Thrillist's Best (and the Rest): What You Actually Need to Know About Natural Wine
Intimate drink den slinging luxe yet understated cocktails
Next door to Otoko, this ultra-intimate cocktail bar serves cocktails in the same spirit as its otherworldly omakase eatery neighbor. Bar team Ricky Cobia and Whitney Hazelmyer are given creative reign -- in the same way Otoko’s Chef Yoshi Okai is -- resulting in gorgeous cocktails that are both unorthodox and refined. Choose your poison based on seductively-worded flavor profiles like “frothy + crisp + aromatic” as in the Capt. Koyake (Indian Rum, Fernet Vallet, lime, pineapple gomme, Banana du Madagascar, roasted coffee salt, aged egg white). Offbeat more your tempo? Opt for Whitney’s Clover Club, “tart + umami + velvety,” a shaken sour made with Japanese gin, raspberry reduction, lemon, dry vermouth, shiitake tincture, aged egg white, and togarashi.
Art deco-inspired cocktail lounge with hundreds of classic cocktails and stellar service
The Roosevelt Room is special for multiple reasons, but the star of the show here is the menu. High above the bar, you'll find an expansive array of classic cocktails, organized by era from pre-1880 to modern-day, offering a choose-your-own-adventure way of exploring the history of mixology. Not feeling particularly historical? Try one of The Roosevelt Rooms' unique house creations, like the Shiso Rona: Tito’s Vodka punctuated with aromatic Japanese herb shiso and balanced with pink peppercorn syrup, lime, lemon, and cucumber bitters. There's also an upstairs mezzanine section with another full bar, lounge seating, and a pool table, which you can (and definitely should) rent out for private events.
Swanky speakeasy in the heart of Dirty Sixth
Housed in a building that was once part of Austin's red-light district, The Midnight Cowboy pays tribute to its former brothel glory as a reservations-only, buzz-in cocktail lair, where clients are encouraged to loosen up as long as they abide by house rules. Reservations are for one or two hours, there’s a two-drink minimum per guest, and rowdiness of any kind is not tolerated. With so many expertly crafted cocktails to choose from -- some of which are even prepared table-side -- you can’t really go wrong.
Popular cocktail hangout with a large patio and mezcaleria
Whisler’s is easily the most popular cocktail bar in East Austin, because it manages to pull off a chill, social atmosphere while serving some of the best cocktails in town. Whisler’s menu -- thoughtfully developed by the uber-talented bar team over months -- embraces the season’s flavors in stunning new ways. The insanely delicious Bidi Bidi Bom Bom (mezcal, Aperol, tamarind, strawberry, citrus, pepper, worm salt) drinks like a Mexican-inspired Paper Plane and is a current standout, but Whisler’s most popular drink is a take on the classic Old Fashioned; a balanced blend of rye whiskey, demerara sugar, and Angostura bitters. Upstairs you’ll find Mezcaleria Tobala, with a nice selection of mezcal varietals served in tiny copitas with orange slices and chapulin (grasshopper) salt.
Tiny, classic cocktail bar with wide appeal
Hiding in plain sight, Small Victory is a second-story bar that feels like it should be tucked in a basement. It can be found just around the corner from the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin hotel, up a curved flight of stairs and behind a heavy wooden door. The interior is lined with a plush banquette and thoughtful touches like the dizzying kaleidoscope of fire hydrants and pigeons on the Dan Funderburgh-designed wallpaper. Highlights of the menu include the tightly curated list of classics -- adapted from OG bar books -- and the wine selection, hand-picked by owner Josh Loving. Try the Artist’s Special, a perfectly boozy and balanced stir of Scotch whisky, sherry, lemon juice, and grenadine.
Circular, cement cocktail bar tucked in a parking garage
In the great Austin tradition of opening bars that are hard to find, we have Garage: the low-lit, former valet office nestled in the parking garage on 5th and Colorado that's marked with a neon blue sign. The most popular drink is the sweet and herbaceous former official drink of Austin, the Indian Paintbrush (vodka, rosemary, grapefruit), but we love their take on a Penicillin (Earl Grey Scotch, more Scotch, lemon, ginger, honey). Feel like going straight? Garage has an impressive collection of Japanese whiskies.
