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(NY Media): Houston & Hill Country

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout' started by basso, May 18, 2013.

  1. basso

    basso Contributing Member
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    two good articles on Texas today in the NY media. first, the Times discovers the hill country:

    http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/travel/36-hours-in-texas-hill-country.html?_r=0

    [rquoter]
    36 Hours in Texas Hill Country
    By JEANNIE RALSTON

    There are two ways to think about the Texas Hill Country. Physically, it spreads across the undulating Edwards Plateau, with Austin to the east and San Antonio to the south. Near the center is Fredericksburg, which was once the main show in these parts, but no longer. To get a feeling for the Hill Country in the second sense — the state of mind where cool mingles with tradition, and industriousness and idleness are equally esteemed values (depending on the time of day) — head out among the limestone knolls full of live oak groves and cypress-lined creeks, and to the gritty pin-dot towns built largely of native stone. Here you’ll find a delicious tension between rural and refined. Inns and restaurants are bringing a clever touch to Lone Star hospitality and mythology, and with the vineyards and boutique farms (lavender, olives), some people make comparisons to Napa Valley or even Provence. But those assessments ignore something fundamental: the Hill Country — being Texas at its finest — is like nowhere else in the world.

    FRIDAY

    3 p.m.

    1. Water Music

    For a dramatic Hill Country landscape, many visitors go to Enchanted Rock, an enormous meatloaf-shaped piece of granite outside of Fredericksburg. Pedernales Falls State Park (2585 Park Road 6026, Johnson City), just east of Johnson City, is less well-known but equally spectacular. Cutting through a shallow canyon, the Pedernales River tumbles down a series of limestone shelves, with the water collecting in turquoise pools among giant boulders. The soundtrack — the rumble of cascading water — is just as exhilarating as the view. Entry: $6 a person.

    7 p.m.

    2. The Meat Master

    At Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (604 West Young Street, Llano; coopersbbqllano.com), one of the premier barbecue joints in Texas, let your fingers do the ordering. Stop at one of the pickup-bed-size grills on the front patio and point at your meat of choice. Mesquite-smoked brisket, cabrito, prime rib, pork ribs, sausage. Or all of the above. Inside, dig in at picnic tables surrounded by mounted deer heads — another reminder you’re in serious carnivore country. Dinner for two, $60.

    10 p.m.

    3. Raise a Glass

    The best night life is in Fredericksburg, and the choicest spot there is Lincoln Street Wine Market (111 South Lincoln Street, Fredericksburg; lincolnst.com), which maintains a Texas-big selection of 300-plus types of wine. The atmosphere is pleasantly unpretentious (especially for a wine bar); you may even find the owner, Sean Smajstrla, wearing a rancher’s Carhartt jacket. Every wine here is available by the glass, even those that go for $600 or more a bottle. On weekends, listen to live music on the patio. Wines by the glass start at $5; by the bottle, $20 and up.

    SATURDAY

    9 a.m.

    4. Guten Morgen

    On top of the strong Mexican influence throughout Texas, the Hill Country has an overlay of German thanks to the Old World immigrants who settled here starting in the 1830s. Get a taste of this heritage at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant (225 West Main Street, Fredericksburg; oldgermanbakeryandrestaurant.com). For breakfast, try crepelike German pancakes, potato pancakes or pastries like apple strudel; $20 for two.

    10 a.m.

    5. Presidential Treatment

    History buffs will love the expanded, superbly packaged National Museum of the Pacific War in downtown Fredericksburg, but to immerse yourself in the specific history and beauty of this part of Texas, head to the LBJ Ranch at Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park (199 State Park Road 52, Stonewall; nps.gov/lyjo), off Highway 290 in Stonewall. The 36th president spent about 25 percent of his term at what was called the Texas White House, and it’s easy to see why. Your driving permit comes with a CD for your car that describes what you’re seeing as you meander around the 674 acres: Johnson’s reconstructed birthplace, the one-room school where he learned to read and his grave in the family cemetery. Following Lady Bird’s death in 2007, the park service has opened up part of the family home, where you’ll still find trappings of power among the late-’60s furnishings, like the presidential seal on the big man’s chair. A driving permit is free (pick it up at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, which confusingly enough is adjacent to the national park). A house tour is $3 a person.

