It took a while for the East Riverside-Oltorf neighborhood to evolve, but when it did, it went big. East Riverside Drive, which cuts through the northern part of the neighborhood, has for decades been a busy corridor surrounded by relatively inexpensive apartment complexes populated mostly by University of Texas students, strip malls, small local restaurants, and drive-through fast food. In the past few years, though, the neighborhood—which starts just south of the river and east of I-35 (its northern and western borders) and is bounded by South Pleasant Valley Road to the east and East Oltorf Street to the south—has experienced intensive growth and development. Quite a bit of that is on the Lake Shore District, which has been revitalized to include a boardwalk as well as tall residential towers—apartments and condominiums, some luxury, some not—on the south side of Lady Bird Lake, the AMLI South Shore District being one of the most notable. That development is sometimes controversial; cloud computing giant Oracle is also building a huge campus there, which led to the displacement of longtime residents of a low-income apartment complex recently. The hills south of Riverside, especially those close to IH-35, are sometimes called “Travis Heights East,” as they retain the markers of the area’s agricultural past as well as large, single-family homes from three different waves of development in the 20th century; buyers have been flocking to these larger homes of late, some of the few left in the central city. In addition, new developments in the area have helped middle-income families purchase homes within their means. Add to that the fact that longtime local fave restaurants in the area, such as 888 Pan Asian Restaurant, Hai Ky, and Baby Acapulco’s, have been joined by newer spots including Buzz Mill Coffee, Grizzly Hall music venue, and a branch of the Chi’lantro empire, and you get a neighborhood with full-on buzz.
Extolling the virtues of Clarksville at this point is a rather fish-in-a-barrel situation. The Clarksville Historic District—bounded by Enfield Road on the north, North Lamar Boulevard on the east, West Sixth Street on the south, MoPac Expressway to the west—is a section of the larger Old West Austin neighborhood, but it has a distinctive, much funkier style than other parts of the area, one that has appealed to Austinites for quite a long time. That appeal dates back to at least 1871, when Clarksville became what is now the oldest surviving freedomtown—settlements founded by formerly enslaved African-Americans after the Civil War. It’s also home to many longtime businesses and restaurants along West Fifth and Sixth Streets, as well as on West Lynn Street, including Nau’s Enfield Drug, Sledd’s Nursery, Wiggy’s Liquor, and Jeffreys’, one of Austin’s original fine-dining establishments; it was also home to the original Whole Foods. Its Hope Outdoor Gallery “graffiti park” (now moving) was a testament to its continued commitment to funkiness. As downtown advanced west, with older developments like the Whole Foods mothership and the Waterloo Records complex joined by much larger scale projects such as the redevelopment of the Seaholm Power Plant, a funny thing happened. Because of its historic designation and the general will of the neighborhood, many of its older, sometimes ramshackle homes and businesses remained, making it an intimate, neighborly, small-scale area that just happened to be on a hill with great views, within walking distance of the now-thriving entertainment, restaurant, and shopping districts in southwest downtown. For many Austinites, that combination is downright irresistible.