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Sixth Street: The Heartbeat of the Downtown Scene
Written by Shannon Barrientes / Photo by Herron stock
S ixth Street is an epic, bustling hotspot for live music, a cold cocktail and all the bright lights and entertainment you can handle. It’s one of the most historic districts in downtown Austin and is quite literally the original core of the city itself. The most legendary part of this street extends from the celebrated Driskill Hotel at the corner of Brazos Street and continues six city blocks to Interstate 35. Often considered the heartbeat of the downtown scene, it is alive with music and pedestrians every night of the year.
In modern day Austin, Sixth Street serves as a focal point for the downtown grid. It’s no surprise that it was designed that way, and once served as a major thoroughfare through the inner city area. In the mid-nineteenth century, Sixth Street was Pecan Street, and it served as a stagecoach route for travelers, with a stage stop at the corner of Congress. Edwin Waller, elected as the city’s first mayor in 1840, engineered a grid plan for the streets of the city; most of this grid plan is still intact as modern downtown Austin. Pecan Street was the choice traveling route into town for the farmland communities to the east, and soon became a major commerce district. Before the Civil War, Sixth Street was bustling with stores, saloons and hotels. The Missouri House, still standing at Brazos and Sixth, was erected in 1861 as Austin’s first boarding home for travelers on their way to the Wild West.
Austin celebrates the historic charm of Sixth Street at least twice a year. If you happen to be downtown during early May or September, look out for the Pecan Street Festival. The bi-annual festivities represent so much of what makes Austin unforgettable: multiple stages for live music, art and dance performance, craft booths populated with local artisans and street food vendors, and lots of fun for the kids at the petting zoo. Austin is full of beautiful historic buildings and examples of breathtaking architecture. One of the best places to begin a tour of these sites is between Congress Avenue and Red River Street on Sixth Street. Sixth Street is alive and bustling during the day, and the perfect corner on which to begin is the historic Littlefield Mall at the base of the handsome Littlefield Building, at the northeast corner of Sixth and Congress. This building was built in 1910 and is exemplary of the beautiful architecture style known as Beaux Arts.
Be sure to visit Bobalu Cigar Company to watch live cigar rollers in the ancient and beautiful art form that is cigar rolling. You can watch through a window from the street as trained professionals make custom cigars for a waiting line of locals and visitors. This renowned shop also carries a fantastic selection of unique and imported cases and accessories, as well as a liberally stocked humidor. They will hand-roll a cigar for you by request and it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. Once the sun sets, it’s time to have some fun… Sixth Street style. Be sure to barhop as the locals do, and visit the world-famous pubs that line Sixth Street. The oldest bar on Sixth Street is locally owned Maggie Mae’s, which has stood proud for 38 years, and is an Austin institution. It is located in four beautifully restored buildings erected circa 1850s. Maggie Mae’s features an authentic New Orleans-style courtyard with a staircase that extends to a 5,000 square foot rooftop deck that allows for a gorgeous view of downtown Austin. Dedicated to Gibson USA, the roof features a brand-new stage equipped with premium digital sound. Upstairs you will also discover the Gibson Guitar Room and Les Paul Lounge, celebrating the life and accomplishments of Les Paul (1915–2009). Also nestled inside is the newly renovated Legacy Lounge featuring a wall-sized mural by Robert Hurst and an authentic English pub with Guinness on draft. At Maggie Mae’s, you can find live music seven nights a week.
There are countless hidden treasures along this wonderful corridor that make up the heart of Austin. Don’t miss the daytime opportunities that abound in the form of shopping, retail and, for the historically inclined, the beautiful monuments that stretch from the legendary Driskill Hotel next to the Littlefield Building and on toward I-35. For those of you who love the nightlife, you are headed in the right direction.