America’s greatest cities all have their sitcoms. New York gets Seinfeld, Boston has Cheers, and so on. In a perfect world, Austin’s show would be Austin Stories, a 1997 MTV comedy about the Portlandia-esque exploits of our city’s famous slacker population. But this ain’t a perfect world, so Austin Stories was swiftly and unceremoniously canned by the fun-hating suits at MTV after just one season.
Sure, the show wasn’t perfect, but tons of iconic television series had spotty first seasons before finding their groove, something Austin Stories never had the chance to do. Watching the show, it’s easy to get hung up on what might have been — but also what was, circa 1997 in a much smaller Austin than the city we know and love. Here are some locations around town that show up in just the first episode.
A shot of downtown circa 1997 versus the 2016 skyline. Photo courtesy of John From Art/Flickr.
The show’s main characters, Laura, Chip, and Howard, spend a lot of time at the Hernandez Cafe, a former East 6th taco haunt now known as the Buenos Aires Cafe. Get a load of Chip’s Spoon shirt!
Mexican to Argentinian food? That’s an Austin Story right there. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.
Chip’s episode-long mission to watch Speed 2: Cruise Control for free after finding a theatre employee’s uniform at a thrift store takes place at the Americana Theatre on Hancock Drive, now better known as the Yarborough Branch of Austin’s Public Library. At least they didn’t get rid of the sign!
Maybe they’ll let you check out Speed 2. Photo courtesy of Literary Hub.
Laura, Austin Stories‘ leading lady, works as a reporter for The Austin Weekly, an alternative newspaper standing in for the real-world Chronicle. The paper’s offices are located in the Lemens Finance Building, a small office on Guadalupe attached to the much larger and more modern William P. Clements Building.
Hasn’t changed a bit! Photo courtesy of My Austin View.
Establishing shots of Austin businesses accompany quite a few of the scene transitions on Austin Stories, including this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flash of Bohemian Wrapcity, a former wrap joint on 6th Street. Remember when wraps were a thing? The space is now occupied by Hoek’s Death Metal Pizza, which I consider a fair trade.
Those cigars next door must be good. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.
The Seaholm Power Plant is probably the best metaphor for Old Austin vs. New Austin you can find. A gritty, abandoned art deco power station transformed into a mixed-use gem that doesn’t sacrifice the coolness of the original building? That’s pretty Austin. Seaholm closed in 1996, a year before showing up in one of Austin Stories’ quick cuts of local flavor.
Hey, they’ve got wine for $2.99! Photo courtesy of Google Maps.
Seeing how much Austin’s changed in the nearly 20 years since Austin Stories left the air makes me wonder what the show would look like today. The comedy’s loveable slackers switch price tags on jackets at Goodwill to avoid paying the full price of $3, struggle to scrounge together $30 to retrieve a car from an impound lot, and scoff at the audacity of a music venue charging a $5 cover. How would these folks get by in a city of $7 lattes and four-figure rents? They’d probably live out in Buda by now.
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