Nicolai – Recent Grad, World Traveler

Nicolai McCrary – photo by Peter Tsai

What’s your Name?
Nicolai McCrary. And no, I’m not Russian.

What decade you were born in?
I’m just a few months away from being born in the 90s, but still technically a product of the 80s.

Where is your Hometown?
This is a pretty tough question to answer. Being raised in a military family, I moved over 20 times in the first 20 years of my life, so I never really stayed any one place longer than a year or two. I guess I’d have to say I identify most with San Francisco or Austin – those being the two most recent places I’ve lived that have shaped my current identity the most.

How long have you Been in Austin?
About 4 years now.

Current Austin Neighborhood: why?
Currently living around UT in the West Campus area. I’ve been a student at UT for what seems like an eternity, and the convenience it offers outweighed some of the obvious drawbacks of a party-heavy neighborhood.

What do you do to pay the bills?
For the last 4 years I was fortunate enough to be living off of a full tuition and housing scholarship for college, studying Computational Biology at UT. For extra money to fund my food adventures and expensive hobbies (photography in particular), I’ve had quite a bit of success trading stocks and picking up the occasional photography gig.

Now that college is done, I’m working on starting up a couple different companies, in some pretty unrelated fields. It’s not what I envisioned myself doing when I started college, but it’s definitely exciting.

What’s do you do for fun / as a side gig?
I’m a big outdoors guy. Whenever I find myself with a bit of free time, I’m usually out biking, canoeing, or running. And no matter how little free time I seem to have at times, I always make sure to take at least a photo or two each day. Photography is one of my biggest passions ( and has helped me see the world from all kinds of new perspectives.

I’m also very into food. I try to stay on top of the food scene in the area, trying new and old restaurants as they appear and disappear, and staying engaged with the local community. I love to see how food influences culture and how culture influences food all the world around, and Austin’s own little microcosms are great ways to get a feel for that relationship.

What’s your story – How and when did you end up in Austin?
Growing up, I had no intention of ever moving to Texas. I’m not a fan of weather that reaches above 85, which oftentimes seems to be the low here in Austin. After finishing up high school in California, my parents were relocated to an Air Force base in San Antonio, TX. I decided to move to Austin to stay closer to my family and to get the in-state tuition rates. All through college it was my intention to get out of Texas as soon as I was finished and move somewhere cold and wet (I know, nobody likes that weather but me). Now that the time has come, I can’t bring myself to leave Austin. I’ve gotten to know too many people here and grown to love this city too much to leave now.

What’s a memorable experience or story about you and Austin?
The first day I arrived in Austin, I saw a man riding a horse through a drive-through. “It’s going to be a long 4 years,” I said to myself. I have no idea how successful or legal his attempt was, but it definitely didn’t help to defy my preconceived notions of Texas.

Do you see yourself in Austin in 3 years? 10 years?
As much as I’d like a concrete answer myself, I really can’t say. I see myself traveling quite extensively over the next few years of my life, and I imagine Austin will always be a home-base, but as of now I can’t say how long I’ll be spending in any given place.

What are 3 great things about Austin?
That’s a pretty difficult question because it’s just so general. But as such, I’ll provide some general answers: food, culture, and fun. Ultimately though, those all stem from one commonality – the people. It’s been said before, but the people of Austin are unlike that of the rest of Texas, or even much of the United States. This past summer I spent a few months traveling around the United States by train, and while I encountered many friendly people all across the country, the conversations I’ve had with strangers in Austin is of an entirely different nature. It is because of this richness that we have such a variety in food and cultures and fun activities.Within a 2-mile block I can sample cuisine from every region of the world, and that just astounds me. The incredible diversity of our city is conducive to its wealth of opportunities.

Any favorite Austin restaurants? Food trucks?
Favorite restaurants change so frequently. A few great ones I’ve been to recently are Noble Pig, Kome, Barley Swine, and Rio’s. As for food trucks, recently I’ve been a fan of East Side Kings and Love Balls. Gourdoughs is a classic, though not really for dinner (well, maybe once in a while). Turf n’ Surf is always great, and I’ve always loved the atmosphere at G’Raj Mahal.

Favorite local bar or coffee shop?
I’m a big espresso fan, and I’d have to rank my top three as follows: Houndstooth, Once Over, and Cafe Medici. I’ve never left either of those locations unimpressed, and once you get to those top tier places, the subtleties are so minor, but nonetheless relevant. As far as atmosphere goes though, Mozart’s and Epoch are difficult to beat.

Favorite Austin event / festival?
Probably SXSW. There’s just so much to do that no matter where your interests lie, you shouldn’t have a problem keeping yourself occupied for the entire duration. Fortunately my interests are spread out enough that I was able to find something going on pretty much all the time. I wouldn’t bother with a wristband though, unless there’s something you absolutely can’t miss. I was able to keep myself occupied with more than enough shows, music, and events without a wristband.

What do you think Austin will be like in 5 years?
Largely the same, but with even further development in the outer regions of Austin. Also, I think that a lot of the small and local places we frequent now will probably commercialize to an extent, just as the small local places of 5 or 10 years ago have done. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s perfectly healthy growth and allows for their “awesomeness” to spread to new lengths. But it definitely keeps things fresh and ever-changing.

What do you do to deal with the Austin summers?
Close my eyes and pretend I’m somewhere else. Oh, and air conditioning. Lots of air conditioning.

Fill in the blank: Austin is ____________________.
Something you have to experience.

Any final words of wisdom for our readers?
Get out there and explore something new. Every block of Austin has something unique to offer, from new restaurants to casual conversations with strangers. Strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met, or take a different route home from work/school than your usual routine. You just might be surprised at what you find.

You can learn much more about the man, his travels, and his photos on the Google+ profile page of Nicolai McCrary