Where the Locals are: A Guide to Bars in Austin

The bar scene in Austin has something for everyone.

From dive bars slinging Lone Stars, to cantinas with bigger-in-Texas margaritas, to upscale speakeasies serving craft cocktails, not to mention the numerous breweries that have popped up all over town in recent years.  But this is Austin, and what really sets the bar scene apart here is the local flavor.  You don’t have to wander very far to enjoy live music with your drink of choice or even a little two-stepping.  Cheers to that.

The Wheel – Recommended by Walker Lukens
This bike-themed neighborhood bar (that’s bicycles, not motorcycles) has quickly ingratiated itself with the local community in the few short years since its opening.  Though it mostly serves beer and whiskey to local cyclists, The Wheel has made a point to forge strong relationships with local businesses and the neighborhood they reside in.  They don’t serve food, but will happily allow patrons to bring in fare from the sandwich shop they share a parking lot with to enjoy alongside their wide selection of draft beers in their cozy outdoor patio.  It’s also one of the few bars in Austin that doesn’t host live music—out of respect for the residential neighbors.  But don’t let that dissuade you, there’s no better spot to cool off after a ride through the greenbelt!

It’s like Cheers without sad men sitting between you and the bartender.  Many available ways to get sauced at The Wheel.  I can honestly say I’ve had most of the menu.”  — Walker Lukens

Hotel Vegas – Recommended by The Cuckoos
Perhaps no other bar better embodies the spirit of Austin’s “Dirty Sixth” arts and entertainment district.  With odd-ball glitzy décor, dive vibes, great drink selection, and live music or DJs almost every night of the week, Hotel Vegas is always a great spot to end up at.  Grab a drink and hit the dance floor inside, or chill on the spacious patio, complete with string lights and food trucks.  And don’t be afraid to hit the sister bar next door, the Volstead Lounge for a slightly more upscale experience.

This place has some cool vibes.  Always Jack & Coke.”  —  The Cuckoos

Kitty Cohen’s – Recommended by Curtis Roush
Kitty Cohen’s is the kind of place you can’t find outside of Austin.  Taking the city’s patio bar culture to the extreme, Kitty Cohen’s offers a retro resort-style poolside vibe, complete with palm trees, beach umbrellas, and frozen drinks by the punch-bowl.  Tying the patio together is a mini pool/fountain centerpiece modeled after that of The Raleigh Hotel in Miami, and yes, of course you can take a dip! They also host various events like pop-up restaurants from local businesses and themed movie nights.  Kitty Cohen’s is easily one of the hippest (and most Instagram-friendly) spots for day-drinking in Austin.

This answer changes every month.  I had a really nice night recently at Kitty Cohen’s ordering Rob Roys with Laphroaig scotch.”  —  Curtis Roush

Vespaio – Recommended by William Harries Graham
This bustling Italian restaurant and bar on South Congress is one of Austin’s most popular eateries and for good reason.  With knowledgeable wait staff and a talented group of chefs in the kitchen, Vespaio hits all the marks for an upscale dining experience.  Almost everything is made in house (including bread, pasta, charcuterie, and more) and sourced from local farms.  Of course the bar is fully stocked, but the wine selection is the real draw in that respect; Vespaio has hundreds of wines available at a time, most specifically chosen from boutique, family-owned wineries in Italy and France.  Make sure you have a reservation or be ready to wait in a long line—Vespaio is packed almost every night of the week.

Gorgeous bar, incredible service, drink the Pulkingham.”  —  William Harries Graham

These recs are from our latest vinyl and city guide package, The Sights and Sounds of Austin, presented by Boost Mobile. Check out the digital version of the guide below:

photo by: courtesy of The Wheel; courtesy of the Mohawk