This is a bit of a digression from the normal topic of conversation on [AA]*, but we are on the verge of Austin’s vernal rites: South By fucking Southwest -- SXfSW for short -- the greatest 10-day showcase of live, filmed, and digitized entertainment in the history of EVAR. So, as a courtesy to those visiting from places that typically send people to shitboxes like South Padre or Havasu, I'm letting you know where one might find a decent pour in this city.
But first, allow me to digress a bit.
For nearly a fortnight, Austin becomes the cultural center of the planet, and we here at [AA] are presenting our side of the Go Local argument, asking you to enjoy the free Lone Star during Lord Huron, the free Bud Black during the ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’ incantation, and even your free Pearl Lite at Pearl Jam’s secret show in the Fiesta produce aisle, please do -- but then, after all the comp'ed booze and schwag and general freeloading, throw a few bucks at our local potables : Austin’s platoon of microbrews being apportioned at our local craft beer bars. It shouldn't take such a painfully on-running sentence of epic disaster to remind someone that Austin's yeast-fermented beverages are real talk. I can tell you where to get them, but, again, you will have to keep reading towards the section of this piece beyond this dramatic monologue.
We here at [AA] have always been of the persuasion that SXSW is mighty super for this city. We entirely embrace, support, and attend SXSW as much as we can. Yes, we love the attention. We love hearing validation of our life decisions. We love nodding with appreciation about how 'you can’t wait to move here as soon as you get your shit together'.
On the other hand, we do not endorse the “Thanks y'all, now everyone fuck off” attitude that has creeped into the local ego, and that's simply because the basis of the entire standpoint is one arthritic with hypocrisy. There are so few indisputable natives in this town, that bitching about some sort of scenester offensive from the Northern theater is dramatic incongruity, a non-starter, bullshit. And we're not having any of it this year within our earshot. If you want to hear fat-tongued drama from scrooges like that, we suggest you visit Eater Austin instead, here, we’ll help you.
Sure, the crowding of Austin is a challenge. And there are times when the malaise of SXSW can get you down -- but hell, there are worse ways to spend your Spring Break than in a porta-potty with 60 other people singing to gay pride anthems like Forrest Gump. That's good shit right there.
The point is, we all fell in love with this phenomenal burg at one point or another -- and those of us already here were just able to get shit together quicker than others.
If you can make it for SXSW, please come and enjoy yourself. Fuck the bellyachers. Every person should have a fair shot at properly appreciating Austin without some jerk getting all fucking aggressive with his heavy -huffing. Traffic is fucked forever, anyway. And maybe we’ll get a proper choo-choo train when we hit two million citizens. So, you see, you would actually be helping things out.
At the end of day -- or in this case, 10 days -- there is still plenty of sunshine and fun and beer to go around for everyone. Remember all that beer I was talking about? Someone's gotta drink it.
Here are the 21 beer bars in Austin worth exploring -- a significant number in the youthful anticipation of adult Spring Break -- who will be happy to honor currency from any state in the union and will definitely appreciate the support for local and national craft brew.
Welcome to Austin. Come back soon.
The Ginger Man [301 Lavaca St. | (512) 473-8801 | M-F 2p-2a/ Sa-Su 1p-2a]
Not necessarily the Granddaddy of Austin beer bars, but the step-father who drives a modest Benz and watches some golf on TV. Its a very safe bet for pubs, and its interior reflects American conservatism -- but with a nice cellar of beers, of course. The G-man serves most of the state's finest ales and lagers, with a few special out-of-state staples. Occasionally, they'll get a rarity or one-off, but, corporate seems to hamstring them a little bit.
Bangers Sausage House & Beer Garden [79 & 81 Rainey St | (512) 386-1656 | M-W,Su 11a-11p/ Th-Sa 11a-2a]
With 101 taps on the beer wall and two casks serving nothing but American microbrews and a few small-batch foreigners, one could go fucking insane with choices. Banger's has an excellent awareness of what is current for the casual drinker, but also what is pinging the interests of the more serious beer dweebs around the town. They get almost first consideration of one-offs and limited beers from local and national brands, including supply for the aforementioned cask dohickey. Their patio massive, so cool-dads take advantage of the dog corral and kid-friendly outside areas. And yeah, they've got some pretty killer artisinal sausages, too.
