Bars in Austin have evolved into much more than simple drinking establishments. At any given bar, the focus may be on whipping up fancy custom cocktails, presenting live music, brewing craft beer, hosting trivia, or offering games such as ping pong and cornhole. Whether you’re looking for an activity-packed evening or a quiet date night, one of these bars will meet your needs.
The most reliable sign of a high-quality dance hall in Texas is the presence of elderly folk, particularly old people who skillfully dance and spin and are blissfully unaware of anyone other than their partner. On some nights, the Broken Spoke is bursting with lively seniors who dance circles around the youngsters. Usually, there's a mix of young and old, cowboys and hipsters, Austinites and tourists. The rectangular wooden dance floor splits the room in two with seating areas on either side. The bands, whether they’re young or old, play mostly traditional country music. Because that’s the kind of music owner James White likes, he’s been doing things this way since 1964, and he has no intention of changing. Another fan of traditional country music, Willie Nelson, has been known to drop in here when he’s not touring.
Featuring an intimate and colorful indoor space plus a sprawling outdoor patio against a limestone cliff, Cheer Up Charlies is just plain fun. Expect themed dance parties, live music, drag shows, film screenings, and karaoke. Arlo’s vegan food truck offers a delicious way to refuel after a long night of dancing. And if your digestive system needs a little boost, there’s even freshly brewed kombucha on tap.
If you want to learn about the history of the cocktail as you imbibe, The Roosevelt Room can take you to school. The menu is broken up by era based on when the drink was created. In the elegant downstairs area, customers are seated, and full table service is available. Reservations are recommended. Upstairs, you can seat yourself at the long bar, or have a more private experience at one of the sleek booths. Snacks and light meals are also served, ranging from spiced nuts to spinach and arugula salads.
Whiskey connoisseurs will find 400 premium selections to choose from at Seven Grand. Even if you’re not an expert, the bartenders are, and they can help guide you to just the right whiskey for you. Whether you prefer your whiskey straight or as part of a handcrafted cocktail, this is a classy spot to hang out or enjoy a game of pool. There’s also a large outdoor patio where live bands perform on occasion.
A dog-friendly bar on the east side, Shangri-La features a slightly divey indoor space with pool tables and a large outdoor patio. In addition to standard cocktails and beer, the bar has an extensive selection of frozen drinks, such as the Dmango Unchained and the Tangri-La. The Baton Creole food trailer sells crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, and other Louisiana delicacies.
The interior looks a little like Pee-wee’s Playhouse with overstuffed chairs, mismatched loveseats and multicolored walls. It’s a coffee shop during the day, but the focus turns to infused booze in the evening. The bar’s specialties include drinks with a variety of infused liquors. Don’t miss the espresso-infused whiskey. Those with a sweet tooth will love the strawberry-infused vodka. Adventurous drinkers might want to try the habanero-infused mezcal. Also, the large outdoor patio is dog-friendly.
During happy hour at the Saxon Pub, a 50-year-old would be considered a young whippersnapper. However, most of the old folks head home around 9 p.m., and the clientele comprises a mix of ages, depending on the bands playing that night. Presenting a mix of roots rock and country, the Saxon Pub is the musical soul of south Austin. Bonnie Raitt sometimes pops in when she’s in town. Bob Schneider plays a wildly popular show almost every Monday night, and The Resentments anchor the Sunday night lineup.
The White Horse features an eclectic mix of country, bluegrass, Cajun and conjunto music. Regardless of the musical style, the dance floor at this hipster honky-tonk is always buzzing with activity. House bands include Conjunto Los Pinkys, Rosie & the Ramblers, and Two Hoots & a Holler. Two-stepping lessons are offered before most weeknight shows.
Occupying a long, narrow building, the Continental Club feels intimate but not too cramped. When it gets crowded up front, there’s a pool room in the back that offers a little more breathing room. The musical acts are often some variation of rockabilly, blues, or straight-up rock ’n’ roll. Frequent performers include the gravel-voiced Jon Dee Graham, deadpan storyteller James McMurtry and country crooner Dale Watson. The bar's annual tributes to Elvis Presley and Buck Owens are truly special nights, attracting some of Austin’s best musicians. There’s a dance floor in front of the stage that’s either tiny or medium-sized depending on where they decide to put the chairs for a given show.
Located on the University of Texas campus, the Cactus Cafe is an excellent place to see major stars and up-and-coming artists in an intimate setting. The cafe/bar is easy to miss if you’re not familiar with the UT campus. It’s tucked inside the nondescript Texas Union building near Guadalupe and 24th. Singer/songwriters such as Darden Smith and Sara Hickman perform here regularly for attentive audiences.
After many relocations, Antone’s has finally found a (hopefully) permanent home in downtown Austin. Nationally renowned blues/rock star Gary Clark Jr. is a part-owner of the club, which is continuing the late Clifford Antone’s commitment to featuring blues artists. The ground floor has a simple layout with the band at the back and a long bar on one side. There aren’t many chairs, but that’s not a problem if you’re dancing all night.
For those who prefer their music with a little more of an edge, Mohawk presents everything from rap to punk to heavy metal, plus several bands that just can't be categorized. Expect a heavily bearded crowd and offbeat events such as wrestling and drunken spelling bees. The multilevel layout is perfect for restless roamers during mild weather. You can wander inside and out and enjoy different views of the band as well as always-stellar people watching.
For an unbeatable combination of BBQ and music, head directly to Stubb’s. The multilevel historic building has a relaxing, rustic feel with exposed-brick walls and high ceilings. The outdoor amphitheater attracts major musical acts while the indoor stage often presents local artists. Stubb’s brisket and pulled-pork are also works of art.