    Noon

    6. Blanco Boffo

    The geographic hub of Blanco — a town still geared more to working ranchers than tourists — is the imposing 127-year-old stone courthouse, recently featured in the Coen Brothers’ remake of “True Grit.” But the social hub is the Redbud Cafe (410 Fourth Street, Blanco; redbud-cafe.com), on the main square, where you can order everything from fat burgers to portobello sandwiches to Middle Eastern salads. Try one of the eight beers on tap from the Blanco-based Real Ale Brewing Company. On the wall is a chart left over from the building’s many years as a hardware store that recorded monthly rainfall levels from 1900 to 1999. Adjoining the restaurant is Brieger Pottery, which sells hefty but graceful stoneware made by Redbud’s owners, Jan and Jon Brieger (vases from $48), and products from the family lavender farm.

    1 p.m.

    7. Strike Nine

    The Blanco Bowling Club Cafe (310 Fourth Street; blancobowlingclub.com) is one of the few places in the Hill Country where German nine pin bowling is still played. By advance appointment with the bartender, you can try your skill on lanes that are throwbacks to pre-automated times. For $5.25 a person and a flat fee of $21 to cover the wages of a pinsetter (usually a local teenager), up to 12 people can bowl on two lanes for three hours. Follow your game with another treat: the cafe’s pies with meringue piled high like cream volcanoes. Choose from lemon, chocolate and coconut ($2.95 a slice).

    4 p.m.

    8. Wine Time

    These days wineries are almost as ubiquitous in the Hill Country as those ranch windmills that look like tall tin daisies. You can’t go to them all — and still expect to operate a car — so head to the two best. The wood-and-stone tasting room at Becker Vineyards (464 Becker Farms Road, Stonewall; beckervineyards.com) is surrounded by 46 acres of grapes and lavender; $10 for six samples. Grape Creek Vineyards (10587 East U.S. Highway 290, Fredericksburg; grapecreek.com) recreates Tuscany with beautiful stucco and stone buildings capped by red-tile roofs; the list of awards for its wines isn’t too shabby either; $12 for six samples.

    7 p.m.

    9. Top of the Hill

    Rose Hill Manor — a Georgian-style mansion that is more Deep South than Deep in the Heart of Texas — sits on a rise with expansive views over hayfields in the Pedernales River Valley. When it comes to dining, Rose Hill Manor (2614 Upper Albert Road, Stonewall; rose-hill.com) occupies another lofty position: the top spot around for an extravagant meal. The four-course menu ($45 a person) changes weekly, but always features stand-out dishes like an arugula, oyster mushroom and candied pecan salad; a creamy potato soup with braised pork bellies; pan-roasted sea bass with soba noodles; and low-country mud pie.

    10 p.m.

    10. Willie Sang Here

    Luckenbach, Texas (412 Luckenbach Town Loop, Fredericksburg; luckenbachtexas.com), isn’t just the title of the Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson anti-stress, anti-materialism anthem. It’s a real place off Farm to Market Road 1376 — a few old buildings including a general store and a dance hall in a clearing among the trees. If you stay a while — which you should since you’ll hear a lot of good Texas music every weekend — you’ll be glad that the only glitz comes from the party lights strung around the dance hall. After a night here two-stepping across the worn wood floor, you’ll feel you’ve hit on something genuine that can only be found in Texas, and you will be right. Dance hall admission prices vary by event.

    SUNDAY

    10 a.m.

    11. No Postman Here

    Along Hill Country lanes, you’ll see a few forgotten roadside buildings, and you might mistake the Welfare Cafe (223 Waring Welfare Road, Welfare) for one of these. But inside the 97-year-old clapboard structure is the best-all-around restaurant in the region (food, setting, service). Housed in the former post office and general store for the hamlet of Welfare, the cafe still has the mail counter in one corner of the dining room. For brunch, try the Welfare Benedict (paired with gulf shrimp and spicy hollandaise) or the crab, artichoke and goat cheese omelet. Sit on the wisteria-covered patio and take in the scene beyond the fence, where goats, donkeys, chickens and a white potbelly pig named Pee Wee roam. Brunch for two, $60.