Craft Pride [61 Rainey St. | (512) 826-1238 | M-F 4p-2a/ Sa-Su 12p-2a]
You'd imagine that there would be no further market for an additional 54-taps of beer and two more cask engines on Rainey Street -- especially being only eight doors down from Banger's. But apparently, Austin's hottest avenue isn't at its saturation point just yet. Additionally, Craft Pride has poached so much beer-savvy talent to stand behind the bar, that the intellect and intuition of the bar alone has the ability to outlast its neighbors with their niche idea: serving ONLY Texas craft beer. Ballsy, but it works. Also being served: Bacon in various formats by their permanent roommates, Bacon Bus. Oh, yes, and Craft Pride has themselves a commercial-grade bottle shop, appropriately named Bottle Shop, attached to its bar, so that one can grab a six-pack to-go if the situation presents itself.
Chicago House [607 Trinity St. | (512) 358-6202 | M-F 4p-2a/ Sa-Su 12p - 2a]
Who can even tell anymore whose beer bar is the newest-newest? Its either this one or Craft Pride. What I am sure of, is that Chicago House fills a craft beer void in the city's main square that Lovejoy's left gaping after SXSW last year. The interiors are worthy of a traditional beer hall, while maintaining the spirit of what made Dirty 6th great to begin with, like waay back in the early 90s -- polished wood and lots of beer.
Opal Divine’s Free House [700 W 6th St | (512) 477-3308 | M-T 11a-Mid/ W-F 11a-2a/ Sa 10a-2a/ Su 10a-Mid]
Probably the least assuming bar on the entire list, Opal's focuses on city-beers as much as Craft Pride, with a small selection of macros for those yet to make the full conversion to the gospel of craft. Opal's has a good-to-very-good pub grub and brunch menu, while offering an interesting streetscape to exorcise one's hangover. Perhaps its not quite engaging enough to make an entire night of it, but Opal's has a great patio and is a pretty decent place to spend a happy hour.
CampusCrown & Anchor Pub [2911 San Jacinto Blvd | (512) 322-9168 | M-Sa 11a-2a/ Su 12p-2a]
The Crown & Anchor has been a North Campus institution since the day after the geeks of RLM and Engineering discovered its wellspring of microbrew offerings. Because of its intellectually-discriminating crowd of profs and UTEE dorks, Crown & Anchor entertains those befuddled by Dos XX and Lone Star as is done in West Campus. Austin isn't a particularly pitcher-sharing town, but the practice is pretty much the standard here -- so don't be a jerk and come back to the table with just a selfish pint of Live Oak Hefe. Oh, and this is where to get the best cheeseburger in town.
Dog & Duck Pub [406 W. 17th St | (512) 479-0598 | M-Sa 11a-2a/ Su 12p-2a]
The Dog & Duck had the catchiest jingle in Austin for a the longest time, until Gatti's gangbanged "459-2222" into our psyches through our ears for all eternity. Dog & Duck is where the profs and grad students came to hang out after they quit slumming it at The Crown & Anchor. Same general theme, but where more important career-building people are likely to hang for chance run-ins with other career-building people.
Hopfields [3110 Guadalupe St | (512) 537-0467 | T-F, Su 11a-Mid/ Sa 11a - 1a]
I hesitate to even call this a campus bar -- and technically its not even on the "Drag" part of The Drag, but its near enough so that if one is in the UT area, its certainly worth a visit for their extremely impressive beer wall, curated by an excellent beer-mind. Their recently-opened patio ensures Hopfield's as an all-season bar. Together with its Parisian bistro-inspired menu, it really classes up this fucking list, I'll tell you.
One major appeal of Hopfield's is their bottle exchange program, where one may choose to sign up as a member for no charge, exchanging (trading) rare, out-of-state, and otherwise unavailable bottles of large-format beers for consumption on-site on a peer-to-peer basis.
