Austin lives by the unofficial slogan, “Keep Austin Weird”, to show visitors just how much the city values originality and creativity. You can find the slogan on bumper stickers, t-shirts, murals and street art. You can also find the spirit of the phrase in places unique to Austin, such as The Cathedral of Junk, The South Austin Popular Culture Center, Lala’s Little Nugget (a bar where it’s always Christmas), Graffiti Park, and a surprising bingo game. Travellers can discover the weird side of Austin by heading to these five spots, and have a lot of fun in the process.
Cathedral of Junk
The Cathedral of Junk sits in the backyard of an unassuming house in South Austin. Homeowner, Vince Hannemann began building the monument to discarded items in 1988. Although the space is small, the myriad levels, stairs and cubbyholes that have been constructed over the years give it a larger feel. Amid over 60 tonnes of junk visitors can find neon signs, flickering televisions and a throne room made mostly of unidentifiable components. Anyone can visit the Cathedral – a small donation to support the collection is recommended.
South Austin Popular Culture Center
The most striking object outside the South Austin Popular Culture Center is a wildly painted art car, which sits huddled next to the building. Inside you’ll find artefacts and images from the past 50 years of pop culture in Austin. From photographs and posters from the counter culture beginnings of the live music scene to pieces created by a band of local artists known as the Armadillo Art Squad, the museum is filled with items that tell the tale of Austin’s recent past. The museum is open Thursday through Sunday from 1-6 p.m.
Lala’s Little Nugget
Upon entering this north Austin dive bar, patrons cannot help but notice that the place is crammed with Christmas decorations. A perpetual artificial fire burns in the corner, multi-coloured lights are strung throughout the bar and elves dance over the bar each time someone opens the bathroom door near the bar. The establishment is known for its legendary jukebox and Bloody Marys. An urban legend states that when Lala’s husband died during the holidays in 1972, she left the decorations up. A more likely story from bartender Bill Grieg is that when Lala took down the Christmas curios in 1972 she thought it looked too bare and quickly put them back up. Either way, Lala’s Little Nugget is one of a kind.
Castle Hill Graffiti Park
Filled with amazing street art, the Castle Hill Graffiti Park has been providing eye candy to visitors since 2012, and features dozens of ever-changing hand-painted murals. A wide variety of street artists have made their mark here, including famed artist Shepard Fairey, who created his own mural at the park during the 2012 edition of the city’s South by Southwest Music Festival.
Ginny’s Little Longhorn
Ginny’s Little Longhorn is famous for its Sunday afternoon games of bingo and live music by country musician Dale Watson. Owner Ginny Kalmbach recently decided to retire and the fate of the Austin institution was in doubt until Watson bought the place and invested in refurbishing the bar. Watson improved the sound and lighting and invited the former owner to come in every Sunday to call the bingo numbers. Finding a more unique location than this place might be a challenge.
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Have you experienced “weird Austin”? Have we left out your favourite quirky Austin venue? Let us know in the comments below.
Written by Greg Ackerman