Skilled bartenders serving a small drink menu in a low-key bungalow
Controversial opinion: Half Step is the best bar on Rainey Street. The baby blue house has a sparse, moody interior reminiscent of a 1930s church you might find in the Deep South. While the menu often has just a few suggested cocktails, the bar team can make any classic cocktail under the sun -- just don’t commit a faux pas by ordering shots of Fireball. If you’re looking for a boozy cold weather cocktail, try the Harry Dean Stanton (rye whiskey, allspice dram, Velvet Falernum, and orange bitters).
Classic cocktail speakeasy where the party starts late
Housed in a former fire station, Firehouse Hostel provides accommodations for travelers who don’t mind bunking up, and the lounge downstairs provides a refuge from the pandemonium of Dirty Sixth. Enter the lobby of the hostel and slide open the bookcase to enter Firehouse Lounge, which is (appropriately) painted red from floor to ceiling. Order from the menu of classic cocktails or call your poison -- either way, the highly capable staff is going to take great care of you. Join the Firehouse crew for daily happy hour from open - 8pm with $2 off all drinks and food, excluding canned beer and snacks.
Smoking room-style bar with hundreds of whiskey options
Yes, this place comes from the hospitality group behind many of the cool bars you'll find in Southern California, but if you look past your "ugh, Californians" bias, you'll find a truly insane collection of whiskeys on offer here. Whether you want to drink a classic mint julep or an extremely rare Japanese whiskey by the ounce, this bar delivers, thanks to a dedicated staff of self-proclaimed whiskey nerds and a perfectly curated menu of whiskey cocktails. Join Seven Grand’s Whiskey Society for the opportunity to sip and learn about spirits from industry experts.
Relaxed mezcaleria and cocktail bar
Seven Grand’s sister bar also hosts an educational drinking club, Mezcal Collective, wherein mezcal experts offer both knowledge and sips of the mystical liquor. Choose a pour from their ample collection of mezcals or of one of their crave-worthy cocktails like margarita riff Poblano Escobar -- pineapple and poblano peppers spiced with cumin and shaken with Vida mezcal. If your stomach starts rumbling, grab some tacos from Asador on the back patio; we like the smoked brisket in a handmade flour tortilla, but the meatless quesadilla is also a solid go-to.
Laidback ice house/mezcal bar known for margaritas and tacos
Owner Simon Madera opened La Holly in former dive Kelee’s Place while adding a patio, huge selection of mezcals, frozen drinks, and the taco truck of our dreams. Order a frozen La Sancha, a fuschia-pink frosty blend of housemade hibiscus syrup, lime, triple sec, and Kimo Sabe mezcal, or their house michelada -- Mexican beer kicked up with Clamato, lime, Tobasco, and Worcestershire -- which might just be the best in town.
And, last but certainly not least the tacos! The menu at La Holly is the same as Taco Flats (also owned by Simon Madera) and the handmade tortillas are the stuff of (taco) fantasies. Our favorite is the Pirata, Jack cheese is grilled onto handmade Sonoran-style flour (or corn) tortillas which are then filled with grilled beef fajita, refried black beans, grilled onion, and cilantro.
Fun, ‘70s-inspired bar with lots of kitschy details
When Kitty Cohen’s opened, people who lived in the same East Austin 'hood rejoiced. Finally: A cool, retro-inspired bar with real drinks and a beautiful patio! The concept borrows from the 1970s Palm Springs aesthetic: there's a wading pool, kitschy flamingo wallpaper, and a soundtrack dedicated to the era. Hit up Kitty Cohen’s with a couple of friends and order the shareable (and cheekily named) Key Party, with Waterloo gin, cucumber, lemon, sugar, and dry prosecco served in a vintage punch bowl.