North-Central Austin has always been prime stomping grounds for the beer nerds, and that has much to do with the legendary Draught House, a frequent denizen of the Best Beer Bar lists in various publications. The Draught House is where one sends his enthusiastic buddy visiting from some impressive beer state -- like California or Oregon or Michigan -- to waste sampling shit from all corners of the state. Draught House is notorious for being THE first stop for distribution outlets, and people tend to queue up before serving time. They tend to get the rarest that Austin -- and what's allowed in Austin -- has to offer. The Draught House also hosts what might be the city's best beer festival in the form of their anniversary party held each October.
Billy’s on Burnet [2105 Hancock Dr. | (512) 407-9305 | M-F 11a-Mid/ Sa 11a-1a/ Su 12p-Mid]
A popular thing to do in Austin is a pub crawl along the Burnet corridor, and comparatively, the rest of the shit on the tour makes Billy's on Burnet seem like The Pegu Club. Still, Billy's isn't exactly what one would traditionally consider refined, but it does offer a world-class beer menu, masterfully composed by Billy himself. Billy's is a popular hangout for many of Austin's popular brewers, so that should tell you a lot of what is going on here without saying much at all. Oh, and that Buffalo Burger.
The Flying Saucer [815 W 47th St | (512) 454-8200 | M-W 11a-1a/ Th-Sa 11a-2a/ Su 12p - Mid]
The Saucer gets a ton of negative braying from the locals for being a sterile corporate entity -- and for good reason, because the staff is dreadfully under-educated on beer, and their paper menu is something I believe they keep around as an on-running joke -- however, it does have its good qualities as well. For one, they are able to score dibs on rare kegs and they're generous with their glass give-aways, which is nice for the already-overcrowded beer vessel cabinet (but glassware is damn important, dammit!). They also host a nice, mid-range beer festival called BeerFeast and have a very pleasant patio in which to squat for several hours while you explain to the waitress what a Flanders is.
Drink.Well. [207 E 53rd St | (512) 614-6683 | M-F 4p-11p/ Sa-Su 11a-11p]
Most issues I hear with Drink.Well. are that it is too small and crowded of a space for relaxing. Beer nerds, however, tend to covet those characteristics in a pub and translate them as "warm" and "cozy". Drink.Well. has perhaps the most well-curated craft beer menu in the city, simply because space is, in fact, pretty limited. Eight taps of clever, oft-rotating selections greet thirsty fans of craft from the traditional chalk board, and from the beautiful tap tower behind the bar. The selections are obviously deliberated well before any keg hits the cold storage, which makes the spectrum of beer choices appear all-encompassing. There will always be a favorable choice for any casual fan or enthusiast. Drink.Well. has also been able to deliver rarities and one-off slim kegs during their short, year-long flirt with the beer community. They also offer one of the most secretive beer selections in the city in the form of a large format cellaring program, which is rotated when the current selection is sold out. It should also be noted that Drink.Well. offers, by a mile, the most inventive and tasty food menu of all listed.
Workhorse Bar [100 E North Loop Blvd Ste B | (512) 323-5700 | Everyday 11a - Mid]
No one bar lives up to its name better than Workhorse. Its a place where one could imagine the second shift of Portland spending the rest of the night getting hammered on hand-crafted microbrews. Every corner of the bar appears to have been custom built by the owners -- because, in fact -- most of it was. A secluded back patio adds to the mystique of Workhorse and the guys who run it are just the right percentage of sports-fans that you can catch a game here without a distraction.
Black Star Co-Op Pub & Brewery [7020 Easy Wind Dr | (512) 452-2337 | M-Th 4p-Mid/ F-Sa 11a-1a / Su 11a-Mid]
While the star (pun!) of Black Star's gig is their own liquid creation, the bar has plenty of industry strings that they pull in order to get some special beers up on their wall. While 90% of the time, I'm in there for head brewer Jeff Young's creations, I will occasionally look past the chalkboard towards the beer wall for inspiration for my next pint. Their food is actually pretty damn good, and the space is loud, but jovial.
