Keep Austin weird. You’ve likely heard this phrase used as the Texas state capital’s unofficial motto. You may even know that Portland, Ore., adopted the phrase to sloganize itself. But Austin isn’t necessarily weird as much as it is iconoclastic — a hub of music, art, and bohemia whose mindset runs seemingly counter to the Lone Star State’s cowboy and country aesthetic. While some might argue that its soul is under siege due to businesses like Tesla encroaching on its turf, there are certain elements within the city that act as the eccentric energy’s guardians — assuring that, even if the suits prevail in the long run, there will always be solace for free spirits.
The city’s drinking scene plays the part of sanctuary with splendid aplomb. What is particularly worthy of exploring to an outsider is that, at its best, it holds up the ethos of Southern hospitality in an unconventional way. The following places extend the city’s philosophy of community through creativity, whether it’s a well-composed cocktail, a local brew, or a dram of brown spirit drawn from a barrel.
Here are nine of the best places to drink in Austin.
Best Place to Start a Big Night: Small Victory
Downtown Austin’s craft cocktail scene is a tight, walkable cluster, making it an ideal area to explore if you’re considering a crawl. This second-story speakeasy in the city’s Hotel District is a terrific place to start, as everything from its interior design to its cocktail menu captures Austin’s offbeat spirit. Entering the space involves climbing up a spiral stairway located in a branded turret adjacent to a parking garage, an activity that quickly injects good-time vibes into an evening of drinking. An intimate, semi-tropical space will greet you upon entry, and its easygoing feel flows through a bevy of classic cocktails and tiki drinks like the Painkiller and Singapore Sling, all whipped up by bartenders who know their stuff. The combination of drinks, staff, and atmosphere makes however long it takes you to find your way to their front door worth the effort. Reservations are required, so plan accordingly.
Address: 108 E. 7th St., Austin, Texas, 78701
Best Place to Try Something New: Roosevelt Room
One of the best things about a proper bar experience is having the chance to try something new (and potentially mind-bending). This Tales of the Cocktail-nominated, multi-level, industrial-chic bar in Austin’s Warehouse District provides extensive opportunities to indulge in the joys of previously unexplored delights. The lynchpin of this encounter is its menu’s RR Classic Creations, an all-star collection of popular house-made legacy drinks created by the Roosevelt Room team over the years, including some OG drinks concocted when the bar first opened in 2015. “Our approach to the bar is to deliver that ‘X factor’ to customers,” explains bar manager and assistant general manager Mattew Korzelius. “We want to give them something that catches their eye and make them feel they’ve had something like they haven’t quite experienced before.” That wild card element occasionally pushes the envelope through creations like the Silver Meadow, a drink featuring tequila, pisco, sake, and foie gras-washed St-Germain.
Tip Jar: Roosevelt Room’s on 5th Street, and that’s as close to Austin’s infamous 6th Street as you’ll want to get. 6th Street (a.k.a. “Dirty Sixth,” according to the locals) is the epicenter of “amateur hour.” Unless you have a hankering to see college kids of fresh drinking age stumbling around in the middle of the street, avoid it at all costs.
Address: 307 W. 5th St., Austin, Texas, 78701
Best Place to Experience Rainey Street: Half-Step
Rainey Street is 6th Street’s slightly more reserved, better-behaved sibling. There are amateurs to be found, but they aren’t quite as unruly. Most venues on the street operate from converted homes, a design feature that tends to keep things a little more chill and hangout-worthy. This acclaimed bar does a terrific job of capturing the street’s easy neighborhood soul. Located in a pastel blue house small enough to rock a “½” on its address, this compact joint offers just a few stools at its tiny bar. But don’t fret if you can’t find an open spot. There is plenty of seating on the outdoor patio once you order a craft cocktail or a Margarita on draft, allowing you to settle in and people watch or enjoy some live music under the stars on most evenings. It’s a great way to soak in the unique energy permeated by this funky thoroughfare.
Address: 75 1/2 Rainey St., Austin, Texas, 78701
Best Speakeasy That’s Not Actually a Speakeasy: Garage
This spherical-shaped bar is indeed sunk within the recesses of an active parking garage. While its entrance doesn’t jut out to the street, it’s fairly visible, giving it a “hidden-in-plain-view” vibe. Inside, you’ll find a dimly lit subterranean joint with pumping vinyl, a smartly appointed bar, killer drinks, and an atmosphere that’s understated without ever feeling pretentious. “We often joke that with our big neon sign, we are the worst hidden speakeasy in all of Austin. That’s fine, as we never sought to play the speakeasy game,” explains general manager Chris Simpson. This place tends to attract its fair share of hardcore cocktail fans and industry types, making it an essential stop if you love geeking out over all things booze-related.
Tip Jar: Austin’s a speakeasy hotbed, and most of them are easy to find if you know what the front door looks like. However, there are a few speakeasies like Floppy Disk Repair Co. and Midnight Cowboy that require old-school tactics like hunting down phone numbers and deciphering secret codes, just in case you’re up for some extra adventure. But be forewarned: Midnight Cowboy is on Dirty Sixth.
