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This warehouse district nightclub, which calls itself "Austin's upscale gay lounge," might not be as exclusive as its self-proclaimed title, but the dance floor is always crowded come weekend nights. Live DJs, dancers in cages and a light-up technicolor floor keep things interesting and there are weekly specials and theme nights, including a national karaoke league meet-up.
There's something even better than grabbing a few cocktails at Clive Bar, one of many hip bars in the Rainey Street District. The "hidden" mezcal bar, Bar Illegal, tucked away in the far end of Clive's backyard. It might simply look an old, stone storage shed to the untrained eye, but late-night crowds flock to the historic, Mexican-style cantina, which serves an exclusive menu of Illegal Mezcal (from a small-batch distillery in Oaxaca) and Victoria, one of the oldest beers in Mexico. The strong spirits, rustic decor and intimate vibe (think flickering candlelight and dreamy portraits of Madonna) make it one of the coolest spots in town.
The Broken Spoke, a South Austin icon since 1964, is the best place in town to get Austin's real Lone Star culture. The rustic dancehall (open Tues.- Sat.), now surrounded by South Lamar's modern high-rise condos and mixed-use developments, is the most famous honky-tonk in town, attracting a diverse crowd, from lifelong regulars and silver-haired aficionados to hipsters and tourists. Show up early to enjoy the Spoke’s legendary chicken fried steak and warm up with a dance lesson (Wed-Sat) before the crowds arrive for a lively evening of live country music and good ol' Texas two-stepping.
Oilcan Harry's is another Warehouse District gay club that offers a friendly and fast-paced atmosphere for weekend partygoers. Live DJs, dancers, packed dance floor and spacious outdoor patio for smokers and more relaxed patrons make it a place where everyone from drag queens to more straight-edged party animals.
Things's always something happening at Barbarella, even on weeknights. The Red River nightclub is a long-running hipster haven, but its disco ball-illuminated dance floor attracts a wide range of the city's predominant night owl factions. Themed dance parties keep the weekdays bouncing along, like the popular, Tuesgayz, a weekly gathering of "indie-electro artists laced with divas n' dildos." The crowd is always animated, the costumes are always intriguing and the PBRs are only $2. The back patio also connects to the adjacent, Swan Dive bar, an equally fun, but slightly calmer venue.
This East Austin hangout is no-frills, but it serves a special purpose in the lives of local night owls from all walks of life. It's a democratic gathering place where vegans can find a vegan taco truck and goodies like handmade gluten-free chocolates. (They even have Kombucha on tap.) Music and film buffs can attend exclusive local and international performances and screenings. And the gay and lesbian community can find a home for casual nights out ((It was named the "Best LGBTQ Hangout" by the Austin Chronicle in 2011.) or special events during annual festivals, like Austin Pride and Queerbomb.
It might look like a slightly deserted stretch of East Fifth Street, but Justine's Brasserie is a distinctly French oasis, full of authentic cuisine, rare wines and a lively courtyard complete with bocce courts. The menu is exceptional, from steak frites to ratatouille, and the mood is always brimming with joie de vivre. Enjoy a bottle of vino alresco and stop in the "Infinity Room," a surreal, 80s-esque mirrored room and photo booth. And when in France, it's always fashionable to dine a tad late. The brasserie stays open until 2 a.m. And check the website for any special events or themed parties (thrown every few weeks).
Downtown Sixth Street can be a nightmare of gritty dance clubs and overcrowded college bars. Thankfully, there's Easy Tiger, located on Sixth, just west of Interstate 35. It's a casual beer garden and bar that features plenty of indoor and outdoor seating (complete with ping-pong tables) overlooking Waller Creek, with an unpretentious atmosphere that's perfect for any casual night out. The draft beer selection is vast (and tasty) and all of bread (and oversized soft pretzels) are made in the in-house bakery. Everything is delicious (they recently received a nod from Food & Wine Magazine), but don't miss the beer cheese and housemade sausage.
Cheap drinks. A shady, dog-friendly patio. Tasty bar food, including a killer brunch menu. And local-oriented special events, art shows and live music. The Yellow Jacket Social Club is one of the most popular East Austin hangouts for locals and travelers. Even when the casual hotspot gets crowded during brunch (try the picadillo empanadas) or late Saturday nights, the atmosphere is always casual and inviting.
Locals love to show off this chic East Austin restaurant and bar to all of their out-of-town friends. The chic, 1940s-style decor, bordering an Austin-meets-Portlandia type of scene, features exquisitely-made classic cocktails, from Pimm's Cups to Prescription Juleps, in addition to a small menu of seasonal gourmet dishes, like quail with buttermilk grits. Take advantage of the weekly happy hour or, if it's a special occasion, splurge on the fanciness.
New restaurants and bars seem to appear every week in town, but Contigo (modeled after the Contigo Ranch in South Texas) captures the best of Austin's unique design and culinary sensibilities. The East Austin eatery (dinner and brunch) is an open-aired establishment that likes to keep things simple. From the rustic, refined design aesthetic, complete with hardwood picnic tables and leather-backed chairs to the elevated "bar food"-- exquisite small plates, like ox tail sliders, grilled kale and confit chicken wings. The delicious dishes paired with an equally tempting list of local beers and specialty cocktails, make it the perfect place for a date, family gathering or any other kind of friendly gathering.
This secluded luxury hotel, tucked just off South Congress Avenue, is the ultimate boutique destination to celebrate Austin's spirit in style. Owned by the local legend of hoteliers, Liz Lambert, the Saint Cecilia is an indulgent enclave of gorgeous cabana-style suites, exclusive pools and lounge space and a sense of privacy that suits the city's visiting celebrities and cultural elite. Bikes are available for guests to cruise up and down the Congress thoroughfare.
Easy Bistro & Bar serves up sophisticated comfort food (along with a swanky cocktail list) inside a refurbished Coca-Cola bottling plant just one block from the Tennessee Aquarium. It's a chic atmosphere that makes their house specialties, like a raw oyster bar, duck confit and slow-braised brisket, taste even more delicious.
The Bluff View Art District, just a few minutes from downtown, overlooking the Tennessee River, is an historic neighborhood packed to the gills with beautiful architecture, world-class art museums and galleries, artisan coffee shops, bakeries and local restaurants. Stop in for a coffee and handmade pastry at Rembrandt's Coffee House, stroll through the River Gallery Sculpture Garden and be sure to spend plenty of time exploring the Hunter Museum of American Art.