Willie Nelson played here. "This is the kind of place," explained the night's musician Owen Temple, "where you can get cussed out by a 90-year-old lady."

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