Best bars in Austin
Lit with candles and dressed in jewel tones, The Roosevelt Room is the best cocktail bar in Austin because it manages to constantly excite patrons and critics alike. There's a balance between finesse and playfulness here, as exemplified in the frozen, dark-rum–based Huli Pau!’s, where perfectly portioned coconut, pineapple, peanut, tarragon, and bright mint are served in a tall hurricane glass dressed with a Hawaiian lei. Or try the elegant Silver Meadows, made with tequila, pisco, and sake along with foie-gras–washed St. Germain and clarified lime and grapefruit juices. For those looking for a challenge, The Roosevelt Room has a Classics Card; Try all 50-plus drinks and get your name on a plaque and a t-shirt. Hop in during happy hour (Monday and Tuesday all night long, Wednesday–Saturday 4–7pm, Sunday 3–7pm) to sip seven classic cocktails for $7 each as well as $2-off wines by the glass, $1-off craft beers, and deals on food.
The original ‘Midnight Cowboy Modeling & Oriental Massage’ sign has been taken down, but a single red bulb still lets you know where to find this hidden bar, a beacon of refuge amongst Dirty Sixth’s bush-league. Guaranteed entry requires a reservation (done on their website)—upon arrival, buzz the button labeled “Harry Craddock” and a host will seat you. Bar manager Tacy Rowland's menu changes seasonally, but you'll always find inventive cocktails like The Icebreaker made with gin, St. Germain, saffron rice syrup, green tea and basil.
Owner Josh Loving’s Small Victory is actually a huge victory; the bar serves cocktails borrowed from the past in a gorgeous space that still feels like a secret—despite all of the acclaim. Nestled in the corner of the parking garage behind the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental Hotel, Small Victory is found up a flight of stairs and behind a heavy wooden door. The former dive bar has been transformed with new plush banquette seating that spans the length of the room, as well as a large, round booth in the back that you just know is the epicenter for wheelings and dealings. The Artist’s Special—adapted from a 1927 bar book—is a great example of Small Victory’s style. It’s a variation on the whiskey sour using Scotch instead of American whiskey to add smokiness to the sherry, lemon, and grenadine.
The Long Play is the definition of a low-key Austin watering hole: Patio and board games? Check. A long list of craft beers? Check. More than 400 spin-able vinyls at the ready? Check. Their self-titled “World Famous Chili” washes down well with a cool IPA or their signature Marga-Reba cocktail.
Garage exists in the category of Austin’s kind-of hidden bars—it’s the former parking attendant booth tucked in the garage on Colorado Street between 5th and 6th. The raw concrete interior with soaring ceilings and structural columns is lit solely by candles and the glow of a circular bar. The menu is organized in clever car terms: in the “custom” section, you’ll find Garage’s signature drinks; “vintage” is where the classic cocktails are; “refurbished” features modern takes on classics and “GTO” are the $25 upper-echelon cocktails. Go with the Indian Paintbrush (vodka, grapefruit juice, lime, rosemary) for a light herbal option and the Penicillin (earl grey scotch, lemon, ginger, honey) for something a little more brooding (but still appropriate for warmer weather)—both were created by Chauncy James, who also designed the cocktail menu. Also, don’t miss their impressive selection of Japanese whiskey.
The former Longbranch Inn has been transformed into Nickel City, a refreshingly unpretentious cocktail bar with classic cocktails, inventive variations and a legit Detroit-inspired food truck out back. Regulars and newcomers alike rave about the Nickel City negroni and aperol spritz on draft. Pair them with wings, hotdogs and sliders from the food truck.
Coffee and craft cocktails in one spot? Yes, please. Veouria’s coffee menu includes pour overs, espresso, and iced coffee brewed with Austin Roasting Company beans. When the sun goes down, the menu swicthes to classic cocktails (negronis, Manhattans, old fashioneds) and frozen drinks like espresso martinis and Mai Tais. Snack on a selection of cheese and charcuterie boards as you sip and take in the fresh decor.
