The best speakeasies in Austin require a little planning to visit.
The good news is your effort will be rewarded with fantastic and creative cocktails from some of the city's best bartenders, served in intimate spaces throughout downtown and East Austin.
The following list is based on my personal experience since moving to the city in 2016.
Whether you're going out with friends, on a date, or just looking for a unique place to grab a drink, these speakeasies and secret bars are worth your time.
The 3 Best Speakeasies in Austin
Opened in 2012, Midnight Cowboy was one of the first speakeasies to set up shop in Austin.
This small, shabby chic cocktail bar is an island of class amidst a sea of kitschy dives on Dirty Sixth, a section of 6th Street in downtown Austin catering to college kids and tourists.
As of 2019, the cocktail menu is in the form of a passport, with travel-inspired drinks to fuel your conversations.
The bartender makes some mixed drinks, such as the Greek-inspired Yah-Sas.
Others, like the colorful Alaska-inspired Kaleidoscope, are made table-side for your viewing pleasure.
Drink prices range from $12-$14. Discounts are available for some cocktails if you order two or four of the same. No beer or wine is available.
If they're fully booked, your time inside may be limited to two hours.
How to visit: Make a reservation via their website. Show up at our assigned time and push the button for "Harry Craddock." A member of the staff will greet you.
313 E 6th St, Downtown, midnightcowboymodeling.com
Here Nor There
Here Nor There is a relative newcomer to the Austin speakeasy scene, having only opened its doors in June 2018.
Unlike the other bars on this list, I was already living in Austin when it opened, so I had the opportunity to go early and go often.
It quickly became my favorite cocktail bar in the city.
Entering the bar is an experience unto itself, from needing a door code to walking down the artfully designed stairwell into the paws of a life-size bear.
The underground bar is dark and intimate. Where you're seated will depend on preference and party size.
I've sat at the bar a few times and enjoyed chatting with the bartenders and other patrons, but the sofas can be comfy, too.
The cocktails on the current menu evoke the flavors native to specific parts of the world visited by the bartenders. I've tried over a dozen drinks and enjoyed them all.
The only beer offered is Guinness, which is available on tap.
Contrary to what you may read or hear, you do not need to be a member to get a drink there.
That said, Here Nor There offers an annual membership with exclusive perks for $500. Membership is by invitation only.
To maintain the privacy of guests and members alike, there's a strict no photography policy.
How to visit: Download the app from iTunes or the Google Play store. Fill out your profile and follow any directions. Once approved, you can request a reservation, preferably 24 hours in advance. If the booking is accepted, you'll be given a door code to use at the entrance.
612 Brazos St, Downtown, hntaustin.com
Small Victory was one of the first speakeasies in Austin I visited, and it remains one of my favorites today.
I like it because it's small and intimate, with the bar running along the left side, including plush, swiveling seats and two-person tables along the right side.
A few larger tables in the back can seat four to six people.
Small Victory offers a selection of wine and beer in addition to their cocktails, ensuring there's something for everyone.
Speaking of drinks, as of June 11, 2021, they're still only operating as a to-go bar due to the pandemic. Hopefully, this won't last much longer.
On their pre-pandemic menu, prices ranged from $12-$14, except for a Philadelphia Fish House Punch recipe dating back to the 1730s for $60.
Further classing up the joint are charcuterie and cheese boards, so you have something to nibble on during happy hour, which previously ran from 5-8 pm, Monday through Saturday.
How to visit: Look for the glass door next to the parking garage entrance. First come, first serve.
108 E 7th St, Downtown, smallvictory.bar
See also: Best Speakeasies in San Diego
Best of the Rest: Secret Bars Worth a Drink
The tiny Mezcaleria Tobala is an Oaxacan-style mezcal bar on the second floor of Whisler's, everyone's favorite East Austin bar.
If you can pry yourself away from the expansive patio, head upstairs to taste some of their 180 varieties of mezcals, priced between $7 - $35 per pour.
Mezcaleria Tobala is open Fridays and Saturdays from 7 pm to 2 am.