East Seventh Street
Stylish, hip bar and cafe housed in a former convenient store
When Kinda Tropical opened in the spring of 2017, Eastside residents were excited for a chill neighborhood bar despite the lack of booze… or anything remotely tropical. However, after a brief hiatus, Kinda Tropical returned with a renewed sense of purpose in the form of a full bar (yay!), beaucoup plants, and new Chef/Partner John Clark DiCicco. The kickass all-day menu alone lands KT among Austin's top eateries, including highlights like CBD waffles, yucca (crack) fries, and an avocado-heavy sesame salad. Luckily, the beverage offerings followed suit: a brilliantly simple michelada that gets its kick from Crystal hot sauce, black vinegar, and lime juice; a wine list that reflects current tastes of the hip clientele, and great cocktails. Try the classic Lion’s Tale, a shaken mix of Old Overholt rye, bitters, lime, and allspice dram.
Neighborhood gem with craft cocktails and pizza
It’s simple: King Bee has fantastic cocktails, fantastic pizza, and owners with hearts of gold who are loved by friends and strangers alike. Colette Dein and Billy Hankey -- both formerly of Second Bar + Kitchen -- give back to their community in the form of donations to nonprofits, and also in the form of pizza and booze to the rest of us. King Bee took over the former Legendary White Swan five years ago, and much to our delight, the pizza parlor soon after. While Billy’s menu will shapeshift seasonally, the perennial favorites remain the frosty Bee’s Knees (gin, local honey, lemon juice) and the Green and White Grocer pie with pesto, goat cheese, and diced tomatoes.
Low-key patio bar with an impressive food menu
The Little Darlin’ exists in a bar and lounge desert off William Cannon, just East of I-35; the sprawling yard is sprinkled with picnic tables and laid-back South Austin residents celebrating the end of their workday over cold Lone Stars. Don’t snooze on The Little Darlin’s Southern-inspired food offerings, either. Get the burger: made with pickled red onion, red-eye mayo, American cheese, and bacon, its flavor rivals the best burgers in Austin, including Launderette’s acclaimed la plancha burger.
East 11th Street
Eastside neighborhood bar with cocktails and no-frills food
Travis Tober and Via 313’s Hunt brothers joined forces to create something Austin was sorely lacking: a non-pretentious neighborhood bar that serves “mixed drinks” and perfectly cheap/delicious bar food. The former Longbranch Inn has been scrubbed clean (thank God!), given a makeover to resemble a grandpa bar you’d find in Buffalo, New York, and staffed with skilled bartenders. Expect classic and new school cocktails, as well as two house frozen drinks alongside one of the best whiskey selections in town. Plus, resident food truck Delray Cafe serves up tasty sliders, wings, and chili dogs we’d describe as “shitty, zoo snack bar food” -- but, y'know… in a good way.
Modern drinks and casual pub fare in a cozy space
drink.well. is a model neighborhood bar: pitch-perfect cocktail menus season after season, and solid food options in a cozy atmosphere. This season’s menu offers fresh and unique offerings like the Half Moon Bay, with Suntory Toki Japanese Whisky, Amaro Montenegro, rhubarb, coconut, and lemon. Unlike a lot of typical “bar fare,” you can pop in here for dinner and actually leave satisfied; try the delicious 44 Farms burger and frites (double patty, double cheese, special sauce, pickles, and shallots).
Hipster honky-tonk with live music, two-stepping, and cheap booze
Honky-tonk, two-stepping, and ice-cold Lone Stars -- this is why we flock to The White Horse. Any night of the week you can catch a great country, jazz, bluegrass, swing, conjunto, zydeco, or honky-tonk band up on the red velvet-clad stage. If you need a break from dancing the two-step as well as drinking it -- the Two Step is White Horse’s Lone Star and whiskey shot combo -- hit up the smoking patio, pile into the vintage photo booth, or order from the resident taco truck, Bomb Tacos.
East Cesar Chavez
Massive Eastside dog-friendly beer hall and brewery
Newly opened Central Machine Works has brought a welcome new addition to the Eastside, a massive beer hall serving three house brews, local cans, craft cocktails, and hearty bar food including pizza. The 9,000+ sq ft Quonset hut, originally a machine shop where airplane parts were made during WWII, now houses a brewery complete with yeast lab for head brewer Scott Rynbrandt (formerly of Oasis, Texas Brewing Co). The brewers will focus on straightforward, easy-drinking beer like the floral and bright Kolsch and the grassy and citrus-forward pale ale. What's more, cocktails like the hopped Old Fashioned and spiced daiquiri are sold by the pitcher at this dog-friendly beer hall.
