Dec 12, 2013

A commoner reviews Rainey Street and Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden, Austin, Texas

Before I embarked on my business trip to Austin last fall, one of the items I put on my short list of things to do during my off-time was a pub crawl up and down Sixth Street.  It had been more than ten years since I was last in Austin, so I didn't want to miss the chance to once again hang out on what I considered to be of the best bar scenes in the United States. 

With this thought in mind, I at first found it ironic that the friends I made on my first full day in Austin were actually kind of discouraging me from Sixth Street.  The locals don’t do Sixth Street, like they used to, I heard.  It’s always too full of tourists and college students, and the weirdos (which was one thing I liked – a little Bourbon Street charm in south central Texas), I was told. 

So, where do the locals tend to go more and more?  Rainey Street

The Historic Rainey Street District is actually very close to Sixth Street, still downtown, tucked in a spot due west of Interstate 35 and just north of Lady Bird Lake.  I went along for the ride right after work with my new friends Omarr and Aaron, who had the perfect place in mind for a Happy Hour beverage and appetizer.

That place was Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden.  For the uninitiated, you might think a German-themed beer garden seems out of place in Austin, Texas.  But south central Texas and the Texas Hill Country is full of German influence from settlers who came to the area as early as the 1830s (which also explains why sausage is such a prominent item in Texas barbecue).  I was eager to try a little German culture, Texas style. 

Much of what has become one of Austin’s newest bar districts still retains its residential flavor.  The exteriors of what were rundown bungalows have been lovingly redecorated, while the interiors have been gutted and turned into what appear to be highly profitable bars and restaurants.  Trees still lined the street and filled many backyards, which helped preserve the neighborhood feel, provide much appreciated relief from the Texas sun and excuses for many establishments – Banger’s included – to offer outdoor seating.    

And since the tourists haven’t quite taken over the district yet, nothing appears to be too overcrowded or too overpriced. Of course, my experience on Rainey Street was limited, so your mileage may vary.  But for our trip to Banger’s on a Monday evening, we found easily accessible street parking and plenty of room at the bar when we went inside. 

Or maybe it was because we beat the Oktoberfest rush.  I think my friends were having fun with me with this sign at my expense.  Contrary to rumor, I did not receive … nor did I qualify for … any senior discount.    

Moving on to the bar … how can you sit here and not be impressed when you see 100 beers on tap?  They bill it is the largest selection in Austin.  I think it’s one of the largest selections I’ve seen anywhere.  They seem to specialize in local/regional selections and the hard-to-find, and they have every choice categorized on the board behind the taps for your convenience.  And they change up the selection often, so you’ll probably never see the same beer list twice. 

I love a lot of choices.  I could have drank here all night, but it would have been a very unwise decision.
My choice for the evening:  Guadalupe Texas Honey Ale.  It turned out to be an excellent local choice to cool off after a hot afternoon driving around central Texas.  The beer was from nearby New Braunfels.  The taste was light and crisp, and the honey was evident in its finish.  It was an excellent thirst quencher.

Quiet, please.  Foodie eating sausage.  
And it went quite well with my choice from the sausage menu – the Weisswurst. It didn't look like it would be enough to fill me up, but this very traditional German sausage – with a pungent stone-ground mustard sauce for dipping – was very filling.  The side of pretzel bread sticks was a perfect match.  (And, I should give thanks to Omarr and Aaron for sharing their order of chili cheese fries, too). 

One final word about Banger’s food menu – it seems to change with just as much frequency as the beer list.  You’ll probably never see the exact same offerings two days in a row.  They also go out of their way to offer the unusual as much as the expected.  Sure, you can have a bratwurst, but why not try something made with antelope or boar, or one of their specialty platters like the tempura eggplant vegan sausage?  In short, Banger’s is upscale bar food at its finest – in both taste and preparation.    

Like my first experience with Sixth Street, my brief time on Rainey Street made me crave more.  When I return to Austin, this neighborhood – and Banger’s in particular – will definitely be on my list of “must go” places. 

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