How to visit: Enter Whisler's and walk up the exterior staircase in the courtyard.
1816 E 16th St, East Austin, whislersatx.com
The Milonga Room is a speakeasy in the basement of the Buenos Aires Cafe. It's a small space, with a low white-tile ceiling.
Many seasonal and classic Latin cocktails are available, including recipes featuring Fernet, an Italian bitter popular in Argentina.
Wine and beer are also available. Wine by the bottle is 50 percent off on Mondays.
How to visit: Reservations are required and available in one or two-hour increments. To make a reservation, email [email protected] Once accepted, you'll be provided a password. Knock on the blue door in the parking lot. Have your password ready.
1201 E 6th St, East Austin, buenosairescafe.com
The Firehouse Hostel and Lounge is located in the oldest firehouse in Austin (built in 1885).
The lounge is more open and spacious than the other bars on this list and features a stage where live bands and DJs perform regularly.
Firehouse Lounge is a well-known and popular speakeasy amongst Austinites and can be crowded on weekends.
How to visit: Enter the building and turn right. Slide the faux-bookcase door open. First come, first serve. No reservations are taken. Open Wednesday through Sunday.
605 Brazos St, Downtown, firehousehostel.com
Note: This bar is temporarily closed due to the pandemic.
Opened in fall 2019, J. Stephens is a haunted, hole-in-the-wall speakeasy just off East 6th Street.
A red neon "J Stephens" sign hangs on the brick wall by the little bar, bathing a red velvet chair in its warm glow.
The names of the house cocktails tell the history of J. Stephens, a man who worked in the space during the 1920s and killed himself there.
During my visit, Mark Yawn, the bartender, mixed me up a vodka, gin, and passion fruit cocktail.
A small food menu features:
- Charcuterie board
- Fried chicken skins
- Pork belly bites
- Fire wings
- Queso-infused meatballs
Hopefully, they'll be able to re-open as it's a cool little spot that doesn't try too hard.
214 East 6th Street (entrance in alley between E 6th & 7th St), Downtown, Instagram
Red Headed Stepchild
Handlebar is one of my favorite rooftop bars in downtown Austin.
Its owners are also behind the funny-looking Floppy Disk Repair Co. sign, which is a front for their speakeasy: the Red Headed Stepchild.
The door code can be hard to come by as it changes monthly. Both times I've been, it was out of sheer luck standing outside the door and either following someone with the code inside or ducking in after people left.
Inside, it's dark and uninviting, despite the warm glow of the often-Instagrammed neon sign saying, "Mmm....your hair smells pretty."
I can't say much for the cocktail menu, either. It's more focused on serving classic cocktails than innovative signature drinks.
Overall, I feel like this bar is more of a novelty. I was glad to have seen the inside, but it didn't inspire me to become a regular.
How to visit: You'll need an access code that's not publicly provided and changes monthly. Ask around, ask a bartender at Handlebar, or try your luck at the door.
119 E 5th St, Downtown, floppydiskrepair.co
The Garage Bar is easy to miss, as it's tucked inside an actual parking garage. However, once you enter this dimly lit bar/lounge, you'll forget the outside world.
I've gone a handful of times, and while I've always enjoyed the mixed drinks and music, I don't find the seating and interior as warm and inviting as many of the other bars on this list.
How to visit: Look for the neon sign. First come, first serve. Reservations aren't necessary.
503 Colorado St, Downtown, garagetx.com
There you have it, my take on the best speakeasies in Austin, from those that are cocktail-focused to a mezcal bar and a little of everything in between.
Now that Austin's bar scene has re-opened, there are a few places I'd still like to try.
- The Whisper Room at the Stephen F Austin Royal Sonesta Hotel - a 1920s-themed bar that's reservation only. When I last enquired at the hotel, which appears to be under new ownership, a minimum $50 food tab was required.
- Techo Mezcaleria & Agave Bar - a rooftop mezcal bar above Mi Madre's Restaurant.
And, of course, I'll be keeping an eye out for any new arrivals to share with you here.