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The best cocktail bars in Austin

Raise a glass for the best cocktail bars in Austin, from hidden speakeasies to swanky watering holes

James Wong
Written by
James Wong
Contributor
Anastacia Uriegas
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The best way to beat the heat in Austin? A cool and refreshing cocktail. Though Austin’s traditionally been a college town where booze flows like water, now that the population of graduates and grown-ups has ballooned things have gotten a lot more exciting on the palate. You could even say that right now we’re experiencing a long-awaited food and drink renaissance. The cuisine is getting more diverse, the new openings more acclaimed, and the bar scene, well, it’s overflowing. From casual dive bars and hotel lobby bars to happening rooftop lounges and hidden speakeasies, here are some of the excellent craft and classic cocktail bars defining our city’s modern bar landscape.

RECOMMENDED: The best bars in Austin

Best cocktail bars in Austin

This all-day drinking den is a chameleon for any occasion. Inside, design-forward interiors create a sophisticated setting (perfect for a glass of wine), while outside is more relaxed (unwind with friends on big comfy sofa or swing chairs).  Obviously with cocktails and coffee in its name, you have to try their frothy Espresso Martini; made with Dripping Springs vodka, Bailey’s Irish cream and espresso—it’s the best way to kick start the day, and hailed as the best in Austin; or how about the Magic Water (less water…more tequila and mezcal!) for an afternoon refresher. Happy hour specials are extra joyous, especially on Mondays when they run all day. 

Single and ready to mingle? Head down to this intimate cocktail lounge and spirits library, tucked under downtown’s Moonshine Grill. Kinfolk has just 20-seats in its stunning drinking den, and you’ll rub shoulders with in-the-know strangers with a discerning taste for their unique collection of whiskeys, scotch, mezcal, tequila and more. Try the Mrs Robbins, a mezcal daiquiri style blend of Mezcal Union “El Viejo”, Chairman’s Spice, clarified lime juice, and gum syrup. The menu also has cheese, charcuterie, plus chocolate and macarons.

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One of the best-kept secrets on South Congress, the word on Simona’s already getting out. Tucked at the back of the romantic Colton House Hotel, this coffee and cocktail lounge is a two-story jewel. Ground level, you have the bar and backyard which leads to the chandelier-lined pool, and upstairs is a quiet overlook, decked with plush leather seating. Try the Irish Americano, hot or cold, for a wake-me-up. Gourmet grab-and-go snacks are also available.

Once a rooftop parking garage, the LINE hotel has reinvented this old space as a glorious lounge for open-air dining and top-notch drinking. It also happens to be one of the best spots along the river for views of Town Lake and the South Austin Skyline, making this a July 4th fireworks banger. Come with pals and toast Austin’s golden hour sunsets with a refreshing Sundown Cobbler (vodka, fruit rouges, prosecco, berries and citrus) and when you get peckish don’t be shy: the food menu is surprisingly amazing for a bar, and dare we say, even better than the swanky Arlo Grey downstairs. 

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Warehouse District
  • price 2 of 4

Lit with candles and dressed in jewel tones, The Roosevelt Room is not only the best cocktail bar in Austin, but one that manages to constantly excite patrons and critics alike. There's a balance between finesse and playfulness here; the latter is personified in the frozen, dark rum-based Zombie’s caramelized Absinthe, Falernum, lime, grenadine and Angostura Bitters, served in a skull with flamed cinnamon powder. Or try the elegant Silver Meadows, made of tequila, pisco and sake along with foie-gras-washed St. Germain and clarified (clear) lime and grapefruit juices. The Roosevelt Room also offers beer, wine, food and happy hour.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Congress Ave District
  • price 2 of 4

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 Royal Sonesta 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.

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  • Bars
  • Greater Austin
  • price 2 of 4

The former massage-parlor-turned-speakeasy was one of Austin’s first high-end cocktail bars located, oddly enough, smack dab in the middle of Dirty Sixth. Don’t expect rowdy students inside the low-lit, narrow space lined with booths, though: a two-hour, two-drink-minimum reservation must be made via their website. Approach the unmarked door, buzz the name code, and be sure to adhere to the “no flash photography, no PDA and no bothering other patrons” rule. Midnight Cowboy’s cocktails are sophisticated but accessible, like the refreshing Clara Rosa. It’s a stirred drink of gin, tarragon infused vermouth, rosemary, thyme, citric and malic acid, sparkling wine and tomato water.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Downtown
  • price 3 of 4

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 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). Also, don’t miss their impressive selection of Japanese whisky.

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  • Bars
  • Gastropubs
  • North Loop
  • price 2 of 4

Consider drink.well. the quintessential neighborhood bar, offering both a great menu of 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; and the In Italian: vecchia romagna brandy, blackberry red wine cordial, lemon, lime, thyme liqueur and angostura bitter. 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.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • East Cesar Chavez
  • price 2 of 4

Located in the old Rabbit’s, the former gathering place for Eastside politicos, 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, ruin-porn type of beauty. Try the uniquely flavorful Big Bad Sister (rum, gin, arrack, triple sec, cinnamon ceylon and black lime tea syrup). 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).

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  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • Central East Austin
  • price 1 of 4

King Bee Lounge lies just beyond the well-worn paths of East 6th and East 11th, on the corner of 12th and Chicon. It doesn’t look like much from the outside; the facade is painted solid black with heavily tinted windows boasting hand painted promises of “draft beer, cocktails and dancing” next to a giant 8-ball. But step inside and you’ll be greeted warmly by owners Billy and Colette behind a bar glowing with oodles of bottles, many of which are mezcal. The chalkboard cocktail menu changes regularly and the top two are almost always frozen drinks; the slushie version of a Bee’s Knees (gin, honey, lemon) has become a permanent fixture here. Take a seat at one of the many tables illuminated by Mexican veladoras (religious candles), sip on a frozen cocktail or an old-fashioned, and be sure to order the pizza.

  • Hotels
  • Lounges
  • Congress Ave District
  • price 1 of 4

The entire concept for Firehouse Hostel and Lounge is pretty fascinating: a firehouse built in 1885 was transformed into a European-style hostel with a “secret” bar located behind a false bookcase. Sans windows and painted in vibrant red, it’s easy to lose track of time in the lounge's playful atmosphere. The staff here are friendly, knowledgeable and unpretentious—qualities not common this close to the 6th Street shot bars. Sit at the tall bar and order a simple, classic cocktail like a Bee’s Knees or Daiquiri while chatting up your bartender or other patrons. Happy hour is every day till 8pm.

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Ain’t nothing like a chilled cocktail out on the patio on a hot southern evening. Ellis has a sweet selection of affordable bevvies across cocktails, beer and wine, which can be enjoyed at the sleek counter or around the big Texas Oak Tree with a cheeky snack from the adjoined Fareground food hall. Cocktails are themed to the Big Apple—because downtowners dream of glam, with concoctions including the Downtown Manhattan, the Ellis Old Fashioned, and the very tropical Staten Island Ferry (think: rum, coconut and pineapple).

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Town Lake
  • price 2 of 4

Rainey Street haunt, Half Step, has achieved a rare feat—they consistently churn out top bar talent and never compromise their integrity and commitment to perfect cocktails despite the shrieking, stumbling masses right outside their door. The baby blue bungalow has pew-like wooden booths, walls lined in tea-stained floral wallpaper, and a large open patio with picnic tables. The drink menu is a short list of classics (think daiquiris and prescription juleps) for purposes of efficiency, but the skilled bar staff here will make you anything you like. Just keep it classy and leave the Fireball for 6th Street.

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