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From techy to 'weird': In 2021, Austin became a hub for...

Pickleball, soccer and poker a just a few things that have boomed in the capital city.

Austin is way past its days as being known soley for live music.

With the unprecedented migration of Californians, city dwellers and more into the U.S's newest "boomtown," the city has quickly transformed and built on its preexisting "weird" reputation to become a city of many identities.


Here are just a few things Austin has become known for this year.

Tech

SISU claims their C31 cinema robot is the easiest to use and cheapest on the market. (Laura Figi/Austonia)

While Austin is a hub for live music, wanderlust travelers and wacky sports, it’s gained the most attention for its recent rep as the nation’s next Silicon Valley.

Startups and big tech like Dell have long called Austin home, but Elon Musk led a migration from California to Austin when he moved Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, The Boring Company and his foundation to the capital city. In October, he officially announced the new Tesla headquarters would be at the site of the new gigafactory that is completing phase 1 of construction this month.

And while Tesla's relocation has dominated EV news in the capital city, another Austin startup is currently working on extracting precious lithium from Bolivia to boost the electric vehicle industry.

Some companies have revolutionized local issues: Austin startup ICON has helped create affordable homes with 3D printing technology in Austin and even teamed up with NASA, while robots have seeped into everyday aspects of Austin life from surgeries to grocery shopping.

The surge in tech has brought in droves of talent and even fueled Austin's hot housing market during the pandemic. A U.K. study recently found the city to be the best place to move to in the world, while a LinkedIn study found that Austin leads the country in tech migration. And tech salaries are following—the city saw that Austin's average tech salaries are nearing that of California despite vastly different costs of living.

Jiu jitsu

Jiu jitsu greats including Crag Jones (in leopard print) have opened gyms in Austin. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

This summer, Austin became the unlikely site of Brazilian jiu-jitsu beef as Danaher Death Squad, a famed professional crew of grapplers, split into two after a decade of working together. Formerly located in New York and Puerto Rico, the group's two new sects located separately in Austin, a burgeoning "Mecca of jiu jitsu."

Legend Gordon Ryan teamed with coach John Danaher to form a new studio, aptly named "New Wave Jiu Jitsu," in North Austin, while former teammates Craig Jones and even Ryan's brother, Nicky Ryan, opened an elite studio with the tongue-in-cheek title "B-Team Jiu Jitsu."

The B-Team is using their renowned and wacky sense of humor to attract the "Olympians" of the sport from all over the world, while New Wave's Ryan is training for big-name titles as New Wave's studio construction is underway.

While the two gyms haven't announced any rivalry bouts yet, they're both training for the WNO World Championships in 2022. And coupled with dozens of jiu jitsu gyms in the metro and Austin-based jiu jitsu media site Flo Grappling, the fast-growing sport is quickly taking off in Austin.

Poker

Austin's poker house scene continues to flourish through a loophole in Texas gambling laws. (Palms Social Club/Facebook)

What happens in Vegas may not always stay in Vegas anymore.

Private poker houses in Austin and Dallas are quickly gaining steam where Texas Hold ‘Em got its name.

Austin is quickly becoming a hub for poker thanks to a loophole in Texas’ gambling law that allows poker games to be played in private residences. Instead of taking a cut from the pot like traditional gambling ventures, private poker houses don't make money from the results of a game; instead, they get their revenue from membership and hourly fees.

One poker house, Texas Card House, used to stand alone in Austin like a small town saloon; now, around 20 are found around town.

Texas Card House was founded in 2015 with just five tables and has since expanded to include a Youtube channel with over 30,000 subscribers and regular visits from big-time poker players like Brad Owen and Doug Pope.

But they no longer hold a “royal flush” on Austin poker culture: The Lodge, based just up the road in Round Rock, is the largest poker house in Texas, and interested Austinites can find anything from poker lessons and beginner pots to $15,000 buy-ins in the Texas capital.

Crypto and NFTs

One crypto-art curator is merging physical pieces by local artists with digital NFTs. (Apollo the Curator)

Everybody who's somebody knows what an NFT is by now—at least, that's what Austin's most crypto-hip population tends to say as the once-mysterious trend grows in popularity in the city.

