If you’re coming to Austin for the first time, you need to know a few things first: 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 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 a 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 five dollar bubble gum flavored shots, this is your Austin drinking starter pack.
This is Austin’s mixology mecca. But despite what you might think based on the fancy cocktails and private waiting area that welcomes you, 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 drink menu is organized by decades, and their bar staff are walking beverage encyclopedias - so you’ll inevitably end up happy with what you’re drinking.
Did you just move 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 square dancing 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. Dancing is optional, of course, but feel free to pound some shots, start conversation with a stranger, and take a stab at it. Afterwards, 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.
One of the great Austin cocktail bars, and an excellent choice if you want to drink your tequila in more of a coffee shop environment. Your crochet set would not be out of place here, and you will feel at home reading that Sylvia Plath novel while getting your solo buzz on. This is a judgment-free zone - everyone else here probably wants to be left alone too.
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 location is wedged inside of a generic-looking office building and at the top of a creepy stairway, but once you’re inside you’ll find a charming windowless bar with low ceilings and an intimate vibe. This is where you bring a first date when you want to round out the night over a drink (and convince them to go on a second one).
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 - sometimes charging five dollars or less for cover.
Sort of a music venue, sort of a beer garden, and sort of a dive bar. Oh, and they have food trucks. In other words, Stay Gold is basically Austin in a nutshell. If you’re on the East Side, this spot is a reliable place to hang out at for a while, and a good way to dip your toe into the Austin live music waters.
If you’re hanging out in South Austin, around 290, you should be drinking at Casino. This dive is one of those places where you’ll see just about every type of person, and it’s not just a neighborhood spot - some even go out of their way to hang out at this mystically tacky dive bar for its unpretentious vibe complete with pool tables and hideous red carpet.
Einstein said that when things on Earth are so bad that bees go extinct, human beings will also die off within five years. We’ve long believed that when Spider House closes, the soul of Austin is no more. It’s hard to explain this place other than it’s many things crammed into one colorful space - a coffee shop with alright food, a music venue, tattoo parlors, a stand up comedy venue, a small makeshift arcade, and a slew of popup vendors - but at night it’s a fantastic laid-back bar and beer garden with outstanding people-watching opportunities.
A dive bar with salt and grit. North Austin is known for a lot of great dive bars, but this place has a warm, unpretentious attitude that keeps the uppity riff raff away.
Are you looking to close out your evening atop a bar stool with an ice cold mug of Lone Star watching locals shoot pool? Since 1951, Deep Eddy’s 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 right at home right away. And when you get hungry, stumble across the road to Magnolia’s - they’ll be ready and waiting for you at all times (literally - they’re open 24/7).
One of the newer bars on this list, Kitty Kohens is a very cool spot with a patio scene built around a (sadly unusable) miniature pool. If you’re under 35, have at least one tattoo sleeve (or are attracted 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.
This is where you go when you are kind of serious about that new person - but not enough to go somewhere that doesn’t serve booze. In addition to the big indoor/outdoor main space that’s always filled with people (but somehow not ever cramped), there’s a secret mezcal bar on the second floor. The alcohol selection up there is enough to fool your date into thinking you’re incredibly worldly at least for a little while longer.
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 slam that last call down and stumble over to embarrass yourself on the dance floor before you call it a night.
Just got off the road from Marfa and need a craft cocktail before you return home and plant the seeds of your eventual succulent farm? This is your spot. It’s located in the lobby of a new hostel (that’s really a hotel). They serve food too. It’s the trendiest place to grab a drink in Austin at this given moment, so be prepared for it to be loud and crowded.
The Townsend718 Congress Ave Ste 100
A solid option perfect for literally everyone who finds themselves on Congress. Located in the only standalone bar downtown that actually feels historic, The Townsend is classy enough for a date, or to catch up with an old friend to prove how well you’re doing after all these years. It’s a bit more expensive than most other bars in the area - but that extra money will certainly buy you a more upscale experience than anywhere else in the surrounding Dirty Sixth vicinity.
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. You’ll know that you’ve found it when you see people looking too fancy to be spending their entire nighs surrounded by cars and cement.
A vibey bar that could pass as a Mad Men set. The upscale look feels more grown-up than almost anything else in this part of town. Get yourself a highball cocktail and discuss mortgage rates or other adult things. This is a great place to come after work, or just for a low-key night out (before their earlier closing hour of midnight).
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. Also tremendous: their Happy Hour, which involves $7 dollar cocktails and discounted appetizers. Ask about their daiquiri of the day and pair it with their burger.