Houston Businesses Try to Copy Austin Formula

One sign of success in any endeavor is imitation, and now Austin is getting its share of imitators. I’m not sure if Austin was the first city to use the “Keep XXXX Weird” slogan, but when we see cities like Louisville, and yes, even my hometown of Erie, Pa. (Update: According to Dennis in the comments below, Erie preceded “Keep Austin Weird” by at least 10 years), coopting the slogan for city promotional campaigns, things are truly getting weird.

It seems like the next thing other cities might be attempting to steal from Austin are its quirky businesses and its laidback vibe. And where better to start than our sister city to the Southeast? Apparently, some Houston business owners have grown so tired of their own strip mall culture that they’ve opened new Austin-like restaurant amalgamations. Barton Springs Grill even takes its design from the Barton Springs pool house:

Barton Springs Grill in northwest Houston, too, is packed with Austin cultural references, in its name, decor, menu and slogan: “We grill, you chill.”

It is named after Austin’s idyllic Barton Springs pool.

The interior resembles a quirky Hill Country lodge and features limestone and cedar, a big beer bottle chandelier and framed albums of Willie Nelson, the Doors and other artists.

The menu is inspired by several Austin eateries. The Austin Queso borrows from Guero’s, the Marga-tini resembles a drink at Trudy’s, and “TV dinners” and veggie dishes pay homage to Threadgill’s.

The patio, with bright metal chairs and pink flamingos, aspires for a Shady Grove feel. Owner Bill Osterhout eventually plans to install a man-made creek outside.

Though you have to admire this kind of inspired copycatting, one might also wonder if the net effect comes off as well as Disneyland’s New Orleans or Las Vegas’ mini-New York.

8 Comments so far

  1. ttrentham (unregistered) on May 15th, 2006 @ 2:17 pm

    Charles Kuffner had a post on this from the Houston point of view.

  2. omit (unregistered) on May 15th, 2006 @ 2:25 pm

    Hmmm…makes sense. I guess without a firsthand experience, all I can do is go off the angle they took in that article. However, you have to admit that the Barton Springs Grill is totally modeled on Austin hangouts.

  3. Dennis (unregistered) on May 15th, 2006 @ 6:01 pm

    “Keep Erie Weird” dates back to 1982. A writer for the Erie newspaper, Richard Boler, was writing about the price of draft beers around town. It was a mock effort to keep down prices. If you joined CHUG (Committee to Harangue Unscrupulous Greedmongers), you got a “Keep Erie Weird” button for $1.25. It was all ment as a joke but the paper had 50 people actually send in money so they got the buttons printed. The paper again offered the buttons about 20 years later. You can still buy them at http://www.RockErie.com/keeperieweird

  4. John (unregistered) on May 16th, 2006 @ 6:15 am

    Hello from Houston. I found the article in the Chron really funny. I lived for years in DC and Boston, and have spent lots of time in SF, Baltimore, and NYC, and the features of those businesses don’t seem like an “Austin” thing to me. Every city that hasn’t been completely overrun by Starbucks has those kinds of places. That’s not unique to Austin at all.

    I visited Austin for the first time in my late 30s and thought it was a pretty, cute little college town but couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. I thought it was nice. I got tired of Austinites clucking at me telling me how fab it was and how awful it was that I lived in Houston.

    Don’t believe your own PR too much. Austin’s a nice place. I can see why you all enjoy it. Though every time I visit, I do like coming home to the energy and diversity of Houston. You have to get past our freeway/billboard exterior down here, but Houston will surprise you with what’s under the surface.

    And we can all be glad we’re not in Dallas :).

  5. wae (unregistered) on May 16th, 2006 @ 11:09 am

    The idea of Houston restaurants and bars copying Austin seems kinda funny, not least because Houston has some killer diners, coffeeshops, and restaurants that certainly rival Austin for authenticity and comfort (Empire Cafe is a favorite). Maybe the Chron should run a follow-up article about how Austin is trying to develop an upscale bar and restaurant scene, and whether our newfound swankness rivals theirs.

  6. Spook (unregistered) on May 18th, 2006 @ 5:57 am

    …about how Austin is trying to develop an upscale bar and restaurant scene…

    Sorry, but “upscale” has always been teh sux0r and will continue to be so.

  7. Chris (unregistered) on May 21st, 2006 @ 7:06 pm

    so whats your point? austin aint that great and hs no monopoly on electic tatstes. montrose has more people and more variety than austin will ever have.and more queers too.

  8. omit (unregistered) on May 21st, 2006 @ 7:26 pm

    Have you read the article? I’m elaborating on the angle the writer took. I wasn’t saying Houston is any lesser or worse than Austin–just that some people are copying Austin businesses. I could have just put a link there, but not having seen these businesses, I was putting questions I had about it out there. As Off the Kuff pointed out, the writers may have stretched things a little to try to make it a trend piece. As Andy said, Austin’s upscale places are probably doing take-offs on Houston and Dallas.

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