Given he's spent more than two decades mixing drinks, opening bars, and co-founding a spirits company, our pal Jason Kosmas may be the best person to follow on a bar crawl through the weird city. Make sure to call a cab at the end of the night: No one should drive after this one. (We got a buzz just reading this.)
AUSTIN – I first visited Austin in 2003 and instantly fell so in love with the city that I dreamed of moving there. Over the next ten years, I opened two cocktail bars and restaurants in New York City (Employees Only and Macao Trading Company) and launched The 86 Company, makers of Fords Gin, Caña Brava Rum, Tequila Cabeza, and Aylesbury Duck Vodka. Along the way, my dream came true: I moved to Austin. These days, my job requires me to frequent the best bars in the city, talking with bartenders to educate them (as well as drinkers) on spirits and cocktails. Yes, I make a living tasting the best cocktails in town made by some of the most amazing bartenders in the country. (Hey: Someone has to do it.) But drinking alone is no fun. In that spirit, these are my favorite cocktail bars, music bars, and restaurants.
208 W. 4th St.; +1-512-494-4011
One of the first classic cocktail bars in Austin and a long-time breeding ground for many of the city's best bartenders. Along with hearty food, Péché easily boasts the largest curated liquor selection in town, useful for when I need to do "research."
108 E. 7th St.; +1-737-701-0500
Tucked away on the second floor of an office building, Small Victory was born of the passion of local bartender Josh Loving. His meticulous approach to classic cocktails, served in an intimate and cozy room, exists outside of time and allows me to forget about the troubles in the world.
1300 S. Lamar Blvd.; +1-512-551-9980
Jessica and Michael Sanders, of North Loop neighborhood favorite, Drink Well, bring their blend of food, customer service, and cocktails to South Lamar, doors down from local landmark The Saxon Pub. With fair Austin weather, the rooftop is the perfect place to drink and listen to eclectic playlists.
313 E. 6th St.; +1-512-843-2715
A reservation-only speakeasy hidden in the middle of Austin's "dirty" 6th Street. Tableside cocktail service and private rooms are part of the charm that have earned the bar national acclaim. Just be sure to make the res.
503 Colorado St.; +1-512-369-3490
A high-energy cocktail bar nestled in the belly of a parking garage on the edge of Austin's warehouse district. Caña Brava daiquiris and people watching always rev up the engine for a fun-filled evening.
COCKTAILS AND MUSIC
75 1/2 Rainey St.; +1-512-391-1877
This shining gem of a cocktail bar on bustling Rainey Street is the sister restaurant of world-renowned Varnish in Los Angeles. Created by Austin native Chris Bostick, I love it for the concise list of drinks as well as the local bands who play through the week.
605 Davis St.; +1-512-476-4755
If you are looking for a hotel bar that breaks the mold, hit Geraldine's, a funky-fun spot in the Van Zandt right off Rainey Street. Bar manager Jen Keyser puts together great cocktails and a great team of bartenders in the restaurant and music venue.
718 Congress Ave., #100; +1-512-887-8778
In the front, it's a classy and elegant bar. In the back, it's one of the best acoustically sound rooms for seeing live bands. Original cocktails from a collaboration of bartenders make this a great place to stay from happy hour through closing. Their hot chicken is a must.
1100 S. Lamar Blvd., #2140; +1-512-375-4869
The bar in chef Joe Anguiano's modern dining room is very small — enough to encourage conversation among guests who find themselves in close proximity to strangers. Credit goes to bar manager JR Mocanu and his team, who are so thoughtful in their food and drink descriptions that guests are often united over common questions and interests.
615 S. Lamar Blvd.; +1-512-916-9000
A new neighborhood addition features the beautiful 150-year-old bar from legendary Cedar Tavern in NYC. I have a special connection to this bar, as I served the celebratory drinks at Employees Only to the owners when they rescued the bar from demolition almost ten years ago. (We continue to take great care of it down here.)
Clark's Oyster Bar
1200 W. 6th St.; +1-512-297-2525
While technically a small seafood restaurant, Clark's Oyster Bar is as charming as its bar manager, Alex Holder. One of my favorite settings to have a Fords Gin martini and a dozen oysters followed by the best pan-fried burger in town.
1201 S. Lamar Blvd.; +1-512-433-6521
The food truck turned brick and mortar serves small plates that challenge diners' conceptions of both flavor and texture. This is my go-to restaurant when I bring people to town. Their laid-back attitude mixed with their serious approach to food and cocktails encapsulate what makes Austin so special.
WHERE TO STAY
When my friends do come to town, these are the hotels I suggest they book — to recover and to refuel for the next outing.
Van Zandt Hotel
The music-themed hotel that's home to Geraldine's.
South Congress Hotel
A cool boutique whose location can't be beat.
Hotel San Jose
A local favorite, for good reason.
The White Hat Airstream Park
An Airbnb that I really like.