While Austin has more than its fair share of bars, it can be hard to find one that feels like your own personal hideaway. If you’re looking for an intimate space, a dark bar or a spot that’s not easy to find, check out these drinking establishments.
Tucked away in a room below Buenos Aires Cafe, the Milonga Room is accessible only with a secret password. The codes are sometimes handed out via text and sometimes via social media, or if you make a reservation your code is sent with the reservation confirmation. They also serve the practical purpose of keeping the crowd small to accommodate the intimate space. Live Argentine music is featured on Thursdays.
An old-timer on the bar scene, Speakeasy has been in business since 1997. The entrance in the alley gives the initial impression that you’re entering a small space, but there are actually four separate floors, each offering a slightly different experience. The main band is usually on the first floor, but there is also sometimes music on the roof. The rooftop bar is equipped with couches and heaters, making it a fun spot to check out year-round. The stairway to the top is one long trudge from the first to the fourth floor up a narrow staircase. Don’t drink too much before the climb.
Far from being a dark bar, P6 is airy and bathed in pastels. The bar is an innovative reworking of the space that was once the top floor of the parking garage. The perch overlooks Lady Bird Lake and is an excellent spot to watch Austin’s bats emerge at sunset. Shareable plates of Mediterranean fare are served in the bar, along with gourmet cocktails.
Situated just below street level on Congress Avenue, the Elephant Room is the only bar in town offering a jam-packed calendar of live jazz. It’s a long, narrow space, giving you the option to be immersed in the music upfront or find a seat in the back suitable for chatting with your date. There are typically two shows per night, one at happy hour and another around 9 p.m. The acts are a mix of local regulars such as the Mitch Watkins Trio and visiting bands from out of town.
A small basement bar near the state capitol, the Cloak Room is the favored watering hole for high-powered lobbyists and state legislators. The Texas legislature only convenes every two years, so the scene changes significantly depending on whether or not elected officials are in town. You’ll also often find at least one journalist lurking in the corner, hoping to stumble upon the next big scandal. Even at slower times, it’s a solid bar with affordable drinks and a stellar jukebox.
A historic venue on the east side, The Scoot Inn has changed a little since it was built in 1871, but not that much. The musical acts include a little bit of everything, from up-and-coming hip hop artists to bluegrass bands. They occasionally present book readings and films too. A large outdoor area features several food trucks.
The bar is hidden away in the first floor of a parking garage. The scene has always been a weird mix of aging regulars from nearby apartments and novelty-seeking youngsters, but there’s a lot less brooding now that it’s a karaoke bar. The half-circle vinyl chairs look like they’ve been there since the 1970s, and a few of the patrons have definitely been around since then. Otherwise, the decor is colorful and festive. Since it’s such a small space, there’s really no reason to come here unless you want to sing or watch other amateurs belt out "Piano Man."
Dimly lit on the inside, The Liberty feels a lot more welcoming on the sprawling outdoor patio, which is also dog-friendly. Hungry? Some people come here just for the East Side King food truck out back. The Asian-inspired cuisine was developed by renowned Austin chef Paul Qui. There’s no live music, just a jukebox. That helps to keep the noise to reasonable levels.
The divey bar’s claim to fame is that it was once featured on the TV show "Bar Rescue." Apparently, the rescue plan worked. The place is chock full of hipsters most nights. The bar has an excellent jukebox, a foosball table, an outdoor patio and a friendly staff. Signature drinks include the Austin Mule (vodka, ginger beer and lime) and the gin cocktail known as the Pimm’s Cup.
The Violet Crown has mastered the delicate art of providing good service even when the bar is swamped. You won’t be left staring blankly at the wall at the end of the bar waiting to be noticed. The bar’s popularity also may have something to do with the fact that the drinks are reasonably priced and generously poured. Those with a taste for slightly sweet and strong beverages should try the Iron Whip, a frozen drink made from vodka and orange creamy goodness. Also, help yourself to burgers and wings available outside from the Cluck-n-Burger food trailer.