Serious Eats: Drinks
The Best Happy Hours in Austin
The office clock is slowly ticking towards the end of day and happy hour options are circling your mind. Austin, Texas has no shortage of great happy hour specials, from deals at fancy hotel lounges to the neighborhood Tex Mex joint. Safe bets include veterans like Parkside and La Condesa (and their offerings are great) but sometimes you want to change it up. Presenting: our guide to great Austin happy hours that you may not have visited yet.
The rules: a good happy hour must be wallet friendly, and the food can't be dumbed down or skimpy because of the discounted deal. Drinks should be cheap but also good: we're seeking out more than syrupy frozen margaritas or buckets of Bud.
Below, you'll find a whole set of happy hours to add to your post-work calendar. Got more recommendations to add to the list? Let us know in the comments.
The Bonneville is easy to miss among the many awnings along Cesar Chavez. Once inside, however, the open space with cool robin's-egg blue walls will help you clear your mind from a hard day's work. To make matters even better, from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., the entire craft cocktail list is $3 off (drinks are regularly $9 or $10).
Offerings include Texas-inspired sips like The Bonneville, made with Espolon Silver Tequila, fresh Texas grapefruit juice, and cinnamon syrup) and the Peach & Blackberry Cobbler, made with fresh peaches and blackberries, TX Blended Whiskey from Fort Worth, and Licor 43. You also find a variation on the classic Bee's Knees, made with Death's Door gin and fennel-infused honey syrup.
Three different $5 appetizers are available during happy hour, including the popular red coconut steamed mussels, and two grilled pizzas each day for $7. My personal favorite snack on the list: creamy salt cod fritters made with whipped potatoes.
Full disclosure: chef Kristine Kittrell catered my wedding. But anyone who has tasted her food will back me up: she's the real deal. Mulberry is tucked away in a cul de sac downtown, offering a hidden gem happy hour that runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weeknights.
Happy hour snacks include Devils on Horseback ($5), coppa drizzled with honey on gorgonzola crostini ($5), and meatballs in a white wine and lemon broth ($8). There are discounted wines by the glass, and bottles are 20% off. Draft beers, such as local blonde ale Fireman's #4 from Real Ale Brewing Company, are $4.
If you need something more than just a light snack, go with Mulberry's killer grilled gouda with apple chutney on brioche, served with fresh chips ($6). Their heirloom tomato salad with goat cheese fritters is a fine pairing ($6).
Olive & June
Olive & June's happy hour runs from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day—all antipasti, Italian-inspired cocktails, and draft beers are half off. Start with their legit Negroni, made with Farmer's Organic Gin ($6), or whet your appetite with the simple, thirst-quenching Aperol Spritz, made with Aperol, Prosecco, and a touch of lemon ($4.50). For a fruitier twist, try the Westside Lemonade, made with Dickel rye whiskey, creme de cacao, strawberry purée, and limonata ($4). We also liked the earthy Blessed Italian ($6), made with Caol Ila 12-year Scotch, Cardamaro, honey syrup, and lime.
If beer is more your thing, drafts are only $2.50, featuring Austin favorites: 512 Porter, Austin Amber, ABW Fire Eagle IPA, Firemans #4 Blonde Ale, and Circle Blur. (They also have Peroni on tap.)
If you can't hit an early happy hour, head to Olive & June on Mondays: the piccoli piatti menu is half off all night, as well as their list of Italian wines by the glass. The piccoli piatti change seasonally: start with crostini with peach marmellata, basil ricotta roasted corn, and white anchovy ($1.13 each). A bowl of grilled shishito peppers with paprika almonds, oregano, and shaved pecorino romano makes for good finger food ($3).
The scallop crudo with watermelon and basil on aged balsamic is one of the best deals on the menu ($5). For a heartier bite, try their pillowy fried ravioli stuffed with goat cheese, served on cannellini beans ($1.25). But the succulent grilled quail ($7) is my favorite because it's garnished with two ingredients that I adore: fresh figs and pine nuts.
Top Chef's Brian Malarkey's first restaurant in Austin is the newish kid on the block. The space is huge and they have a lot of seats to fill, so from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, they drop their appetizer prices down to $5 to $7, and the portions are all surprisingly generous.
