Trippin Out

A Collection of Day Trips: Texas Hill Country

The patio area is a very popular spot at Moontower Saloon. Photo by Courtney Sellers

Ask anyone who knows me where my favorite place on earth is, and they will tell you it’s the Texas Hill Country. There’s nothing like it. Sure, people migrate to Houston for the opportunity, the culture, and the aggressive melting pot that is this diverse city; but they go to the hill country to get away from everything that makes Houston Houston.

A “day trip” to Austin is difficult — it’s easily three hours away from central Houston and traffic is never good going in or out of our fair city or Austin, so just getting there can be a struggle. Generally, I would take I10 to Highway 71, but on this trip we decided to take 290. Additionally, this post serves less as an appeal for you to visit Austin the city (because truly there are thousands of articles that do this very thing), as it does to implore you to go to Moontower Saloon while you’re there.

Moontower Saloon was so unique that we spent several hours on the way home trying to figure out if we’ve ever been to a bar anything like it in Houston. First of all, they’ve completely changed the game by checking your ID BEFORE you even pull into the parking lot. That’s right; they have you pull it out when you are coming in. This is genius — four to five guys’ sole job is to ensure everyone in a car is 21, instead of the bartender or one single bouncer having this responsibility so the flow isn’t interrupted at any point. There isn’t a huge line of people getting their ID checked by a single, apathetic bouncer and it removes the burden from an already busy bartender. I love it.

Once you park you start to realize how utterly immense this bar is, but it isn’t until you’re inside that it actually hits you. Moontower Saloon is humongous. As you walk up, there are people sort of milling about enjoying drinks. A bar inside has the familiar feel. People are playing pool or sitting at tables enjoying pitchers of beer. They’ve got a wide range of domestic, imports and craft beers — I was happy to see several Houston beers on tap! We ordered a pitcher, and started looking for a table to sit at. There were no available tables inside, despite it being enormous, so we ventured to the immense outdoor patio. The patio area is what sets Moontower Saloon apart. There was a folksy band playing acoustic covers of familiar songs. Several large fire pits were occupied by young people chatting. At a large open space with no tables, a group of about 25 people were having a conversation in sign language. “The people watching here is glorious” I thought as we walked around looking for a place to sit. Two food trucks offered tacos or burgers and, shockingly the lines weren’t too long. We ordered burgers, fried pickle spears, and loaded chili/cheese fries and posted up shop at the one remaining picnic table. Despite how busy it was, the vibe at Moontower was still relaxed. No need to shout to hear people, and we could still hear the soft humming of the music.

We stayed at the bar for about three hours and spent probably $40 on pitchers of beer and food together. The cost wasn’t too high that you wouldn’t go back, perfectly on par with what you’d expect for a casual night out. I recommend this bar to anyone visiting Austin!

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A lot can be learned from the Astros success. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

As a fan what do you want most from your favorite teams in which you invest so much emotionally and sometimes financially? Sustained excellence and championships are certainly ideals, but short of those (or leading up to those) the most important thing for a fan to have is hope. For three years the Houston Texans have been a hopeless laughingstock of a dung heap, so any move connoting competence would be heralded. Here we are with the Texans’ hire of DeMeco Ryans as head coach. DeMeco was a fine hire. An excellent player over his six seasons with the Texans. A total professional. Smart. Seemingly universally both liked and respected. He brings a lot to the Texans’ table starting with a credibility injection of which the franchise has had desperate need. Quickie reality dose though. Breathless pronouncements about how awesome this masterstroke is aside, one thing DeMeco does not bring back to Houston with him: assurance of success, even as kind of a prodigal son coming home. Bart Starr anyone?

There's no substitute for talent

Back in 2020 plenty of people questioned the Astros’ hire of Dusty Baker. People like to complain. Dusty was a credentialed selection with the personality and resume to take over an elite ballclub in the aftermath of the cheating scandal. Two World Series appearances and one World Series championship later, even the harshest “the game has passed by Ol’ Dusty” sillyheads have to acknowledge that’s worked out fairly well. Dusty’s positives are numerous, but the number one positive he’s had as manager of the Astros? A helluva roster every year. The Astros could have hired Anita Baker as manager and made the playoffs the last couple years.

DeMeco Ryans isn’t coming on board to be the sage and experienced hand to steer a shipshape operation. DeMeco is charged with hoisting the NFL Titanic from the bottom of the ocean. So if DeMeco is to thrive over time in his new job, it’s time that General Manager Nick Caserio starts thriving in his job. It’s highly unlikely Caserio can do the job Jeff Luhnow did (and that James Click added to) in constructing the Astro juggernaut, but if Caserio is to look like more than a guy whose cart was fortuitously hitched to the Belichick/Brady wagon with the Patriots, he needs to get cracking.

DeMeco smartly commanded a six-year contract. Caserio is starting year three of his own six-year deal. So far, so bad, but with qualifiers. I thought of Caserio’s first year as a redshirt year for him. He inherited a decayed roster, salary cap ugliness, and no first or second round draft pick (thanks one more time Bill O’Brien!). That Caserio’s second year pretty much showed no improvement is not inspiring. In 2021 in finishing 4-13 the Texans finished 30th among the 32 NFL teams in points scored, 27th in points allowed. In 2022 in finishing 3-13-1 the Texans again finished 30th in points scored, again 27th in points allowed. That was not all about coaching, though David Culley was in waaaaaaaay over his head and Lovie Smith did what he did at his two most recent head coaching gigs (Tampa Bay Bucs, University of Illinois), lose a whole lot. How much blame for the poor head coach hires goes to Caserio vs. how much to Cal McNair?

The most brilliant chef can’t be asked to make a magnificent meal out of trash ingredients. With the Astros A.J. Hinch and Dusty Baker had/have USDA Prime rosters, Culley and Smith had mostly Ken-L Rations. Caserio now has draft picks galore. He needs to find his Carlos Correa or Alex Bregman, most specifically at quarterback. Caserio also has ample salary cap space. Time to add more than temp journeymen. What he no longer has are excuses. DeMeco clearly did stellar work as 49ers defensive coordinator, but it’s not as if he spun straw into gold. The Niners have plentiful talent. Robert Saleh DCed a couple fine units there before getting the Jets head coaching gig that enabled Ryans to step up. How’s Saleh doing as HC without a quarterback?

For years now the Astros have been the only major pro team in town worth a damn. In what is supposed to be “football first” territory how much cachet do the Texans reclaim and how quickly? For starters at least, DeMeco Ryans brings hope.

Have you found our new Astros podcast?

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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