You know what they say, the best things come in pairs. So, taking over the former West 6th home of 80-year burger joint Hut's Hamburgers and Favorite Liquor Shop is Sammie's Italian Restaurant and Favorite Pizza.
With the promise of preserving the history and art-deco character of the buildings, McGuire Moorman Hospitality, the group behind multiple Austin establishments like Lamberts Downtown Barbecue and Perla's Seafood and Oyster Bar, opened Sammie's last week as a comfy and nostalgic Italian-American classic.
Larry McGuire and Tom Moorman, both Austin-based chefs, paired with the design expertise of South Congress visionary Liz Lambert to honor the great "red sauce institution," reminiscent of legendary New York City Italian restaurants.
The building has a family history: Mildred Joseph, the matriarch of the family, started Sammie's Drive-In in the same building in 1939 until it was leased by Hut's. Philip Joseph, the son of Sammie Joseph Sr., has known McGuire for years and said when he heard the news of Hut's closure, he immediately got in touch with the hospitality group. Now, the restaurant will return to its namesake and serve as "A Little Taste of Old Italy."
"We've always dreamed of opening a classic red sauce and pizza spot in Austin where friends can gather to celebrate special occasions and downtown business folk can enjoy long martini-filled lunches," McGuire said. "We could never find the right place until the Joseph family approached us about taking over their historic buildings. It's an honor to carry on the tradition first started by the Joseph family to the city we love."
And it's already a hit. A table for two at 7 p.m. is booked for the rest of the month, so you'll need to book way in advance for date night.
The menu features the classics: mozzarella sticks, spaghetti and meatballs and ravioli bolognese, while also upping the ante with new twists like linguine vongole and veal marsala, as well as a full cocktail menu.
Since no Italian restaurant is complete without pizza, Favorite Pizza will sit just next door, offering whole pies, pizza by the slice, salads and plenty of beer on tap. This will also be the place to grab a frosty cocktail or a cup of gelato.
Sammie's, 807 West 6th Street, will be open from 5-11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday and 5 p.m.-12 a.m. Thursday-Saturday, though they have plans to open for lunch soon. Favorite Pizza, 801 West 6th Street, will open this month.
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Downtown may be recovering from the pandemic but the priorities residents want in their city center are changing, according to the City Pulse Survey done by design firm Gensler.
After studying 7,500 people in 15 global markets, including Austin, Gensler found that life in COVID has pushed city-dwellers to want more outdoor activities, social spaces and entertainment venues in bustling business districts.
Post-pandemic, the highest-rated downtown activities were shopping, visiting parks and just “hanging out.” The need for more public spaces like parks jumped from sixth on the list to second this year.
Although globally people view downtown as a business district for task-based activities, across the U.S., downtown districts are viewed more as a vehicle for entertainment. This is especially true for Austinites, where people surveyed said they would rather see more entertainment and cultural venues than shopping or public transit downtown.
For Melanie Gartman, a manager at construction software company Levelset who has been living in Austin for most of her life, the needs and wants of the average resident closely align with her own.
Austin clocked in second-most desirable downtown, tied with Charlotte, North Carolina. Like the 78% of Austinites in the survey, Gartman said she thinks Downtown Austin is hanging on to its lovable charm.
“Even now with fewer people out and about it's still very vibrant and lively. I feel like I saw life come back to downtown a lot sooner than I expected it to,” Gartman said. “It's still holding on a bit that Austin vibe and with the high rises coming in, it's scary that we could lose that. I think it's holding on better than I would have expected, especially within the last two years of everything that happened.”
As Austinites eased back into downtown, the first stop Gartman made was to go see music again. Since venues opened back up, Gartman and her loved ones have seen live music at their favorite venues: Moody Amphitheatre, Mohawk, The Parish and Empire Control Room.
Blackillac opened for Gary Clark Jr. at the Moody Amphitheater's first show back in August. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
Entertainment is most important for Gartman’s life in Austin—seeing Gary Clark Jr. in August brought normalcy back into her routine—and said our local downtown is the ideal out of other cities in Texas.
“I've always noticed that between Houston’s downtown and Austin’s, Houston's is so Monday to Friday, eight to five, maybe a post-work happy hour,” Gartman said. “Growing up, downtown (Austin) was always the place to go. It has always been the hub and I think Austin is unique in that way.”
Traffic in downtown areas is way down overall, even though concern over pandemic safety has taken a backseat. Shopping traffic has decreased by 28%, dining out and entertainment attendance dropped by 33% in the post-pandemic sphere.
Even though her office is located downtown, Gartman usually works from home. Her downtown visits tend to be for the purpose of entertainment and she said the lack of parking sometimes becomes problematic.
“I feel like all these high rises are taking over all the parking,” Gartman said. “It used to be for go-to parking, I would just park under I-35. No big deal. But now, that’s kind of scary, especially if you're by yourself. The party parking is a barrier to actually making it down there.”
But with the rise of the hybrid work model, it’s likely that the downtown sphere is going to change all across the U.S. For now, survey participants said they would like to see their downtown reduce traffic, add more green space, improve the cityscape and increase parking capacity as we shape the future of cities.
3 Akins High School students caught with ammunition, magazines after report of armed person on campus
Akins Early College High School, 10701 S. 1st St., was on lockdown Wednesday morning as district police investigated a report of an "armed subject." The three students, which a witness said they saw with a weapon, have since been identified and located.
The lockdown took place just after 10 a.m., when someone reported three students in the restroom with a possible handgun. The three were then identified and located in different classrooms. One of the students had two magazines, one with ammunition. A weapon was not located by police.
The district deescalated the lockdown to a hold at 12:25 p.m., which meant students could go to the restroom and be picked up if parents chose to do so. No shots were fired and all students and staff were safe throughout the whole lockdown, according to police.
The three students will not be returning to school tomorrow. Austin ISD police said the students' punishment with the school or charges have not been identified since the investigation is in the early stages. Additional officers will be on campus this week to investigate.
"We take these events seriously and we prepare so that at the end of the day, everyone can go home safe," Austin ISD Police Chief Ashley Gonzalez said.
The Taylor Police Department is investigating an apparent murder-suicide that left four people dead on Tuesday.
Officers responded to a call at around 1 p.m. for a welfare check at 616 Symes St. in Taylor, Texas, where the Taylor Fire Department helped force entry into the home since it was locked, police said. Once inside, officers found four dead bodies: 57-year-old Anthony Davis, 45-year-old Araceli Lopez Davis, 20-year-old Cynthia Abundiz and 18-year-old Pedro Navarro.
Police believe the deaths to be a murder-suicide with Anthony Davis shooting the other three victims before himself. TPD is investigating with the help of the Williamson County Sheriff's Office and the Texas Rangers.
Later that day, another murder was reported in Taylor, which police say is unrelated.
Police responded to a shooting at 2100 Whistling Way around 4 p.m. Tuesday. They said a family member found 33-year-old Jonathan Hitch with a gunshot wound to his head. It is being investigated as a suspicious death.