When I venture out for a stiff drink in a short glass, I seek a setting that rouses a sense of romance and sparks my imagination, where skillfully crafted cocktails are served. As someone who finds herself mired in the aesthetics of a room, the ambiance of a bar is important.
Sometimes you just want a beer and burger at the neighborhood joint, but other times you want to embark on an upscale, booze-fueled adventure that transports you to another time and place. In the case of the latter, here are my top five picks for the most stylish bars in Austin.
1/ Ah Sing Den
After closing what some dubbed the “steampunk wonderland” known as East Side Showroom, mother-daughter duo Mickie and Trudy Spencer opened Ah Sing Den in August 2016, reinventing the space into an Asian-inspired cocktail lounge. Ah Sing was the name of an owner of a famous Victorian-era opium den in East London, which was frequented by the likes of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
On either side of the entrance, wood-framed velvet teal sofas sit beneath dim lighting cast by red, fabric Victorian lanterns dripping with fringe. Beyond the arched doorways of the rust-colored walls, you’ll find a mural depicting two peacocks and lamps with turquoise peacock bases dispersed across the bar. More velvet teal sofas furnish the dining room, this time half-moon shaped and large enough to fit your whole entourage.
With its rich hues and luxurious textures, combined with the interesting flavor combinations of its Asian fusion fare, Ah Sing Den has become one of my favorite spots on East Sixth Street.
- Burmese Mission – Gin, lime, Thai basil, clementine Togarashi syrup
- Phoo-Kha Pei Mussels – Coconut curry broth with aromatics, pork belly, cilantro
1100 E. 6th St. – Website
2/ Cedar Tavern
Located inside South Austin’s Eberly lies Cedar Tavern. Originally built in 1866, the bar recently traveled from Greenwich Village in New York City where it saw its share of famous writers, artists and musicians including Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock and Bob Dylan.
As you walk through a plant-lined atrium, you transition from the midcentury modern restaurant into the Victorian tavern, furnished with leather-tufted sofas, ottomans and chairs of a variety of bold colors that pop in contrast to the concrete walls. The 150-year-old bar becomes the unmistakable focal point of the space, built from rich mahogany with its shapely silhouette and intricately carved details.
Eberly is yet another interior that can be credited to Ah Sing Den owner and designer Mickie Spencer, who is known for the design of several other Austin establishments including Hillside Farmacy and Sawyer & Co.
- Brooklyn – Rye, dry vermouth, Luxardo maraschino, Amaro Averna
- Duck Fat Fries – Duck gravy, cheese curds, San Marzano ketchup
615 S. Lamar Blvd. – Website
Although the speakeasy vibe was not intentional, Garage owners admit they were going for mysterious. Located in an old valet ticketing office of what used to be American National Bank, the entry point to the unassuming lounge is indicated by the word “cocktails” painted in black lettering near the entrance of the parking garage.
As you enter, you pass through a concrete, circular outdoor patio enclosed by a chainmail fence with pendant lights that follow the inherent shape of the spiral ramp traveled by cars entering and exiting the garage. Inside, industrial meets midcentury modern, where concrete and vintage green tile collide, and metal work by Mickie Spencer glistens under the soft glow of Emerson bulbs.
General Manager Paul Finn told me, “Setting and mood are central to the experience we aim to create, and no detail is spared.” From the records playing on the custom-made stereo which produces a visceral sound, to the peaks and valleys created by the meticulous arrangement of liquor bottles on the shelves, Garage is a space that touches all the senses.
- Indian Paintbrush (Official Drink of Austin 2015) – Vodka, grapefruit juice, lime juice, rosemary syrup, Peychaud’s bitters
- Knute Rockne – Gin, maple, lime juice, sarsaparilla bitters, star anise
503 W. Colorado St. – Website
Four stories above Rainey Street inside Hotel Van Zandt sits Geraldine’s–a 5-star restaurant and bar that oozes sophistication. With its giant concrete pillars, leather accents, curved wooden ceiling beams and custom brass light fixtures reminiscent of trumpets, everything about Geraldine’s feels substantial. Ceiling-to-floor drapes frame stunning views of Lady Bird Lake, which can be accessed more closely from the rooftop deck.
The dynamic space also features colorful velvet club chairs arranged cabaret style, multiple stages, and seating both at the bar and outdoors. Consider Geraldine’s a style-packed, convenient one-stop shop for happy hour, fine dining and live music.
- Far From The Tree (Official Drink of Austin 2016) – Rum, Paula’s Texas orange pecan orgeat, apple juice, lime juice
- Ceviche Taco – Cobia, fried chicken skin, chiles toreado, avocado
605 Davis St. Ste 400 – Website
I’m a sucker for 100-year-old structures. So upon entering the main room of Whisler’s, I was immediately in love with its high tin ceilings and walls stripped to their original stone. A chandelier provides the main light source for the room, which is otherwise candlelit. Black and white photos in antique frames adorn the walls and bar seating consists of stools draped in old canvas postal service bags.
Outdoor seating is plentiful and punctuated with the occasional claw foot bathtub planter. Follow the negligible staircase upstairs to Mezcalería Tobalá and you’ll find an intimate room where patrons sip exclusively on mezcal. I even adore the bathrooms with their stalls made from piping and patina metal doors, and speckled mirrors that are far too weathered to actually get a glimpse of myself.
Approachable, whimsical, with an ode to shabby-chic vintage charm. For me, it doesn’t get any more romantic than Whisler’s.
- Whisler’s Old Fashioned – Rye, demerara syrup, angostura bitters
- Rueta de la Seda – Tequila, velvet falernum, allspice dram, apple bitters
@theAustinot wants to know:
What are some other stylish Austin bars and restaurants you’d like to see me write about?
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