Pinthouse Pizza [4729 Burnet Rd. | (512) 436-9605 | Su-W 11a-11p/ Th-Sa 11a-Mid]
I am an idiot. Somehow, I left Pinthouse Pizza off of my original posting, despite bank receipts confirming at least one dozen visits since opening only four months ago. But hey, sometimes I forget my wife's name and I've only woken up beside her for five years straight now. Sometimes we hurt the ones we love because by nature, humans are forgetful ding-dongs. But don't sweat it Pinthouse, you are truly beloved on [AA]. The thing is, honestly, we've always considered Pinthouse to be more of a dedicated brewpub, simply because we hardly ever try anything off the beer menu, like, really hardly ever. Joe Mohrfield, head Pinthouse brewer and former Odell man, has been slaying the brewing scene here in Austin since at least October, and we feel no real reason to stop enjoying his beers everytime we visit. Sure, they have 40+ beers on tap -- and exceptionally rare and limited ones to boot -- but you would be doing yourself a major disservice if you didn't try a few rounds of Joe's creations first.
The East Side
Hi Hat Public House [2121 E 6th St | (512) 478-8700 | T-Th 4p-11p/ F 4-Mid/ Sa 11-Mid/ Su 11a-10p]
Shit! Maybe this is the newest craft beer bar in Austin. Whatever it may be, Hi Hat shot into the nerd consciousness with great social media presence and an obvious affinity for the craft scene. They've already made a splash by being amongst the first to host taps of Firestone Walker as they ceremoniously entered the Austin market.
The Liberty [1618½ E. 6th St. | (512) 600-4791 | Everyday 4p-2a]
The Eastside of Austin is best known for its grime and indie subculture. This is like the Beer Hall Putsch of grimecore, but hell, everyone appears to be having a fucking blast while sucking on Austin Beerworks like they were the last Camel Crush in the box. I'm guilty of enjoying their entire craft selection -- their prices are right and the patio may be the best in Austin (that has a Qui restaurant).
The Grackle [1700 E 6th St | (512) 520-8148 | Everyday 12p-2a]
Like Drink.Well., the Grackle has a numerically-modest tap tower, but the selections are obviously well-considered and devoted to local and national craft. While the emphasis on the bar tends to be more towards cocktails and general getfuckedupness, its a great reprieve from the Lone Stars and Coors Originals of its immediate neighbors.
Reds Porch [3508 S Lamar Blvd | (512) 440-7337 | Sa 11a-1a/Every other day 11a - Mid]
Red's is a bit of an anomaly, as they cater to the dude-bro set during peak Saturday/Sunday hours, but who apparently have this emerging taste for craft beer. Like Billy's up north, brewers of local beerhouses tend to spend their free time here making good with other brewers of similar beerhouses -- because that the kind of glorious life that those in the industry lead. As a result, Red's tends to get their share of rarities and special releases once destined for other spots around town.
Black Sheep Lodge [2108 S Lamar Blvd | (512) 707-2744 | M-F, Su 11a-Mid/ Sa 11a-1a]
Footy and craft beer: this place has a really unbelievable selection of taps and bottles. If any one bar does more to spread the culture of craft to the unwashed, well, they might already have a 35 year head start over Black Sheep. Like the rest of south Austin, the dudebro's love to congregate, and Black Sheep is there to serve them the best beers in the country (on most nights). And for the Europhile douches like me, they're there to serve craft during events like the World Cup and BPL. Also, their food menu is shockingly fantastic.
Whip In [1950 N Interstate 35 Frontage Rd | (512) 442-5337 | Everyday 10a-Mid]
The salutation of Whip is "Namaste Y'all", which I always thought meant "Peace muthas!", and maybe it does or maybe it doesn't -- but the fact is, Whip In is the south's version of Draught House. Part beer hall, part brewery, part bottle shop, and part Indian restaurant, makes Whip In badass in its entirety. There's hardly a way to describe the vastness of such a small space and holds so much damn power in terms of the beer industry in Austin. It kind of goes well with the unsuspecting theme of "Namaste Y'all" -- which again, means "Peace", but with the "muthas" subcontext suggesting that they wreck fucking shop. Because they kind of do.
*This article is part of the 2013 AFBA City Guide in advance of SXSW. You can read more about tips for visiting Austin here.