Austin's cocktail scene has reached an all-time high. There are so many new bars and restaurants creating interesting, innovative cocktails that feel new, yet pay tribute to their historical roots. So, pull up a stool, scan the menu, and order something out of your comfort zone because these spots have got seasoned professionals behind the stick.
Backbeat, with an interior clad in a blend of modern and retro, is living up to its promise and then some. The progressive cocktail program, like the atmosphere, consists of modern cocktails that offer a nod to the past like the Leisure Suit (dry gin, Galliano, Kina d’Or aperitif, absinthe, and orange bitters), an aromatic take on the Prohibition-era drink “Tuxedo No. 2.”
Justin Elliott, who created the bar menu at Townsend, is one of the best bartenders in the country. His palate for interesting and underutilized spirits makes their drink program one that is very exciting to dive into. Try La Linea, a glowing blend of Linie Aquavit, mezcal, lemon, and yellow Chartreuse, perfect for sipping in the darkly luxe confines of The Townsend.
Geraldine’s -- on the fourth floor of the Hotel Van Zandt, named after iconic music Townes Van Zandt -- is a living, breathing homage to Austin’s unique culture. So it isn’t a surprise that the cocktails, developed by Jen Keyser, would also be. We love the playful bandana-wrapped Willie’s Cup (High West whiskey, hemp milk, sage), created in honor of the legendary Willie Nelson.
King Bee (run by friendly owners Billy and Colette) is a wonderful, dark, cool haven during brutal summer days. Even better, as soon as you step up to order you’ll notice two frozen drink machines spinning and whirring; one is their house favorite, the flower-adorned Frozen Bees Knees (gin, lemon, honey) and the other is a seasonal frozen cocktail that’s always worth trying. These are in addition to the rotating classic cocktail menu King Bee expertly executes.
Co-owned by two of Austin’s top bartenders -- Justin Lavenue and Dennis Gobis -- The Roosevelt Room is a cocktail bar which is both overwhelming in it’s drink choices but also accessible to cocktail enthusiasts of any experience. Choose from the big chalkboard menu which is broken down by era in which the cocktail originated or from the signature drink menu which are creative concoctions designed by the dream team co-owners. We suggest the smoky and fragrant Cigar Box (mezcal, smoked black tea syrup, lavender bitters, tobacco bitters, flamed cinnamon stick).
Whisler’s has quickly become an East Side hub for happy hour and late-night shenanigans. The cocktail menu changes regularly and includes intriguing drinks like the herbal cocktail, Bossa Nova (gin, genepy, coconut milk, lemongrass, lime, chile oil) as well as go-to classics like their perfectly balanced Whisler’s Old Fashioned (rye, demerara syrup, angostura bitters). If you’re feeling especially adventurous, check out mezcal bar, Mezcalería Tobalá upstairs from the main bar.
Most people walk right past the discreet entrance to Garage with no no clue as to what treasures await inside. Tucked inside the parking garage on Colorado and marked by a turquoise neon sign, the dark, industrial cocktail bar Garage is rocking one of the most exciting drink menus in Austin. Want something citrus-y and herbal? Have the Indian Paintbrush (vodka, grapefruit, lime, rosemary). Feeling bold? Go for the Forked Tongue (sotol, jalapeño, lime, green Chartreuse, saline).
Half Step is located in the heart of Rainey Street but possesses a distinctly different personality from its neighbors. The inside of the little blue house is dark, and lined in tea-stained wall paper. The skilled bar team measure and build and take their time with each flawless cocktail. Half Step’s moody atmosphere demands a moody beverage, so we suggest the NOLA-born Sazerac (rye whiskey, sugar, Peychaud’s bitters, absinthe rinse).
Although the bar is called Small Victory, being able to find it for the first time can feel like a big victory. Once you make your way upstairs and inside the tiny bar, you’ll find a fantastic cocktail menu chock full of cocktails originating as early as 1827 (as well as a room full of other “victors”). Get cozy in the plush banquette and get yourself a Singapore Sling (gin, pineapple juice, lime juice, Cherry Heering, Bénédictine, triple sec, grenadine, bitters, soda).
Behind the false bookcase in the lobby of the Firehouse Hostel, lies a speakeasy which is less “shhhh,” and more Hall & Oates-singalong thanks to the chill bar staff who are having a lot fun while making badass cocktails. Join the gang for happy hour (5-8pm daily) for a $6 daiquiri (rum, lime, sugar), Gold Rush (bourbon, lemon, honey), and a bunch of others.
East Cesar Chavez
The amber glow inside the bar and the garden patio make Weather Up a no-brainer for a date. Although the original location is in NYC, this one has a distinctly laid-back Austin vibe. Don’t bother looking for a sign, there isn’t one -- but there are expertly crafted drinks like the cola-laced Embargo seven-year-aged rum, Coca-Cola reduction, lime, Angostura bitters), and the summer-y Prince Roger (bourbon, grapefruit, raspberry thyme).
If you plan on visiting Midnight Cowboy, make reservations via the web site a few days in advance to guarantee your table in the unmarked speakeasy. Reservations are for two hours and there’s a two drink minimum per guest (which is good because these drinks are BOOZY). With so many great cocktails to choose from, you can’t really go wrong her but we are really into the Blackstrap Pawnshop (blackstrap rum, Curaçao, Amaro Montenegro pineapple, lime, club soda) and Nome de Guerre (rye whiskey, walnut liqueur, velvet falernum, Laphroaig rinse, salt tincture, bitters), which is prepared table-side.
