We've got the address wrong, surely. My three travel companions and I walk into a carpark beneath a bank in downtown Austin, searching for a cocktail bar called Garage.
Obviously, given the name, it has something to do with a carpark, but who in their right might would put a bar down here, under these hideous neon lights and brutalist concrete columns? Just as we're about to call off the search and return to continue walking down Sixth Street (a string of drinking dens and music venues colloquially known as Dirty Sixth), we spot the neon green Garage sign. And we remember that in the Texan capital, it is the duty of each and every inhabitant to do what they can to "Keep Austin Weird", as the city's slogan goes.
Garage, set in the parking garage's old valet ticketing office, is a surprisingly slick space centred around a circular green tiled bar, that serves excellent craft cocktails. It's just the kind of clandestine place that typifies the quirky Texan capital, where reclaimed spaces add unique texture to the city's sipping, shopping and sleeping scenes.
Earlier in the day I go shopping in a place I never thought I would – inside a bus called Minnie, that once housed a mobile vintage boutique called To The Moon. Later, I have a drink in one of the dozens of historic bungalows-turned-bars that line Rainey Street, one of Austin's top party streets, and another in Container Bar set in – you guessed it – a series of stacked shipping containers.
At some point I also have a poke around Native Hostel, which originally housed a brewery, then shops and factories, before becoming what might be the most achingly hip hostel in the US.
That Austinites would find unusual places to put their shops, bars and hotels shouldn't come as a surprise. This is, after all, a city that celebrates the birthday of Eeyore (the depressed donkey from Winnie the Pooh) every April and that counts a Museum of the Weird, with a robust collection of things such as two-headed sheep and mummified people, as a star attraction. So I shouldn't have balked, really, when my travel companions suggest that, after Garage, we go for a drink in a former brothel.
This is how we come to find ourselves, once again, playing hide-and-seek on anarchic Sixth Street, stopping at a dodgy-looking unmarked door set beneath a naked red bulb, which Google tells us is the entrance to a speakeasy called Midnight Cowboy.
We push the buzzer marked "Harry Craddock" (a notorious 1920s bartender, apparently) as per the strict instructions on its website, and after a few minutes the door clicks open. Midnight Cowboy's black leather booth seating and faded floral wallpaper hints at the fact that before 2012, the bar was a bordello that masqueraded as a massage parlour called Midnight Cowboy Modelling The bar is not at all gimmicky. Just a rather chic, sexy spot in which to sip cocktails (the Afrikan Rif, a heady mix of rum and Moroccan spices, is terrific) mixed by a handsome bartender who wheels the drinks cart right to our table, before heading back out into the night.
Our evening ends much as it begins: with us drinking in a carpark. This time we're at the swanky P6 rooftop bar of our hotel The Line, another erstwhile parking lot that was revamped when The Line, a former tired Radisson, was converted into one of Austin's hottest new hotels.
Looking out over the uninterrupted views across Congress Bridge and Town Lake, we raise our glasses: here's to keeping Austin weird.
Nina Karnikowski travelled as a guest of Travel Texas.
Air New Zealand flies to Houston up to five times a week via Auckland from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Coolangatta, Adelaide and the Sunshine Coast. See airnewzealand.com.au
The Line hotel, set right in the centre of Austin's downtown district, has 428 guest rooms and suites as well as the excellent lakeside Arlo Grey restaurant, and a pool bar with a fun party vibe. From $US275 a night. See thelinehotel.com/austin