2009 Readers Poll
2009 Critics Picks
All-Time Winner

Franklin Delano Hendrix: Has an obvious ring to it, doesn't it? Eric "Emo" Hartman had it too, back in May 1992 at the corner of Sixth Street and Red River. By the new millennium, Hendrix, the current owner of Austin's vaunted Emo's, wasn't about to rebrand the newly acquired home of "alternative lounging" to a more presidential "Delano's" ("FDR's?" "FDH's?"), so he expanded, eventually bringing the Emo's empire to 22,000 square feet at the red-and-blue heart of Austin's wellspring. Such fertile native soil could scarcely be ceded to a better music baron. Hendrix's relaxed Southern bonhomie originates from Charleston, S.C., but as one of the Lone Star State's adopted sons – an Air Force brat – he landed in the Texas state capital in ample time to attend high school in Del Valle and have his once-long hair blown back by acts such as the Clash and Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Armadillo World Headquarters. Used cars and 1980s River City real estate yielded enough for Hendrix to almost leverage another Austin outlaw hothouse, Soap Creek Saloon. His mother and only brother stuck around too, his sibling a filmmaker with long-term documentary ops at the universally renowned live music venue. "had money before I went into the bar business," laughs the sentry of Sixth and Red River on any night of a mondo Emo's show. "I found out what they mean by 'labor of love.'" That same labor is why Planet Rock loves Emo's. Now you know where to find the Live Music Capital's true seat of government.

Best Bar Ambience

Until we ventured into the back of Casino, we didn't realize Aztecs had biergartens. Or that the incongruous was so congruous as to totally rock that aesthetic alongside what could be realistically called a "goth" bar, sans attendant caterwauling. A goth bar with no goth music! Yay! House Wine, on the other, very different hand, is like home, were your home tidy, streamlined, cozy, and posh, all at the same time. No wonder so many folks flock to it: Here, one may sip the yield of the grape whilst escaping his/her own disgusting domicile.

Casino el Camino
517 E. Sixth

House Wine
408 Josephine

From top: Rio Rita and Nomad   John Anderson

Best Bar Staff

A dance floor filled with sharks (of either the piscine or mammalian variety) won't keep Austinites coming back; it's the hosts, the standout bartenders who remember your previous order, who channel their creativity and expertise into experimenting with infusions that make your night more interesting (habanero garlic vodka makes a mean Bloody Mary). With this in mind, both Rio Rita on the Eastside and Nomad, a cozy North Central haunt, provide respite from the Downtown bustle and a place to get to know your friends and neighbors.

Rio Rita
1203 Chicon

Knomad Bar
1213 Corona

Best Beer Selection

With more than 80 beers on tap and more than 30 bottled selections, it’s no surprise the Ginger Man has been serving the beer-lovers of Austin for more than 15 years. Formerly situated on Fourth Street between Lavaca and Guadalupe, the pub has found new digs right around the corner, on Lavaca between Third and Fourth streets. But a change of place doesn’t mean a change of face. The Ginger Man still has all your faves, biergarten included, but now it’s all shiny and new.

Best Beer/Wine Prices

It’s difficult not to leave with a few handles and some choice staff picks from Spec’s. The Houston-based liquor and wine supplier has ridiculous wholesale prices and insightful, personable service, not to mention an incredible selection and a variety of gourmet cheeses and coffees. Spec’s is the reason why drinking in is the new going out.

5775 Airport, 512/366-8300
4970 Hwy. 290 W., 512/366-8260
10515-K MoPac N., 512/342-6893
201 University Oaks Blvd. #600, Round Rock, 512/341-9066
9900 S. I-35, 512/280-7400
13015 Shops Pkwy., Bee Cave, 512/263-9981
739 Hwy. 71 W., Bastrop, 512/308-0250
3550 S. General Bruce Dr., Temple, 254/771-1518
10601 RR 620 N., 512/506-8316
12611 Hymeadow, 512/506-8401
166 Hargraves Ste. B-400, 512/432-0186
1013 W. University Ave. #200, Georgetown, 512/868-6696
13530 Ronald Reagan Blvd. #100, Cedar Park, 512/986-7681
1100 Hwy. 290 W., Elgin, 512/285-2741

Best Cocktails/Cocktail Menu

Cocktails at this cozy Eastside gem evoke smoky, bygone eras (Old Fashioned, Grasshopper) with flair (the absinthe-infused Sazerac), but the Knight also tips its hat to inventive in-house concoctions like the June Rose: seedless grapes, bitters, basil, and Hendrick's gin. And a bartender who knows that if a drink is made right, you get the essence of the liquor last? That's who you want on the other side of the bar.

