Every year, musicians, filmmakers, creatives, techies and the people that love them flock to Austin, Texas for SXSW. If you’ve never been to the famous festival (happening March 10-19 this year), South By (as locals and regulars call it) overlaps a week of Interactive (read: Internet and app-based panels, events and parties) with its film and comedy offerings (screenings, shows, even more parties) and its line-up of respected musicians and buzzed-about new acts, with every record label, lifestyle company, podcast and YouTube channel clamoring to cover who’s next.
In a city known for its love of live bands and BBQ, Austin-philes also hail this musical mecca for its wonderful weirdness, which certainly speaks to its queerness. Notwithstanding Austin’s regular LGBTQ events and options during the year, SXSW is one of the best times to visit, as during the festival, the city not only bustles with interesting people looking to meet new faces, but serves up Southern hospitality in its everyday haunts.
We asked some Austin locals to give us the lowdown on where to eat, stay, shop and play while in town for SXSW, or any other time you might want to make the trip to the queerest town in Texas.
First thing’s first: You’ve gotta know Liz Lambert. The out hotelier owns several different businesses both in and outside of Austin, but she’s a fixture of the city, and her hotels are the coolest places to stay or stop in for a drink in the Lone Star state.
“She’s basically Austin’s most famous and badass lesbian around,” said Austin dweller and writer Krista Doyle. “She’s known for renovating Hotel San Jose on South Congress. Their garden courtyard patio is where you will drink the best michelada in town.”
Hotel San Jose and Lambert’s other Austin spot Hotel Saint Cecilia are colorful, cool and modern: sleek and chic with a tasteful touch of rock ‘n roll. You’ll want to take pieces of the experience home with you, and you’re in luck—both places sell carefully selected local items from the mini-bar and apothecary in their gift shop. (Bonus: Dogs welcome!)
Liz is also the owner of Jo’s Coffee which not only serves Stumptown Coffee and banging breakfast tacos, but its original location next to Hotel San Jose is also the site of many an Austin photo op and “a cool, sweet part of Austin’s LGBTQ history.”
“The famous ‘I love you so much’ Austin mural is on the side of this cafe,” Doyle offered. “The story being that a local musician named Amy Cook spray painted it on the wall after her and [Liz], her girlfriend, got into a fight.”
During SXSW, Jo’s parking lot is home to South by San Jose, a free party that anyone can attend, featuring “live music, local vendors and good times.”
When you’re looking for lunch, married couple LeAnn Mueller and Alison Clem‘s La Barbeque is a sure thing. “The beef rib and chipotle slaw are to literally die for,” said filmmaker Lisa Donato.
She also recommends The Urban Cowboy, a food truck owned by out trans man Chris Trapani offering what Donato called “the best hangover food in town—greasy tacos, beer mac and cheese, praline bacon sticks [and] avocado fritters.”
Fourth Street is Austin’s unofficial gayborhood, lined with LGBTQ nightclubs and bars like city staple Oil Can Harry’s. This club is for all identities and hosts many of SXSW’s queer happenings. Next door, Rain offers a similar setting but with even more dancing. (When grabbing cocktails, look for Frot Vodka, a local LGBT-owned brand.)
The women are guaranteed to be en masse at Cheer Up Charlie’s, Austin’s lesbian-owned venue that lends its stage to musicians and storytellers nightly. During SXSW, they’ll host Empress: Boss Babes ATX & GirlFriend Showcase among other cool can’t-misses.
BT2 Austin (or Bout That Time) is a good spot for games, if you’re into that sort of thing. Play pinball, pool, darts or volleyball at this gay fave.
Should you be interested in some more chill literary vibes during the day, Austin is home to BookWoman, a feminist bookstore owned by out lesbian Susan Post that offers artwork, T-shirts, posters and other items you or someone you know may desire as a souvenir. In North Austin, collective-owned Monkeywrench Books is also full of queer-friendly collectibles. “They specialize in content related to politics, oppression [and] privilege,” Donato said.
If you don’t mind a tiny drive outside of city limits, Whirlaway Farm and Garden is a suggested stop. Out owner Francesca Hernandez was inspired to purchase the three-acre plot and start her own farm while working as an Austin city planner, and now it’s home to a greenhouse, fully-functioning farm and the yurt in which she dwells. She also dedicates the space to hosting workshops and community activities, and sells goat’s milk hand creams and soaps, as well as offering a CSA Harvest Share.
One of the main attractions at this year’s SXSW Interactive is Lesbutante & The Boss + Lesbians Who Tech Official SXSW Soiree 2017, March 10 at the Highland Lounge. Managed by a queer woman, this newish gay nightclub has “three floors, a killer back patio, and all the lights and fog a club kid could want,” and the event is being organized by Austin power couple party promoters (and founders of Plezzure Island) Michelle Solorzano Daly and Kelly West. There’s also an LGBT in Tech Meetup, a Lesbians Who Tech (and Friends) Meetup, LGBTQIA+ Gaymers & Geeks Meet Up, a panel on LGBT storytelling from It Gets Better, The Business Case for LGBT Equality, LGBT Community Driving Digital Health Innovations, Selling Out: Anti-Oppressive Queer Style Marketing and Using Tech to End LGBT Youth Homelessness.
This year’s film fest offerings are stellar with the premiere of Fawzia Mirza‘s lesbian-themed, multi-cultural wrestling love story “Signature Move,” “Easy Living,” featuring out actress Jen Richards, and “The Light of the Moon” starring bisexual “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star Stephanie Beatriz. Bonus: These women will all attend the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival’s annual filmmaker brunch on March 11. Some film panels and meet-ups not to be missed: Queer Voices on and Off Screen and Virtual Life’s a Drag: Queering VR.
If you’re looking for some local musicians to groove to during the week of live shows, out singer Gina Chavez will perform her salsa-pop at Maggie Mae’s on March 14 and soul rocker Emily Wolfe takes the stage at Trinity Hall at Old School on March 19. Non-locals but queer performers to check out include Loamlands, Krudas Cubensi, Johanna Warren, The Spook School, Aye Nako, Marika Hackman, Jay Som, and The Shondes.
Visit SXSW for tickets, events and updated event info.