Recently I took advantage of a beautiful winter day to visit South Congress Avenue. I hadn’t been to SoCo for a while and wanted to see what had changed over the past few months. (Full disclosure: shopping and lunch were also involved.)
At first, the street didn’t look much different. SoCo’s still got that stunning view of downtown Austin and the Texas State Capitol, lots of stop lights and traffic, and those tricky back-in parking spaces. The plethora of electric scooters on the corners is a relatively recent—but not surprising—change. Those things are everywhere in central Austin. However, the huge yellow construction cranes hanging over South Congress are definitely new.
Several huge buildings are now under construction on the northeast side of South Congress, directly across from the Texas School of the Deaf property. This mixed-use project, called Music Lane, will include offices, restaurants, retail, a gym, and underground parking. A new Hotel Magdalena will add to the trendy lodging options on SoCo.
Another new building is going up on the former site of the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store and their adjacent parking lot. This building—appropriately named Saint Vincent—will also contain retail/food on the ground floor with office space upstairs. Sigh. Bill and I used to watch HONK!TX concerts in that parking lot.
Thank goodness the Hey Cupcake! trailer is still there. So what’s up with the astroturf? I was thinking back to the glory days of the food trailers in that South Congress dirt-and-some-gravel parking lot—was that even five years ago? That food trailer park is long gone. The parking lot was replaced by the fancy South Congress Motel.
Lest you think all is lost, I can report that most of the familiar SoCo retail businesses are still going strong. Lucy in Disguise, Monkey See, Monkey Do!, Big Top, Allen’s Boots, Tesoros Trading Company, and many more are still there. After being displaced by the Music Lane project, Parts & Labour moved slightly further south on SoCo, still within walking distance. However, due to a rent increase, the popular antique store Uncommon Objects relocated elsewhere in South Austin.
All my favorite South Congress restaurants are still open: South Congress Cafe, Guero’s Taco Bar, Enoteca/Vespio, Home Slice Pizza, Perla’s. Snack Bar has closed, but I saw lots of lunchtime diners at its replacement, Joann’s Fine Foods. Amy’s Ice Cream still had a line, even in the middle of a winter day.
After an extensive remodeling of the old Hill Country Weavers house, Kendra Scott has opened a new flagship store on the southeast side of South Congress. Their cute cottage with its inviting covered porch fits right in with the (old) look of the neighborhood. Besides jewelry, this store sells upscale home items and has a coffee and pastry bar just inside the front door. A salesperson told me that their existing SoCo location will be closing soon.
An Instagram-ready mural is painted on the side of the Kendra Scott store: Anything is possible in ATX. Maybe. For me, nothing will top Jo’s iconic mural: i love you so much.
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