Sara Osburn Light reminisces on Hippie Sandwiches, Mag Mud and the good old times at Shady Grove and Magnolia Cafe.
By Sara Osborn Light, Photo by Adam Moroz
I moved to Austin in August of 1999 to attend the University of Texas. I mostly ate at the Scottish Rite Dormitory my freshman and sophomore years, but when my parents were in town picking up the bill there were a handful of restaurants we would go to: Shady Grove, Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Boulevard and, if we were feeling fancy, Z’Tejas or Eddie V’s. Sadly, two of the four are shutting down due to COVID-19 and with those closures go a little piece of my Austin heart.
Shady Grove was always the first place I took an out-of- towner. It was where I took my stepdaughters on our first girls’ day on the town. It was where I had meetings, dates and family get-togethers. There was just something about turning into that bumpy parking lot and picking one of the rusty metal chairs to sit in that felt so authentically Austin to me. Does anyone know if they are auctioning off those chairs? There was always a wait at Shady Grove (unless you wanted to eat inside which I never did), so to pass the time I would go check out the Keep Austin Weird T-shirts, telling myself that one day I would buy one. Now I wish I had bought one. I always ordered the Hippie Sandwich; I was never able to finish my water (the plastic glasses were huge); and I always confused first-timers when I told them the bathrooms were in the travel trailer. I think we all can agree that when you found yourself sitting under the Shady Grove tree on a weekday, life was good.
If I was at Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin, then it probably meant that I was up late. It was my place to go when I was not done with the night. Do you know how many late-night discussions about boy problems over Mag Mud those walls have absorbed? Let’s not forget it was work to go to the Lake Austin Magnolia. First, you had to find a place to park. The parking was impossibly small, on a hill and not meant for big Texas SUVs. It was your lucky day when you found a spot. Then, you had to put your name on that list on the stand and wait in the parking lot for your name to be called. No matter the time there was always a wait. When my name was finally called, I always hoped they would seat me in the room on the right, but often I was seated on the left. The tables were sticky, the chairs wobbled and the mugs never held enough coffee, but it was home.
We now know that Tumble 22 is taking over the Magnolia location, but I am still holding out hope that someone will come in and save Shady Grove. Please? Someone? If not, then thank you for all the good times.