Walking into the grand old dame of Austin hotels you can feel the history. More appropriately, it should be stated, you can smell the history. We quickly ask for patio seating as the mildew odor inside is reminiscent of old aunt Hazel whose basement was given to flooding.

Outside, hard-up against 6th street, the veranda is pleasant. RL Burnside is blasting out of the speakers from Wild About Music across the way, cougars and sabre-tooths are afoot-toddling down the sidewalk in strappy sandals, and a nice Autumn breeze is lilting its way down the canyons formed by the skyscrapers. Ice water and a basket of fresh bread is immediately brought to table. Say what you will about hotel dining but it has its charms. We’re trying to remember the last time unbidden bread was brought to us until we recall a recent meal at Four Seasons, putatively a rival to the Driskill.

Back in the 1884 when Tennessee native Jesse Driskill, rich off Texas beef cattle, commenced to building his eponymous hotel, Austin was in the cold grip of fear. The infamous “…Servant Girl Murders” had the city by the short hairs with the New York Times coming to town and reporting “murders were {committed} by some cunning madman, who is insane on the subject of killing women.”

Construction continued apace.

Up the road apiece, freshly minted University of Texas held its first commencement with scholars strolling through the warm June air to Scholz Garten which had already been in business for almost 2 decades.

Sitting on the Driskill’s patio you can feel feel the history.

But at twelve dollars, the 1886 Cafe is keeping with contemporary trends in burger pricing where humble, peasant food has undergone boutique treatment across the US and Austin in recent years.

I order the Black and Bleu, a ground sirloin patty topped with 2 fat slabs of good bacon, roasted mushrooms and bleu cheese. The hubcap sized hunk of meat is served on a wheat bun ripe with treacle.

It’s a new trend in Austin burger shops, call it the Sheila Partin effect. The Houston home baker cum businesswoman hit the big time a few years back by shoveling sugar into breads that historically had been savory. The toddler-palated cafe owners immediately began serving hamburgers on buns that could have doubled for donuts.

The 1886 Cafe does their own baking but they’ve taken a page out of the Sheila Partin playbook on their bun recipe. It would make a fine dessert but as a hamburger bun it’s an abject failure. I have a go at the patty with knife and fork. The beef, ordered medium rare, comes medium well and is dry. I slather it with mayonnaise and it comes to life a bit. There are few things in this world that a judicious application of mayonnaise can’t improve. This is one of them.

Service, as befits a restaurant of the Driskill’s stature, is notably good. Our waitress is whirling about the busy room, keeping her tables on lockdown. We don’t go wanting for anything. My companion reports from the other side of the table that she’s pleased with her salad, which is the size of a wheelbarrow.

Jesse Driskill died in 1890 having been forced into a sale of his landmark hotel to one S. E. McIlhenny. A late freeze had wiped out Driskill’s beef herd 2 years prior and he was unable to make the bank note on his palace at the corner of Brazos and Pecan streets.

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