There are few things that Austinites love more than a good craft cocktail (or glass of rose, or Lone Star tallboy, or really any liquid with an alcohol content). In this town, you can’t go two blocks without running into a sun-drenched patio full of margarita-swilling patrons. There are bars in libraries, bars in gas stations, bars in parking garages, and even a bar at the Capitol. Of course, as befits such a boozy city, Austin is home to more than its fair share of speakeasies and “secret” watering holes—and considering how packed the regular bar circuit can get, knowing where to drink in private can come in mighty handy. Read on for the inside scoop.
Right below the always-bustling Buenos Aires Café, Milonga Room is a 1920s-themed speakeasy serving classic Argentine libations. (In Buenos Aires, a "milonga" refers to an after-hours joint where people go to hang out, drink, and dance the tango.) The blood-red velvet couches, dark turquoise walls, embroidered curtains, and glowing, wall-to-wall candlelight all add to the ambiance. To access Milonga, enter through the unmarked blue door in back—just be sure you secure the password and make a reservation in advance.
Techo Mezcaleria & Agave Bar
On the rooftop of Mi Madre’s Restaurant, hidden-gem mezcal bar Techo Mezcaleria & Agave Bar is small, intimate, and stocked with a wonderful selection of mezcal varieties, tequilas, and killer cocktails, including a frozen guava margarita and other agave-laden, sweet and smoky delights. With its stained glass fixtures, dark wooden floors, and Mexican artwork, Techo feels like a cozy old-world throwback.
Better keep your eyes peeled when you’re looking for Small Victory. This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bar on 7th, just east of Congress, doesn’t have any signage to speak of—look for a spiral staircase that’s attached to a parking garage, with a faintly conspicuous S.V. on the window. Once you've finally found your way in, treat yourself to a gin martini; classic cocktails are what this swanky bar is known for.
Garage Cocktail Bar
The aptly-named Garage—it's located inside an actual parking garage on Colorado Street—is one of Austin's most covert bars, and it's also one of its best, with bartenders churning out superior craft cocktails inside a cozy, dimly lit space that you'd never be able to discern from its industrial exterior. Once you’ve made it inside, the fun can begin—as the record player spins tunes, kick back and order the Indian Paintbrush, a sweetly dangerous concoction of vodka, grapefruit, lime, and rosemary.
The Cloak Room
The Cloak Room is a historic watering hole nestled in the basement of Austin's 117-year-old Goodman Building, which is located just steps from the lawn of the state capitol building. Accordingly, this is where high-powered lobbyists and state legislators gather round over extra-strong whiskey drinks—and, as rumor has it, engage in under-the-table political dealings. The Cloak Room is notoriously difficult to find (and notoriously pitch-dark inside): Make your way to the Capitol, walk around the tree-rimmed park on the west side of the building, and look for a stairwell marked by a small sign with a hand pointing the way down.
In the heart of Dirty Sixth (that’s downtown Sixth Street, where all the debauchery happens, for you non-locals), Midnight Cowboy is one of the oldest speakeasies in Austin—and its history is as checkered and colorful as its location. The bar was once a brothel masquerading as a massage parlor; and, in a nod to that history, a sign proclaiming “Midnight Cowboy Modeling Oriental Massage” still stands. It’s reservations only at this refined cocktail den, which feels like a world away from the animalistic frat-boy scene happening just outside the front door.
Floppy Disk Repair Co.
A floppy disk repair shop? In 2020? Though it advertises as such, Floppy Disk Repair Co. is actually a well-hidden speakeasy. (Sorry, but if we gave out more details on the location, we’d be doing this hideout a disservice—if you want to go, you’ll find a way.) Best of luck getting in—there’s a door code, and it changes every few weeks. Your best bet is to either wait for someone to leave so you can sneak in or ask an in-the-know bartender next door.
At Whisler's, vintage speakeasy vibes meet trendy, modern Austin. But you can skip all that and, instead, head upstairs to the shadowy "secret" bar, Mezcalería Tobalá. This Oaxacan-style mezcal bar carries a wide selection of wild varieties of mezcal (a smoky, agave-based liquor) served in traditional clay copitas or tall veladora glasses. Try a copita (a half-pour) if you're just doing a taste test; mezcal is definitely an acquired taste for some.
The Whisper Room
Tucked away in a shadowy, nondescript corner of Stephen F.’s Bar & Restaurant on the second floor of the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel downtown, The Whisper Room is a Prohibition-era throwback that takes its speakeasy status seriously. Sitting behind a red velvet curtain, the bar seats just 10 people, and it’s reservations only. Order a Sazerac, sit back, and enjoy the discreetly classy vibes—there’s even a private terrace overlooking Congress Avenue, so you can look down on all the little people from your high and mighty perch.