The 10 Actually Acceptable Bars on Austin’s Dirty 6th

The very best of the worst of the worst.

Bat City residents have a complicated relationship with Sixth Street, the legendary Downtown avenue of bars that produces so many sloppy nights out, it's better known as Dirty Sixth. This is the spot where the very roughest of Saturday night drinking spirals reach their apex. If it's 2 am, and you're still ordering shots, you’ve probably ended up here. Recently, however, there have been stirrings about possible changes to the area, ones that would mean a major make-over for the boozy block. Regardless of your thoughts on a transforming Austin, surviving a night on Sixth Street is a required part of earning your stripes as a local. So, anyone who truly wants to shed their L.A. or New York roots best get cracking. And our list of the best places to hit on the Dirty will help make this must-do experience a lot easier to accomplish—but just as hard to recover from the following morning.

Talk about a place that lives up to its name. This speakeasy, located inside an inconspicuous door on a Sixth Street alleyway, will make you feel like you’ve left behind the beer-soaked sidewalks of the Dirty, and arrived at the garden of paradise. Complete with dark, moody lighting, luxe furniture, and an illustrated book of their cocktail offerings, you’ll shed the dirty vibes outside as soon as you enter through its decadent velvet curtain. Don’t expect the kind of Mind Eraser shot that dominates so many of the area’s bars here—Eden’s spirit-based libations are unique and meticulously-crafted. For newbies, a great place to start is the Reap and Sow, made with mezcal, sherry, habanero, and clarified apple. It’s the sophisticated version of a spicy margarita you never knew you needed.
How to book: Make a reservation online via Tock.

Considering how a night out on the Dirty often feels like you’re playing a high-risk game with your liver, you might as well get an actual, less dangerous game in as well. And you can do so at Recess Arcade Bar. As its moniker implies, this place lets you play around with joysticks while, simultaneously playing around with your alcohol tolerance. Its collection of games cover all the tried-and-true classics including multiple skee-ball and pinball machines, as well as a large-scale version of Pac-Man projected onto a wall. However, in addition to all your childhood favorites, there’s one tongue-in-cheek gizmo that speaks more to the adult experience. Beer Pong Master will quantify your sinking skills in terms of actual points. On the upside, at least you’ll get to play with a drink poured directly from the bar, which means none of the questionable particles from balls that have been rolling allover the floors.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Every Dirty Sixth go-to list has to include at least one bar that will take you back to your college days. With its trademark $2 jello-shots, The Dizzy Rooster has perfected just that experience. This should be the last stop of your night—when you’ve already lost count of the amount of beers you’ve had, the clock is tilting towards 2 am, and you just wanna dance, man. And, hey, no judgment here, Dizzy Rooster delivers that sometimes-needed release of singing along to “Livin’ on a Prayer” on a rooftop deck with your arms wrapped around new “friends” you met in the bathroom five minutes ago. They also get points for longevity. Elder millennials may recognize the space from its numerous appearances on The Real World: Austin way back-in-the-day. And, in a city that is constantly changing, you can least use the excuse you’re supporting a cornerstone business to suck up some gelatin-based alcohol.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Ask any local about the Dirty Sixth, and they’ll most likely sigh and aggressively convince you to head just about anywhere else in the city—except if you’re asking about Jackalope. This loveable watering hole somehow escapes the usual distaste by being an undeniably fantastic dive bar. In fact, it’s such a popular destination for all types of crews that they’ve even opened a second location in the East Riverside area—far from Dirty Sixth’s questionable late night pizza and stumbling coeds. Walking into the original, though, it’s easy to see the appeal from the jump with TVs showing movies last screened in the 1980’s, an extensive list of cheeseburgers, portraits of pin-ups on the walls, and, most importantly, friendly bartenders slinging well shots by the dozen. There are two essential aspects of any Jackalope experience: ordering one of their specialty sake bombs (which are made with cider) and, inevitably, posing for a picture with the bar’s giant rabbit-antelope statue after one too many.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

