What are the best bars in Austin?

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Veronica Meewes
photo by Veronica Meewes

There’s a T-shirt sold in souvenir shops on Sixth Street which reads “Austin: a sleepy little drinking town with a live music problem.” In other words, if you enjoy putting back a few, you’ve come to the right city.

The craft cocktail revolution continues to grow and thrive in Austin.  Midnight Cowboy is a former brothel-turned-speakeasy right in the middle of the action downtown.  Make reservations on their website in advance and follow directions to the signless, swanky hideout. Nearby, Weather Up takes ice art to a whole new level, The Bonneville serves well-crafted drinks overlooking Ladybird Lake, Swift's Attic has the best table in town (look for the birdcage), Peche is Prohibition chic, and Second Bar makes a mean mule (and much more!)

Recently opened Whisler’s has a creative and ever-changing cocktail list and Qui’s drinks are just as artfully and thoughtfully prepared as their food. Eastside Showroom and Hillside Farmacy both serve cocktails in a striking, reclaimed vintage setting. South of the river, the ZACH Theatre creates concoctions designed to match each production, and their Serra Skyline Lounge has a beautiful view of the city. Up north, Contigo slings classy patio cocktails, Tigress is an unassuming gem boasting vintage glasswear, and the expert mixologists at drink.well never fail to impress with their skill, speed, and knowledge. (They also serve some of the best bar food in town, including a very limited daily selection of artisanal Twinkies).

For beer, Whip In has been keeping Austin weird since the 80’s and is not to be missed.  Once a convenience store, it has now morphed into a Tex-Mex-Indian gastropub and wine bar boasting one of the best beer selections in town. Up north, Draught House has been an Austin institution for the past 45 years! Think part microbrewery, part pub, and dogs/tailgating friendly. On Rainey Street, Banger’s has a whopping 104 beers on tap, and Craft Pride right next door is your go-to spot for specifically Texas brews.

Campus-area Crown and Anchor is the sportiest bar I have affection for, Hopfields is a charming little gastropub, and Dog and Duck is the most legit Irish pub in town. North Loop’s Workhorse is a quaint beer bar heavy on the locally crafted selections, and newly opened eastside Quickie Pickie has a handpicked rotating selection, all just $5.00 a glass. Downtown, the Elephant Room is the best place to listen to jazz while sipping on a Belgian brew, and Easy Tiger on Sixth Street is part ping pong patio, part biergarten and part bakery (which makes their pretzels and beer cheese a requirement).

Admittedly, I spend most of my time in dive bars around town.  Carousel Lounge is a surreal little carnie-inspired spot in the northeast that is BYO-liquor (they provide set-ups), as is far-north Buddy’s Place (complete with shuffleboard and many miscellaneous decorations collecting dust in the shadows). It’s always Christmas at Lala’s where ornaments and lights manage to twinkle in the smoky darkness, and Poodle Dog is practically a pool hall (and also BYO-liquor). My favorite eastside haunts are Yellow Jacket Social Club, Liberty, and the White Horse. Downtown, Casino El Camino will make you the most ridiculous bloody mary you’ve ever seen (and great burgers to accompany your PBR), red light-soaked velvet paintings deck the walls at Jackalope, and Mugshots has hands-down the best photo booth in town. Austin would never be the same without Barfly’s, The Horseshoe Lounge, Ego’s, Ginny’s Little Longhorn, Donn’s Depot, The Broken Spoke, Deep Eddy Cabaret, and Hole in the Wall.  And for something way off the beaten path, seek out the Dry Creek Cafe on Mount Bonnell Road.

For wine, I like to direct visitors to Henri’s, a cute little shop serving wine, cheese, and charcuterie. The basement housing Red Room Lounge is inviting and mysterious, with a program run by a master sommellier. South of the river, House Wine is just as cozy as it sounds (and yes, run out of a little house). Whip In has nights featuring various varietals, often to the tune of the sitar or a local band. 

Several classics that are always worth a visit include The Cloak Room (a Capitol-area dive bar where politicians can be found on the regular), Continental Club (a small, classic venue on South Congress), the uber-hip poolside patio of the Hotel San Jose, and the bar of the historic (and haunted) Driskill Hotel.

As far as breweries go, Live Oak is centrally located on the eastside and specializes in Czech and German-style beers.  Check their website for information on free Saturday tours and tastings. Jester King is worth the Hill Country drive to experience their one-of-a-kind farmhouse-style ales (they also offer tours every Saturday), and neighboring Argus Cidery is the only place in Texas crafting champagne-style hard cider. They also recently opened a tasting room with a rotating picnic menu (by reservation).

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