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, were a mystery to the general public when self-proclaimed "Crypto Queen" and former girlfriend to Elon Musk Grimes sold $6 million crypto art in early March. The tokens usually take in the form of digital art or collector's items and serve as a "certificate of authentication" that can't be hacked using cryptocurrency Ethereum.

The tokens have since broken into mainstream culture, at least in the tech verse, as anyone from University of Texas athletes to local artists began cashing in on the craze. Draped high above Austin city streets, Sam Feldman, founder of crypto explainer marketcap.guide, created billboards that double as NFTS available for sale with positive mantras like "Bitcoin is a peaceful revolution."

Austin NFT whiz Apollo the Curator has brought local artists into the scene by combining in-person art competitions and physical pieces with a digital copy of art. Meanwhile, late Austin artist Daniel Johnston's iconic "Hi, How Are You" art has been sold as an NFT and local country singer Parker McCollum has created a fan club NFT product.

Popular sports venues, including Formula 1 track Circuit of the Americas and the University of Texas' Campbell-Williams Field, have also joined in on the movement.

And after a name, image and likeness bill was passed this summer to allow collegiate student-athletes to capitalize off of their reputation, UT athletes like football star Bijan Robinson and local business NiftyHorns are selling digital trading cards in the growing NFT market.

Soccer

Austin FC matches are just one of many ways to get your party on in Austin. (Austin FC/Twitter)

Austin’s futbol fandom gained national attention when MLS team Austin FC became the city’s first professional sports franchise this year. Despite a season with just nine wins, fans consistently flooded the team’s brand-new Q2 Stadium with a sold-out crowd of over 20,000. Hundreds regularly flocked to away games across the country, and many more stuck to watch parties at home at local bars and restaurants.

But the most steadfast soccer fans will argue that Austin has always been a “soccer city.” In 2019, the city was the world’s No. 1 market for the Women’s World Cup TV ratings, and fans were rewarded with a U.S. Women’s National Team match to christen the Q2 pitch back in June.

Since then, the stadium has seen two appearances from the U.S. Men’s National Team and national teams from Mexico, Chile, Jamaica and Qatar, each in front of sold-out crowds.

And behind the scenes, teams like women’s semipro club FC Austin Elite, the University of Texas’ soccer team and even a Liga Verde Austin FC supporters’ league have kept the soccer spirit alive and well in Austin.

Pickleball

Austin saw its first Major League Pickleball season this November. (Major League Pickleball)

Austin FC may have been the city’s first major league team, but it was Major League Pickleball that became Austin’s first professional sports league as they launched this year.

Founded in the 1960s, pickleball is a racquet sport that resembles life-sized ping pong. Less intense than tennis and easy to learn, the fast-growing sport has quickly spread in Austin for its inclusivity and supposed addictive qualities.

Professional pickleballers, some of whom train in Dreamland’s Dripping Springs full time, went head-to-head at the venue in November in front of enthusiastic fans for the MLP’s first season.

The sport can be seen at 20+ parks and rec centers around Austin, including popular pickleball hangouts like Bouldin Acres. And Austin will soon be host to Texas’ largest pickleball venue as Austin Pickle Ranch opens its 32-court multipurpose venue early next year.

Roller derby

Street skating and roller derby converge in pandemic-era Austin. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

Austin invented a new era of roller derby in the early aughts as the first-ever professional flat-track roller derby league, Texas Rollergirls, was founded in 2003. Channeling the funky nature of Austin and unapologetic girl power, the league transformed into a popular form of wacky entertainment, complete with outlandish names like "Shutem Up Buttercup" and halftime band performances.

The Rollergirls' influence quickly spread beyond Austin, helping create new leagues around the world and inspiring a documentary. And even though the pandemic forced bouts to be canceled, many athletes stayed on their wheels and went "full circle" as they took to outdoor skating.

Skate parks, once reserved for mostly-male skateboarders, saw an influx of roller derby athletes, trick skaters and newbies around the city as quarantine raged on. Spurred on by viral TikToks, the sport grew across the country—but especially in Austin, where roller roots run deep.

Texas Rollergirls has been postponed from in-person events since February 2020 but is hoping to resume operations in early 2022 if COVID conditions allow it.

