Actor and director Ethan Hawke is very familiar with Austin. He was born in the Texas city, and while he did move to the East Coast, the honorary Texan returns to the city often, while rehearsing and filming movies like Before Sunrise and Boyhood with his movie partner/director Richard Linklater.
Eater went on a mini Austin restaurant tour with Hawke, who directed Blaze, a film about musician Blaze Foley with strong Texas ties, and the film’s star Ben Dickey. While Hawke wanted to film the movie in Austin, he couldn’t because of the lack of film incentives. The pair talked about their favorite Austin restaurants, reminisced about his old film memories, remembered now-gone institutions (RIP Las Manitas), and pondered the future of the city.
The order: tamale; sweet potatoes; cucumber salad; Feel Good juice shots
Before filming Before Sunrise, Hawke, director Linklater, and actress Julie Delpy rehearsed and developed the script in Austin. One of their usual spots included Tex-Mex vegetarian restaurant Mr. Natural (1901 East Cesar Chavez Street, Holly). “We had some of our best rehearsals right here,” Hawke said.
Linklater was the second vegetarian Hawke had ever met. The first was the late actor River Phoenix (“I was 14,” he said, “and I literally thought he was nuts. I couldn’t even understand. I just imagined having a hamburger with just the bun.”).
“Whenever I come to Austin, this is the first place I come,” said Hawke. “The salads are fresh, they put a lot of effort into it, and it’s completely unpretentious. The combination of Mexican food, which is my favorite, the people here, and the total low-key environment.”
Since the East Cesar Chavez restaurant was one of Linklater’s go-to spots, the director also brought the cast of Newton Boys to the restaurant, which also filmed in Austin. “He got so used to coming here, he forgot to tell them this was a vegetarian joint,” Hawke said. “I remember listening to Matthew McConaughey go, ‘Where’s the meat?’”
The order: raw oysters; grilled oysters; fried chicken; okra
Ben Dickey first visited Lucy’s Fried Chicken’s South Austin location (2218 College Avenue, Bouldin) after a recording session at the nearby Arlyn Studios with musician and Blaze co-star Charlie Sexton. He was instantly smitten.
“I love places that are clearly designed to emanate love of drinks and being with people,” Dickey said. The oysters didn’t hurt, either, which come with “condiments that are very graceful, easy, and smart,” he said. “The fried chicken is done beautifully well.”
Whenever Dickey visits the restaurant, he “gets really excited and I want to over-order.” He continued: “I wanted to come here every night. I could tell that the mission is to be easy and be kind, and there’s no overwrought ‘welcome y’all, come on in’ vibe.”
Dickey understood the difficulties in running a restaurant. He worked in the service industry in Philadelphia, where he eventually became a chef at restaurant and music venue Johnny Brenda’s (“the hippest, coolest restaurant in Philly,” Hawke chimed in).
Another South Austin restaurant Dickey often dined at is Elizabeth Street Cafe (1501 South 1st Street, Bouldin), because he’s a fan of Vietnamese food, though he acknowledged: “I’m a little bit of a snob, but I know when French-Vietnamese go together. It’s a little gringo-esque. I like gringo food, too.”
Since it’s Texas, Hawke believes in the power of tacos. “One thing I like is quite simply the culture of ordering tacos,” he said. “I don’t know why people on the East Coast don’t. It’s such a wonderful food that travels fast. Fun to eat, it’s delicious, and you can get all different kinds.”
Hawke has fond memories of frequenting much-beloved downtown Tex-Mex cafe Las Manitas. “They had the best migas,” he said. “I used to go there every damn day when I was here.” He enjoyed how it was an easygoing place.
The order: Two burgers, including the Fats Domino burger; fried onion rings
Hawke remembered when West Sixth Street wasn’t as developed as it is now. “The essential question for Austinites right now is how to make this growing city a good thing?” Hawke asked. He pointed out how many of the places where Foley performed, like the Austin Outhouse featured in the film, don’t exist anymore.
Now, “you either have chains or expensive places,” Hawke said, “but still, as it grows, the people who are coming and moving here are the people who love old Austin. They want to be part of that.”
But then the question, as Hawke asked, is: “How to keep that flame burning with unconventional thinking and artistic welcoming?”
Hawke doesn’t know what the concrete answer to that is. “I don’t think the good times are ever gone in that way,” he said. “You just have to be authentic and open a cool restaurant and make sure you look for the ones who do.”
Hut’s reminded Hawke of another older restaurant he went to a lot, Star Seeds Cafe. When he would come to Austin to meet with Linklater, he’d stay at a “little shithole” motel, and go drink “amazing milkshakes” at this “all-hours diner with a little sleaze factor,” he remembered. It was the spot where everyone would regroup after the end of a long day without the help of cell phones.
The order: Can of Lone Star; whiskey neat
Hawke remembered frequenting campus dive bar Hole in the Wall (2538 Guadalupe Street, the Drag) back when there were pool and ping-pong tables in the back room during Before Sunrise rehearsals. “I learned very quickly that Linklater’s one of the greatest gamesmen of all-time,” he said. While Julie Delpy wouldn’t play, she’d root for Linklater, much to Hawke’s chagrin.
Blaze Foley actually played at Hole in the Wall, along with his friend and fellow musician Townes Van Zandt. It was said that Foley would often step in for Van Zandt when he was too under the influence during performances.
Even though Austin has changed a lot since the 1990s when he frolicked through the town with Linklater, the city’s heart is still the same to Hawke.