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 the best places to grab a drink, these speakeasies and secret bars are worth your time.
3 Best Speakeasies in Austin
1. Midnight Cowboy
Opened in 2012 in the space of a former massage parlor, Midnight Cowboy was one of the first speakeasies in Austin.
This small, shabby chic cocktail bar is an island of class amid a sea of kitschy dives on Dirty Sixth, a section of East Sixth Street a few blocks from Congress Avenue in downtown Austin.
Some mixed drinks on the cocktail menu, such as the Greek-inspired Yah-Sas, are made behind the bar.
Others, like the colorful Alaska-inspired Kaleidoscope, are made tableside for your viewing pleasure.
Drink prices range from $12 to $14. Discounts are available for some cocktails if you order two or four of the same. No beer or wine is available.
Your time inside may be limited to two hours if they're fully booked. If the red light above the door is on, there's space available for walk-ins.
How to visit: Make a reservation via their website. Show up at your assigned time. You're at the right place if there's a button for "Harry Craddock" by the door. A member of the bar staff will greet you.
313 E 6th St, Downtown, midnightcowboymodeling.com
2. Here Nor There
Here Nor There is a relative newcomer to the Austin speakeasy scene, opening 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, 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 are more comfortable.
The best cocktails on the 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.
However, Here Nor There does offer an annual membership with exclusive perks for $500. Membership is by invitation only.
There's a strict no photography policy to maintain the privacy of guests and members.
Once approved, you can request a reservation, preferably 24 hours in advance. If the booking is accepted, you'll be given a door code for the entrance.
612 Brazos St, Downtown, hntaustin.com
3. Small Victory
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 a cozy space, 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 great craft cocktails, ensuring there's something for everyone.
Drink prices are about $12 to $14, except for a Philadelphia Fish House Punch recipe dating back to the 1730s for $60.
Charcuterie and cheese boards further class up the joint, so you have something to nibble on during happy hour.
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
Related: Best Speakeasies in San Diego
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Kinfolk Lounge & Library
Austin's newest speakeasy is a 20-seat cocktail lounge and spirits library in the historical cellar of Moonshine Grill.
Kinfolk Lounge & Library's space dates back to the 1850s. However, you'd never know it from the terrific job the founders did in refurbishing the basement.
I booked one of the two-person tables for 9:15 p.m. on December 31, 2021, the second day it was open to the public. Reservations are for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
A sign for Kinfolk outside Moonshine Grill shows they're not trying to make too much of a secret of the new bar. After checking in with Moonshine's staff, we were led down a staircase to Kinfolk.
Four two-person tables lined the right side, opposite the small bar pictured above.
A 10-person communal table occupied the center of the spirits library, in an adjacent room full of rare and collector-quality liquors.
I began with a well-crafted Gin Fizz using Still Austin Naturalist Gin, Kinfolk citrus blend, egg white, gum syrup, and Q Club Soda, while my girlfriend, Kel, got a strong tequila drink.
I followed it up with a tasty Mai Tai, reminiscent of our lunch at Duke's in Waikiki over the summer.
Mixed drinks are about $16 to $18 apiece, which is on par with what you can expect to pay at Austin's best speakeasies.
Kinfolk will eventually be offering snacks by local providers, including charcuterie boards, fresh cheeses from Antonelli's Cheese Shop, SRSLY Chocolate, and macarons from La Patisserie; however, they weren't available at the time of my visit.
How to visit: Reservations are required and can be made up to 14 days in advance. To make one, visit their website or find them on the Resy app. Date night attire is recommended.
303 B Red River St, Downtown, kinfolkaustin.com
Mezcaleria Tobala is an Oaxacan-style mezcal bar on the second floor of Whisler's, everyone's favorite East Austin craft cocktail bar.
If you can pry yourself away from Whisler's patio, head upstairs to try any of Mezcaleria Tobala's 180 varieties of mezcal. Pours are $7 to $35 each.
Mezcaleria Tobala is open Fridays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.
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, an Argentinian restaurant in East Austin. 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% 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 secret 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 in the oldest firehouse in Austin (dating back to 1885).
The lounge is more open and spacious than the other speakeasies on this list and features a stage where live bands and DJs perform regularly.
Thanks partly to the live music, Firehouse Lounge is a well-known and popular speakeasy among Austinites and can be crowded on weekends.
How to visit: Enter the building and turn right. The lounge is behind a sliding bookshelf. First come, first serve, and no reservations are taken—open Wednesday through Sunday.
605 Brazos St, Downtown, firehousehostel.com
Related: Best Bars in San Francisco
Techo Mezcaleria & Agave Bar
"Techo" means "roof" in Spanish, and that's exactly what you'll get at this intimate bar in East Austin.
The indoor space is limited, fitting no more than a dozen customers comfortably. A small nook with a red brick wall bearing a tiled image of Our Lady of Guadalupe seats three to four people.
If you're claustrophobic, take advantage of the outdoor seating.
The drink menu is all about mezcals, tequilas, and sotols. You can try some of them straight by the copita (¾ ounce) or full shot (1.5 ounces).
I loved my delicious Desierto cocktail with sotol, nixta corn liquor, pear puree, and lavender bitters.
At the same time, Kel got a frozen watermelon mezcal margarita which was a bit too smoky for either of our tastes.
How to visit: Walk between Mi Madre's and the School House Pub (also owned by Torres) next door to access a staircase up to Techo; the bar is inside the two faded turquoise doors.
2201 Manor Rd, East Austin, facebook.com/techomezcaleria
The newest speakeasy on the block for 2022 is The Treasury in East Austin. This is my neighborhood, so I was excited to see something more than a dive bar open up shop.
But, fear not, dive bar fans. The Treasury is *inside* a dive bar, which also happens to have a large outdoor patio.
You can start with a Lone Star in the dark and divey Shangri-La before heading out the back door and upstairs to grab a margarita on the deck.
Find the hidden rear staircase to The Treasury, and finish the night with their take on classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Sazerac, and Clover Club.
How to visit: If there's a green light on outside Shangri-La, The Treasury is open. Enter through Shangri-La, walk out the back door, and up to the deck. Once you're up there, make a U-turn and head to the back staircase. First come, first serve.
1016 E 6th St, East Austin, instagram.com/the_treasury_atx
Red Headed Stepchild
The Handlebar is one of my favorite rooftop bars in downtown Austin.
Its owners are also behind the funny-looking Floppy Disk Repair Co. sign, a front for their speakeasy bar: the Red Headed Stepchild.
The secret door code can be hard to come by as it changes monthly. Your best bet is to try chatting with a bartender at Handlebar.
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 drink menu; 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 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 inside an actual parking garage. However, you'll forget the outside world once you enter this dimly lit bar/lounge.
I've gone a few times, and while I've enjoyed the mixed drinks and music, I don't find the interior as warm and inviting as 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
Thanks for reading my take on the best speakeasies in Austin, from the cocktail-focused to mezcal and everything in between.
As the city's bar scene evolves, I'll keep an eye out for new Austin speakeasies to share with you here.