Dive bar institution serving nostalgia and cheap beer
Despite the name, there are no dancing ladies here at Deep Eddy Cabaret. There is, however, a refreshingly stuck-in-time charm to the West Austin dive bar, which looks as if it’s been untouched since opening in 1951. Cold beer, well booze, a game of pool, and conversation with the regulars are the draw here. Pro tip: Pool Burger is located behind Deep Eddy Cabaret, serving up fantastic burgers and crinkle-cut fries alongside modern tiki cocktails.
West Fifth Street
Kitschy “Old Austin” dive institution with live music
Donn’s Depot is another long-established Austin dive, and its raucous kooky charm is the key to its longevity. Cute senior clientele mixed with 20-somethings, the crooked charm of the half train car/half train depot building, and a dingy caboose bathroom with stripper pole are what make Donn’s the epitome of what a dive should be. Check out Chris Gage on the piano every Monday night -- his residency is now in its 25th year!
Unstuffy, South Austin bar serving a large range of wine varietals and solid food menu
Do your eyes start spinning when you’re handed a wine list? Fear not: the chill, friendly folks at Aviary have taken it upon themselves to categorize Old and New World wines in terms we can understand. Do you like lush, round white wines? The Notorious B.I.G. section is for you. Prefer bubbles? The wines on David Bowie’s page have you covered. And, yes… Aviary knows all about those oh-so-trendy natural wines (literally) on everyone’s lips. The food is great as well, whether you’re in the mood for a light ceviche or a hefty steak. Check out Aviary for happy hour, every day from 4-6 pm for $2 off glasses and beer and $10 off select bottles.
Hip all-day cafe with killer wine list, cocktails and food
While Better Half is well known for its caffeinated and edible offerings, we would be remiss not to point out that they are quietly killing it in the adult beverage category as well. The wine selection is curated to cool-kid/natural-wine-geek perfection, carrying bottles from both established and up-and-coming makers like local Southhold, Cali-based punk rock winemaker Brendan Tracey, and Field Recordings (try their fizzy, aromatic Dry Hopped Pet Nat). Beyond the wine, Better Half is also making cocktails like Head West: a ‘Rita riff on draft made with blanco tequila, espadin mezcal, lime, Curaçao, and tamarind shrub, with a smoked chili-salt rim. Our go-to for food is always the waffle iron hash browns served with coffee & cream gravy, asadero cheese, farm egg, pickled onions, and scallions.
Refined cocktails in a plush setting in the heart of downtown
Located across the street from the century-old Paramount Theater, The Townsend is creating elegant and restrained cocktails which reflect the vibe of the bar itself. You won’t find crazy shots or sugary concoctions here, but you will find seasonally rotating signature cocktails like the Ginger Smash, a lush blend of Fords gin, Berentzen Apfelkorn apple liqueur, lemon, ginger, cranberries, and sugar. This NYE, The Townsend is throwing its party Saturday night for those wanting to avoid the avalanche of amateurs. The bar has booked Frank Hannon (guitarist of Tesla) with The Jo Hell band, backing him up for a bluesy night of amazing guitars, and there will be specials on bubbles and select food.
Dive known for karaoke and dirt-cheap drinks
Ego’s is the quintessential dive bar: no windows, crappy furniture, graffitied bathrooms, and a bar selection that discourages anything with more than two ingredients. But they are open every day from 11:30am to 2am, the drinks are dirt cheap -- seriously, you can hang out for hours and rack up a $20 tab -- and the karaoke is legendary. Every night, they host karaoke nights that inevitably turn into dance parties and sing-alongs, but you have to arrive early since the queue fills really quickly. Pro tip: You’ll find Ego’s in the bottom level of the parking of the 1970s' office building that sits at Riverside and South Congress.