This Valentine's Day Milkshake Is Topped With a Slice of Red Velvet Cake
Eastside neighborhood bar with cocktails and no-frills food
Travis Tober (former beverage director of VOX Table) and the Hunt brothers (of Via 313) joined forces and created a bar concept Austin was 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!) and staffed by talent you’ll recognize from Austin’s best bars. 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.
Low-lit, smoking room-style bar with hundreds of whiskey options
Here’s what you need to know: Seven Grand is from 213 Hospitality (the group responsible for many of the cool bars you’ll find in Southern California), and it’s got a truly insane collection of whiskies. 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. Pro tip: Join Seven Grand’s Whiskey Society for the opportunity to sip and learn about new spirits every week for a yearly flat fee.
Relaxed mezcaleria and cocktail bar
Seven Grand’s sister bar, Las Perlas, is also quietly creating educated and happy patrons of us. Like Seven Grand, they offer an educational drinking club, Mezcal Collective, wherein mezcal experts come in to have members taste and learn about the most mystical of liquors. Try one of their crave-worthy riffs on a margarita like the Poblano Escobar: pineapple and poblano peppers spiced with cumin and shaken with Vida mezcal.
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.
Inviting, retro cocktail bar with hundreds of classic cocktails
The Roosevelt Room is special for multiple reasons: Owners Justin Lavenue and Dennis Gobis are both insanely talented and highly-respected bartenders who have managed to elevate the taste level of 20-somethings who party in the West Fifth and West Sixth bar district. The expansive menu of cocktails, organized by era from pre-1880 to modern day, offers a choose-your-own-adventure-esque playfulness to their creative, albeit accessible, menu of classic cocktails. Celebrate the season with the Huli Pau!, El Dorado five-year dark rum, coconut cream, pineapple, mint, tarragon, and peanut oil blended and served with butterfly pea power and a mini lei. The Roosevelt Room is knocking New Year’s Eve out of the park with a roaring '20s party from 8pm-2am with entertainment by the jazzy/soulful Nick Clark Quartet and a Champagne cocktail toast at midnight as you watch the Times Square ball drop via projector.
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 Well Healed, a blend of blanco tequila, Espadín mezcal, fresh celery, Chareau Aloe liqueur, and lime. Unlike a lot of “bar fare,” you can pop in for dinner and actually leave satisfied; try the delicious 44 Farms burger and frites (house-made brioche bun, white Cheddar, bibb lettuce, tomato, pickles, house frites, pink peppercorn aioli). Spend NYE here for a bumpin’ ‘70s and ‘80s party featuring deep funk, soul, and disco playlists, retro cocktails with updated twists, and custom cocktails curated by owner Jessica Sanders.
Stylish atmosphere with creative cocktails and breezy rooftop
With neighbors like Ramen Tatsu-ya and Odd Duck, Backbeat is part of the newest wave of hot spots on this burgeoning strip of South Lamar. The modern retro digs and expertly curated wine selection are both standouts here, as is the cocktail menu: From the rich and nutty Velvet Elvis to the classically tropical Flight Risk, you’re bound to find something on the menu to match your personal taste. Speaking of taste, Backbeat’s small and enticing food menu has offerings such as cheese and salumi boards and Moroccan meatballs. In addition to the polished bar and lounge area, there’s a covered rooftop.
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 is 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: Waterloo gin, cucumber, lemon, sugar, and dry prosecco served in a vintage punch bowl. This NYE, Kitty Cohen’s is keeping it sexy with a Boogie Nights-themed party featuring DJ No Kids.
Tiny, classic cocktail bar with wide appeal
Hiding in plain sight, Small Victory is a second-story bar that feels like a basement bar. 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. Despite its diminutive size, Small Victory serves classy bar bites: ham, charcuterie, and cheeses all selected for their high quality.
Completely red, classic cocktail den where the party starts late
Firehouse Hostel, housed in a former fire station, provides accommodations for travelers who don’t mind sharing a bunk bed, 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. Happy hour is from 5pm-8pm everyday: select classic cocktails and all wine is $6, and rotating draft beers are $4. This New Year’s Eve, expect Firehouse’s chill approach with complimentary bubbles toast and some live jams.
Christmas-themed bar that’s been around forever
Every city in America needs a Lala’s: a bar that’s both oddball and endearing and is capable of transporting you to another time. Also known as Lala’s Christmas Bar, it was named after its previous owner, Miss Frances Lala. You’ll almost always encounter silver-haired regulars who spend most nights perched at the bar with a Budweiser in hand, and they’re always happy to chat you up or tell a joke you just know they’ve told hundreds of time. So, order a beer or an Old Fashioned, put some cash into the jukebox, and revel in the warm weirdness that is Lala’s.
Swanky speakeasy in the heart of Dirty Sixth
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 flirt with staff as long as they abide by house rules. Reservations are for one or two hours, and there’s a two-drink minimum per guest. With so many expertly crafted cocktails to choose from -- some of which are even prepared table-side -- you can’t really go wrong. Ring in the new year with festivities that will include a cheese plate for the table, a Champagne toast, and a cocktail for $50 a head.
