Just as we gave you a list of Austin’s most important restaurants, we’re now doing the same thing for the city’s drinkeries, because that’s how life works. And while Austin has some pretty spectacular drink spots, these are the ones whose impact has gone far beyond the glass...
The Most Important Bars in Austin
South Lamar District
The Broken Spoke is the oldest honky tonk in Austin and one of the most iconic joints in Austin or according to some lists, the best in Texas. Established in 1964, it’s seen some of the best country music legends grace its stage, with the likes of Willie Nelson, George Strait, and many more. To get a true experience stop in for a cold beer and a chicken-fried steak, and two-step the night away.
This bar truly lives to keep Austin weird. The inside is decorated like a bad acid trip at the circus, but it’s been keeping Austinites dancing for over 50 years nonetheless. Live music is featured five nights a week, and the “bring your own liquor” policy has kept people coming back over the years -- and it doesn’t plan to change things anytime soon.
The Cloak Room is a dim-lit basement bar located just off of the state capitol grounds with the feel of a DC speakeasy. You might run into some local politicians when the Texas legislature is in session, but the rest of the time it’s simply a friendly bar frequented by locals. Beverly “Bev” Pruitt has been tending bar since ‘89 and perfectly creates the Cloak Room’s welcoming atmosphere. Order a “Bev Dog,” put a few coins into the jukebox, and mentally escape from the streets above.
Originally opened in 1957 as a private supper club, the Continental has been host to musicians such as Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, and was even the first burlesque club in Austin. As the years passed though, it became an iconic live music venue which is still rocking to this day. If you’re a fan of blues or rockabilly, then a night at the Continental Club is something of a must.
The Draught House is the oldest brewpub in Austin. The bar may appear as an Old World English tavern, with a dark and musty interior, but it has been serving some of the best craft beers available in the state for over 45 years. In fact, on top of the 70+ taps, Draught House also brews its own beer.
The Little Longhorn Saloon (originally Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon) is another staple for Austin’s honky-tonk scene. Aside from the appeal of live music acts and cheap drinks, this little bar attracts most of its fame from Chicken Shit Bingo, which takes place every Sunday. Surprisingly, this ice house is all ages and there is never a cover. On Sundays it can get packed so don’t be shocked to see a crowd of patrons sitting outside in lawn chairs. The place only sells beer and wine, so feel free to bring your own bottle and enjoy the bingo.
This is a place to go when you want to see what people mean by “old Austin.” Walking into Lala’s you would think that time stopped on Christmas day in the '70s. The drinks are cheap, the jukebox is classic, and it’s decorated for the festive season all year round. Go for the Bloody Marys, stay for the laid-back vibe -- Lala’s is a true testament to keeping Austin weird, and has been doing it for decades.
Midnight Cowboy sits quietly and unnoticed among the popular shot bars along Dirty Sixth, but this quaint cocktail bar is a far cry from its much more noticeable past life as a brothel. Getting in can be difficult due to its size, and frequently requires reservations, but once you gain access you will be hosted by talented bartenders that mix up unique craft cocktails. Word of warning: your rezzie only allows you two hours of fun, so make sure to get your two-drink minimum in before your time runs out.
Today the Scoot Inn is the oldest continuously running beer joint in central Texas. This historic building was built in 1871 and has seen many different lives over the years. These days, it’s an East side watering hole with a large outdoor stage setting for live music, but the drinks are still cheap, concerts still rock the place, and it’s always worth a visit.
Deserving of a spot on two lists, Scholz Garten is the oldest bar in Austin. The building was built in 1866 and as of 1966 the Texas Legislature honored it as “a gathering place for Texans of discernment, taste, culture and erudition, epitomizing the finest traditions of magnificent German heritage in our state." It has even become the epicenter of pre-game and celebratory afterparties for U of T games. Today you can get a sense of Germany with the delicious food menu and Teutonic brews on tap.
Another spot that crosses the bar/restaurant divide, Threadgill’s is without a doubt an Austin institution, and is even rumored to be the reason people considered Austin “weird” to begin with. Owner Kenneth Threadgill was the first person in Travis County to obtain a beer license, and he used it to sell beer at his Gulf gas station in 1933. His joint was popular among traveling musicians stopping in for a brew, and as the years passed it became a gathering for the hippies flocking to the open-mic night. Today Threadgill's has two locations and is a popular spot for down-home cooking, good beer, and great live music where many Texas greats have performed.
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Mike Cortez is an Austin beer writer -- follow, Tweet, or just toast him at @texasbeerguide.
1. Broken Spoke3201 South Lamar Blvd, Austin
2. Carousel Lounge1110 E 52nd St, Austin
3. Cloak Room1300 Colorado St, Austin
4. The Continental Club1315 S Congress Ave, Austin
5. Draught House Pub & Brewery4112 Medical Pkwy, Austin
6. The Little Longhorn Saloon5434 Burnet Rd, Austin
7. Lala's Xmas Bar2207 Justin Ln, Austin
8. Midnight Cowboy313 E 6th St, Austin
9. Scoot Inn1308 E 4th St, Austin
10. Scholz Garten1607 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin
11. Threadgill's301 W Riverside Dr, Austin
Hit the legendary honky tonk to take in the dulcet tones of "real country musicians" (who've entertained everyone from Queen Elizabeth's entourage to a solo Troy Aikman), enjoy the "best chicken fried steak in Texas", and revel in pure honky tonk-style excitement.
Don't you wish there was a bar that was circus-themed and you could walk into it with that half-empty bottle of bourbon you've got? Behold the Carousel Lounge -- whose David Lynch-esque atmosphere, live music, and BYOL policy make this kooky joint a standout.
Hit up Cloak Room for a jukebox that pumps out the likes of Johnny Cash and Otis Redding, and a clientele heavy on in-session legislators looking to get their drink on.
Since 1957, The Continental Club has been delivering great local musical legends as "the grandaddy of all local music venues".
The Draught House has 45yrs of pint-pouring under its belt and even dishes out free brats on Saturdays.
The Little Longhorn Saloon is an must-go-at-least-once Austin institution, where you can drink cold, cold beer with people who are older than your parents. On Sundays come for Dale Watson and Chicken Sh*t Bingo -- stay for the free chili dogs. Oh yeah, bring cash.
You'll feel like you just entered a warm and fuzzy time warp at Lala's, one where it's always Christmas and the jukebox plays a nice mix of Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Go ahead, order a real cocktail here from the super friendly bartender (poured stiff!) and don't be surprised if a regular approaches you with a joke or a coin trick. It's just that kind of place.
Once part of Austin's red light district, The Midnight Cowboy pays tribute to its former brothel glory as a reservation 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 great cocktails to choose from, you can’t really go wrong here. Some of the drinks are even prepared tableside!
A historic inn built in 1871, Scoot's now an outdoor music venue with two regular bars and an outdoor/tree bar (!), 11 local beers on tap, and space to fit 858 concert-goers (but NOT 859!). Eclectic indie bands frequent the stage and the brews are always flowing. Awesome eats are available as well, like the burger sword, a stake of impaled burgers you hold in one hand while you bust out some weird dance moves with the other.
Scholz Garten is not only a kitschy pregame location for BBQ and beer -- it’s the oldest operating business in Texas. It was founded in 1866 by Civil War veteran and German immigrant, August Scholz, and originally catered only to thirsty Bavarians and Prussians looking for a taste of home and served traditional German food and beer, both of which can still be found here today. Order the giant Bavarian pretzel, the bratwurst, and potato salad, and wash it down with an ice-cold draft “bier” (our favorite is the Spaten Optimator).