The Townsend is a dark, swanky haven for people having a drink before a show at the Paramount Theater across the street, or those of us who eagerly seek out primo watering holes all the time. The Thompson-Townsend building the bar occupies was built in 1875 and boasts a beautifully-preserved facade; equally elegant, the interior boasts satin-y black walls, dimmed chandeliers and classic pintucked seating that extends the length of the long, narrow space. The outstanding bar program was designed by Justin Elliott, whose resume includes Midnight Cowboy, Volstead and Qui. One of many menu standouts: the Herringbone (Old Grand-Dad bonded bourbon, Metaxa 5-star, cardamaro, Cointreau Guignolet, and aromatic bitters). The Townsend also offers cheese and charcuterie in addition to other thoughtful small plates.
Located on the fourth floor of the Van Zandt Hotel off Rainey Street, Geraldine’s is a spacious restaurant with an open kitchen, a stage for the many live acts who perform there, and a separate lounge for enjoying drinks and bar food. On sweltering days, try the Ancho and Lefty, a spicy take on a traditional margarita made with Milagro silver tequila, Ancho Reyes lemon, honey and aromatic harissa.
Consider drink.well. the quintessential neighborhood bar, offering both hearty fare and inspired cocktails. Owner Jessica Sanders is always coming up with creative concoctions, like the Oaxacan Maid: mezcal, fresh cucumber, lime, orange blossom honey and wild fennel. The space is intimate—37 seats with just a handful of highly coveted bar spots—and on weekends it’s packed to the gills with couples and groups.
Whisler’s is a happy hour destination everyone in your gang can agree on, especially with ample patio seating and popular food truck, Thai-Kun, out back. The exposed stone, salvaged architectural elements and Virgen de Guadalupe altar (complete with a board of handwritten peticiones, or wishes) give Whisler’s a romantic, ruin-porn type of beauty. Try the uniquely flavorful The Stem & The Stone, where smoky mezcal blends with tropical mango and citrus, a hint of aromatic cardamom and a dash of bitters. Upstairs from the bar you’ll find Mezcalería Tobalá, an Oaxacan-style mezcal bar with a curated selection of the agave spirit served traditionally in terra cotta copitas with orange slices and sal de gusano (worm salt). Popular weekend offerings like the Queen Bee (Gin, Lemon, Honey, Lavender) and Tiger Tears (Vodka, Strawberry, Basil, Lemon, Pepper) make Whistler’s a hopping hotspot, like a Mexican Jumping Bean, come the weekend.
Referencing both the full mustache momentum and the ubiquitous bike part, Handlebar became a hit as soon as it opened. Breeze through the cramped shotgun-style downstairs and head directly upstairs to the rooftop patio (featuring much more elbow room). A giant Jenga game, two bars and metal playground horses on springs all lends themselves to top photo ops. Bill the Butcher, Salvador Dali, and The Charlie Chaplin should sit high on your list of must-sips. Happy hour specials are offered Monday through Saturday, 3–8pm, and all day Sunday.
King Bee Lounge was formerly the home of blues bar Legendary White Swan, before it was taken over by Billy Hankey (former bar manager at Bar Congress) and Colette Dein (former operations manager of Second Bar + Kitchen). They have a rotating selection of signature drinks that includes classics like the Boulevardier (rye bourbon, campari, sweet vermouth) and frozen drinks like the Bee’s Knees (gin, local honey, lemon juice, served with edible flowers). Because they make decadently topped pizzas in-house, the aroma of baking pizza always lingers in the air—we love the ‘cheezilla.’ Live music, stand-up comedy and theme parties (tiki, Halloween) bring in both old and new faces, but the cocktails, pizza and hospitality keep them coming back.
Past the lobby and behind the sliding bookshelf lies the appropriately named and very red Firehouse Lounge. The bar is on the ground level of the Firehouse Hostel, a European-style inn occupying the city’s oldest standing fire station, built circa 1885, and offers classic and craft cocktails made by a highly skilled and easygoing staff. You can’t go wrong with simple classics like the daiquiri, the old-fashioned or the Brimstone (bourbon, lemon, honey, Fernet), with its herbal take on a traditional Gold Rush. Our favorite part about Firehouse? The crowd is always friendly and the speakeasy-esque ambiance makes you feel like you've discovered one of Austin's best gems.