Neighborhood gem with well-made cocktails and pizza
Not gonna bury the lede here: King Bee has fantastic frozen cocktails, fantastic pizza, and the best owners around. Colette Dein and Billy Hankey -- both formerly of Second Bar + Kitchen -- opened the doors to this place a few years ago, and much to our delight, the pizza parlor opened soon after that. What should you order now? This season’s fall-inspired frozen drink is bourbon based and tinged with apple and spices, and the pizza you NEED to get your hands on is the Squealer: a 14-inch pizza topped with garlic oil, aged cheese, ricotta, red onions, pickled shallots, garlic confit, prosciutto, and balsamic reduction.
Popular cocktail hangout with a large patio and legit 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 perfectly balanced, low-ABV Stuck in Spain (vermouth, lemon, orgeat) 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. Pro tip: Food truck Thai Kun on the back patio is one of the best food trucks in Austin. Order the crispy Thai-Kun fried chicken or the fiery beef panang curry if you dare.
NYC-based cocktail concept in a two-story house with adjoining garden
Weather Up is a relaxed, grown-up spot to enjoy cocktails and conversation, which is probably why you’ll often spot (and inadvertently eavesdrop on) first dates. You can sit inside where copper light fills the room or on the garden-esque patio, sipping beer, wine, or cocktails like the tart, aromatic El Nacional (tequila, hibiscus grenadine, Bénédictine, fresh lime juice, and rosewater) or their signature happy meal: a shot of house-made “fireball” and a Lone Star. Chef Kristine Kittrell has made Weather Up much more than just a cocktail bar, but a great spot for brunch and dinner. We love the indulgent Benedict (biscuit, poached eggs, Hollandaise, ham, and greens).
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' era church you might find in the deep South. At the bar, the staff quickly and flawlessly measures drink components, and 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 a bull blaster. If you’re looking for a no-fail pick, go with the refreshing Prescription Julep (cognac, rye whiskey, mint, and sugar). Half Step’s 4th Annual NYE Extravaganza will feature local soul outfit Roxy Roca indoors, with a Champagne toast, for $25.
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. Their 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). Feeling fancy? Garage has an impressive collection of Japanese whiskies.
Punk rock, no-frills joint with solid drinks and eats
There are now two Jackalope locations, each with their own charms. The one on Sixth Street is a gritty, punk rock refuge from Sixth Street’s bro circus, known for huge, tasty burgers and magically hangover-preventing waffle fry nachos. The Jackalope South Shore on East Riverside is a new, renovated location with curved booths, a giant disco ball, a huge circular bar with draft cocktails, and the greasy-yet-delicious bar fare you know and love. And rest assured: the giant, saddled jackalope has been cloned and is getting lot of action at Jackalope South Shore.
Low-key patio bar with an impressive food menu
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 fact that the work day is done over cold Lone Stars. The most remarkable thing about The Little Darlin’ is its menu; rarely does one find restaurant-quality bites and dishes at a neighborhood dive bar, but Russell Dougherty (former executive chef of Little Barrel & Brown) has brought his talents to eager patrons. The fried chicken sandwich filled with sweet and sour coleslaw, Duke’s mayo, and served with shoestring fries is a solid go-to, but if you only have one thing, 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.
Dog-friendly spot with 100 beer taps and house-made sausage
Banger’s is the place to be for weekend day drinking with your crew. Dogs are welcome, there is seating for days, the menu is chock-full of house-made sausage and delicious sides, oh… and with over 100 beers (and 50 canned!), this place has the third-largest draft system in Texas. The lively vibe at Banger’s is reminiscent of German beer halls with its long picnic tables (indoors and out) and beer as far as the eye can see. It’s tough to choose with this much sausage on the menu, but we like the classic jalapeño Cheddar bratwurst (house-made bratwurst with jalapeños and Cheddar) and the banger and mash (brown gravy, caramelized onions, skin-on mashed potatoes, and a house-made banger). As for choosing a beer, you can throw a dart, ask for a recommendation from your server, or do the right thing and get a flight.
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 and drinking Two Steps -- that’s the Lone Star and whiskey shot special -- hit up the smoking patio, pile into the vintage photo booth, or order from the resident taco truck, Bomb Tacos.
Reservation-only, amaro-focused speakeasy beneath an Argentinian eatery
Before the East Side was a hopping bar district, Buenos Aires Café has been a relaxed date night destination for Argentinian cuisine and cocktails. Paola -- daughter of chef and owner, Reina -- transformed a former storage room into the Milonga Room, a bona fide speakeasy in the heart of the East Side. The unmarked blue door leads into a small, low-lit basement filled with vintage furniture where the staff serves up tapas and drinks highlighting the bitters and Fernets that make up the Argentine drinking traditions. Reservations are recommended. On December 31, Milonga Room will host The Gran Lechon Party where suckling pigs will be slow-cooked and served with a special Argentinian menu and midnight Champagne toast, all for $80 per person.