This one's on us
10 best cocktail spots that are raising the bar for Austin nightlife
They help mend broken hearts and set the scene for birthday celebrations. Isn’t it time to give Austin’s best bars a little recognition? That’s why as part of our seventh annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, we’re saying cheers to the bars that always keep us in good spirits.
The 10 bars nominated for our Bar of the Year award couldn’t be more different, but they share one thing in common — a commitment to making Austin’s nightlife scene one of the most dynamic in the nation. Raise a glass to the bars below, then find out who takes home the prize during a blow-out party and ceremony on April 12 at Fair Market.
Someone give owner Jessica Sanders a podcast. Her occasional cocktail classes are like a boozy Rachel Maddow Show, seamlessly combining culture, history, and science. Even though such chats will leave you feeling like you graduated summa cum laude, she never forgets the lessons learned in Hospitality 101. A night at the bar should always lift your mood — something the lively decor (check out the superhero mural) and the clever drinks (with tongue-in-cheek names like Kashmir Sweater or Gorgeous Ladies of Riesling) does effortlessly.
One word of advice: don’t drive to this garage, especially if you are planning to make that coupe a deuce. Chef Tim Lane’s small menu of Italian bar bites has plenty of carbs, but that won’t stop the buzz you’ll feel from lead bartender Jayson Black and team’s heady concoctions. Garage’s cocktails celebrate the spirit, whether in a simple Old Fashioned or newer drinks like the Coachwhip using match-infused gin. Still, they never lose their quaffability, which guarantees you’ll go vroom.
The Little Darlin’
Kids are allowed at this South Austin hangout until 10 pm, which makes for some entertaining people-watching as parents try their best to wrangle wayward toddlers while balancing a full pint of beer. But at Little Darlin’, “family-friendly” means more than one thing. Bring your real-life father or your best friend who's more like a sister, and catch up as the afternoon inevitably turns into evening.
This Sixth Street hideaway has been a Tastemaker Awards mainstay. Now, general manager Tacy Rowland has given Austinites a whole new reason to ring the bar’s famous buzzer. Everybody’s talking about her whip-smart Art of Conversation cocktail menu using unexpected ingredients like saffron rice syrup, pickled mustard seed, and even blue cheese. Drinks here are about fueling experience, whether it's a nervous first date or a group gossip between friends.
Austin has been waiting for a bar like Nickel City for a long time. Owners Travis Tober, Zane Hunt, Brandon Hunt, and Craig Primozich saw an opportunity in the former home of Longbranch Inn by (slightly) jazzing up the interior while keeping the dive roots firmly planted. The result is a bar that feels like home from the moment you walk in the door. Order a boilermaker and some wings from attached food truck Delray Cafe. You’ve already made a new friend.
The Roosevelt Room
Lord knows how much ginseng bartenders take just to remember a 53 drink menu ranging from pre-Prohibition classics to ’70s tiki classics, or how many flash cards were used in mastering the 32 steps to building a drink. The rigorous program at this swanky downtown bar speaks for itself. Even when the large lounge is packed to the gills, drinks come out swiftly and immaculately garnished. No team in Austin is more serious about getting the party started.
The owners of this Seventh Street bar must get cartoon googly eyes every time they are introduced to a new whiskey. It’s obvious they have a deep love for all things bourbon, Scotch, and rye. Hundreds of bottles (ranging from local favorites like Balcones Baby Blue to rare treats like a Henry McKenna 10-year-old single barrel) are spotlighted like objets d’art without a single speck of dust to be found. And while you can order beer or (gasp!) a different spirit, why would you want to?
The slim space from 2017 CultureMap Tastemaker Bartender of the Year Josh Loving can fill up quickly. Sometimes a sideways shuffle is required to make it to the other end of the bar, which is part and parcel of the allure of this downtown haunt. The tight quarters make it easy to bump into someone you know — or if you are carrying the shareable Philadelphia Fish House Punch — someone who desperately wants to get to know you.
Long gone are the days when this east side bar felt like one of Austin’s best-kept secrets. These days, you are likely to have to wait a little bit for a drink, and on warmer days it can be difficult to find a seat. Brave the crowds anyway. Unlike most bars stacked with revelers, Whisler’s cocktail program deservedly draws crowds. The menu always changes, but expect creatively infused spirits, botanical ingredients like rosemary and dandelion, and playful garnishes like beef jerky.
The name couldn’t be more apt. Over the years, this North Loop neighborhood bar has built a solid reputation by devoting its efforts to what counts — attentive service, creative cocktails, an astounding collection of local beers on draft, and a kitchen that cranks out some of the best burgers in town (that Buffalo Bastrop though). It still feels like old Austin here, the kind of place where you can dream about starting a garage band after punching the clock.