There is no signage at Weather Up, but it’s hard to miss the large corner lot with its two-story house strung with party lights. Situated on a corner lot on East Cesar Chavez, Weather Up Austin is a sister bar to the Brooklyn and Tribeca locations. The inside drinkery is a blend of cool, white tile and warm, glowing copper, while the patio with white wrought-iron furniture offers a breezy garden vibe. Beautiful cocktails like the El Nacional (tequila, hibiscus grenadine, Bénédictine, lime, rosewater) are served in gold-rimmed vintage coupes alongside offbeat picks like the $7 housemade Fireball, which comes with a cold 12oz can of Lone Star.
You’ll find Half Step in a small renovated house like many other Rainey Street bars, but the concept and bar talent sets it far apart from the neighbors. The previously run-down, sketchy structure was gutted, restored, and is now decked out in tea-stained wallpaper and church pew-like booths. Founder Chris Bostick has used his experience in the beverage industry—he was formerly the general manager of Los Angeles’s covert cocktail den the Varnish—to create a stunning bar program with meticulously crafted offerings such as the Prescription Julep (cognac, rye, mint, sugar). The easiest way to find Half Step is to look for the baby blue house emblazoned with the motto, “you earned it.”
Set in the historic Clarksville neighborhood, you can choose between seats at the intimate bar (just 13 spots), the colorful dining area or the large patio (centered around the historic heritage tree) from which to sip your drink. The bar program spans a wide variety of cocktails, locally-crafted beers, and wine. Creative, Asian-inspired food (think chili crab tacos and Maylasian french fries) are there to soak up the booze.
Prove to your date that you have great taste (and that you are the bon vivant you claimed to be on your Tinder profile) by treating them to an evening at Péché. Located in Austin’s Warehouse District, Péché serves classic French fare with a nod to 19th-century New Orleans via a dim chandelier-lit space and a pre-Prohibition-inspired cocktail menu with a considerable absinthe selection. The happy hour here is a dream—$5 classic cocktails, like the Royal Bees Knees and the Sazerac, and half-off dishes including the ultra-indulgent mac and cheese with duck confit.
At The White Horse Saloon, hipsters, yuppies, students and bonafide honky-tonkers all have one thing in common: they’re having a damn good time. Since opening in 2012, the White Horse has provided a venue for Austin’s best musicians to play live sets of everything from conjunto and country to blues and pop. It’s easy to lose track of time here—there are no windows, and the churn of couples spinning on the dance floor never ends. The saloon is famous for its ice-cold beer, and its dangerously cheap house special, the Two-Step (a shot of well whiskey and a Lone Star beer).
If you love reading, science and booze, this bar in downtown's warehouse district is just for you. Academia is designed as a tribute to higher learning, with high ceilings, brick walls and university-esque banners that make the cocktail lounge feel like a storied library at a top-notch institution. The bartenders here—a staff curated from across the country—act as patient professors, taking you through cocktails like the Raw Dill, a drink that might remind you of your favorite lox bagel in the best possible way, or the Trinidad Sour, which goes down smooth as silk.
It may sit right in the middle of Austin’s college scene, but Jackalope is actually a welcome escape. The giant half-rabbit, half-antelope namesake sculpture near the door surveys a relaxed bar filled with locals and tourists alike. Expect B-movies on the television and '80s new wave blasting on the speakers while tattooed bartenders pours overflowing shots of Jameson. The kitchen menu is solid; burgers like the Bacon and Brie (brie, bacon, carmelized onions, pickles, homemade caesar dressing) often top local "best burgers" lists. The Jackalope’s drink menu has evolved to include craft cocktails like the Jackalope Old Fashioned (which gets its spicy kick from Fire & Damnation bitters), but mostly, whiskey and beer prevail—and we’re happy to oblige.
