At the best bars in downtown Austin, you'll find a couple reoccuring themes. The bar service is on point. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. And, most importantly, the drink menus include some of the best cocktails in the city. That’s why it’s easy to end a day spent enjoying the best things to do in downtown Austin with a trip to the city center’s top breweries, wine bars and cocktail bars. Just be sure to save some of your hard-earned cash for the best shopping in the area.
Best bars in downtown Austin
Co-owners and operators Justin Lavenue and Dennis Gobis have created something both impressive and accessible with Roosevelt Room. The giant chalkboard above the bar reads as the history of cocktails with drinks categorized by era from Early Years (pre-1880) to Modern Classics (2000s-present). In addition, there is a signature cocktail menu with a selection of noteworthy concoctions such as the aromatic Cigar Box (mezcal, smoked black tea syrup, lavender bitters, tobacco bitters, flamed cinnamon stick). Roosevelt Room’s location gives it instant appeal to existing West 5th and 6th bar patrons; on any given weekend the bar is buzzing with conversation, laughter and movement of the very busy bar staff.
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 whisky.
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. The exterior is brown and lackluster but what lies inside is a rare feat in the city’s bar district—a legit speakeasy making some of the best classic and craft cocktails in the city. A recent revamp by bar manager Tacy Rowland has resulted in some phenomenal cocktails, like the Déjà Vu made with bourbon, rye, whiskey, citrus juices, cinnamon, tiki bitters and an absinthe flame.
Nerd alert: If you love reading, science and booze, this bar in downtown's warehouse district has your name on it. Academia comes to us from Russell Davis, a former Bar Rescue co-star and co-owner of bar consulting firm Unlimited Liabilities. As its name suggests, the bar is designed to be a tribute of sorts to higher learning, with high ceilings, brick walls and university-esque banners that give the cocktail lounge a library feel. The bartenders here—a staff curated from talent 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 that goes down smooth as silk.
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, the bar 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.
If you're visiting from out of town, The Townsend is an ideal bar to find yourself in. It has a dark and elegant interior but isn’t stuffy, a refined cocktail menu but also a killer burger and fries, and it’s quiet but not boring. In purist fashion, the flavors found in their cocktails often come from amaros, aperitifs and herbal liqueurs instead of over-the-top tinctures and complicated syrups. This is especially evident in one of our absolute favorite hot weather drinks, the Toronto Buck—a tiki-inspired combination of Knob Creek Rye, Fernet Branca, lemon, ginger beer, orgeat and aromatic bitters served over crushed ice and garnished with a bouquet of fresh mint.
Entering Firehouse Lounge is almost like taking a trip to Hogs Head in Harry Potter. To the right of the Firehouse Hostel welcome desk—yes, Firehouse is a hostel too—a large bookcase slides open to reveal a large, sunken lounge, where live music radiates through the space filled with cozy leather booths. The cocktails are served without pretention, the crowd is always friendly and the speakeasy-esque ambiance makes you feel like you've discovered one of Austin's best gems.
Anyone who travels for work knows that hotel bars are notoriously depressing—a lame beer selection and aggressively-shaken negronis are major bummers. Geraldine’s is not only an exception to the sad hotel bar rule, but has an absolute knock-out cocktail program. The Van Zandt Hotel off Rainey Street is a boutique gem, and Geraldine’s is located on the fourth floor. The spacious restaurant has an open kitchen, a stage for the many live acts who perform here and a separate lounge for those 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.
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.
This downtown whiskey bar may be a Los Angeles transplant, but before you roll your eyes, know this: Seven Grand's 400-plus whiskey collection is nothing to mess with. Decked out in cabin-inspired decor, the bar offers five classic whiskey drinks (old-fashioneds, Sazeracs, etc.) in addition to beer, wine and other craft cocktails. Or you could put your fate into the hands of Seven Grand's knowledgeable staff, who will turn any whiskey skeptic into a fan.
Right next door to Seven Grand is Las Perlas, a mescaleria dedicated to the smoky spirit. Settle into the green-hued, candlelit space (a patio out back is shared with Seven Grand) and sip on copitas of top-notch mescal, or order a handcrafted cocktail like the smooth Oaxacan negroni, the Jarritos Paloma on draft or the Spiced Daisy—a Las Perlas original given some extra oomph with fresh-pressed jalapeños.
With syrups, bitters and infused liquors all made in-house, ordering a cocktail at CU29 pretty much guarantees an ultra-fresh beverage. The skilled bartenders at this downtown cocktailery are quick to discover what exactly you're in the mood for—a classic old-fashioned? A cucumber fresca? A gingertini? Whatever it is, drinks here are made with care and efficiency; enjoy them on the outdoor patio or inside at the copper-accented bar. Come by for happy hour (Mon-Sat, 4-7pm) for heavily discounted drinks.
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.”
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 dim chandelier-lit space and a pre-Prohibition-inspired cocktail menu. If you're an absinthe fan, this is your spot, as the bar offers a handful of well-curated absinthe options.