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1. Midnight Cowboy313 E 6th St, Austin
2. Whisler's1816 East 6th St, Austin
3. Weather Up1808 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin
4. Backbeat1300 South Lamar, Austin
5. The Townsend718 Congress Ave Ste 100, Austin
6. Geraldine's605 Davis St Ste 400, Austin
7. King Bee Lounge1906 E 12th St, Austin
8. The Roosevelt Room307 W 5th St, Austin
9. Garage503 Colorado St, Austin
10. Half Step75 1/2 Rainey St, Austin
11. Small Victory108 E 7th St, Austin
12. Firehouse Lounge605 Brazos St, Ste 100, Austin
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 two hours and there’s a two-drink minimum per guest. With so many expertly crafted cocktails to choose from, you can’t really go wrong -- some of them are even prepared table-side.
Whisler’s is the the go-to patio on the East Side for great classic cocktails, spicy eats from Thai-Kun, live music shows, and ample seating. And, while the outside of Whisler’s may seem pretty ordinary, the bar’s unique brand of elegance is evident inside, where the juxtaposition of different elements makes for a truly lovely place in which to do your drinking. Chandeliers and candles cast a glow on stone walls, while a few tiny tables exist for quiet conversation. Drinks are muddled behind a gleaming wooden bar, and other unexpected touches -- intentionally cloudy mirrors, the occasional piece of art -- combine to create a one-of-a-kind feel.
Coming to Austin via NYC, this sophisticated cocktail haunt's wide selection of cocktails are categorized by their respective spirit, allowing for a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style experience. A large, outdoor garden area makes this the perfect place to imbibe when the weather's looking...well you get it. Booze isn't the only thing on the menu here, though; we like to do brunch here with a spicy Bloody Mary and picks from their fancy brunch menu which is still somehow flying under the radar.
Backbeat is a lush space that oozes mid-century modern cool. A rooftop deck provides gorgeous views of South Austin and the cocktail menu is fresh and inventive. You can also enjoy fresh East Coast oysters and charcuterie plates while sipping on any of the delicious drinks.
Located in the middle of Congress Ave, The Townsend serves as a natural go-to happy hour spot for Downtown nine-to-fivers. There's a bustling, upscale vibe to the place, and occasional live music nights really bring in crowds. Open from 4pm - 2am every day, The Townsend is a great place to order a small plate and a signature cocktail after a long day at work.
Geraldine’s -- located on the fourth floor of the swanky Hotel Van Zandt -- offers up elevated American cuisine, craft cocktails, and live music in a chic, massive space. The menu features dishes inflected by local Austin flavors, like fermented chile hush puppies with pickled fennel ranch, cornmeal-fried oyster mushrooms, and local goat tartare. Head to the rooftop bar and enjoy unparalleled views of Lady Bird Lake as you sip cocktails poolside.
Former Legendary White Swan owner Randall Stockton passed the reins to his half-brother Bill Hankey, who curated this East Austin underground dive's craft beer list and craft cocktail menu, which ranges from classics like the Vieux Carre to playful inventions. There's a solid offering of pizzas and paninis, but it's the drinks you'll come back for, mainly the signature Bee’s Knees -- a sweet honey and gin concoction with a spicy sting of Ancho Reyes for the daring.
Drinking at The Roosevelt Room is like a history lesson in liquor. The giant cocktail menu over the bar is broken into classic cocktails and the corresponding eras in which they were created. Travel through time via Sazeracs, Mai Tais, and Paper Planes, or try one of Roosevelt's signature drinks. The Roosevelt Room is an industrial space in the Warehouse District that is dominated by a long, stool-lined bar and wood-and-velvet booths.
One of the most exciting drink menus in Austin is also one of the most hidden. Keep your eyes peeled as you head to dark, industrial Garage: it's tucked inside the parking garage on Colorado and marked by a turquoise neon sign. Feeling something citrus-y and herbal? Go for the Indian Paintbrush (vodka, grapefruit, lime, rosemary). Looking to go bold? Consider trying the Forked Tongue (sotol, jalapeno, lime, green chartreuse, saline).
The inside of the little blue house that is Half Step is dark and lined in tea-stained wall paper. Cool off with one of the meticulously crafted cocktails, like the NOLA-born Sazerac (rye whiskey, sugar, Peychaud’s bitters, absinthe rinse), and remember what the glowing sign that greets you on the way in says: "You earned it."
Making your way into Small Victory feels like an undercover experience. The door downstairs is marked, though not obviously; then, you walk up a small flight of stairs, open the wooden door, and behold... a small, beautiful bar full of people. The menu offers vintage cocktails and punch drinks large enough to share.
Located in Austin’s oldest standing fire station, built in 1885, the Firehouse Lounge is a speakeasy hidden behind a bookshelf in the Firehouse Hostel’s lobby. With cerise damask wallpaper and candlelit tables in an otherwise dimly lit space, the split-level cocktail room is redolent of an old jazz club, which is fitting as the Firehouse Lounge doubles as a music venue, featuring DJs and jazz, blues, and rock musicians. Craft cocktails change seasonally and can be paired with the menu of small bites, including sandwiches and snacks.