The Oldest & Most Historic Bars in Austin
It’s no secret that Austinites like to have a good time -- our entire culture is based around music and food and drinks. Turns out, things weren’t much different a century ago, and thankfully a handful of historic beer-drinking institutions have been preserved for us and future generations to stumble out of. These are Austin’s 10 oldest bars still in operation today.
The Little Longhorn Saloon
Originally known as Dick’s Little Longhorn Saloon, the bar became its current incarnation in 1993 when the original owner passed away and left the bar to Ginny Kalmbach who had been a waitress there since 1981. Since then, The Little Longhorn Saloon -- known by regulars as “Ginny’s” -- has earned its reputation as a honky-tonk institution with ice cold cheap beer and performances nightly by the likes of Dale Watson, Redd Volkaert. Every Sunday, the saloon and parking lot are packed with people of all ages for Chicken Shit Bingo, which is exactly what it sounds like; live chickens crapping in a coop bearing grids of numbers and letters.
A lot of words describe the Carousel Lounge well -- ”quirky”, “acid trip”, “David Lynch-ian”, “WTF” -- and, they are all correct. The circus-themed bar opened in 1963 and hasn’t changed much since. They still serve cheap beer and wine. The jukebox still offers many of the same 1960s selections, local acts perform here regularly, on the dance floor, right in front of the giant pink, paper-mache elephant because, well... this is the Carousel Lounge. This venue is BYO-liquor, and set-ups cost only $3.50.
The Continental Club
The Continental Club is the home of Austin ‘cool.’ The South Congress location is in the heart of Austin’s OG place-to-be. The neon signage, dim lighting, and red walls give off a distinct 1950s vibe; It has gone through several evolutions since 1955; supper club, burlesque club, blue-collar bar, and finally a premiere music venue. Performers who have graced the stage include Stevie Ray Vaughan, Social Distortion, Dale Watson, and many, many more. For a super intimate experience, check out the more modern Continental Club Gallery upstairs, where Austin’s legends-in-the-making play for a handful of guests every night.
Deep Eddy Cabaret
Situated on Lake Austin Blvd, right across from the pool of the same name, Deep Eddy Cabaret stands out, like a relic, just a short distance from Austin’s now condo-dominant skyline. To appreciate Deep Eddy Cabaret, you also have to appreciate cheap beer, a no-frills atmosphere, and pool tables all lit by neon beer signs. In addition to a great jukebox (Lightnin' Hopkins, The 13th Floor Elevators for example) you can also grab a pitcher for just $9.
Before the Eastside was revered as “the” place to be, and before skyrocketing rent prices and crops of modern bungalows, Longbranch Inn was just a place one could go for a stiff drink. Opened in 1935 and then purchased by Kevin Crutchfield and James Stockbauer around 2001, the Longbranch Inn has maintained its gritty appeal over the years. If you want to experience its magic properly, grab a seat at the antique oak bar, order a Lone Star and a shot of whisky... and soak in the DGAF-ness this place absolutely oozes. You’ll either get it, or you won’t.
The Tavern was established in 1916 as a large, modern (for 1916!) grocery store and was modeled after classic German architecture. In 1933, after a stint as a steakhouse, The Tavern became a place for people from all walks of life to gather for food, beer, and sports. Today, The Tavern is a great spot to watch “the game” on one of their seemingly endless number of large screens. Legend has it that the second floor of the building once operated as a speakeasy/brothel and is haunted by the ghost of one of it’s former workers.
Threadgill’s is much more than a restaurant serving comfort food, it’s where our music scene came to life. In 1933, Kenneth Threadgill purchased the former gas station and ran it as so for a few years... until the repeal of Prohibition was passed. As a music fan, he had regular performances in the bar, the most famous being music legend, Janis Joplin. Mr. Threadgill was so excited by the prospect of running a bar when Prohibition was lifted, he was the first person in Travis County to acquire a beer license.
Driskill Hotel Bar
The “crown jewel” of Austin since it’s construction in 1886, The Driskill has long been a hangout for celebrities, politicos, and the wealthy. Lyndon Johnson met his wife here, Sul Ross held inaugural balls here, and you can bet many conversations between went down in the Driskill’s Bar. Present-day goings on at the bar include live music, a killer happy hour, and a lovely refuge from Downtown open to both hotel guests and locals looking for revel in the historic luxury of the space. According to folklore (and hotel employees!), the spirit of a little girl who died around the time the hotel was built roams the hotel. Her eerily life-like portrait can be found on the fifth floor; don’t be surprised if the eyes appear to follow you.
Historic Scoot Inn
Since being erected in 1871, the building where the Historic Scoot Inn has now gone from grocery to cafe to saloon to grocery to cafe and back to saloon -- thanks to the ending of prohibition in 1933. In 1955, after a few more boozy incarnations, the bar became “Scoot Inn.” These days The Historic Scoot Inn is an Eastside gem known for drink specials, a calendar full of local and touring musical acts, and... skee ball. Fun fact: in 1933, former owners Harvey and Lillie Lee ran a gambling and bootlegging operation.
While Scholz Garten also serves a mashup of German, American, and BBQ -- they are always recognized as not only the oldest bar in Austin, but the oldest operating business in Texas. Scholz Garten was founded by August Scholz and was frequented by German immigrants. Today, it’s the stomping ground for pre-gaming UT alum as well as Austin’s politicians and attorneys. The Austin Saengerrunde next door -- which was established in 1879 as a meeting place for a traditional German singing group comprised of German settlers -- has a vintage bowling alley which is open to the public and is where AusTober Fest goes down each fall.
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Anastacia Uriegas is an Austin-based freelance writer who believes the bar at the Chili’s on 183 also holds many layers of history... and grease... and sadness. Follow her at : @anaurie