Food & Drink

Austin's Most Underrated Bars, According to Top Bartenders

Published On 11/22/2016 Published On 11/22/2016
Aristocrat Lounge
The Aristocrat Lounge | Isis Schaller/Courtesy of The Aristocrat Lounge
Amerykah Trevino-Martinez

King Bee

East Austin

Billy Hankey, owner of King Bee, has a long history of bartending in Austin, having helmed the bar at both the Good Knight (RIP) and Second Bar + Kitchen. Since he, along with partner Colette Dein, opened the doors to King Bee two years ago they have amassed an entirely new group of loyal patrons in addition to the bar industry and long-time fans they already have.

Picked by: Justin Lavenue of The Roosevelt Room

"King Bee has everything your heart could desire -- delicious frozen drinks, amazing mezcal selection, bomb pizza, live Jazz, large back patio, AND owners with the biggest hearts in the entire city. In short, it's an amazing place with amazing food and drinks and even more amazing people. If you haven't been yet, go soon and get the Frozen Bees Knees with a sting (a shot of Ancho Reyes) and the ‘cheezilla pizza which is topped with mozzarella, ricotta, provolone, asiago, fontina, parmesan. You'll be happy you did."

Picked by: Brian Floyd of Sourced Craft Cocktails 

“Billy and Colette have made something really special happen on 12th and Chicon, and it's only underrated because lots of folks haven't found it yet. What it has that other bars don't: that perfect, elusive balance of high-quality and divey-comfortable. Billy can make a craft cocktail as well as anyone in Austin, and his mezcal selection is full of deep cuts. But it's dive-bar dark with obscure blues and rock playing, Flash Gordon on the tv, and no one's going to judge if you just need to get hammered by yourself. Throw in performance appearances from Chris Cubas to Mac Macintosh... if you don't love this bar then I probably hate you.”

The Grackle

The Grackle

East Austin

Named after the black bird that Austinites love to hate, The Grackle is that bar that you visit and ask yourself, "Why don't I come here more often?" The Grackle is known for zero pretension, copper beer tap with rad beer selection, and over 100 types of whiskey and bourbon. Ditch the crowds and pull up a seat at the bar, the patio, or the Ms. Pac-Man tabletop game.

Picked by: Jen Keyser of Geraldine's 

“The Grackle is one of those places that you go to for good whiskey with good friends. It's laid back, has a great patio, and I always run into friends I haven't seen in awhile. Also, totally dog friendly, which I love! Ask the bartender if they have any bottles stashed away. If you're lucky, they'll have something special under the bar that you can only get if you ask! Locals love this place, so pull up next to a stranger and walk away with a new friend.”

Picked by: Antonio Matta of Firehouse Lounge

"I love The Grackle because it has a low key dive bar vibe with a fantastic whiskey and draft selection. It appears to be a 'no frills' place -- and in a sense, it is -- but it truly is an understated gem. The bar staff are very genuine and engaging with a great knowledge of their products. With such a large selection, it could be easy for someone to feel intimidated but the bartenders there are able to make people feel at ease when making their choice. A chill outdoor patio, great whiskey options, tasty beers, and a pool table and darts -- what's not to love about this place?"

The Little Darlin'

The Little Darlin'

Pleasant Hill

The Little Darlin’ filled a major void on this strip of William Cannon -- cold beer, spirits, patio, and food made by a fantastic chef. This is a great spot to throw back cold beers, play a round of horseshoes any night of the week and for weekend brunch they sell the Sanchez michelada, beer served with a Bloody Mary popsicle.

Picked by: Jason Stevens of Boiler Nine

"Get all your friends, their kids, their dogs, and meet up at The Little Darlin’s huge, shaded backyard patio around 3pm on a Sunday. Beat the sweltering Austin heat by drinking whatever frozen drink special they have (the frozen cherry cola is one of my favorites, it’s like a boozy Slurpee), eating chili cheese corn dogs, and playing a few rounds of dominos. This place takes the whole lazy Sunday thing like 10 levels higher.”

Picked by: Ania Robbins of Backbeat 

“I've been looking for a cool spot near my home in South Austin. Little Darlin’ has my favorite beer and really good food. My husband and I like sitting outside, it’s nice and spacious. They also have cornhole boards and you can bring your dog -- everything I need in a bar!”

Flickr/jpellgen

Launderette

Holly

Launderette is the modern diner from Rene Ortiz of Fresa’s and formerly of La Condesa. The elevated neighborhood vibe is complemented by the eclectic menu and modern cocktail offerings.

Picked by: Justin Elliott of The Townsend

“It's hard to say that maybe the hottest restaurant in town, a damn James Beard nominee for crying out loud, could possibly have anything underrated about it, but it might honestly be the most underrated cocktail bar in town. The cocktails are just innovative enough to be memorable, but just straightforward enough to be totally craveable. As a bartender, I really appreciate a light touch with ingredients in cocktails. There's something really special about making a drink like Launderette's The Crozier (The Botanist gin, green chartreuse, lime, sugar, celery bitters) -- it's a delicate balance and they consistently pull it off. I love well-edited cocktails, I love well-edited menus.”

