Food & Drink

Austin's Essential Dive Bars for No-Frills Drinking

Most major cities are deeply divided over what truly constitutes a “dive bar,” and Austin's no different. Some places that purport to be a dive bar are only doing it for marketing purposes, but a real dive bar doesn’t need marketing. A real dive bar will call to its chosen people with the siren song of cheap beer, the ambient glow of old neon, and the promise of an evening where no one gives a damn about who you are or what you do. The dark and often-musty halls of these haunts offer a reprieve from the mixology-driven $15-per-drink madness that we’ve been tricked into. Load your pockets with cash, trade out your button down for a well-loved T-shirt and belly up at one of Austin's tried-and-true dives.

Deep Eddy Cabaret

Est. 1951 | Tarrytown
Neon-lit nostalgic Austin original where you can BYO food

Named after nearby Deep Eddy Pool, this dim dive bar is right out of a movie set. A hodgepodge of pictures, posters, and beer signs illuminated by the glow of hanging string lights pepper the bar while mismatched tables and chairs jostle for space in the shotgun-style setup. There’s a small smoking patio and a tiny bathroom -- and yes, they have erotic photo hunt, if you were wondering.

G & S Lounge

Est. 1986 | South Austin
No-frills spot with sports memorabilia and cold beer mugs

Though the exterior screams, “We’re closed,” the inside of this dilapidated bar is oddly welcoming, home to a Zoltar machine, a beer mug fridge, and tons of sports memorabilia, plus dogs that sometimes let you pet them. The bar is stocked with a great selection of liquor and beer. Stay entertained with the number of bar games, including air hockey and foosball. But be nice to the owner/bartender… he doesn’t take no guff.

St. Roch’s Bar

Est. 2010 | East Austin
Intrepid NoLa-inspired bar with Abita Purple Haze on tap

St. Roch's is difficult to capture in words -- it has a hole-in-the-wall feel, patrons that lean towards punk, and somehow still pulls off a New Orleans flair. Come here for frozen coffees with Tullamore Dew, enormous poboys from onsite food trailer La 1 Poboys, any Sunday for the Saints game, the occasional crawfish boil, and to rub elbows with the true blue tattooed dudes that hang on the graffiti-ed smoking patio.

The Side Bar

Est. 2004 | Downtown
Inconspicuous bar with heavy pours and picnic tables

Just a block away from the madness that is “Dirty 6th,” Side Bar redefines cheap, strong pours that are the dive bar standard. The bartenders’ heavy hands are so well-known that the over-the-top serving has even earned itself an Urban Dictionary listing for “ridiculously excessive.” When you’re on your fourth hour trolling the jukebox, remember that we warned you.

The Cloak Room

Est. 1970s | Downtown
Legendary Capitol-area political hangout

If your immediate reaction to The Cloak Room is to tell us this subterranean, Texas State Capitol-adjacent bar isn’t a dive, allow us to make the case. Low light? Absolutely. Snappy, sassy bartenders? We love them for it. The occasional sketchy patron? Politicians! A solid variety of whiskeys? Pull up a stool. It even gets bonus points for being not much larger than the average Austin apartment’s living room.

Barfly’s

Est. 2001 | North Loop
Nondescript dive with dirt-cheap drinks

Barfly’s sign is the first indicator that you’re in for a treat. Follow the neon martini glass to one of Austin’s favorite neighborhood haunts: a friend to those on a budget, Barfly’s drinkers can snag a beer for as cheap as a buck-fifty or a mixed drink for a dollar more. Aside from the pocket-change booze, you'll be kept entertained by the pool tables, jukebox, and old movies playing on the TV as you inevitably lose track of time in the complete lack of natural light.

Carousel Lounge 

Est. 1963 | Mueller
Circus-themed throwback with eye-catching murals

In all its strange, circus-themed glory, Carousel Lounge rescues you from the blandness of Mueller with brightly colored paintings of fire-eating ladies, sexy snake charmers, sad clowns, and of course, carousels. A life-sized pink paper mache elephant behind the stage completes the effect. They have live music every night and a newly decent selection of crafts and wine and, as a bonus, you can bring your own liquor.

