DEBORAH CROMBIE: What is more fun in a mystery than local color and FOOD? And where is cooler and hipper than Austin, Texas? (Well, Key West has a foot in, but Austin is hard to beat. Maybe I should have said "boot in"...)
Austin lawyer and writer Manning Wolfe gives us plenty of both in her debut novel, Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs. Boots King.
MERIT BRIDGES, an attorney and widowed mother in Austin, Texas, works hard, drinks too much wine, and sleeps with younger men. When Merit goes after a shady corporation threatening her client, she encounters hired gun Boots King. His charge is simple, “Stop her!” Merit and her team – including Betty, a mothering office manager with a bad-ass attitude – struggle to stay alive, while they navigate a labyrinth of legal issues, and prove once again that you don’t mess with a Texas lady lawyer.
And in between going after serious villains (and Boots King is one of the slimiest I've come across in a while) Merit manages to get in some fabulous Austin foodie spots. Here's Manning to tell us more.
Everyone knows about new hip Austin, and I certainly enjoy the hotspots as well. Places like Uchi, Barley Swine, and Franklins BBQ are included in Dollar Signs as representative of the vast and popular foodie scene that brings thousands of visitors to town yearly and pleases the palates of locals daily. The thriving entertainment scene with live music heard every night of the week, SXSW, and ACL are also featured.
I love my town, and am grateful to live here. But, if I go on a little too long about Austin I’ll become nostalgic for the old hangouts that have disappeared and I may start to weep. In that vein – both old and new - many readers have dubbed my legal thriller, Dollar Signs, a love letter to Austin, Texas.
Many venues that I included in my first draft of Dollar Signs disappeared before I reached publication date and the manuscript had to be modified. That’s how fast things are moving. It is my hope that the remaining favorites and hangouts, if they go by way of the Horseshoe Lounge, Fran’s Burgers, and Green Pastures, will live on in my series. The city is a character as much as Merit Bridges, the sassy downtown lawyer, Betty, her bad-ass office manager, and Ag, her investigator.
When I began writing the Texas Lady Lawyer series, Austin was in it’s second boom. I live in the first mid-rise built in SoLa (South Lamar), at that time the last bastion of “hippieness.” I have watched new hip Austin grow up around me. I took great care to include in Dollar Signs the nostalgic weird venues that hold that original Austin flavor from the early days that made Keep Austin Weird a common phrase. These venues are no longer the norm, but are still holding court in places that locals frequent when they need a hit on what “used to be.” Most have been modernized, but memories account for a lot when one is seeking home.
When I want to feel that old Austin vibe, here are a few of my favs:
Stubb’s BBQ, know for cold beer and live music is the venue where I first saw Bob Dylan play “Tangled Up In Blue” and other hits. Located in downtown Austin and 2.9 miles from my condo, it’s a handy spot when I need to feel the heritage of Armadillo World Headquarters or Liberty Lunch – both long gone, but not forgotten.
Maria’s Taco Xpress for hippie church on Sunday is hosted by the iconic Maria Corbalan. Gospel and tacos sit one half block from my abode. If I’m not in the mood to socialize, I just open the front door and sit on the balcony to soak up the sounds and the smells of stewing pork, menudo, and grilled onions.
The Hole in The Wall dive bar by the University of Texas, less than 3 miles away, is a local and student hangout for live music, open mike, and beautiful coeds. It’s anchored the drag since 1971 when Austin City Limits was taped in the building across the street.
Shade Grove Café on Barton Springs Road, just 2 miles away is the gateway to Zilker Park. It still remains popular for the outdoor sitting area, filled with vintage lawn chairs and retro gliders, set amongst pecan trees and one remaining nearby trailer park. The hippie chick, which is an eggplant and vegetable sandwich with pesto mayo can take me right back to the first time locals said, “No meat?”
Green Mesquite BBQ and outdoor patio where fiddle contests have been held for years is a few doors down. Their BBQ is not the most famous in town, but it might be the most visited by those wanting to remember. Their slogan “smokin’ the good stuff since 1988” says it all.
Nutty Brown Café located in Dripping Springs off Highway 290 W, requires a thirty-minute drive into the Texas Hill Country. Listening to live music on the oak-shaded patio while eating a chicken fried steak bigger than a hub cap allows the conjuring of Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and Bonnie Raitt when music lovers could sit at their feet without security guards blocking the view.
Threadgill World Headquarters, W beside the site of the former Armadillo World Headquarters, serves what my doctor calls “grandma food.” Liver and onions while listening to Billy Joe Shaver, Jesse Sublett, or Hayes Carll will put even the newest transplant in a trance of Texas memorializing.
A couple of honorable mentions are the Saxon Pub in the neighborhood. Plus, Poodle Dog Lounge, Frisco Diner and San Miguel de Allende about seven miles north on what’s called Burnet Road. It is a road, but it’s also a place.
Seeing these venues side by side with new hip venues is actually exciting. Change is hard, but I have to admit, we’re having a great time. There is a scene in Dollar Signs where Merit Bridges is forced from her connection to old Austin and has to take a step into the new hip town. She goes begrudgingly, as all longtime Austin dwellers do, but go she does.
DEBS: Just reading this makes me want to get in my car and head south on I35. Austin barbecue is calling... And Austin music--oh, my!
Reds and readers, does reading about places make you want to go there? And do you love Austin?
Manning is an author and attorney, with one foot in the business world and one foot in the creative realm. Her business experience, combined with her vivid imagination manifests in quality services for clients, as well as compelling storytelling for readers.
The first in her legal thriller series, Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King, will be published on February 18, 2016. The second in the series, Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Browno Zars will follow in the summer.
Manning is a graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law. She makes her home in Austin, Texas with her mate Bill. Her grown son Aaron lives nearby.