The First Timer’s Guide To Drinking In Austin
You’re in Austin for the first time. You’ve got 72 hours and you want to drink at a bar. Where do you start? Here’s the answer.
If you’re coming to Austin for the first time, you need to know a few things: where to find the best tacos, barbecue, and this thing called queso people keep telling you about. Possibly even more important to know? The best drinking spots.
Whether you’re here for a bachelor/bachelorette party, a college reunion, or finally visiting that friend who moved from LA/NYC/SF and won’t stop saying “y’all,” you know you want to hit some excellent bars, but getting a grasp on where people actually drink in this city can be overwhelming. That’s where we come in - with our list of all the bars perfect for anyone who’s new to Austin. One disclaimer: you will not see “Dirty Sixth” bars on this list. Unless you truly love the smell of sewage, mechanical bulls, and $5 bubble gum-flavored shots, this is your Austin drinking starter pack.
photo credit: Nicolai McCrary
Rainey Street is getting dangerously close to resembling Dirty Sixth when it comes to being overcrowded with drunk people wearing Hawaiian shirts. But Rainey is still an important drinking destination, especially if you’re going to Lucille. Inside the little bungalow, you can grab a cocktail in the AC and play checkers. Outside, there are hammocks, lawn games, and another bar for getting the round of shots a group of people in aggressively-floral shirts just talked you into.
There are always new bars popping up and there are plenty we’ve added to our regular rotation. But one spot that’s been around longer than anyone on the planet is Scholz Garten - it’s one of the oldest bars and landmarks in the city dating back to the late 1800s. It’s a German beer bar that’s great for tailgates, day drinking, and maybe even dusting off the old lederhosen you bought at Wurstfest because they made your calves look good. This is the kind of place you order pitchers of whatever’s on draft - there are German, local, and other American options - to share with a group of friends, though you can also get a cocktail if that’s what you’re looking for.
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Sometimes being able to find a place to sit at a bar is just as important as how strong the drinks are. It doesn’t seem like too much to want a little personal space and lumbar support on your night out, so you can avoid constantly having to box out everyone around you while fighting to order a drink. Nickel City has seating at both the bar and all along the back wall, along with beers, cocktails, and frozen drinks. While it’s typically pretty full with regulars as well as new people who stumbled in, it doesn’t get overcrowded. Plus, there’s a pinball machine and food truck serving Detroit-style coney dogs.
At the end of a night out, there are three important things to worry about: where to get good late-night food, who has to take Jared home, and how quickly you can find a stage to sing K-Ci and JoJo’s “All My Life.” For the latter, head to Ego’s. On a weekend, there can be a long wait to sing, but the crowd stays consistently excited and high energy even if it gets late. Plus, there are beers, well-drinks, and shots in addition to the quality entertainment to pass the time - as long as Jared doesn’t get up there for a tearful rendition of the song his ex used to break up with him.
Dirty Bill’s is a bar with no sunlight or windows, and that’s no bigger than the seltzer aisle at Whole Foods. While it might sound like somewhere you should take shelter rather than drink, it’s actually the ideal spot for showing up with a friend or two and trying to blend in with the regulars. For a bar of its size, though, it’s surprisingly rowdy. The bartender will take a shot with you, turn on your favorite ’90s hip hop song, and happily help you up onto the bar to dance. Maybe you should take shelter here after all.
The Roosevelt Room
This is Austin’s cocktail mecca. But despite what you might think based on the fancy drinks and private waiting area, there’s a surprisingly low-key Cheers-ish vibe once you’re inside. Roosevelt Room is a great option if you’re looking to sit and hang somewhere over drinks downtown. Their excellent menu is organized by decade, and the bartenders are walking beverage encyclopedias - so you’ll inevitably end up happy with what you’re drinking.
The White Horse
Maybe you just moved to Texas and desperately want to feel like you understand this place, but you’ve never been to a honky-tonk and don’t have someone to take two-stepping at The Broken Spoke (the world-famous South Lamar dancehall). The White Horse is your training wheels. It’s rare that you’ll come here and not find a fantastic cover-free bluegrass or country band playing. Dancing is optional, of course, but feel free to pound some shots, start a conversation with a stranger, and take a stab at it. Afterward, catch your breath from all the twirling with a beer on their patio. Even if you’re a local, The White Horse is always worth a visit to mix up your routine and make you remember why you live in Texas.
Per the name, this spot isn’t big. But if you’re hanging out downtown, Small Victory is an excellent escape from the noise of Dirty Sixth. The bar is located inside a generic-looking office building and at the top of a creepy stairway, but once you’re there, you’ll find a charming, windowless bar with low ceilings, an intimate vibe, and well-made cocktails.
photo credit: Raphael Brion
Hotel Vegas / Volstead Lounge
These two East Side dive bars always have live music and share one enormous backyard filled with picnic tables and cheap drinks. Volstead has more of a hip-hop DJ scene, while Hotel Vegas is one of the best garage/psychedelic rock venues in town. There might be a cover of up to $5 but it’s worth it.
Deep Eddy Cabaret
Are you looking to close out your evening atop a bar stool with an ice-cold mug of Lone Star watching people shoot pool? Since 1951, Deep Eddy has been in the same spot just a skip away from downtown, and it’s never too crowded. It’s the kind of place where you feel at home right away.
Kitty Cohen’s is a very cool spot with a patio built around a (sadly unswimmable) miniature pool. If you’re under 35, have at least one tattoo sleeve (or are attracted to those who do), and/or you just moved here from Brooklyn, then this is a great place to start your evening on the East Side before plotting your next move.
When you just need to dance, you go to Barbarella. To be clear: Barbarella isn’t a music venue. It’s the place you go to comfortably bump and grind in a worry-free environment. It stays open a little after most other bars close - so don’t worry too much about last call and just enjoy embarrassing yourself on the dance floor before you call it a night.
In addition to the big indoor/outdoor main space that’s always filled with people (but somehow never cramped), Whisler’s has a mezcal bar on the second floor. The alcohol selection up there is enough to fool a group of friends or someone you hope to impress into thinking you’re incredibly worldly at least for a little while.
A dressier place (for Austin) where you can enjoy quality cocktails while escaping downtown. You have to go inside a parking garage to get to this place and you’ll know that you’ve found it when you see people looking too fancy to be spending their entire nights surrounded by cars and cement.
If you’re looking to go to a place that takes its food just as seriously as its cocktails, you should head for Drink.Well in North Loop. Also tremendous: their Happy Hour, which involves $7 cocktails and discounted appetizers.