Sure, some of the best bars in Austin are the kind of upscale, elegant joints that serve delectable small plates and the absolute best cocktails in Austin, but these dive bars deliver the kind of dark, grungy, homey settings that patrons of all kinds sometimes crave (plus: extremely cheap drinks). Especially after spending an arm and a leg at the best steakhouses in Austin, you’ll want to sit back, relax and sip on an IPA or a classic rum and coke while chatting with the always friendly bartender at the most awesome dive bars in Austin.
Best dive bars in Austin
A legit honky tonk bar catering to people of the slightly hipper variety, the White Horse Saloon is a concoction of twirling bodies, live bluegrass blaring and a patio buzzing with a hundred conversations. On any given weekend, find $5 two-steps (ice cold Lone Star and a shot of whiskey) flying off the bar and the dancefloor full of couples actually two-stepping.
The Liberty has long been the place for East side residents to meet for happy hour. We have all done time at The Liberty—on weekends, at birthday parties and awkward dates—sitting in neat rows of picnic tables while drinking Austin Beerworks’ Pearl Snaps and vodka sodas (extra lime, please). Day drinking on the patio ensures prime people watching and, thanks to the onsite East Side King, you can have unfussy Vietnamese/Thai food from the most popular trucks in Austin.
Yellow Jacket has one of the best patios on the East side and will either make you realize how much you love living in Austin or how painfully uncool you are compared to other patrons (or both?). Either way, the punk rock music, the string lights, the lipsticked fashion girls and the constant aroma of sandwich bread being grilled are just a few of the endearing qualities that make Yellow Jacket the place you’ll want to hang with your people… cool or uncool.
Painted in circus murals and boasting a David Lynch-ian vibe, the Carousel Lounge is quite possibly Austin’s strangest watering hole. Opened in 1963, the theme was inspired by New Orleans’ famous Carousel Lounge, which once donned a giant circus tent and massive pink elephant. The tent is gone and the massive elephant has been replaced with one that is merely large but everything else has remained untouched. Despite the eccentric atmosphere, the warmth of the staff and regulars is unmatched and you may just fall in love with this quirky, circus-themed relic of a dive bar found in an unremarkable part of town.
It feels strange calling a bar which carries almost 200 different whiskies and bourbons a dive bar, but that’s exactly what The Grackle wants to be known as. The dark, drab interior has a pool table, tabletop Ms. Pacman and crumbly cork dart boards that desperately need to be replaced. Don’t let this deter you, however, because the jukebox is full of albums any music nerd would appreciate. Also enjoy a nice selection of local beers on tap and the great drinks—which are poured stiff.
Violet Crown Social Club is a laid back, neighborhood bar where people in their 20s and 30s gather and hang out over whiskey sodas and pints of Lone Star. The bar staff is attentive, the drinks are almost too cheap to believe and there’s plenty of seating both inside and out. Another huge draw is Via 313’s Detroit-style pizza trailer just outside, slinging the absolute best pizza in Austin by the slice or the pie. Pro tip: order a pizza and wait for it to be ready while enjoying a cold beer inside the bar.
Smack in the middle of all of the Sixth Street chaos, the Jackalope has very little in common with its neighbors. Its punk-rock attitude is reflected in its black-clad (but super friendly) staff, its choice of music and straightforward approach to all things food and drink. Don’t forget to take a photo on the 9-foot saddled jackalope.
On the very far end of East 7th street sits Hard Luck Lounge—a gritty little dive bar with the right amount of charm to keep you coming back. The interior is dark and cooled by a dusty window unit, the cheap beer and whiskey shots flow like water and the maroon felt pool table beckons. Outside you’ll find a large patio full of picnic tables, a small stage and Lady Luck, Hard Luck’s resident food truck serving irresistible comfort food with a modern twist.
On a desolate strip of Airport Boulevard and up a dangerously steep staircase lies the dark, windowless Barfly’s, one of the best dive bars around town. Patrons, mostly in their 20s and 30s, drink cheap beer and well drinks while the jukebox plays rock and indie gems you haven’t heard in years. The laid-back atmosphere, low lighting and unbeatable drink prices make Barfly’s a great neighborhood bar with cool-kid appeal.
Ego’s has all the makings of a great dive bar: dirt cheap drinks, no windows, furniture that looks like it came from an ‘80s office furniture liquidation sale and an odd location—the bottom level of a parking garage illuminated solely by a harsh orange security light. But what people come for is Ego’s legendary free karaoke, which goes down every Wednesday through Saturday night. Consult the very thick song book and watch people of all ages sing along and dance in front of the stage.
To visit Donn’s Depot is to enter a time warp: the decor hasn’t changed in decades, the bathrooms are actual train cars, the dance floor is packed with regulars who fall into the over-60 category and, on weekends, Donn himself sits at the piano and takes requests. The ambiance is especially cozy around the holidays, when colorful string lights dominate the space.
Affectionately known as “Ginny’s,” The Little Longhorn Saloon sits in a building that looks like a tiny chapel with a steeple. What happens inside is considered honky tonk gospel by Austinites: every night of the week (except for Mondays, when they’re closed) expect live music from Austin’s most bona fide country acts. Of course, every Sunday, hundreds gather for The Little Longhorn Saloon’s legendary chicken shit bingo, which is exactly what it sounds like.
It’s always Christmas at Lala’s. Located in a quiet, outdated shopping strip, Lala’s is a kitschy homage to the holiday season. Upon entering the space, you’ll hear the sweet crooning of Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole emanating from the jukebox. Also expect lots of Christmas lights, gold foil decorations hanging from the ceiling and a motley crew of regulars perched at the bar. Order a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned, take a seat and proceed to tell the glowing, plastic Santa what you want for Christmas.
In the heart of Sixth Street, Casino El Camino’s allure comes from a combination of excellent bartenders, cult NC-17 rated films on the TV screens, horror-meets-rock decor and Guy Fieri-approved burgers. Hungry? Order the huge, fiery Amarillo burger and the green chile cheese fries. Pro tip: On weekends, order a unique Bloody Mary topped with skewered grilled cheese sandwiches, taquitos, cheese, bacon, corn dogs, meatballs and more.
An Austin institution since 1951, Deep Eddy Cabaret is less “cabaret” and more “old school dive bar.” Linoleum floors, neon beer signs, vintage Pac-Man and wood paneling lend a distinct charm to the bar, which lies just West of downtown’s rapid development. Don’t bother asking for a complicated cocktail but rather stick to what Deep Eddy does best: ice cold Shiner and Lone Star served by the mug and the pitcher.