Buddy’s Place of Happiness

Est. 1997 | North Burnet
Shuffleboard, a cowboy mannequin, and really cold beer

In a building comprised almost entirely of blue cinder blocks, you’ll find the best dive bar on Burnet Road. The ceilings are low, the patio is their parking lot, and they serve setups only (meaning you have to BYOL) along with beer and “wine.” They have a mostly-country jukebox, a shuffleboard table, a cowboy mannequin named Jasper, a questionable cut-out of a farmer and a sheep, plus a pool table. The beer is also the coldest in town, and if you see the owner, ask him about his boot-saver.

Texas Mist

Est. 2016 | Way East Austin
No-frills biker-friendly metal-heavy music venue

Definitely one of the newer bars on our list, Texas Mist is exactly the opposite of some of the more Texas-y dives… it’s metal, baby. They have metal/hard rock shows nearly every weekend, motorcycles parked outside, and no sound ordinance restrictions -- so if that’s your flavor, this is your spot. There’s also an outdoor area with incongruous picnic tables if you need to take a break from headbanging (but no food, sadly).

Sam’s Town Point

Est. 1986 | Way South Austin
South Austin honky-tonk and two-stepping paradise

Americana, country, bluegrass, and everything in between grace the well-worn stage at Sam’s Town Point. It’s wood-paneled walls have seen a couple of decades of two-stepping Austinites. It’s the kind of place people think of when they hear the words “Texas dancehall” and it epitomizes every bit of that. Wear your boots or your chucks, your cowboy hat or your snapback and experience a bit of old Austin and a lot of great music.

The 04 Lounge

Est. 2008 | South Congress
South Austin lounge with daily drink specials and a pool table

South Congress is suddenly a hot spot for mixed-use developments and coffee/cocktail bars. That’s why we’re happy that the 04 Lounge still stubbornly holds its own. It’s impossible to overstate our enthusiasm for their daily drink specials (like $2 Lonestar, $1 PBRs) and the tasty jello shots. The crowd skews a little older -- people who have been hanging here for years and on weekends -- and the patio is crammed with people having a High Life and a smoke. Pro-tip: You get a discount if you use cash.

Ego’s

Est. 1979 | South Congress
Karaoke dive with cheap snacks and stiff drinks

Tucked under an inconspicuous parking garage along South Congress, Ego’s is easily missed but well worth finding. The dive stays dark until the stage lights come on and karaoke brings the place -- and the dance floor -- to life. Get here early to avoid a wait and wash down a bowl of $1 cheezballs or pretzel mix with a stiff drink, always served in an incongruous glass goblet. They often do Grill N Chills on Sunday, so keep an eye on the calendar.

The Lost Well

Est. 2013  | Webberville
Non-pretentious east side punk- and metal-bar 

Chances are if you regularly hang on west sixth, Rainey, and even neighboring Kitty Cohen, you will stick out at Lost Well. This is where the hardcore crowd previously displaced from LoveJoys has reassembled. Punk hair, metal T-shirts, everyone in black with piercings and cooler music knowledge than you. The bartenders are ruthlessly efficient, the bathrooms have fantastic graffiti, and everyone hangs out on the front and side patio between sets during their frequent live music nights.

The White Horse

Est. 2011 | East Austin
Where the dancers are as good as the drinks

The White Horse has that special dive bar funk, with top notes of fresh popcorn and sweaty dancers. While it’s cool to hang there anytime, their stage plays host to Americana, Bluegrass, and Country-Western bands playing live every night (and there's usually no cover). Get there at 3pm for the start of happy hour, take advantage of free dance lessons at 7pm, and stumble out after having your life saved by a bomb taco from the on-site taco truck.

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Kelly Stocker is a contributor for Thrillist.