TRAVEL: Map points the way to stars in AustinAs a movie-making hot spot and self-proclaimed “live music capital of the world” and the home of such media events as South by Southwest and Austin City Limits music festival, Austin likes to think of itself as L.A.’s little Lone Star brother.
By: Cary Darling, McClatchy Newspapers
AUSTIN — Score! Well, almost.
I’m driving past what’s reputed to be the hillside home of Harry Whittington — the attorney who was accidentally shot in the face and chest by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2006 while the two were quail hunting — and the gate opens.
A car slowly emerges.
But it looks like there’s a woman driving. Not that I’m very well acquainted with what Whittington looks like these days but I’m guessing, unless he has decided to channel Dame Edna, that’s not him.
Still, that’s the closest I get to a star sighting while following the self-guided driving tour of Austin found in Austin Star Map, the 41-stop trek around the city that apes the infamous Hollywood star maps seemingly available on every street corner in Los Angeles.
After all, as a movie-making hot spot and self-proclaimed “live music capital of the world” and the home of such media events as South by Southwest and Austin City Limits music festival, Austin likes to think of itself as L.A.’s little Lone Star brother.
Where the L.A. maps no doubt take visitors to celebrity-rich Beverly Hills and nearby movie studios, Austin Star Map offers a Texas-centric take on the theme: a circuitous route through the hills of Mount Bonnell and much of the northern part of the city and a swing by Austin Studios, where such movies as “Friday Night Lights,” “Grindhouse,” “Miss Congeniality” and “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl” were partly filmed.
So you cruise by the likes of Sugar’s (the “gentleman’s club” where Renee Zellweger waited tables) and the Dry Creek Cafe (from whose balcony one can supposedly see the condo community where Andy Roddick and Lance Armstrong live), Riverbend Church (where Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey said “I do”), Tarrytown United Methodist Church (which George and Laura Bush attend when they are in town), Matthew McConaughey’s former home (the one where he was arrested in 1999 for dancing naked while pounding bongos), and the homes of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, director Robert Rodriguez and golfer Ben Crenshaw, among others.
There are some film locations, too. Richard Linklater’s 1993 “Dazed and Confused” is represented by both the Top-Notch burgers joint and the Poodle Dog Lounge, where the interior was used for the Emporium Pool Hall scene. Unless you break for lunch or get stuck in Austin’s hellacious traffic, it’s supposed to take two hours, though, thanks to getting lost a couple of times, it took me four.
There’s a shorter 16-stop downtown walking tour that features the “house” (more like a warehouse) where the Austin season of “The Real World” was filmed; the bars Chuggin’ Monkey and Dizzy Rooster (co-owned by Brad Womack, who was on the 2007 edition of “The Bachelor,” and frequented by “The Real World” roomies); Bess Bistro on Pecan (an eatery started by Sandra Bullock that she still visits occasionally); and Six Lounge (co-owned by Lance Armstrong).
The combined walking and driving tour offers a snapshot of Austin pop culture of the past decade — though it’s noticeably light on the music end of things. O, Willie Nelson, where art thou?
“This leans more toward the Hollywood, gossipy celebrities,” admits Ame Shillington, the founder of Austin Star Map, by phone. “That may change in the next edition.”
It was that hunt for celebrities that sparked Shillington to publish Austin Star Map, which debuted last spring right before South by Southwest, the massive music-film-interactive festival that lures thousands of tourists to the city.
“I’ve lived here for 10 years and I’m a celebrity junkie,” says Shillington, who moved here from Toronto and operates a used bookstore. “My sister came to visit me about five years ago. She said, ‘Hey, can you take me to see Sandra Bullock’s house? Matthew McConaughey’s house?’ After we did the mini-tour ourselves, we said, ‘I bet other people would be interested in this.’ It was kind of organic; it grew from that original sisterly bond. We’ve turned it into a little industry.”
Not only does Shillington publish a hard-copy version of the map, of which she says she has sold about 1,000 copies, but she maintains a Web site (www.austinstarmap.com) where local star sightings can be posted (looks like Natalie Maines did some shopping at the Goodwill three months ago!) and blogger Amber Gadsby keeps up with local faces.
An updated version of Austin Star Map is due in the fall, and Shillington would like to add a bus-tour component in the near-future.
One of the elements that draws celebrities to Austin apparently is its laid-back feel. Yet Shillington doesn’t think Austin Star Map helps contribute to a more tense, paparazzilike atmosphere.
“You can see celebrities shopping at Whole Foods. They get a level of respect you don’t get in Hollywood,” she explains. “People don’t gawk at them. People don’t take pictures of them. We might be taking away from that but we’ve talked to celebrities and not a single one has complained. There’s a laid-back culture in Austin, and Texas in general, that is much different.”
(Shillington notes that she received permission from some celebrities to be on the map and that all the addresses are derived from public information. There’s a warning at the bottom of the map that reads, “Respect privacy! It’s one thing to slow down and admire the gorgeous home of someone famous, but it is quite another to go up and ring the doorbell — don’t do that!”)
As for many places being left off the map, Shillington says she originally had 150 stops in mind but soon realized that would be unwieldy. Some got cut because of presumed lack of visitor interest (“(Former White House press secretary) Scott McClellan lives here but nobody cares anymore,” she says). Others got the ax for time.
“It took us just over two hours (to do the current tour). We had many people test it for us,” she says. “We figured two hours was the maximum people would want to spend.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the city of Austin doesn’t officially hype its celebrity status or link itself with the Star Map. “We don’t promote (the city) as a place to do a lot of star-gazing,” says Beth Krauss of the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“But people do run into stars here and there. ... But it’s more as an adjunct of a (visitor’s) existing trip.”
In fact, unlike Los Angeles, where many of the studios emblazon themselves with signage, offer tours and are at least partially open to the public, Austin’s most high-profile filmmaking spot, Austin Studios, doesn’t offer public tours and its east 51st Street location can easily be driven by without knowing what goes on there.
Krauss says Austin might be losing some of its celebrity shine. “Austin used to be this secret, wonderful spot that celebrities could come to and not be bothered,” Krauss continues.
“Now, it’s more on people’s radar so it’s not quite the home-away-from-home that is a secret anymore. Sandra (Bullock) has moved away. Matthew (McConaughey) has moved away.”
It’s a theme that echoes two columns written by Austin American-Statesman columnist Michael Barnes this year. Noting that many celebs have either moved away or are on the road so much (Willie Nelson, Andy Roddick, various Dixie Chicks) they’re rarely here anyway, he wrote, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if Karl Rove, who last year renewed his Austin credentials by securing membership in the Headliners Club, became our most famous resident political notable?”
But Shillington is not fretting that her source for gossip and star sightings will dry up. “There are more (stars) moving here.
“As for Sandra and Matthew, I think they’ll be back. They both stay in Austin for part of the year,” she says. “I’m not worried.”
Where to buy it
Austin Star Map costs $4.98 and is available at www.austinstarmap.com and various retailers around Austin.