Address: 503 Colorado St., Austin, Texas 78701
Best Place To Embrace Austin’s Hipster Vibe: Apartment 115
Even when Austin City Limits or SXSW isn’t going on, Austin’s indie-everything hipster ethos reigns mightily. It’s a fun spirit to tap into, even if you’re ill-prepared to discuss the obscurity level of Pitchfork’s latest “best of” list with your rideshare driver. Apartment 115 fully immerses you into this unique mood. Considering the bar is an intimately spaced, retro-chic former apartment that spins nothing but vinyl records, it achieves this ambiance rather effortlessly. This space also earns Korzelius’s endorsement for its near-50-page, constantly evolving global wine list that carries its own indie feel. Rather than building a list loaded with heavyweight after heavyweight, the list emphasizes small-production wineries and low-intervention wines. It also offers 10 by-the-glass selections that change on the daily if you’re not in a position to finish a full bottle. A daily changing menu of sharable farm-to-table dishes completes the experience.
Address: 2025 E. 7th St., Austin, Texas, 78702
Best Place for a First Date: Still Austin
Suggesting a distillery for a first date option is on-brand for this city, but not because of its famous slogan. The Austin area is prime real estate for the distilling scene, and this breezy venue smartly crafts a laid-back ambience that takes all of the starch out of the experience — making it an ideal date option for spirits-loving potential couples. It achieves this by hosting an eclectic range of events that runs the gamut from blues performances to drag queen bingo. Of course, it helps that it’s producing excellent juice: Still Austin’s flagship bourbon The Musician and its Cask Strength Straight Bourbon have both earned Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. According to Still Austin’s COO, Brandon Joldersma, the spirits’ success stems from a desire to capture the essence of its home state, city, and community in the bottle. “Our spirits are an expression of true Texas terroir, but also the distillation of all we are and all that has created us,” he says. “We’ve managed to bottle the inclusive spirit of our home city.”
Address: 440 E. St. Elmo Rd., Unit F, Austin, Texas, 78745
Best Place to Play It Safe and Take It Easy: Austin Beerworks
Austin’s funky vibe may get a little too funky for some at times. This sprawling brewery and taproom, located some 20 minutes north of downtown Austin in the type of industrial-laden neighborhood typical of craft breweries, provides a perfect respite from the downtown ambience should this occur. “It’s a great taproom with plenty of seating and good food,” explains Matt McGinnis, founder of Austin-based beverage marketing firm Big Thirst Marketing. “Plus, it’s a great place for Austin FC soccer fans to meet and watch the match.” Light, refreshing beers are the brewery’s calling card, and you can expect plenty of ales, lagers, and pilsners on the handles — most of which are at or below the 7 percent ABV mark. You can also expect a comfortable atmosphere; the space adheres to a publicly posted code of conduct that makes it clear that it does not tolerate troublemakers.
Address: 3001 Industrial Terrace, Austin, Texas, 78758
Best Place to Eat While Drinking: DrinkWell
When hunger strikes, Korzelius endorses this friendly little gastropub in the city’s North Loop neighborhood. Sleek and slightly industrial in its setting, the venue offers a small yet mighty menu of proper bar grub that rotates with the seasons. The food provides a solid base for a rather intriguing drinks menu. You’ll find oft-forgotten classics like the Ward Eight here, along with innovative new concoctions like the Tendril Loving Care, a gin and tequila drink featuring snap pea shrub, lime, and fresh mint. As a bonus, some of the drinks can be made without alcohol.
Address: 207 E. 53rd St., Austin, Texas, 78751
Best Place to End a Big Night: Higher Ground
Sometimes, you want to finish an evening in a raucous fashion. Other times, you want to experience a more subdued closeout. This spot lets you choose your own adventure. The two-story space draws thematic inspiration from cathedrals of yore, and it explores this motif through stained-glass, gothic-arch decor, and craft cocktails named after the seven deadly sins — like the vodka, coffee Demerara, and Licor 43-starring dessert drink Gluttony. The space also features a pair of floors dubbed “good” and “evil.” The first floor is the “good” floor and serves up the drinks — which are christened “Holy Spirits,” naturally — in a bright, refined setting. Upstairs (and perhaps ironically placed), the “evil” floor keeps the party going with raucous high-volume energy and tunes spinning from a DJ booth designed to look like a church organ. An outdoor patio provides a unique and lively form of sanctuary under wisteria-draped archways. The experiences coalesce into a fun melange that’s bound by a serious devotion to proper drinks. “From conceptualizing to execution, all of our Holy Spirits are far from gimmicks,” says Ian Mcalister, Higher Ground’s bar manager. “When you start with fresh juice made daily and syrups made from scratch, it’s hard to stray away from that kind of integrity.”
Tip Jar: If your entourage wants to sin boldly, ask for a group shot. They will likely come served in test tubes and presented in an advent candle holder.
Address: 720 Congress Ave., Austin, Texas, 78701
Best Weird Austin Bar: Firehouse Lounge
It may not be cool to call a bar “weird” in most cities. In Austin, however, it’s a badge of honor. This beloved spot earns this merit for a few reasons. It’s a speakeasy inside a hostel and former fire station. You enter through a sliding bookshelf. The rollicking atmosphere wholly rejects hidden bar austerity in favor of loud music and freewheeling good times, even as the knowledgeable bar staff concocts both classic and contemporary cocktails planted in the modern craft tradition. “Walking through the sliding bookshelf takes you to a place that’s unlike any other,” Mcalister explains. “Whether you’re looking for an expertly made craft cocktail or a beer and a shot while you salsa dance with your friends, this is the spot to go!”
Address: 605 Brazos St., Austin, Texas, 78701
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