They have $3 draft beers to pair with the bar style snacks like the squid "sweat heat" (fried squid in a sweet chili sauce) and blistered shishito peppers tossed in lemon and its zest. Their beer selection is a mix of locals (Thirsty Planet Amber, Shiner Bock, ABW Fire Eagle IPA, Pedernales Wheat) and a few other options, including Stone Cali Belgique and easy-drinking Trumer Pilsner.
Their house white (Stellina Di Notte Pinot Grigio) and red (Uppercut Cabernet from Napa Valley) wines are $5 a glass. Those pair nicely with meatier dishes like the beef tartare with a quail egg and taro chips ($5!) and their super rich beer braised short rib on mash with horseradish and fried onions ($7).
During happy hour, all of Searsucker's seasonal infused liquors are $5. The current line up includes a citrus vodka, mixed berry vodka, cucumber gin, cinnamon bourbon, and ruby red tequila. You can order them with a mixer or combined into a cocktail: try the ruby red tequila in a margarita and the bourbon mixed with ginger beer, lime, and bitters. The infusions can be served with any mixer of choice or as selected cocktails. These palate-cleansing drinks can cut through fattier dishes like bone marrow served with a sticky sweet onion jam ($5), and poached egg and pork belly on brioche ($7).
Happy hour at Drink.Well runs from Tuesday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., with an ever-changing list of six classic cocktails for $6. Craft beer on draft is $1 off and cans from Austin Beerworks and Hops & Grain are $2.50. Their American-centric wine list is $2 off for a glass and $8 off by the bottle.
It's no secret that you can get a properly crafted cocktail at Drink.Well, but not everyone knows how good their food is. During happy hour, try the Ball & Biscuit ($5), mini meatballs tossed in spicy marinara on crumbly herb biscuits. Their Ratatouille on Rye ($8), chock-full of roasted vegetables and goat cheese, is a meal in itself.
The food menu at Uchi and Uchiko's Sake Socials (every day from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.) has expanded, so you don't need to save Uchiko for a special occasion anymore. Start with a Takara Nigori ($3) and a bottle of Asahi Dry ($3), then dive into the food. (There are also wines by the glass for $7.) The sake social is only served in the bar area and spaces fill up quickly.
Raw seafood shines here: there's an exceptionally fresh diver scallop ceviche with tomatillo, kalamata olives, and black lime ($6), and an equally gorgeous Atlantic salmon sashimi dish tossed with crispy kale, pear, and blueberry. ($6) The Hamachi Melon Roll ($6) is wrapped in a stretchy rice sheet in place of nori.
If you're craving something warm, order hot sake (a Gekkeikan hot sake set us back a mere $3) and the Kakaige ($3) tempura sweet potato fritters, plus their signature crispy brussel sprouts in lemon and chili ($3) and the dish they call 'bacon' ($6), which features pork belly and crisp apple tossed in a spicy kimchi sauce. Don't miss the grilled beef tongue, topped with yuzu kosho. ($3 for 2 pieces).
Trace at the W Hotel
It's the rare hotel lounge that turns our heads, but Trace at the W Hotel is an exception—they strive to incorporate Austin's culture into what they do, and we appreciate that. They call their happy hours (daily from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and all day on Monday) S.I.P., or 'social interactive playtime'. On Thursdays you'll find a live band jamming right next to the patio starting at 6 p.m.
During happy hour, all Texas-made liquors are $5. The bartender will mix your choice of spirit (such as Deep Eddy Vodka, Treaty Oak Rum, or Waterloo Gin) with any mixer. To make the most of my $5 liquor, the server recommended that I try his favorite combination: Waterloo gin with muddled basil, ginger beer, and a splash of cranberry juice. If you're not craving a cocktail, American beers are $4, and the house bubbles, red, and white wines are $5.
All "nibbles" are also $5. Chef Lawrence Kocurek's pork belly buns with house fermented kimchi are a new addition to the menu. The "chips for your dips" with crab and truffle dip, curried eggplant, guacamole, and housemade chips works well for sharing.
Where do you love to go for happy hour in Austin? Share your recommendations in the comments section below.