Austin is definitely known for being the home of the wily, affable hippie, but the science of Austin is in that ‘equal and opposite REaction.’ For every grunge bar, there’s a linen tablecloth and craft-cocktail lounge. For every creekside picnic, there’s a sparkling pool and canopied cabana to balance it all out.
So, before you get all “SERIOUSLY? There are a MILLION great places in Austin! This is, like, the tip of the melting iceberg!,” please know that for the people who love Jeffery’s, Takoba, The Gibson, Lustre Pearl, and a ‘million’ more fantastic, upscale hidden gems in Austin, options abound. Of course we are the home of delectable food and tempting beverages, so whittling it down to a mere ten is silly-talk. STILL, if you are living in town or only dropping through for a visit, you cannot deny the following suggestions are worth a try. Not a single one will disappoint.
As you peruse the following list, you may notice the ubiquity of pools and swimming options, which in any other circumstance would be excessive, but are 100% necessary to beat the heat in Austin. We hope you’ll take the time to visit some of these wonderfully local spots, and let us know which venues you liked, loved, or can’t live without!
For those visiting The W Hotel Austin, located at 2nd and Lavaca in the heart of Austin’s vibrant, eccentric downtown, there’s plenty of luxury to be found. More than a conveniently-located and striking piece of architecture, The W offers seasonal and fresh Texas-fusion cuisine at Trace, as well as a stunning 4th-floor pool and lively deck-bar for guests and friends to take in some of Austin’s hottest parties. Their living room bar features carefully constructed craft cocktails alongside local DJs who welcome travelers and locals, alike.
2. Garage Bar
Taste the spirits of weird Austin with a happy hour drink at Garage Bar on Colorado and 6th Street. This craft-cocktail gem extraordinaire is embedded into a spiral parking-garage and valet-box deep in the heart of the American National Bank. Garage’s drinks and décor dress to impress, and live up to the hype. With an intimate, kitschy atmosphere, Garage is a great place to escape the heat and the din of the downtown crowds and settle into a nice Sazerac. It’s great for dates, business, or extravagance with friends!
3. ACL Live
Austin is the self-proclaimed Live Music Capitol of the World, and Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater remains the warm little beating heart of it. Next to The W Hotel Austin, ACL Live draws performers from all over the globe to downtown Austin. Comedy, performance art, and amazing music headliners such as Elvis Costello, Cyndi Lauper, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Austin’s own Groupo Fanstasma can be seen regularly at ACL Live. If you can’t wait a whole year until ACL Festival comes back around, ACL Live is there for you!
When you just want to get crazy with it, head to Rio Austin’s pool and bar, as well as the West 6th Street District. Rio is highly reminiscent of something out of Vegas, with its dance-driven DJs and wild party atmosphere, all centered around a narrow rooftop pool overlooking the center of West 6th. Bikini-clad beauties hold true to the farm-girl fantasy, as they playfully splash around in the pool and squirt water-guns brimming with low-alcohol shots into patrons’ mouths. On the street-level, West 6th is awash with fine perfume, little black dresses, and unbuttoned collared shirts, ready for a night to remember. Or to completely forget, as it were… Popular venues on this strip include Dogwood, Kung Fu Saloon, and the perennially-hip Star Bar. Plan on getting a taxi home!
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5. Top Golf
Ever wanted to put a driving range on top of a terrace-bar? Top Golf did just that. Why settle for simply drinking and watching the game when you could actually get a little practice on that backswing in the meantime? Show everybody that fit backside of yours as you set your martini down to hit a few balls before sundown or at night from one of the 102 tee-bays over three floors. Great for groups, and open until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
If what you seek is an intimate meal, surrounded by low-light, lush vegetation, and beautifully haunting music, Justine’s Brasserie on East 5th Street serves up delectable French cuisine nightly. The owner, Justine, and her Parisian husband, Pierre, collaborated on the menu to produce some of the most mouth-watering dishes in Austin. Justine’s is ideal for an impromptu date-night, and drop-ins are usually welcome, though a wait is likely. For the date that keeps getting better, remember that the kitchen stays open until 1:30 a.m.
‘Rainey Street’ usually refers to the gentrified 4-block stretch of once-derelict single-family homes built in the 1930s near Lady Bird Lake and downtown. Now beautifully renovated and filled with upscale music venues, bars, and restaurants, Rainey Street is absolutely worth a visit. Catch a cool indie band at the Blackheart, try the phenomenal seasonal menu from illustrious Chef Michael Paley (of South Congress Hotel Fame as well) at Café No Se, and play washers under the twinkling lights of Lucille’s expansive crushed-granite patio.
8. Hotel Van Zandt and Geraldine’s
Any time at Hotel Van Zandt would be time well-spent. Van Zandt is one of Austin’s most luxurious hotels/venues, with panoramic views of downtown and Lady Bird Lake. The hotel also boasts hosting Chef Stephen Bonin’s wildly popular Geraldine’s inside of it, and sits at the apex of Rainey Street. With a 4th floor deck-bar and pool, private cabanas, and a soothing interior, a visit to the Hotel Van Zandt is a good substitute for a trip to Spain — when money’s no object, but time just won’t permit.
9. Perla’s and South Congress Avenue
South Congress is a blast, but let’s face it, it’s hot, crowded, and hectic. If you’re going to be wandering around South Congress, cool down over oysters on the half-shell, grab a drink, and enjoy some serious people-watching from the mutli-level patio at Perla’s Oyster Bar. If raw oysters don’t tickle your fancy, try this on for size: wood-grilled Creole oysters with oregano butter, parmesan, bread crumbs, lemon and toast as a hot-starter, and the Nova Scotia Lobster Bucatini with Lambert’s bacon, garlic, chive, and chili flake as your entree…seriously? Need we say more?
The South Congress Hotel recently opened its doors and immediately rose to the heights of its elders, the classic SoCo Hotels San Jose and Saint Cecilia. South Congress Hotel is the place to stay when you flatly refuse to go outside of the trendy 78704 zip code in South Austin, as many do. Naturally, a glistening rooftop pool and deck-bar overlook the bustle of South Congress. Expect no less than brushing shoulders with Austin celebs over a meal or craft cocktail in the downstairs bar. And if you feel sober, alert, or brave enough, you’ve got immediate walking access to all things SoCo.
Featured photo by John Kim, courtesy of Hotel Van Zandt