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Firehouse Lounge
Firehouse Lounge
Firehouse Lounge

Where to Buy Good Drinks When the Free Ones Don’t Cut it at SXSW

Boozing near the festival’s core

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Firehouse Lounge
| Firehouse Lounge

South by Southwest (SXSW) is upon Austin soon, and the city is flooded with free cheap beer and open bars for badgeholders and the rest of ‘em. Sometimes, though, you just want to pay for a reliable drink of your choosing without the hassle during SXSW.

Here is Eater’s updated guide to the best cocktail and beer bars near the festival’s center. Partake in creative cocktail programs that nails it drink after drink from Roosevelt Room, feel the neighborhood vibes at Nickel City, squeeze into tiny bar Little Brother, and many more. There is no shortage of boozing destinations in and around the SXSW hub to get a dependable drink. Be warned and check ahead: these restaurants and bars might be bought out for private events and parties for an evening or longer.

For more dining and drinking ideas, check out the rest of Eater’s SXSW coverage. Looking to avoid SXSW? Here are the best bars outside of the hot zone. For more drinking needs, scope out Austin’s essential cocktail maps, hot new ones, iconic drinks, and places for margaritas.

With updates by Nadia Chaudhury.

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Small Victory

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While the downtown bar’s entrance is easy to miss, beverage expert Josh Loving’s cocktails aren’t.

Small Victory
Small Victory
Robert J. Lerma/EATX

Nickel City

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This Central East Austin mainstay feels like it’s been there forever — but it’s just over two years old. The secret to the bar’s success is understanding and catering to its city — whether you’d like a thoughtful and well-priced cocktail, a boilermaker, a bottle of champagne, or just some chili-cheese fries, Nickel City has it covered. While nearly always busy, this is a good spot to nip away for an hour or two when SXSW overwhelms the senses — it’s just a perfect neighborhood bar.

Nickel City
Nickel City
Nickel City/Facebook

Firehouse Hostel and Lounge

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Yes, it’s attached to a hostel. Yes, it’s also one of the bars where you're most likely to spot the chef or bartender who served your food and drinks the night before.

Firehouse Lounge
Firehouse Lounge
Firehouse Lounge/Facebook

Take the name literally — the hidden-away cocktail bar is tucked inside a for-real parking garage. The speakeasy vibes pair perfectly with the carefully concocted cocktail program and the uber-cool interior. The downtown space is booked for a few private parties, so reach out ahead of time, too.

Garage
Garage
Shannon Kintner/EATX

The Roosevelt Room

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The classy, Prohibition-style bar is a great place to escape the heat of SXSW with its stylized interior, craft cocktail list and snacks served until late night.

The Roosevelt Room
The Roosevelt Room
Marc Swendner

Péché

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Péché specializes in absinthe, and its interpretations of classic cocktails are some of the city's best. The long, wide bar is a real looker, too. Don't miss the all-evening happy hour every Sunday and Monday.

Peche
Peche
Peche [Official]

Kalimotxo

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The Emmer & Rye team opened up a tapas bar in downtown Austin, boasting Basque and Spanish cocktails such as a frozen version of the namesake drink (red wine, cola soda) and gin and tonics.

La Condesa

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This upscale downtown Mexican restaurant serves some of the city's most adventurous tequila and mezcal cocktails.

La Condesa
La Condesa
Jody Horton

Domo Alley-Gato Tatsu-Ya

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The Tatsu-Ya beverage team continue their quirky and cool drink menus at Domo Alley-Gato, a convenient a casual new additional to East Sixth Street. Kirin Ichiban beers with a frozen foam cap are a specialty here, as are DIY Chu-His, a choose-your-own-adventure where drinkers pair one of five house-made tonics with their choice of spirit. There’s a selection of traditional cocktails and a sake menu, all of which compliment the Japanese curries and snacks from the food menu.

Julia Keim

Little Brother

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One of Rainey Street’s best bars is the tiny one from the team behind Better Half and Brew and Brew. There’s takeout coffee, cocktails, beer, cider, and neat spirit pours at night. The bar only seats eight, so get cozy and strike up a conversation. Even better: there’s an on-site burrito truck too.

Little Brother
Little Brother
Little Brother [Official]

Small Victory

While the downtown bar’s entrance is easy to miss, beverage expert Josh Loving’s cocktails aren’t.

Small Victory
Small Victory
Robert J. Lerma/EATX

Nickel City

This Central East Austin mainstay feels like it’s been there forever — but it’s just over two years old. The secret to the bar’s success is understanding and catering to its city — whether you’d like a thoughtful and well-priced cocktail, a boilermaker, a bottle of champagne, or just some chili-cheese fries, Nickel City has it covered. While nearly always busy, this is a good spot to nip away for an hour or two when SXSW overwhelms the senses — it’s just a perfect neighborhood bar.

Nickel City
Nickel City
Nickel City/Facebook

Firehouse Hostel and Lounge

Yes, it’s attached to a hostel. Yes, it’s also one of the bars where you're most likely to spot the chef or bartender who served your food and drinks the night before.

Firehouse Lounge
Firehouse Lounge
Firehouse Lounge/Facebook

Garage

Take the name literally — the hidden-away cocktail bar is tucked inside a for-real parking garage. The speakeasy vibes pair perfectly with the carefully concocted cocktail program and the uber-cool interior. The downtown space is booked for a few private parties, so reach out ahead of time, too.

Garage
Garage
Shannon Kintner/EATX

The Roosevelt Room

The classy, Prohibition-style bar is a great place to escape the heat of SXSW with its stylized interior, craft cocktail list and snacks served until late night.

The Roosevelt Room
The Roosevelt Room
Marc Swendner

Péché

Péché specializes in absinthe, and its interpretations of classic cocktails are some of the city's best. The long, wide bar is a real looker, too. Don't miss the all-evening happy hour every Sunday and Monday.

Peche
Peche
Peche [Official]

Kalimotxo

The Emmer & Rye team opened up a tapas bar in downtown Austin, boasting Basque and Spanish cocktails such as a frozen version of the namesake drink (red wine, cola soda) and gin and tonics.

La Condesa

This upscale downtown Mexican restaurant serves some of the city's most adventurous tequila and mezcal cocktails.

La Condesa
La Condesa
Jody Horton

Domo Alley-Gato Tatsu-Ya

The Tatsu-Ya beverage team continue their quirky and cool drink menus at Domo Alley-Gato, a convenient a casual new additional to East Sixth Street. Kirin Ichiban beers with a frozen foam cap are a specialty here, as are DIY Chu-His, a choose-your-own-adventure where drinkers pair one of five house-made tonics with their choice of spirit. There’s a selection of traditional cocktails and a sake menu, all of which compliment the Japanese curries and snacks from the food menu.

Julia Keim

Little Brother

One of Rainey Street’s best bars is the tiny one from the team behind Better Half and Brew and Brew. There’s takeout coffee, cocktails, beer, cider, and neat spirit pours at night. The bar only seats eight, so get cozy and strike up a conversation. Even better: there’s an on-site burrito truck too.

Little Brother
Little Brother
Little Brother [Official]

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