With the Highball Closed, Does Kung Fu Saloon Measure Up?

Kung Fu Saloon is located on 6th St. in Austin, TX

After the holidays, I resumed my search for a replacement to the Highball. Of course, no two places are identical. But the Highball had provided me a place to eat and drink, and offered more entertainment than just watching my drunk friends fall down. Thus far on my search, I’ve visited The Goodnight and The Common Interest. These spots aren’t trying to be The Highball, but each has elements of entertainment that overlap with The Highball in some way.

This time, I tried out Kung Fu Saloon on 6th Street. It has a much different vibe than the other places I’ve been to, but holds dear the same philosophy as The Highball: entertaining games make drinking more fun. Kung Fu is much smaller, but it holds a good quantity of arcade games, old school video game tables and Skeeball. And in their outside patio, there are several sets of Giant Jenga and life-sized Connect Four. The brick wall of the outdoor patio is also an incredibly clever homage to Space Invaders.

Life Sized Connect Four at Kung Fu Saloon in Austin

Strategizing at life-sized Connect Four

Kung Fu is made for drunken revelry. The bar is FULL and they’ve got over 20 beers on tap. There isn’t much in the way of table service (read: none), but the bartenders are attentive and easily accessible.

You’ll be amazed at how fast you’ll remember particular levels of Galaga or speedy maneuvering to evade Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde. Unlike some modern arcade bars, Kung Fu hasn’t increased the price of these classic games. So if you’ve got quarters, you’ve got power. Adding drink holders onto the consoles is the crucial update they focused on instead, much to my delight.

Prior to moving to Austin, I’d never seen Giant Jenga. Kung Fu Saloon was my first exposure to it. The three enormous and teetering stacks can sometimes make the outdoor patio feel a little hazardous. But if you’ve never been gently clocked by a small wooden brick with lewd scribblings all over it, you haven’t lived.

Giant Jenga at Kung Fu Saloon in Austin

Dangerously close to unstable Giant Jenga blocks

I enjoyed the life-sized Connect Four even more. I began to wish that, like pool, people played Connect Four for money. I imagine that “Connect Four hustler” would be the most creative profession at my high school reunion.

Sundays are my favorite days at Kung Fu because, from 11 AM on, the gameplay is free and they usually have a mimosa and Bloody Mary station. Fridays and Saturdays, while still enjoyable, are a different story. Kung Fu’s small size makes the Sixth Street horde feel like a pack of orcs, overwhelmingly large and boorish. There isn’t a lot of seating or floorspace, and I’m even worse at Skeeball when I’m worried about hitting strangers with my arms than I am usually.

Space Invaders brick wall at Kung Fu Saloon

Homage to Space Invaders

Kung Fu also has no food. And when you’ve knocked over the Jenga tower for the fifth time in a row because you’re drinking on an empty stomach, you end up leaving and wandering across the street to Opal’s, giving up your seats at Kung Fu that you will never, ever get back. Hungry o’clock usually signals the end of our visit to Kung Fu Saloon.

And while the vibe of The Highball and The Goodnight aim for classy, Kung Fu’s clientele is skewed slightly younger. So there’s no expectation or real sense of customer care, just Drinking! Still, an absolute joy to visit, and let me know if you want to play Connect Four with me there…for money. <wink>


Laura Darby is a New Yorker who came to Austin looking for sunshine and music. In real life, she works with chimpanzees in the Democratic Republic of Congo and infiltrates the Internet with digininjitsu. You can follow her breadcrumbs at LauraDarby.com.


Cover photo via Flickr CC, courtesy of Cameron Russell.


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