    Noon

    12. Elephants and Antiques

    In nearby Comfort — another spot with a reassuring abstract noun for a name — you’ll find a historic district packed with architectural wonders from the 1800s, many of them designed by the architect Alfred Giles. The crown jewel is the Hotel Faust, a magnificent two-story building made of stone block. Some structures have been converted into vibrant shops and restaurants. Visit High’s Cafe and Store (726 High Street; highscafeandstore.com) for goats’ milk soap ($5.95) or soy-based candles (starting at $9.95). Or step into the Elephant Story (723 High Street; the-elephant-story.com), which sells goods in the form of elephants (pewter pen holders, $180) and crafts from Asian elephant countries, like striped yam bags from Thailand ($25). Profits go to an elephant conservation fund. Finish off with a prickly pear cactus drink (nonalcoholic) and a game of washers on the patio set with red umbrellas at Comfort Pizza (802 High Street; 830-995-5959), a renovated stone filling station that bears a word across its awning that should sum up how you’ll feel at this point: “Comfortable.”

    IF YOU GO

    Hotel Faust (717 High Street, Comfort; hotelfaust.com), in a magnificent 130-year-old stone building, has eight suites — $120 and up — that have been smartly updated and include full breakfast.

    For a more rural experience, rent one of the seven restored historic houses on 35 acres at Settlers Crossing Bed and Breakfast (104 Settlers Crossing Road, Fredericksburg; settlerscrossing.com). Cottages start at $195.[/rquoter]

    and the WSJ, Houston, the most diverse city in the country, and its mayor.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323744604578472873183655916.html

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323744604578472873183655916.html

    [rquoter]
    Annise Parker: The Modern American Boomtown
    Houston's mayor—an openly gay Democrat friendly to business—talks about why her city is the country's fastest growing and most diverse.
    By MATTHEW KAMINSKI

    Houston

    'Redneck white city down in Texas."

    That's how Houston Mayor Annise Parker sums up the caricature of her town, and she wants everyone to know it's bunkum. Houston is "a really cool city," she says. "Open and entrepreneurial and welcoming." It's also booming.

    The mayor herself is a walking testament to the cosmopolitan contrarian reality of modern Houston. Annise Parker is a Democrat in a deep-red state, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city. She's a social liberal who's also a former oil-industry executive with a pro-business attitude running what may be the nation's least-regulated metropolis.

    Houston's recent track record is startling. For the calendar year ending in February, it saw the fastest pace of job growth (4.5%) among the country's 20 largest metropolitan areas. (With a population of 2.1 million, it's the fourth-largest U.S. city.) In 2011, the last year such data are available, Houston had the fastest-growing large metropolitan economy, at 3.7%.

    Add to that a cost of living that is 7.8% below the U.S. average—New York is 53.4% above the average—and you can see the attraction for waves of new arrivals. Housing costs run a third less than the average in the 29 largest metro areas. Adjusting for these lower costs, Houston has the highest per-capita income of any city in the nation.


    Terry Shoffner
    The mayor, who is 56, and I are discussing the city's makeover at one of its hottest new restaurants. Underbelly, Ms. Parker's choice for lunch, is in the Montrose neighborhood where she lives. "This was a huge lesbian bar," she says, before the neighborhood turned "trendy" and places like Underbelly moved in. As diners fill the capacious restaurant, Ms. Parker notes that Houstonians eat out more often than anyone else in America.

    Like Texas as a whole, Houston sells itself as "business friendly," and Ms. Parker ticks off the attractions—ease of permitting, unobtrusive regulations and low taxes. She also supports Houston's limited restrictions on land use, which some here call its real secret sauce. Without zoning, Houston can adjust to shifting market demands—whether for townhouse complexes or retail outfits—faster than most any other city. It looks unwieldy to anyone of the urban-planning persuasion, but it also keeps prices down.

    Tory Gattis, who writes the Houston Strategies blog, says: "I'd argue we may be the most libertarian city in America. Live and let live; strong property rights; not much corruption; small business culture."

    The economic dynamism has demographic consequences. A couple of years ago, Ms. Parker says, she argued with New York filmmaker Spike Lee over whose hometown was "the most international city in the U.S." The debate isn't as lopsided as it might seem to a non-Houstonian.

