When you think of the nightlife in Austin, your first mental image might be of beers, backyards, and benches. But Austin is a real food town, a home to world-class dining, and with that comes an equally formidable cocktail scene. For you, dear reader—Austin resident or potential Austin visitor—we rounded up the 13 best cocktail bars in the city, from the oldest hotel bar to a mid-century space hidden in a parking garage.
For more ideas of where to eat, drink, and hang in Austin, check out the complete MUNCHIES Guide to Austin.
The Townsend: Housed in the historic Townsend-Thompson building, The Townsend has a library-esque vibe with comfy leather chairs and booths, along with sophisticated cocktails and an excellent bar menu to match.
Hotel San José Lounge: The Hotel San José has been a touchstone for the South Congress area for years, and their garden courtyard is still one of the most pleasant places to drink in the city. Whether this be a midday stop for a michelada while cruising the strip or where you spend all night listening to live music, the Lounge is always a winning spot.
Midnight Cowboy: The original Austin speakeasy, Midnight Cowboy still remains a great find that's hidden behind an unmarked door on 6th St. Originally a massage parlor called Midnight Cowboy Modeling, the bartenders maintain that special "by-hand" approach by mixing your drinks on a cart at your table. Reservations are always recommended. When you arrive, press the buzzer for "Harry Craddock."
Garage: While bars in parking garages are no new thing in Austin (see Ego's and Small Victory), this bar takes the cake for stylishness. Look for "cocktails" painted on the side of American National Bank garage and you'll soon find yourself in a beautifully designed, mid-century-influenced space with great cocktails to boot.
Ah Sing Den: The longtime cocktail destination East Side Showroom was swiftly replaced this year with Ah Sing Den, an Asian-inspired cocktail bar named after a Victorian-era opium den in East London. It's still under the same ownership so the drinks remain inventive, and there's an Asian-influenced menu with gyoza, soba, mochi, and more.
Backbeat: A bar with a great rooftop, Backbeat has their cocktails divided into three categories: upbeat, downbeat, and offbeat. The Neon Jungle (Jamaican rum, mezcal, coconut-washed bianco vermouth, fresh pineapple juice, lime, velvet falernum, and blue curaçao) and the Seedier Elements (tequila, Belle de Brillet pear liqueur, jasmine green tea, lime cordial, and celery bitters) are good examples of their more adventurous flavor profiles.
The Tigress Pub: The Tigress is a small neighborhood bar tucked away in a North Loop storefront. It's a great place for a date or if you want to be left alone to hear yourself think. They usually have around seven featured cocktails at a time, but the bartender is always willing to make something up to your liking. It's the kind of bar everyone should have around the corner from their house.
Weather Up: Owner Kathryn Weather opened up a Texas location of her eponymous Brooklyn and Tribeca bars in a two-story house on the east side. There's a spacious backyard, as well as an homage to its east coast cousins: a subway-tiled bar.
Small Victory: Hidden upstairs on the side of a parking garage, Small Victory is a gem of a cocktail bar run by Josh Loving, Austin's resident cocktail king. It's a dark and intimate space, good for bringing a date or hanging out one-on-one to imbibe on some of the most delicious cocktails you'll find in the city. They also offer charcuterie and cheese plates to keep you sated.
drink.well.: drink.well. is a neighborhood gastropub with inventive cocktails and a solid bar menu (try the spicy kimchi Reuben). It's popular with the Hyde Park and North Loop locals who seek to avoid the downtown crowds. Their seasonal cocktails are killer and some are only $6 during happy hour.
Kitty Cohen's: A retro throwback to 1970s Palm Beach, Kitty Cohen's is "the illegitimate love child of 1886 Management and Burt Reynolds," its website reads. Grab one of their frozen pink drinks and dip your feet in the wading pool on the patio. Be sure to admire the infamous photo of 1970s-era Burt Reynolds naked on a bearskin in the bathroom.
The Driskill Bar: The Driskill is the oldest operating hotel in town, which makes its bar timeless. A stuffed Longhorn head, cowhide-covered couches, and a pressed tin ceiling add some old-fashioned Texan flair to a bar in a city that's constantly looking to modernize. Order a Mexican martini at the bar and listen to the live piano music, and you'll soon teleport to a time in the distant past.
Mezcalería Tobalá: This Oaxacan-style mezcalería in the heart of East Austin serves up mezcal two ways: half pours in clay copita or full pours in veladora glasses. The copita route is advised, allowing you to try a spectrum of the smokey agave spirit. If you find that mezcal isn't your thing, just head downstairs to the other popular bar, Whisler's.
Don't miss the rest of the MUNCHIES Guide to Austin—we've got the best spots for barbecue, breakfast tacos, and more on lock.