If history is written by the victors, much of what makes Austin Austin is falling off the page. The only bright spot of late seems to be our long-running dive bars, which tenaciously cling to graffitied bathroom walls even when the rest of the town seems to be installing expensive wallpaper.
Yes, the Capital City is famously boozy, and a college town to boot, but it's high time we all stop taking these neighborhood gems for granted. The city’s best dive bars still have plenty of stories to tell.
Half the fun of visiting this Airport Boulevard joint is watching customers make their way through all the stumbling blocks. Entering the bar requires a hike up fire escape-like stairs, where revelers are greeted with a large pool table in narrow main room with an uneven floor. If they need some fresh air, they then have to stumble down another steep flight to reach the patio. Somehow, everyone makes it out in one piece. Turns out even the most difficult obstacle course is no match for Austin drinkers.
When this joint off Cameron Road first opened in 1963, the circus theme decor likely wasn’t intended to look sinister. But more than 50 years of patina have since settled on the walls, and every horror director worth their shivers has since discovered that Americans are really not down with clowns. But low-key disturbing or not, we have a warm spot for this decidedly bizarre place because of the cheap (and cash only) beer, wine, and set-ups; the sometimes amateurish bands; and — most of all — the friendly clientele that don’t mind going bump in the night.
Deep Eddy Cabaret
This West Austin staple offers one of the most unique microcosms of Austin. Old timers commandeer the worn bar stools while hipsters smoke cigarettes in the tiny patio in the back. When swanky food truck and tiki bar Pool Burger debuted around the corner in 2017, the bar added another layer as the see-and-be-seen set poked in for pitchers (and pictures). All the while, only the beer selection has changed. The fanciest beer used to be Shiner Bock, now it’s Pearl Snap.
If, like Greta Garbo, you “vant to be alone,” be warned: this ramshackle Clarksville watering hole isn’t the kind of place to sulk over a rum and coke. The patrons are chatty, the bartenders are even chattier, and one of the longtime regulars might scoop you up for spin around the dance floor. But that’s just what good bars are supposed to do. Even the most strident introverts need a sense of connection now and again.
The Hole in the Wall
Although the kids sipping Jamba Juice may not believe it, the Drag was once the epicenter of Austin counterculture. While the vintage shops, cheap eats, and record stores may be long gone, the dream of the '90s (not to mention the '70s and '80s) is alive at this nightclub. In 2015, the future looked bleak for this classic venue, but a last-minute, five-year lease ensured it will be rocking for at least a little while longer. Visit it now to ensure it doesn’t become another memory of “weird” Austin.
Lala’s Little Nugget
With enough tinsel and twinkle lights to do John Waters proud, this Crestview bar relishes in all the tackiness of the Christmas season. When new owners FBR Management purchased the joint back in 2015, the zhuzhed things up a bit with a patio, craft beer, and a few holly jolly drinks, but it still has the feel of an old family Polaroid. Except at Lala’s, the holiday spirit never fades.
Need a handy example for how much Austin is changing? Even though this East Sixth Street hangout has only been open since 2009, it is one of the oldest establishment on the strip, when its neighbors were warehouses and auto shops instead of fancy restaurants and apartment complexes advertising upscale city living. Still, among all that shine, The Liberty has managed to keep its grime. The picnic tables out back are still where all the cool kids sit and if you ask nicely, the bartender will usually put your favorite baseball team on the TV.