Yellow Jacket Social Club

Central East

Yellow Jacket’s shady patio is where you can find Austin’s cool kids drinking pints of Lone Star and shots of whiskey most nights of the week. Try one of their frozen drinks or a hot toddy, you know...Texas weather.

Picked by: JR Mocanu of VOX Table 

“Yellow Jacket Social Club is my pick for most underrated bar for a myriad of reasons. It has that relaxed backyard vibe, no judgments, great local beer selection, a fine selection of spirits and one of the best brunches in town. It feels like going to a buddy’s barbecue and when you spend as much time in as many bars as I do, trust me, nothing feels better than having a bar that feels like home.”

Isis Schaller/Courtesy of The Aristocrat Lounge

Aristocrat Lounge

Burnet Road

The former Poodle Dog Lounge is no longer smoky and weird, but instead a legit cocktail bar with a large selection of spirits and a rotating frozen cocktail.

Picked by: Billy Hankey of King Bee

“Aristocrat doesn't always get the acknowledgment that it truly deserves. Tucked away in North Austin, Aristocrat provides great cocktails, mezcal, rotating frozen drinks, a staff that is one of the most laid back and true you will ever meet, and has the Three Little Pigs trailer. They also have pool tables, shuffleboard, skee ball, and DJ night -- I like the ‘Strange Country’ night -- allowing for loads of entertainment and great tunes! Head down and grab yourself a glass of Mezcal Vago Mexicano and let the day wash away. And they do an infusion with mezcal and espresso!”

Bufalina

Central East

Bufalina is known for their authentic Neapolitan pizza and the wait for a table they create on weekend nights, which isn’t so bad because you can stand outside with glass of rosé or chenin blanc.

Picked by: Josh Loving of Small Victory 

“My favorite ‘underrated’ place to drink is Bufalina. When I’m not working, I drink a lot more wine than liquor and Bufalina has one of the best wine lists in town. Their list is full of obscure, idiosyncratic, expertly crafted wines -- both traditional and experimental in style. It usually takes me 15 or 20 minutes to order a bottle because there are so many intriguing choices I have trouble pulling the trigger, which is a great problem to have with a wine list.”

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1. King Bee Lounge 1906 E 12th St, Austin, TX 78702 (East Austin)

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.

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2. The Grackle 1700 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702 (Central East)

Proof that you can't have too many laid-back beer & liquor dens, Grackle's in the former Primo's by the team behind Shangri-La, The Good Knight, Rio Rita, and Eastside Showroom. It's outfitted with a pure brass counter-mounted tap-tree, matching wood treatments throughout, a three-board dart corner, and a dimly lit pool table, which makes it tough to see balls, but also tough to see whoever might be laying their hands on yours later on.

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3. the Little Darlin' 6507 Circle S Rd, Austin, TX 78745 (South Austin)

The Little Darlin’ in South Austin is an inviting place to unwind after work or spend a lazy Sunday. We say inviting because literally all are welcome at this bar, including minors (accompanied by an adult, and only until 9pm) and even four-legged furry friends. On the spacious patio out back, you can have a seat at a picnic table or a bench swing and enjoy local, craft beers and cocktails. Bar bites like the crowd-favorite popcorn, dressed with olive oil, chevre, and parsley, or the spicy fried catfish, will charm your taste buds in ways that only southern food can. Have a turn at either of the 2 washer or 2 horseshoe pits in what will be the first moment of unadulterated joy you’ve had in at least a decade. You’re welcome.

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4. Launderette 2115 Holly St, Austin, TX 78702

By the vintage, all-American vibe this place place is putting out, you'd expect this upscale eatery to be serving run-of-the-mill domestic dishes. In reality, Launderette's specialty is Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare like beet hummus plates, tandoori prawns, and mussels. Even the house Plancha Burger, one of the best in Austin, has a little challah on it to take it a notch up from the American version.

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5. Yellow Jacket Social Club 1704 E 5th St, Austin, TX 78702 (Austin)

This high school mascot-inspired bar has a late-night patio with plenty of ambiance, booze, and not-so-bar-like snacks. Locally soured ingredients make their handmade paninis and apps as tempting as that second drink.

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6. The Aristocrat Lounge 6507 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78757

Housed in the former Poodle Dog Lounge location, The Aristocrat adds unpretentious, dive-y charm to this strip of Burnet. You can play skee-ball and pool, but you're here for the drinks... and they're good. Check out the Mexican Painkiller (100% agave pineapple & jalapeño infused tequila, coconut cream, fresh squeezed OJ, and Peychaud's bitters).

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7. Bufalina 1519 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702 (Central East)

All it takes is 90 seconds for one of Bufalina's delicate Neapolitan pizzas to bake in the 900-degree wood-burning oven. The East Cesar Chavez restaurant knows how to deliver delicate and charred 12-inch pies; some come in classic margherita and marinara varieties, while others, like the chorizo and potato variety, are truly experimental. No matter, Bufalina will satiate any and all thin crust cravings.

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