"Keep Austin Weird." The unofficial slogan of the city has different interpretations to different residents, but most would agree that not being "normal" is one of the things we cherish about Austin. Ironically, what began with a grass roots movement to support the local businesses got trademarked by a marketing company to sell tee shirts and ball caps. In fact, they did such a good job of marketing and profiting from that slogan that other marketing companies in other cities picked it up and pretty soon, it became "Keep (fill in the blank) Weird." But like cookie-cutter malls and chain restaurants that look exactly the same no matter what part of the country you happen to be in, we'll let the big companies make a profit here just like anywhere else. To a lot of us, "Keep Austin Weird" isn't about a tee shirt, it's a reminder that we live in one of the most unique and original cities in the country, and we never want to lose that.
Austin has always been weird. When it was barely a town on the edge of the wild frontier, more than 180 years before the first bumper sticker, Austinites were already doing things their own way. Consider the example of the French charge d'affaires, Alphonse Dubois de Saligny - a pompous aristocrat that could never understand or accept that Austin was not impressed by his importance. He complained incessantly about an innkeeper whose herd of marauding pigs was allowed to roam the streets of downtown Austin every night (in the vicinity of what is present day Congress Ave. and 6th Street, for those who'd like to picture this), claiming the pigs were eating his horse feed. When he realized that complaints were getting him nowhere, regardless of how much he exaggerated the claims (including that the pigs were breaking into his boudoir to devour his fine linens) he had his servant go out one night and shoot a few pigs. That's when it got ugly - a fight ensued, the servant was thrashed, and the innkeeper went after Dubois promising the same fate. Dubois immediately (after running away) claimed diplomatic immunity, invoked the "Law of Nations" and demanded punishment of the innkeeper. By this time, the residents had had enough whining and threats and ran Dubois out of town. It took a few years to untangle the diplomatic strains between France and the Republic of Texas after that, but it was worth it to Austin residents who'd have something to laugh about for quite some time.
Austin may have caught the French diplomat off guard, but President Sam Houston knew what he was dealing with when he wanted to relocate the capital of Texas to the city of Houston a few years later. Unable to make the move without the land records, he tried to have the Texas Rangers steal them out of Austin in the middle of the night. An innkeeper by the name of Angelina Eberly heard the commotion and fired off a cannon to wake up the town. Within minutes a group of men in their underwear were chasing the Texas Rangers and overtook them about 20 miles out of town. They brought the records back to Austin and sent the Rangers back to Houston. (This story makes the interesting point that "being weird" is the only reason Austin is the capital of Texas today.)
Even in dealing with the issue of a high crime rate in the late 1800s, Austin had a unique solution. They elected one of the most successful, efficient, and feared gunfighters in the Old West, Ben Thompson, as Marshall. It worked - the criminals promptly left town and those that remained were the most upstanding, law-abiding citizens you've ever seen.
That spirit of "not following the beaten path" was born into Austin and remains to this day. The more unique something is, the more it embraces what the city is and has always been about. It's not really about being weird, it's about being original. Much has been written about how this spirit of the city has made the music industry what it is here - artists that had no neatly carved niche to fall into anywhere else could come to Austin and create one, like Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name a few. That same spirit permeates everything, not just music, and visitors to Austin can experience it in particular when they dine out.
Take Chuy's, for example. Renowned for its authentic Tex-Mex cuisine, no place personifies the "Keep Austin Weird," motto better. The kitschy collection of black velvet paintings of Elvis; wall-to-wall hubcaps intermingling with strategically placed plastic roses; dazzlingly colorful fish sculptures with really, really big teeth; or even the silverware that comes in wax paper bags and is "sealed for your protection" offer a fun and memorable plunge into Austin weirdness.
Stubb's BBQ is another Austin icon. The legendary barbeque is certainly worth a trip to the historic venue downtown, but for a lot of people the "Holy Rock 'n Rollin' Sunday Gospel Brunch" is worth a trip from out of state. Enjoy the BBQ along with southern favorites such as grits and fried catfish, (along with the "build your own Bloody Mary" bar) while listening to Gospel singers on the stage.
No article about Austin is complete without mentioning the Broken Spoke - Austin's original honky tonk where you can get a good chicken-fried steak (some say the best) and break in your new boots on the dance floor too. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys played here, and so did Tex Ritter, Ray Price, Kitty Wells, George Strait, and a lot of other big names. Willie Nelson still goes in there for chicken fried steak now and then and usually ends up on the stage before the night is over. The Broken Spoke is not what everyone would call "weird," but it's definitely unique, original, and one of a kind -and that's what "keeping Austin weird" is all about.
Users Reading this article are also interested in: