It’s not secret that when it comes to bars and nightclubs, Austin’s cup runneth over. Head into the city and you can find a watering hole, trendy tavern or sports bar filled with rowdy patrons on virtually every street corner. But not everything in downtown Austin is as it seems…and there are a few well-kept secrets that you have to dig a little deeper to find. There’s something undeniably sexy about the concept of a speakeasy. They’re dark, hidden and full of secrets! And these hidden bars in Austin are unique, delicious and definitely worth the extra sleuth work to see and taste something new and exciting. So from romantic hidden bars to low-key love lounges, here’s the sexiest speakeasies in Austin and how to find them!
If you find yourself barhopping on popular Rainey and you’re looking for something a little more exotic, explore the extraordinary Bar Ilegal. This mischievous mezcal cantina is built inside a small 1920’s stone shack, with the interior boasting its original structure and a few well-placed antiques. Step inside this tiny tavern and you’ll find a rich pecan wood bartop, rustic-chic iron candelabra and a vintage turntable spinning old school Latin tunes from the good old days. The bar gets its criminal name from the main brand of mezcal that they pour: Ilegal, a proto-tequila produced in Oaxaca that comes in Joven, Reposado or Anejo. This specialty cocktail cellar is definitely meant for those who appreciate the acquired taste of tequila. Order your beverage with an exciting infusion like dry chile pepper, cinnamon or hibiscus, then savor every last sip from out of an authentic jicama bowl – as opposed to a shot glass. To find this cleverly concealed craft cocktail cantina, head to Clive Bar and venture around to the back of the building – Bar Ilegal sits just behind it.
You wouldn’t think that a parking garage would make a particularly good cocktail bar…but that’s exactly what the master mixologists at Garage Bar in downtown Austin are known for! If you’re more of a style minimalist and a self-proclaimed drink aficionado, then you’ll love the tasty cocktail creations inside the clandestine Garage. The outside of the bar doesn’t look like much: just your average downtown parking garage only distinguishable by a neon blue sign. But inside you’ll find sultry dim lighting, modern yet simple decor and a beautiful round bar surrounded with plush seating. This concrete cantina has one of the best cocktail menus in Austin, but you have to venture under the streets to find it. Once inside the Garage, you’ll be spoiled rotten by a delectable drink menu that features a hand picked selection of rich wines, classic libations like the Old Fashioned and the French and several very special custom craft cocktails. For something artsy, colorful and delicious, try the Indian Paintbrush: winner of Austin Drink of 2015 made with vodka grapefruit and rosemary. Or tickle your tongue with the Someday Baby with tequila, mezcal, chamomile and honey or the Forked Tongue with Sotol, jalapeño and green chartreuse. To find this hidden drink haven, head to the parking garage in Colorado St. and follow the neon blue sign to drink nirvana.
Red Headed Stepchild
Do you have a box full of broken floppy disks you’d like to fix? If not, don’t worry. There’s no floppy disks required to have a delectable craft drink inside this quirky unmarked bar. Floppy Disk Repair Co. may not be the most relevant of trades, but it’s their devious mixed drinks that keep this place booming with customers! This misleading misadventure advertises itself as a “Full Service Floppy Disk Repair Shop” on their website, with a confusing disclaimer that says “call for appointments” and “sorry, no phone number.” But if you decide to venture to this bizarre business off sixth street then you may find something way more than you bargained for! Inside this former Floppy Disk shop is a swingin speakeasy known irreverently as Red Headed Stepchild with red neon lights, outrageous cocktails and plenty of old school tunes to reminisce to. It’s like the ultimate man-cave in downtown Austin, complete with Ouija boards, creepy neon pick-up lines like “mmm, your hair smells good” lighting up the walls, string dolls and actual swings at the bar! The drink menu has cheeky cocktail creations like Nobody liked Miranda Anyway (which evidently “tastes like having a crush on your cousin”), The Basic Bitch (which “tastes like you are soooo #blessed”) and My Trix are Not for your Kids (“tastes like it ain’t my kid so it ain’t my problem”.) Ya, that’s actually on the menu…You can even order a side car of Fruity Pebbles to complete the absurdity of your cocktail experience. This clubhouse-style speakeasy isn’t the kind of place you just stumble into, since it has a locked entrance with a keypad that requires a secret access code. You can always try getting in by sweet talking the doorman or sneaking in behind someone coming or going. But Yelpers and online reviewers say your best bet is to buy a drink next door at Handlebar, tip the bartender generously and ask nicely for the access code to the Red Headed Stepchild.
Perfect for a warm, sultry evening on the town, Techo (Spanish for “Roof”) is Austin’s premier Mezcal spot – and, in true Texas style, it comes with a side of bomb ass tacos! Perched above the locally famous Mi Madres, this South American style speakeasy is dripping with Mexican decadence in the form of scalloped metal chairs, authentic greenery and walls adorned with specialty commissioned art from Mexico. Here you can sip on some of the best mezcal while you admire the finer things about this bar like the stained glass windows or string lights overhead. Popular mezcal mixes include Cura Cabeza (Head Cure) with orange curaçao, maguey sap and chocolate bitters, Tepache Mapache with Blanco tequila, housemade tepache and pineapple sage shrub or the ‘Ta Cabron’ with mezcal, gin, gingerbeer and Suza. Or you can sample some of Techo’s bold agave- and beer-based cocktails like the Cereza Hermosa with Reposada tequila, cherry heering, ancho reyes and lime. To find Techo, just head to Mi Madre’s (of course grab an obligatory taco), walk through School House Pub‘s patio and take the stairway to the mezcal Mecca.
Concealed in the corner of a parking garage in downtown Austin, Small Victory is a gorgeously decorated “dive bar” that’s modeled after the Speakeasies of the 1920’s. This cozy yet well appointed space consists of plush blue velvet booths, exposed brick and concrete and rich wooden tabletops where you can huddle around the candlelight and conspire the night away. They’ve even got a big round booth in the center of the space that looks like it could have played host to the most nefarious of mobsters back in the day. The spectacular drink menu at Small Victory features an impeccably curated wine list as well as a selection of hand crafted cocktails served out of beakers that experiment with classic recipes of bygone times. For a unique variation on the whiskey sour, try the Artist’s Special with scotch, whiskey, cherry, lemon juice and grenadine. Or take the edge off a long day with the Painkiller, an all-seasons pina colada off adapted from the 1971 Soggy Dollar Bar of the British Virgin Islands. If you’re looking for a palatable party you can share with the whole table, order the Philadelphia Fish House Punch: a fruity mixed cocktail with Jamaican rum brandy, apple brandy and peach liquor that dates all the way back to the 1730’s! If you get a little peckish, you can order an artisanal charcuterie board or fresh ham and cheese from the kitchen. Small Victory is intimate, romantic and the perfect spot for a first date or nightcap. To find Small Victory, head to the Stephen F. Austin Hotel and go all the way to the back of the parking garage. Follow a small flight of stairs until you reach a large set of wooden doors. Then make your way inside for a magical trip down memory lane.
Concealed under the streets of east Sixth, the Milonga Room is an intimate underground escape to another world in the heart of Austin. This romantic tavern is reminiscent of a 1920’s Argentinian tango spot, with South American Art Deco style, heavy curtains, tasseled lamps and plush velvet booths all around. The lights are always low and the candles are always lit, making the Milonga Room a great spot for a romantic evening or special rendezvous for two. The furniture may be opulent and old fashioned but the vibes are edgy and sexy. The Amaro-focused cocktail menu at Milonga pays homage to the late great El Barman Galante of Argentina, who believed that drinks are meant to be sipped, shared and savored. Enjoy sparkling conversation with your date over some exquisite tapas plates, like Aceitunas with house-marinated olives, the Picada with cured meats or the Tabla de Quesos cheese dish. Then wash it down with a specialty cocktail like the Gran Gomero with Waterloo gin and blackberry cardamom shrub, the Gardelita with Argentine house made sangria or the Caminito with Blanco rum, aperol and grapefruit soda. Soon you’ll be ready to tango the night away! To get into this South American-style speakeasy, go around to the back of Buenos Aires Cafe and knock on the door. Reservations aren’t necessarily required but are always recommended to ensure access.
Set behind a dusty bookcase in a historic downtown hostel, the Firehouse Lounge is one of Austin’s most popular hidden bars. It may not be the city’s best kept secret, but this Narnia-like escape still makes for one exciting evening escapade in downtown Austin. The Firehouse Lounge is named so because it is built inside the oldest standing fire station in Austin, which has since been converted into a trendy hostel and hidden speakeasy. Not only does this place score sexy points for being tucked inside a hostel, but it also has a charming rose-tinted aura that harkens back to the smoky jazz lounges of Yesteryear. Inside the lounge you’ll find bordello-red walls, exposed pipes, antique light fixtures and a loaded bar accented with eclectic knick knacks. The space also includes a small stage which hosts various local artists as well as a handful of Parisian cafe tables accented with tea light candles. It kind of gives off a scat cat, beatnik artist vibe while also managing to be romantic and intimate at the same time. The master mixologists at Firehouse Lounge do so much more than mix drinks, they make sippable art. If you’re in the mood for something bold, Try the Comancheria cocktail, a finalist for the Official Drink of Austin 2017 that contains Kooper Family rye, green chile syrup, dry curacao, laphroalg mist and Bad Dog Bloody Mary bitters. Or go for the crowd-pleaser Zac Saffron with gin, grapefruit, amaro meletti and saffron bitters. If you get hungry you can order something savory from the kitchen like tacos, a gourmet sandwich or cheeseburger sliders. Then huddle around the candlelight and watch the bar patrons come and go. To find the Firehouse Lounge, walk through the main hostel entrance and look to the right of the check-in desk for the pocket door masquerading as an old bookcase. Some nights there’s DJ’s spinning an eclectic mix of jazz, blues and rock and other nights there’s live crooners serenading the crowd. But every night there’s magic waiting behind the bookcase at the Firehouse Lounge.
If you’re looking for a cocktail experience on dirty sixth that goes beyond the basic blender, then check out the captivating cocktail menu at Midnight Cowboy. This sultry speakeasy isn’t much of a secret to locals, but that doesn’t make it any less sexy! Rumor has it that Midnight Cowboy makes some of the best mixed drinks in Austin! The outside of this tiny tavern is disguised as an average business called “Midnght Cowboy Modeling” that blends in with just about every other building on dirty sixth. But once inside, you’ll find a gorgeous old-fashioned saloon accented with exposed brick, plush black booths, gilded mirrors and artisan tin tiled ceilings. The black marbled table tops are each lit with small red wall sconces and votive candles, and the bar itself is barely big enough to belly up to. But the limited space and seating are part of what makes Midnight Cowboy such a special experience on sixth street. If you’re lucky enough to snag a booth, then you’ll be treated to a feast for the eyes and tastebuds. The mixologists at Midnight Cowboy like to make their mouthwatering masterpieces right at your table, carrying all the ingredients they need with them on a drink cart. For something dark and complex, try the Dead Man’s Party house cocktail, made with three American whiskies, cinnamon, grapefruit and tiki bitters. Or try one of Midnight Cowboy’s Spun Classics like The Millennial with genever, cocchi americano, Creme de cacao, egg white and lavender, or the Death and Taxes with green brandy, velvet falernum, pineapple and citrus. No matter what drink you get, you can bet that its moxie will match its flavor. To find the Midnight Cowboy, look for the Four Horsemen and Shakespeare’s off dirty sixth, then find Midnight Cowboy Modeling next door. Reservations are highly recommended if you want easy access to this super exclusive speakeasy.
Here Nor There
Offering the most exclusive of downtown escapes, Here Nor There is a highbrow semi-secret social club catering to the upper echelon of Austin. No mere ticket or hidden door will grant you access to this top-shelf tavern, but if you manage to get an invitation then you’re bound to have one the most deliciously decadent experiences downtown Austin has to offer. Cleverly named for its elusive and enigmatic nature, Here Nor There is comprised of a specially curated group of like-minded staff and members that specialize in global pursuits and procurements. The decor is eclectic, elegant and mesmerizing all at the same time, with starry-like ceilings and velvet couches. On the menu you’ll find a worldly array of craft cocktails that span the continents and eschew all convention. For example, their popular Milk and Honey cocktail with Mount Gay Black Barrel, Planation 5, dark rum, Clement Cain Bleu, Martel, Batavia Arrack, homemade lemon sherbet, pineapple and trade route spices comes cleverly served in a tea cup. Though this fancy-pants parlor is strict about their members-only policy, you can always get through the gated alleyway by entering a secret password obtained from the Here Nor There app.