Kindred Spirits: The Best Hotel Bars in Austin
No matter what your zip code, these drinking spots are worth a visit
By Laurel Miller
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To the surprise of exactly no one, the average big city hotel bar isn’t a place where locals like to hang. Even guests aren’t a guaranteed captive audience, especially in a city like Austin where the siren’s song of happy hour and late-night revelry beckon from nearly every square block of downtown and South Congress.
These days, however, Austin’s hotel game is strong, making a compelling argument for locals to book a staycation or drop by for the occasional drink, while visitors will be compelled to linger a little longer. Whether it’s a hot new restaurant, stellar views, opulent ambiance, destination-worthy craft cocktails or some combination thereof, the following hotel bars are worth a visit, regardless of where you call home.
The Driskill Bar, The Driskill: When downtown’s never-ending construction and congestion get to be too much, duck into this legendary mid-19th century bar, which has retained the feel of an elite Victorian-era watering hole. The drinks are nothing fancy – this is the place for a beer or whiskey, neat – but it’s pure old-school Austin, adorned with Western artifacts (founder Jesse Driskill was a cattle baron). Curl up on one of the leather sofas and remind yourself that it’s nice some things never change.
Vixen’s Wedding, ARRIVE Austin: One of several recently opened smaller properties, this 83-room Eastside hotel is anchored by this acclaimed Goan-Portuguese eatery by managing partner Todd Duplechan. The bar – which serves the full menu – offers similarly creative cocktails, like the potent Golden Lassi (cachaça, mango, turmeric, ginger, coconut milk, lemon), which arrives alight. These are drinks meant to go with the menu’s salty, spicy, tangy bites (like chaat-fried green tomatoes with herbed yogurt and mint chutney), so plan accordingly. Gin Bar is a must-visit for fans of the botanical spirit, but even the juniper-averse should stop by. Bar director Madeline Ridgway oversees Austin’s largest gin curation (and possesses the encyclopedic knowledge to go with it) and guaranteed, she’ll find a selection suited to your palate.
Geraldine’s, Hotel Van Zandt: Time your visit just before sunset, and you’ll be rewarded with fourth floor views of Lady Bird Lake (the glam interior’s not too shabby, either); outside, an oversized fireplace wards off early spring chill. Geraldine’s excels at straightforward cocktails like the ever-changing signature G & T (like Ford’s gin, basil, cherry tomatoes, black pepper and Fever Tree tonic) or seasonal offerings like the It’s the Fennel Countdown (Waterloo Old Yaupon Gin, Finocchietto, lemon, olive oil, absinthe rinse). For a different kind of view, there’s Rules & Regs at the Fairmont Austin. Take the elevator to this seventh-floor poolside bar with panoramic views of downtown. Order the Sotold Ya So (Desert Door Original sotol, Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol Anejo, Yellow Chartreuse, cantaloupe, lime, agave nectar) and take in the madness below; if you’re feeling peckish, try the queso panela, served with housemade tortillas and mole rojo.
Watertrade, South Congress Hotel: Readers of Kindred Spirits already know I’m obsessed with this moody little bar inside of Otoko – the hotel’s spectacular 12-seat omakase restaurant – but with good reason. Bar managers Whitney Hazelmyer and Ricky Cobia create a magical experience for guests, whether they’re dining at the restaurant or not. It’s all about Japanese craft spirits and sake and a meticulous, intelligent approach to cocktails, like the Doyo (Suntory Roku Gin, housemade shiso liqueur and lime) or Kyandi (Mizu Lemongrass Shochu, yuzu kosho tincture, lemon, ginger syrup). Time your visit for off-peak hours for an immersive educational experience compliments of the bar team.
It’s not in a hotel, but Ellis, the street-level bar at Fareground food hall is at the epicenter of pedestrian traffic, at the corner of Congress and 2nd. Hit pause between seminars, screenings and music venues for thoughtful cocktails like the Buzz Me Up (Dickel Rye, Caffe del Fuego, Dry Curaçao, Aztec chocolate biters, served with an oversized cube of ice) or bar manager Jennine Turow’s cerebral, tiki-inspired creations. Bonus: the menu includes offerings from all Fareground’s food vendors.