In Austin, if there’s one thing we do well, it’s drinking. From cracking cold beers at the Greenbelt to knocking back free champagne at the latest downtown charity ball, you’d be hard-pressed to find an activity that doesn’t involve one libation– or ten. For a local, Thursday through Saturday nights– you know, the weekend– are spent at a favorite bar. Those who work and live downtown prefer these hip spots for specialty cocktails and atmosphere that is distinctly Austin.
photo credit to half-step google page
Location: Rainey Street
Address: 75 1/2 Rainey Street, Austin, TX 78701
Those that live by the creed work hard, play hard will feel welcomed by the Half-Step’s accompanying motto, found glowing in neon by the entrance, “you earned it.” Situated in a renovated Rainey Street house, Half-Step features shabby-chic decor and a laid-back attitude accompanied with jazz. The menu is anything but pedestrian. Cocktails feature real, fresh-squeezed juice and housemade ingredients like molé bitters. Don’t be intimidated by the menu– just ask the bartenders what they recommend, and they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction. Let’s just say there’s a reason Esquire named this “little blue bungalow” one of the 24 Best Bars in America in 2017.
photo credit to Joyce. K of Yelp
Location: Off Dirty 6th St
Address: 605 Brazos St, Austin, TX 78701
The Firehouse Hostel resides in a renovated fire station– the oldest standing one in Austin, built in 1885. On the first floor, the Firehouse Lounge provides comfort and alcohol to international travelers and townies alike. A far cry from your average Sixth Street watering hole, you’ll know you’re in the right place once you see the greeter at the front sitting by a bookshelf. Behind that bookshelf is a dimly lit bar that makes classic cocktails with hot food service Wednesday through Sundays. Make it there before 8 pm to take advantage of their daily happy hour with $2 off drinks and food.
photo credit to Rachel G. of Yelp
Location: East 6th St
Address: 1816 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702
Tourists hang out on the Dirty side of Sixth Street between I-35 and Congress, but locals know if you want to have a good time, it’s best to ignore those urine soaked sidewalks. Whisler’s is an East Sixth favorite that owes a lot of its hipster appeal to the not-so-secret secret mezcal bar Mezcalería Tobalá in the second story bungalow on the property. Shout out to the stoned bobcats guarding that little gem.
Downstairs the bartenders stick to your more classic concoctions and guests can enjoy black noodles and Thai fried chicken from Paul Qui’s spinoff trailer Thai Kun. The cocktails themselves are elegant and straightforward, sometimes featuring a bit of a southwest twist like the grapefruit in the Texas Ruby Gimlet. Whisler’s has ample seating and a large front patio, so it’s a popular destination for parties and post-work happy hours.
photo credit to Gile Tuck Google user
Location: Colorado & West 6th St
Address: 503 Colorado St, Austin, TX 78701
Austinites can’t keep a secret for long. Perhaps that’s why this is the third “hidden” bar on this list and rush hour has suddenly blossomed into an all-day affair. Anyways, Garage Bar is smack dab in the parking garage of the American National Bank building at the corner of Sixth and Colorado downtown. It is truly the curated bar for those who like to curate their curations. It’s so ahead of its time; its parents haven’t even met yet.
While bartenders painstakingly craft $15 Yamazaki whiskey cocktails and guests munch down on bar food designed by Philip Speer, don’t be surprised if you find yourself waiting outside in line for your chance to get into Garage on a busy night. However, if you’re the type that relishes concept bars with great vinyl collections, you for sure do not want to miss out on Garage Bar.
The Roosevelt Room
Location: West 5th St & Guadalupe
Address: 313 East 6th Street, Austin, TX 78701
Down the block from Republic Square is The Roosevelt Room, an upscale but fun cocktail bar. If you’re looking for a great cocktail the minute you walk in you’ll know you’ve come to the right place. They offer a handful of special house cocktail creations you won’t find elsewhere. They also serve an expansive menu of 50+ drinks the take you from the early years and prohibition through to the dark ages and modern classics. Pick your cocktail and explore a period of time.
While each cocktail will run about $11-15 (worth it), you can save during their happy hour. All day Monday and Tuesday, and Wednesday to Saturday 5 pm to 7 pm, they offer a $7 cocktail menu that includes an Old Fashioned, Vodkadora, Margarita, Negroni and more.
photo credit to Small Victory Google page
Location: Congress & East 7th St
Address: 108 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78701
Small Victory‘s vintage-inspired menu is a damn delight. Each mixed drink on the menu is a variation on another recipe found in dusty old bartender handbooks like Modern American Drinks and The Gentleman’s Companion. It’s cute and a smart move on Small Victory’s part. If you’re going to open up a cocktail lounge in a part of town that already boasts The Townsend, The Roosevelt Room, and Peche, you have to deliver. The menu’s make-your-own-martini flowchart, in particular, makes a girl want to put on her cat-eye makeup and satin gloves and head down there.
Beyond the cocktails, Small Victory also offers a selection of charcuterie, cheeses, etc. on which you may nosh. To get to this 7th Street gem, enter the downstairs marked door and walk up the small flight of stairs. Behind the wooden door, you’ll find the exposed beams and long velvet benches that will let you know you’re there.
photo credit to Jessica S. of Yelp
Location: On Dirty 6th St
Address: 313 East 6th Street, Austin, TX 78701
Some things never go out of style– Midnight Cowboy Modeling is one of those things. This downtown speakeasy is located in a former brothel that was closed down in 2011, which puts it in the rankings with other classic southern sin joints like Memphis’s Earnestine’s & Hazel’s as well as New Orleans’s May Baily’s Place. Today, there is less funny business going on in here with a strict code of conduct and a reservations-only policy. That being said, it is still one of the most pleasant bars you can get to on this side of town.
Look for the red light above the doorway by the buzzer labeled “Harry Craddock” to let a hostess know you’re there. Once inside, spend your two-hour reservation ordering a mix of their classic libations with a few of their in-house specials like the Rusty Peach.