    The city has surpassed New York as the country's most racially and ethnically diverse, according to a study last year by Rice University. One in five residents was born outside the U.S. The city attracted the second-highest number of new, foreign-born residents in the first decade of this century, after the more populous New York. A Manhattan Institute report last year named Houston and Dallas the country's least segregated cities.

    Hispanics are hardly the only newcomers. The Korean, South Asian and Chinese communities are a backbone of the small-business community. European expatriates work in energy and at the Texas Medical Center—which, this being Texas, touts itself as the world's largest.

    No ethnic group makes up a majority, and Hispanics, whites, Asians and African-Americans are evenly represented. Houston's "melting pot" makes it "impossible for any one group to dominate another," says Fred Hofheinz, who was mayor in the 1970s. Leave the politics of ethnic and racial division to other places.

    Stephen Klineberg, who led the Rice study, argues that in some 30 years all of America will look like Houston today. Conservatives and liberals can both find something to like in Houston's post-racial, post-ethnic present.

    Certainly broiling heat and sopping humidity aren't the draws. "We're never going to have the climate or the views of San Francisco," says Ms. Parker, who shares the Houstonian habit of managing to sound both proud of and deprecating about the city.

    Likening Houston to "a good soup where all the ingredients come together," she says: "All the things that people say you have to have to have a great city, maybe we don't have. But it's still worth it." The phrase echoes the city's promotional campaign: "Houston. It's Worth It." This being a town that doesn't take itself too seriously, the campaign's website explains that Houston is "worth it" despite a list of 20 "afflictions" that include "the flying cockroaches," "the ridicule" and "the refineries."

    It wasn't always worth it. A visiting journalist in 1946 called Houston "mostly ugly and barren, a city without a single good restaurant." Over several decades, it went through a couple of oil booms and busts. The last petered out in the early 1990s, when former Mayor Bob Lanier invested in roads and policing to prepare the city for when the good times returned.

    Houston's revival is of course rooted in the current oil and gas bonanza, though less than in the past. Energy is half the city's economy, down from nearly 90% in the early 1980s. Houston is also now a global energy center. Anything related to the exploration, transport or refining of crude, gas or biofuels anywhere can be found here.

    Ms. Parker spent almost two decades in the oil and gas business, working for former U.S. Commerce Secretary and Republican Robert Mosbacher's energy company, Mosbacher Energy. "We were a one industry town," she says. "That's clearly not workable for anybody." She calls herself a "booster" of oil and gas but says Houston's strength comes from its ability to adapt to new trends.

    "We're 50% energy today but that's not just oil and gas," she says. "It is solar, it's wind, it's biofuels, it's transmission lines. We're a headquarters city—we've never been a big producing area. So we have to make sure that we maintain the ability to be the headquarters, the brain trust."

    Another driver of growth is the Texas Medical Center, which now has more commercial real-estate space than all of downtown Dallas—a particular point of Texas-rivalry pride. Biotech is taking off. The shipping port has, by some measures, become the nation's busiest.

    As a city council member and controller in the 1990s and 2000s, Ms. Parker built a political coalition of liberals, gays and business. When she decided to run for mayor in 2009, the business groups abandoned her, she says, because they doubted her electability as a lesbian, which she says was "frustrating and a little bit hurtful." She won narrowly.

    Those bad feelings are forgotten. Business appreciates Ms. Parker's response to the city's budget crisis and they're behind her bid for a third—and under the law, final—two-year term this fall. Coming into office in 2010 amid a recession, she laid off 776 city employees, starting with her deputy chief of staff. "I wanted to show it was going to start at the top," Ms. Parker says. No firefighters or cops were fired, but public swimming pools and libraries were shut.

    She also didn't raise taxes. "Raising taxes, that's the easy answer," the mayor says. Ms. Parker did impose the first drainage fee on properties to fund street improvements that would reduce flooding. It was dubbed by some as a "rain tax," but she says most Houstonians understand the need to invest in such basic public works.

