Austin’s Finest Bars: Where to Drink in Bat City

Beers on tap at The Cavalier in East Austin | Credit: The Cavalier

The bar scene in Austin has come a long way, expanding from the establishments catering to lines of college students on East 6th Street. From award-winning, sultry lounges serving world-class libations to family-owned, dog-friendly neighborhood pubs, this vibrant city on the Colorado River champions diversity.

The Roosevelt Room (Downtown)

Credit: Robert Lerma

When you’re seeking an extraordinary experience, look no further than this low lit, sexy lounge boasting an award-winning program that includes libations from essential periods in cocktail history alongside innovative signature drinks. Happy hour happens every day until 7 pm, with discounts on classic cocktails, beer, wine, and bites such as parmesan popcorn and a full-on charcuterie and cheese tray. The luxe atmosphere and detailed service appeals to both large parties and couples on date night, so reservations are highly encouraged.

Canje (East Austin)

Decked in cool, breezy tones and tropical plant decor, this buzz-worthy East Austin newcomer, which opened doors in 2021, is the longtime dream of award-winning chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph. Best known for his mold-breaking desserts at Emmer & Rye, Kalimotxo, and Hestia, the Guyana native brings his modern vision of Afro-Caribbean cuisine to life, putting new spins on nostalgic family dishes. The cocktail list follows suit, with warm-weather drinks that include ingredients such as passion fruit, grilled pineapple, and coconut-infused spirits.

El Naranjo – South Lamar (South Austin)

Credit: El Naranjo – South Lamar

At this modern South Austin spot, Chef Iliana de la Vega – a 2022 James Beard Award Finalist for Best Chef: Texas – serves her widely acclaimed Oaxacan food – from fresh ceviches to street-style antojitos and not-to-be-missed scratch-made mole, which takes three days to prepare. The horseshoe-shaped, marble top bar offers a comfortable, casual space for sipping a good selection of mezcales, tequilas and cocktails within eyesight of the kitchen, in a classy yet convivial atmosphere.

P6 (Downtown)

Named after its former incarnation as a parking lot garage, this airy, Mediterranean-inspired bar will transport you to the French Riviera faster than you can say rosé. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better spot from which to watch the famed Congress Avenue Bridge bats emerge at sunset. The indoor-outdoor space, complete with comfy wicker sofas and pastel-colored furnishings overlooking Lady Bird Lake, complements tasty small plates and a generous selection of wine, local beers, and signature cocktails.

Bar Peached (Downtown)

Housed in a period bungalow with a serene atmosphere, this Austin favorite serves Asian-inspired snacks—bahn mi tacos, spicy edamame, and charred Brussels sprouts—paired with a fine selection of beer, wine, and signature cocktails, with excellent specials during their daily evening social hour. The covered patio under a heritage oak is a lovely spot to while away an afternoon or evening. Pro tip: go on Tuesday for bulgogi-marinated steak & frites night.

Ranch 616 (Downtown)

A local favorite for decades, this funky, kitschy homage to all things Texan also happens to be the birthplace of the now ubiquitous Ranch Water cocktail, a refreshing tequila-lime highball. Other signature drinks include the Fire in the Hole, a hollowed out fresh jalapeño filled with a potent tequila and fresh lime mix, and some of the best margs in the city—a credential that carries extra weight in Austin. Pair the libations with South Texas-inspired dishes such as chicken fried quail, stuffed burgers, and wood-fired steaks under the giant steel pistol sculpture on the patio.

Sway Thai (West Austin/Westlake)

Credit: Malee Hughes

Thai specialties and Southeast Asian-accented cocktails are the dual draws at this large West Lake restaurant bar.  A rooftop terrace affords views of the hills, while the dining room and bar exude a charming industrial aesthetic. Pair your hand-pounded green papaya salad with a savory cocktail such as the  Phuket Your Troubles, made with mezcal, Thai basil, pineapple, and lime juice, or opt for the signature non-alcoholic coconut-lime soda. Drinks are half-priced during happy hour every weekday from 4pm to 6pm.

Il Brutto (East Austin)

This modern Italian joint in East Austin, which thoughtfully balances local and imported ingredients, is loved for its traditional dishes from around the Boot, featuring house-made pastas (including gluten-free options) and breads. General Manager Charity Sadoy curates an exclusively Italian wine list and an exciting amari and vermouth program unlike any other in the city. Pull up a stool at the bar and let her guide you through a flight, or create a bespoke before- or after-dinner drink. 

Aviary Wine & Kitchen (South Austin)

Credit: Cassandra Klepac

Don’t let the simple façade fool you – this casual South Austin spot  boasts one of the most unique and adventurous wine selections in the city, as well as craft beer and cider with an emphasis on local offerings. The staff’s knowledge borders on nerdy without being pretentious, and the eclectic farm-to-table menu is as exciting and playful as the wine list.

The Cavalier (East Austin)

Owned and steered by Rachelle Fox, a 2nd-generation service industry veteran, this divey pub embodies the unfussiness we love about Austin. Its relaxed atmosphere is enhanced by New Orleans-meets-Texas craft fare and one of the most dog-friendly patios around. Add an eclectic playlist, generous pours, and Austin FC soccer on the screen, and you’ve got yourself a city classic. 

Drink.Well (North Loop)

Owner Jessica Sanders knows a thing or two about running a bar, and this jewel box in the North Loop district is a clear example. Seasonal cocktails (many of which can be made non-alcoholic), a delightful farm-to-table menu, and a super friendly staff are all guarantees, as is a rotating selection of local brews. Happy hour happens on Monday through Saturday with discounted drinks and food, but note that Drink.Well does not take reservations and can’t accommodate parties of more than eight—get there early or prepare to wait. 

Whisler’s (East Austin)

To say Whisler’s is one of Austin’s most essential bars may be an understatement. Owned and run by industry veterans who curate an ever-changing selection of expertly prepared cocktails, the bar is housed in a historic building which was home to Rabbit’s, a beloved neighborhood bar for decades. Although the shabby-chic interiors can get crowded, there is always the spacious patio, complete with a local food truck. For agave lovers, the tiny Mezcaleria Tobalá upstairs is a must-visit on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Claudia Alarcon is a Mexico City-born writer based in Austin, Texas covering dining, drinking, and travel since 1999.

Tried them all? Check out other options here.