If you’re in the market for fancy cocktails, a gorgeous setting, and zero college kids screaming in your ear, look no further than Midnight Cowboy. An intimate oasis amid Dirty Sixth’s unruly chaos, Midnight Cowboy stands out from the moment you ring the doorbell of the speakeasy-style escape. And the cocktails are just as unique. Drawing from a variety of themed menus that change annually, you can always count on something new and thought-provoking that not only tastes delicious but looks great, too, thanks to the bar’s meticulous presentations and clever effects. For those who want something classic, the talented bartenders are always happy to oblige with flying colors. Expect a take on an Old Fashioned sure to put your quarantine-fueled mixology skills to shame.
How to book: Reserve online via ResDiary

Casino El Camino
Casino El Camino | Flickr/valakirka

Nothing that says old-school Austin more than a stellar down and dirty dive bar. Casino El Camino is just that. With neon-lit archways behind the bar, horror movie decor, a stacked jukebox, and devoted regulars, this place is as authentic as it comes—ideal for anyone who scoffs at the idea of paying for a fancy drink when a cold Lone Star goes down just as smooth. The must-try drink is the Bloody Mary, which features enough satiating garnishes (think: sliders, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and whatever else happens to be floating around the kitchen that day) to make your hangover obsolete. (Maybe.) If you still have room left in your stomach after that behemoth, the burgers, endorsed by none other than Flavortown Mayor Guy Fieri, are sure to induce a straight-up meat coma.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

The Parish might market itself as “Sixth Street’s Little Secret,” but any local music fan worth their weight in merch already has this hotspot firmly affixed to their radar. Nightly shows run the gamut here, from hip hop and comedy acts to pop punk outfits, emo bands, and DJ nights. No matter the genre, it’s always a good time. And the acclaim extends far beyond Austin’s city limits, with Billboard calling The Parish “arguably the best venue of its size in the country.” Since the music here is (rightfully so) the focus, the bar is fairly run of the mill. But with strong pours and bartenders who can hear your order above the impressive PA system, what else do you need?
How to book: Purchase concert tickets online.

There’s always something awe-inducing about a speakeasy, a very “now you see it, now you don’t” kind of vibe that harkens back to the days of magic shows at elementary school parties—except with bourbon instead of birthday cake, of course. Firehouse Lounge, which also houses an hostel, exudes that covert charm from the moment you enter through a false bookcase door in the lobby. Unlike many neo-speakeasies, however, the drinks here aren’t a whole lot of fluff served for $16 a pop. The bartenders at Firehouse know their stuff, and we dare you to think up a classic cocktail they can’t make quicker than you can say “abracadabra.” Plus, with near-nightly music spanning DJ sets to rock bands to jazz quartets, don’t be surprised if you disappear for hours on end.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

On the outside, Esther’s Follies is a bright spot among a plethora of drab-looking outposts lining both sides of Dirty Sixth. The turquoise building, strewn with decorative shapes, sea creatures, and a rainbow sign, beckons any individual seeking more than the average Austin bar crawl. And this place is certainly more than just a bar—it's a haven for entertainment, famous for variety shows that have been drawing crowds for over 40 years. The lively bill showcases political satire, comedy sketches, magic acts, and everything-in-between. It's essentially a mix between SNL and old-timey vaudeville, with a distinctly Texas twist. There are few more enjoyable ways to spend a night out on the Dirty than starting with a show at Esther’s Follies. And with a fully-stocked bar, you can do so while still keeping to your demanding drinking schedule.
How to book: Purchase concert tickets online

The Driskill
Photo courtesy of The Driskill

Probably the only place on Dirty Sixth you’d ever feel comfortable bringing your parents to, this historic hotel, built in 1886 by a cattle baron, could comfortably fall under the category of “classy.” Marked by a grand staircase, brown leather seating, and walls dotted with taxidermy, it feels truly Texan. The bar itself, which features wood-paneled walls and cowhide barstools, practically demands you order a snifter of scotch. Unlike other Dirty Sixth bars, this is not the one to stumble into seven Kamikaze shots deep with one flip-flop on, but the place to throw on a fancy dress and sip elegant cocktails like the Prohibition-era Corpse Reviver #2. And, to boot, it has a reputation for being haunted, adding yet another element of intrigue.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Molly Moltzen is a contributor for Thrillist.