Welcome to the Time Out DRINK List, our handpicked list of the best bars in Austin this year. Sure, there are plenty of things to do in Austin that don’t involve drinking, but once you discover all of Austin's best watering holes—well, why do anything else? After all, Austin is a certified bar-loving city and there's a bar for everyone, whether you're strolling downtown neighborhoods like 6th Street and the Warehouse District or headed to hot spots on Rainey Street. Hidden bars in parking garages, elegant speakeasies dripping in class, and dive bars with statues of mythical animals or Christmas lights are just a sampling of the best bars in Austin. While most of the bars on this list carry a great selection of wine and Texas crafts beers, many provide a mix of classic cocktails, impressive selections of mezcal or whiskey, and some take it to the next level with creative cocktails that are true works of art. We say "cheers" to it all.
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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 Tiki Rum-blended Zombie, where Donn’s mix, Falernum, lime, grenadine, Angostura Bitters, and caramelized Absinthe is served in a skull. 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.
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), though from Thursday to Sunday the patio is open to walk-ins and offers an inventive menu of cocktails that differs from the menu inside. Upon arrival, buzz the button labeled “Harry Craddock” and a host will seat you. The inside menu changes annually and follows a theme, such as a passport-style menu full of concoctions with ingredients from all over the world.
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. “Unleaded” is a section that features non-alcoholic 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).
The former Longbranch Inn has been transformed into Nickel City, a refreshingly unpretentious cocktail bar with classic cocktails, inventive variations, and a food truck serving coney dogs, sliders, and wings out back. Regulars and newcomers alike rave about the Nickel City aperol spritz on draft, though don’t be afraid to try one of their tiki drinks, boilermakers (beer and a shot), or one of their “unknown” cocktails like the Dickel in a Box.
Coffee and craft cocktails in one spot? Yes, please. Velouria’s coffee menu includes pour overs, nitro cold brews, and espresso brewed with Austin Roasting Company beans. When the sun goes down, the menu switches to classic cocktails (negronis, Manhattans, old fashioneds) and frozen drinks like espresso martinis and Mezcalomas. Snack on a selection of cheese and charcuterie boards or a flatbread as you sip and take in the fresh and trendy 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. Live music is available during the week and one of many menu standouts is the Night in the Ruts (Santa Teresa Solera rum, nux alpine walnut liqueur, Gonzalez bypass, honey, and five-spice 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 rooftop lounge for enjoying drinks and bar food. On sweltering days, try the Texas Sunburn—made with Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Chareau aloe liqueur, ancho reyes, housemade grenadine, and lemon—while enjoying views of the downtown skyline and Lady Bird Lake.
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 Joanie Loves Tchotchkes: El Tesoro Blanco Tequila, watermelon, aloe, fresh lime, and fever tree citrus tonic. The space is intimate—40 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, Golden Tiger, 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 beauty. Try the uniquely flavorful Hot Buttered Banana, where bourbon, banana, and house-made hot spiced butter come together in a creative concoction. 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 Whisler’s Bloody Mary (vodka, house bloody, lemon, Tajin, and Pony Back) and the Mexican Firing Squad (tequila, grenadine, lime, and pepper) make Whisler’s a hotspot 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 seesaw, giant Jenga game, and two bars all lend themselves to top photo ops, while hits from the 90s and 2000s create a fun blast to the past. Bill the Butcher, Salvador Dali, and The Charlie Chapilin should sit high on your list of must-sips. Daily drink specials are available every day of the week, while happy hour specials are offered from open to 8pm.
King Bee Lounge has 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 the spot also 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 every night of the week.
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 aperol spritz, 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.
You’ll find Half Step in a small renovated house like many other Rainey Street bars, but the concept and bar talent set it far apart from the neighbors. The previously run-down, sketchy structure was gutted, restored, and is now decked out in floral wallpaper, booths, and indoor and outdoor stages for musicians. 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 New Orleans Buck (aged rum, pineapple, lime, orange juice, ginger, bitters, and seltzer). 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 banh mi and Malaysian fried rice) 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 and adult milkshakes. The happy hour here (all night Sunday and Monday and 4-7pm Tuesday-Friday) is a dream—$5 classic cocktails, like the Royal Bees Knees and the Sazerac, and half-off certain dishes.
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 2011, 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, “bomb tacos,” and its dangerously cheap house special, the Two-Step (a shot of well whiskey and a Lone Star beer).
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 pour 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 done well in the Lone Star State. You’ll find 54 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 rebel women-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 their 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 cocktail 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 performs 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 mary 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 Charlies 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 Charli’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 Kale Lime Gingerita (a kale and ginger margarita), 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, the founder of Lala’s, 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.
Halycon's coffee-shop-meets-bar vibe is exemplified in drinks like the chocolate espresso martini and the Iced Voodoo Lady (rum, coffee liqueur, and vanilla chai). For a more traditional cocktail, we like Hill Country Last Word (local sotol, maraschino liqueur, green chartreuse, and lime). Make sure to try their smores kit, complete with table-top stove for roasting marshmallows.