Story by Stacey Ingram Kaleh
It’s a familiar story. A small town, not too far from Austin, has grown exponentially over the past decade. Restaurateurs, artists, and filmmakers, who may have once been drawn to larger cities, find opportunity and inspiration in the beautiful open landscapes just beyond the hectic commutes and fast-paced lifestyles. Community can be found where creativity freely thrives.
Bastrop is one of those small towns, and yet, the story of Bastrop is unique. Just like Lockhart and Wimberley — which we’ve written about in previous Edible Austin issues — Bastrop is also carving out its own identity as it grows. It’s no longer justified as just another Austin suburb, but a destination all its own, with deep, rich historical roots, beautiful state parks and a burgeoning culinary scene.
First settled in 1804 and officially founded in 1832 by Stephen F. Austin at the Colorado River crossing of the Camino Real, Bastrop is one of the oldest towns in Texas and one of the few established during Mexican rule. It’s been called the “Most Historic Small Town in Texas” with numerous buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places, from its courthouse to the county jail to the “Old Iron Bridge.” Today, its history is well-preserved through the downtown historic district.
Yet what’s happening in downtown Bastrop today is anything but old-school. There’s a bit of a renaissance taking place that has turned Bastrop into an ever-more-vibrant place for creatives of all kinds to call home, including chefs like Sonya Cote, writers like Ryan Holiday and filmmakers like Richard Linklater. The city’s Economic Development Committee even now calls Bastrop the “Filming Hospitality Capital of Texas,” and has been creating incentives and opportunities for those looking to tell stories through motion pictures and television to locate to Bastrop. But, true to its roots, Bastrop has always been a town for storytelling — storytelling that goes beyond film into the hearts of the business owners who have enlivened the town’s historic spaces.
Even with so much to still explore in Bastrop, I find I also cannot help but include a place just 10 minutes further east, Smithville, which holds a special place in my heart. It’s the town where my dad grew up and where I’ve spent countless days surrounded by family and friends.
Smithville is a beautiful, refreshingly quiet two-stoplight town nestled on the banks of the Colorado River. At the time of its founding in 1895, it was the largest city in Bastrop County and a flourishing center of activity along the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad. It sustains a longheld tradition of supporting arts and culture, and has embraced a vision for the future that places culture and innovative partnerships at the forefront.
In the past twenty years or so, Smithville has been the setting of choice for feature films from Hope Floats (1998) to The Tree of Life (2011), representing the idyllic American small town. It now plays host to HBO Max’s show “Love & Death.”
Toast the Town
Bastrop - Neighbor’s Kitchen & Yard and Iron Bridge Icehouse
Pull up a barstool on the banks of the Colorado River at Neighbor’s Kitchen & Yard. With plenty of river real estate, spacious covered decks, live music and a great view of Bastrop’s historic iron bridge, Neighbor’s is well designed for, well, that neighborly feeling. It’s a pizza kitchen, brewery, wellness shop, bakery and music venue all tucked inside its premises. The Iron Bridge Icehouse next door, which Neighbor’s calls its “sister brewery,” make the entire place stand out as a destination. Neighbor’s serves up an extensive menu of pizza and pretzel bites that pair well with a cold beer. At Iron Bridge you can get a tour of how their beer is made onsite, using locally sourced ingredients — which even includes Bastrop’s own rainwater when possible. Try the Rivet IPA, a well-balanced brew with notes of pine and citrus and a clean finish, or the inventive Hibiscus Shandy, a light and refreshing beer with a red hue and earthy notes. 601 Chestnut Street, Bastrop | neighborstx.com| ironbridgeicehouse.com
Enjoy Unique Shopping
Smithville General Store & Coffee
Just off Main Street is the Smithville General Store, where you can grab a cup of freshly brewed espresso, a memento from your time in town or a gift for a friend. You’ll find Texas-sourced goods, like Texas Hill Country Olive Co.’s olive oils and Mazama Coffee, original artwork, and cute tees that spread love for “The Ville!” Owner and founder Beth Neely, who chose Smithville after driving through during trips between her home city of Houston and her alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin, operates by the motto, “Small Town Big Heart,” since embracing her identity as a Texas girl at heart. If you like the general store, visit their newest outpost, Smithville General Store - Home, for antiques and architectural salvage just across the street. 108 NE 2nd Street, Smithville | smithvillegeneralstore.com
Unwind and Stay Awhile
Bastrop - The Reserve at Greenleaf
Create lasting memories when you stay in a “state of the art” luxury yurt, tucked away in the forest and close to the Colorado River. The Reserve offers four private yurts, and you can explore their website to discover the unique features of each, from a lodgepole pine ceiling and skylight to walk-in showers with teak flooring. You’ll feel close to nature but also in touch with the world as you enjoy highspeed WiFi, an organic coffee bar, hypoallergenic comforters and pima cotton sateen sheets. The Reserve exists to help you maximize outdoor adventures, like kayaking, hiking, fishing and swimming, which are plentiful in Bastrop. 408 Laura Lane, Bastrop | thereserveatgreenleaf.com
Smithville - The Katy House Bed & Breakfast
Just a short walk from Main Street, The Katy House Bed & Breakfast is a turn-of-the-century home that has been restored to its original beauty while adding modern amenities and French Country-style furnishings. Welcoming guests for more than 27 years, The Katy House has six spacious rooms with private baths, and serves up a southern-style breakfast each morning. Featuring gorgeous Georgian columns, an arched portico and bay-windowed living room, the house, built in 1909, is a Texas Historic Landmark. Before becoming a bed and breakfast, it was the private home of local mercantile owner J.H. Chancellor, served as a clinic for railroad division surgeon “Dr. Stephens,” and was an office and clothing warehouse for the Bastrop County Women’s Shelter. 201 Ramona Street, Smithville | katyhouse.com