by Donna Chen
Mark your calendars beer lovers, the stars have aligned for the perfect car-free Austin beer crawl on March 12. Capital Metro is extending its MetroRail service for all Fridays and two Saturdays in March (12th and 19th) and the newcomer to Austin’s booming microbrewery scene, Circle Brewing Co, is hosting its grand opening celebration on March 12. This self-guided beer lover’s crawl starts with Circle Brewing’s party at Kramer Station, continues to laid back, community owned Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery at Crestview Station, and ends with endless dive bar and pub options and melt-in-your-mouth pork belly buns near Plaza Saltillo Station. Plentiful beer and car-free travel means you can enjoy a carefree Saturday full of brouhaha (or brewhaha?) without worrying about dedicating the unlucky designated driver or finding the oh-so-coveted yet oh-so-not-available Saturday night parking spot around downtown Austin.
From your starting point, plan your trip to Kramer Station with CapMetro’s Trip Planner or Google Maps’ Transit Directions. A MetroRail regional pass (valid all day) is just $5.50, guaranteed to be more cost effective than those pesky rising gas prices.
First Stop: Kramer Station
Circle Brewing Company officially opens its doors to the public on March 12. The Grand Opening party goes on from 2:00pm to 6:00pm and offers visitors 3 free samples or, with the purchase of a $10 pint glass, full size samples in your shiny new glassware. They’ve also promised BBQ (and other Austin trailer food vendors?) to satiate your stomach during the sampling.
Second Stop: Crestview Station
Hop on the MetroRail Red Line one stop south to Crestview Station, where community owned BlackStar Co-op is offering $1 off any pint of their house brews when you show your MetroRail ticket for the entire month of March. BlackStar just tapped their House Brown 660 in promotion of Texas House Bill 660, a piece of legislation which, if passed, would allow brewpubs like BlackStar to sell their brews off-premises (e.g. your local grocery store or restaurant). Politics aside, BlackStar has one of the most laid back, wide open patios around town to enjoy your brews and a menu full of tasty options like the crispy and creamy pan-fried grit cakes with serrano and garlic sauteed shrimp, the perfectly dressed beet and arugula salad with candied pecans and blue cheese, the intensely flavored bowl of red chili, the light and crispy battered redfish and chips, and the sinfully rich and comforting chicken pot pie (made upon order, takes a little longer but worth every minute). Don’t forget the bacon toffee for dessert (or as a great beer companion snack).
Third Stop: Plaza Saltillo Station
It’s getting later into the night, and Plaza Saltillo Station (two stops south of Crestview Station) just happens to be located in the middle of some of east Austin’s best dive bars and pubs. A five minute walk down E 6th from Plaza Saltillo Station lands you at The Liberty (1618 1/2 E 6th), where the beer is cheap and cold and the massive back courtyard is filled with picnic tables and an outdoor bocce court. A half block further east on E 6th just past Chalmers Avenue is The Grackle (1700 E 6th), a newcomer to the strip that offers an expansive front covered porch and a great selection of brews (think Brooklyn, Unibroue, Stone Brewing, etc) with prices guaranteed to be more palatable than those on the other side of I-35. But the beer and the East Austin vibe aren’t the only reasons to visit Liberty Bar and The Grackle, nouveau Asian food trailer East Side King runs operations late into the night at both these bars and offers the best post-boozing bites in Austin (in the back courtyard at The Liberty and in the parking lot at The Grackle). Perhaps you’ve heard of David Chang’s Momofuku pork buns in NYC? Well, I’ve eaten these sublimely rich buns at both Momofuku Ssam and East Side King, and I confess to prefer the Austin trailer version. East Side King takes an acute stab at “elevated low brow food” trend with its Ramen noodles with pork belly, poached egg, shiitake mushroom, green onion, and kimchi served in the instant noodle bowl. It’s a delicious concept that will have you licking the bowl clean and laughing at the irony at the same time. While you’re indulging in everything pork belly, don’t forget the tasty sides of fried Brussels sprout salad and beet home fries.
And Beyond: Downtown Station
One stop south of Plaza Saltillo Station is Red Line’s Downtown Station. Perhaps you’ve heard of a little event known as SXSW? The Downtown Station is in the middle of all the SXSW opening night action, and it’s easy to catch a cab back from downtown if you stay out past the MetroRail’s last scheduled train of the night (11:30pm).