By serving Texas-only craft breweries, Craft Pride showcases the many styles we do well in the Lone Star State. You’ll find 53 drafts and two beer engines from the likes of Deep Ellum Brewing Company, Friends & Allies, Southern Star Brewing Company and many others. In true Texas fashion, the interior of the bar is made of wood from floor to ceiling, and Via 313 serves their famous Detroit-style pizza on the back patio.
Take a trip back in time at Kitty Cohen's, a 1970s-inspired cocktail bar in East Austin that will have you dreaming of Palm Springs pool parties. A mini pool serves as the center of the bar's courtyard, where tipsy imbibers sip on frozen gin and tonics, punches and Singapore Slings. And yes, you can get into the pool.
Violet Crown is one of the best and most affordable neighborhood bars in Austin with dive-bar–like prices on local draft beer, domestic bottles and a decent selection of vodka and whiskey. If you feel like experimenting, try signature drink the Iron Whip, an orange creamsicle-flavored frozen slush that was named in homage to the bar’s former incarnation, the Iron Gate Lounge. Outside, the patio overflows with 20- and 30-somethings and Via 313 Pizza (the best pizza in Austin) slings Detroit-style pizza by the slice or pie straight to your barstool.
Named after the famous last words uttered in The Outsiders, Stay Gold is a welcome addition to the evolving East Cesar Chavez corridor. Nathan Hill and Will Tanner, of White Horse Saloon and campus haunt Hole in the Wall, are at the helm of this watering hole with a cocktial menu that honors other throwback movies—try the Beauty School Dropout, made with El Silencio espadin mezcal, Campari, grapefruit bitters and lime. The space is filled with pintucked and studded furniture with a small stage where local talent perform on weekends. The spacious patio is home to the Toaster comfort-food food truck.
Casino El Camino is a no-frills, no-BS, rock and roll dungeon. Gargoyles loom overhead as TVs screen gruesome and campy cult flicks. The kitchen is known for its Guy Fieri-approved hamburgers and, if you visit on a weekend, you’ll have the privilege of trying one of their over-the-top Bloody Marys. It’s a pint glass of vodka and bloody mix topped with a bouquet of skewered snacks—taquitos, bacon, corn dogs, meatballs, pizza bagels, mini sliders and sandwiches are just a few of the accoutrements.
Cheer Up Charlie’s is the east side's go-to LGBTQ bar and music venue. Some of the best local and national musical acts and performance artists can be found on Cheer Up Charlie’s stage (which backs up to a spectacularly illuminated rock wall) or in the more intimate indoor space. The bar offers signature cocktails like the Golden Ticket (whisky, kombucha, lavender bitters, candied ginger) and the Spicy Cuban (rum, mango juice, elderflower liqueur, and habanero), but you can always find a solid beer collection as well.
Lala’s—affectionately referred to as Lala’s Christmas Bar or Lala’s Little Nugget—can be found in a dingy shopping strip on Justin Lane. Inside, though, the beloved dive bar is festively decorated with strings of colored lights and tinsel; metallic ornaments dangle from the ancient ceiling tile and a Christmas tree looms in the corner. The story behind Lala’s kitschy aesthetic is simple: In 1972 owner and founder Francis Lala removed her holiday decorations, then decided the space looked bare without them and put them back up. They haven’t come down since.
Aside from the fantastic bar program at Odd Duck just down the street, this stretch of South Lamar was desperately in need of a proper cocktail bar. Thankfully, Backbeat stepped in. The creativity and talent here are evident in every cocktail—take, for example, the Cuffing Season (made with Arette Reposado tequila, Liber & Co orgeat, lime, maraschino, allspice dram, egg white, and peach and burlesque bitters) from the Greatest Hits section of the menu. The interior is a sleek nod to mid-century style, and there's also a rooftop patio with views of the skyline.
Halycon's coffee-shop-meets-bar vibe is exemplified in drinks like the Irish Coffee (Irish whisky, creme de menthe, coffee, and whip cream) and the Iced Voodoo Lady (Kahlua, Bacardi Select, and vanilla chai). For a more traditional cocktail, we like the Holy Smokes (mescal, cinnamon simple syrup, orange bitters), and make sure to try their smores kit, complete with table-top stove for roasting marshmallows.