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‘Like speed dating of cats’ at Purr-fecto Cat Lounge
Purr-fecto Cat Lounge

Lina Martinez with her newly adopted cat, Emmanuel, who she renamed Sullivan.

Timmy and Tommy are ready to play.

As the 2-month-old white-and-tabby brothers swat feather wands, chase toys and generally hold court inside Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, a half-dozen potential adoptive parents look on lovingly, trying to get their attention.

“This is kind of like the speed dating of cats,” said Lupita Foster, owner of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge. “I intentionally didn’t put in any tables. That’s why we call it a lounge instead of a cat café because we have these lounge areas where you can sit and relax and cuddle.”

Foster, who has owned a cleaning company, Enviromaids, for 18 years, was inspired to open Purr-fecto Cat Lounge after adopting her own cat, Romeo, from a local shelter.

“When you want to adopt a cat, you have to spend a lot of time with them to get their personality,” Foster said. “I wanted to do something to help the community and something that makes me feel good, that warms my heart. A business with a purpose. This was a perfect idea.”

Actually, a purr-fect idea.

Inspired in part by a cat lounge she visited in Los Angeles, Foster began laying the groundwork for the business in late 2021 and officially opened the doors of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, located at 2300 S. Lamar Blvd., in July 2022. Since then, she’s worked with rescue organizations such as Fuzzy Texan Animal Rescue and Sunshine Fund Cat Rescue to facilitate nearly 100 cat adoptions.

At any given time, there are 10-15 cats living in the space, which features an ideal blend of calm, cool corners and adorably Instagrammable backdrops with phrases such as “I want to spend all my 9 lives with you.”

Lina Martinez, 32, learned about Purr-fecto Cat Lounge from a friend’s Instagram post and made an appointment to visit two days later.

“My first impression was, ‘AWW!’” Martinez said. “The kittens were to die for. I felt happy and at peace – just what I needed.”

Visitors to the cat lounge pay $15 for a 30-minute CATXperience session or $30 for a 70-minute session that is spent getting to know the personalities of each cat. Foster said the first thing she typically sees from visitors to the lounge is a smile.

“Everybody that enters the door is smiling,” she said. “And we’ve seen people who have cried because they can’t have kids and they decide to go and adopt a cat instead.”

Foster said she loves bringing in cats who might not have a chance to be adopted at traditional shelters. She told the story of one cat named Izzy, who was partially blind, who was adopted by a family that had a deaf cat at home.

“Izzy was not going to get adopted anywhere else, but she’s extremely beautiful,” she said. “If she was in a cage in a rescue and you tell people she’s blind, she was probably going to be overlooked. But visiting our space, she doesn’t seem like she’s blind. She knows her way around. She moves around perfectly.”

Although Martinez, who had been casually looking for a pet to adopt since moving to Austin nearly four years ago, was interested in a cat named Ruby that she had seen on Purr-fecto’s social media, at the lounge she instead found herself drawn to 5-month-old mixed breed Tuxedo cat.

“I thought he was a star,” she said. “He worked the room and introduced himself to everyone. When I laid down to pet Ruby, he ran from the other side of the room and cuddled with me. It was game over. He got me.”

And she, of course, got him, complete with a commemorative photo that read “My Furrever Family” the day she took him home. Although his original name was Emmanuel, she renamed him Sullivan after her favorite DJ.

“Purr-fecto is special because of the amount of effort and love they put into taking care of the cats,” Martinez said, “and finding them good homes and making possible adopters feel at home.”

Foster, who spent a recent Thursday hosting a group of teenagers in foster care at the lounge, several of whom expressed interest in working there, said the best part about her new endeavor is that her heart is always full.

“I just feel complete,” she said. “I always felt as an entrepreneur that I was missing something. I knew I accomplished a lot, but in my heart I was missing a little connection with the community. Now I’m creating connections between humans and pets and that’s amazing. I’m creating family bonds. It’s just about love, you know. And we need that.”

Austin's 7 Best Indian Restaurants

We all have those cravings for an amazing butter chicken or some authentic dosas with coconut chutney, but when I was thinking about where I wanted to go to satisfy my taste buds I realized that my list of great Indian food around Austin was surprisingly short. After doing some research and asking around, here is your list of the best Indian restaurants around town.

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