    Ms. Parker plays up the need for a "working city" to serve people here and to attract those still put off by Houston's reputation. She wants to find ways to liven up downtown. A citywide network of bike and running trails is being built. Early one morning, I joined her and a few dozen others for a six-mile bicycle ride promoting the city's new bike-sharing program—yes, in this oil-guzzling, no-zoning-laws sprawl of some 600 car-friendly square miles.

    Some common urban ills remain. The public-employee pension funds are a mess. The funding shortfall is "the only cloud on our horizon," she says. Her critics says she hasn't shown the daring or urgency to take on government unions to fix the problem, but that's been a bipartisan failure nationwide.

    "If you look at her record in governing," a political consultant I meet in Houston says, "you'd think she was a conservative."

    Hearing this description, Ms. Parker doesn't choke on her Korean braised goat and dumplings.

    "There used to be jokes about how a Democrat in Texas was a moderate Republican in Connecticut," she says. "I do think there's a sweet spot there, where government is a tool to make peoples' lives better. . . . But I'm fiscally conservative. I came out of a conservative industry. I understand making payroll and balancing books."

    She also doesn't sound like a mayor who will tell you what size soda to buy.

    "I'm the black sheep in my family," she continues. "I'm from a long line of Republicans. Everyone else in my family is a Republican. The social issues are what drove me away from the Republican Party."

    Situated on a bayou and close to Louisiana, Houston mixes the South's hospitality and the West's independent streak and tolerance of differences. Ms. Parker cites these qualities to explain her political career. "The vast majority of Houstonians are pragmatic and they judge me for what I do, not what I am."

    She is a former president of the Houston GBLT Caucus and militated for gay rights in the 1990s. In her various stints as an elected city official, she emphasized financial matters and played down social issues. At least her mayoral victory, she says, got Houston a bit of attention for defying typecasting by outsiders.

    "I'm not a spokesperson for the gay community," she adds. Gay marriage is personal. "I've been with my life partner for 22 years." They have three children. "I want to marry her."

    Ms. Parker is holding out for Texas to legalize gay marriage. "I may be old and creaky, but it's gonna happen," she says. "This is a war we've already won. There are still battles left to fight. . . . mopping up operations."

    Anything, they keep telling you, is possible here.

    Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal's editorial board.[/rquoter]
     
    2 people like this.
  2. KingCheetah

    KingCheetah Contributing Member

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    Another driver of growth is the Texas Medical Center, which now has more commercial real-estate space than all of downtown Dallas
    _____

    Great articles thanks for posting.
     
  3. BigBird

    BigBird Contributing Member

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    I particularly enjoyed the Parker article, thanks
     
  4. Mr. Brightside

    Mr. Brightside Contributing Member

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    That's why I got Texas tatted on my arm, got Houston on my back.
     
  5. SWTsig

    SWTsig Contributing Member

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    Awesome articles, especially the htown one.
     
  6. Dairy Ashford

    Dairy Ashford Member

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    Travel section talking about local restaurants, business newspaper embracing a former oil executive from the whitest, wealthiest, most conservative minority group left.
     
  7. Haymitch

    Haymitch Custom Title
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    Suck on dat, bidges.
     
  8. Han Solo

    Han Solo Member

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    Great article. I know this is a great city. But, i've been here all my life except a short time in Hawaii and also San Diego. That spoiled me and i'm still tempted to spend my 30's and early 40's there b4 returning home and raising a family(don't want to marry till mid 40's). I do love this city though, just need something different. I need to be somewhere where i can be outdoors and actually enjoy it. Something i haven't done in Houston in a long time.
     
  9. CometsWin

    CometsWin Breaker Breaker One Nine

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    The Parker part is a bit deceptive to the politics. If it was a county vote she would lose huge.

    I hope they stop writing these articles. These Yankees and Californians are moving down here in droves, clogging up our traffic even more!
     
  10. Blatz

    Blatz Contributing Member

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    Really... Maybe I've had too much to drink but for some reason that stood out.
     
  11. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    Not sure why that's deceptive. She's talking about Houston. If you don't live in Houston, you can't vote for candidates running for Mayor of Houston. If it was a statewide vote, she would lose huge too....

    but it's not. The article is about Houston.
     
  12. Jontro

    Jontro Member

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    I got a tatt of Westheimer on my right bicep.
     

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