Best Gay/Lesbian Hangout

"Let's have some fun, this beat is sick. I wanna take a ride on your disco stick." Thanks, Lady Gaga, for summing up what we love about Rain – the party atmosphere, the wicked music, and the hordes of beautiful potential make-out buddies. Oh, and the bartenders are as sweet as cherry pie! Many an unforgettable night has been had at this Fourth Street mainstay, and we suspect many more are to come. You'll find us on the lit-up dance floor, sweating out our inhibitions, singing along with the latest Gaga. What was that part about a "disco stick," again?

Rain on 4th
217 W. Fourth

Best Jukebox

The eyeballing starts as soon as you walk in. Someone's already there, you have to wait. But are they going to play your song? This is part of the thrilling wait at Casino el Camino. What are you supposed to do with a killer jukebox that houses songs from the Shangri-Las, T. Rex, Iggy Pop, the Modern Lovers, the Monks, Tom Waits, the Ramones, Loretta Lynn, the Cramps, and Serge Gainsbourg? Start smoothing out those dollar bills.

Casino el Camino
517 E. Sixth

Sandy Carson

Best Live Club/Party DJ

Sometimes you get lucky at a party and get a good DJ. Side conversations stop, and friends you've never before seen dance head out onto the floor. With his years of expertise, DJ Manny makes this happen every time. If you can't have him following you to every important business meeting, you can at least put together a commuting soundtrack or pick up some turntable skills at his shop, DJ Dojo.

DJ Dojo
411 W. Monroe

Best Movie Theatre

When people say they like to keep Austin weird, we hope they are referring to places like the Alamo Drafthouse. It would be weird if no one had thought of this brilliant idea: Serve pizza and pub grub alongside adult bevvies (!) while screening the best in current (and past) cinema, as well as hosting Fantastic Fest, South by Southwest Film screenings, QT Fest, and so much more.

Alamo Drafthouse
Alamo Drafthouse Village, 2700 W. Anderson #701, 512/861-7030
Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, 1120 S. Lamar, 512/861-7040
Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, 320 E. Sixth, 512/861-7020
Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane, 5701 W. Slaughter, 512/861-7060
Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline, 14028 Hwy. 183 N., 512/861-7070
Alamo Drafthouse Mueller, 1911 Aldrich #120, 512/572-1425

John Anderson

Best Neighborhood/Dive Bar

It's Christmas in July! In August! In September! Hell, it's all about Christmas cheer throughout the year at Lala's, the Brentwood neighborhood dive that is bound to cheer you up and chill you out. The decor is strictly 1970s cocktail lounge, complemented by a jukebox that completes the trip back in time and accented with – Ho! Ho! Ho! – a true homage to all things merry and bright: A Christmas tree with pretty paper packages sits next to the front door and multicolored Christmas lights line the walls. And there are elves – lots and lots of elves in striped caps and socks, including a contingent that hangs from the ceiling over the bar in such a way that the elves do a little dance every time the men's room door opens. Lala's turns happy hour into merry hour. Jingle all the way!

2207 Justin

Best New Club

The Second Sunday Sock Hop is always packed with sweaty shakin' booties, the indoor area sports a couple of pool tables and some arcade games, and the spacious outdoor patio is a great place to share a drink with a friend. And best of all, it's (well-behaved) dog-friendly! No wonder our readers love this laid-back paradise.

1016 E. Sixth

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Party of the Year

It's that conflict of emotions that can drive even the smoothest club rat crazy: that familiar "I love you but I hate you" that gnaws at your insides when SXSW comes to an end. This annual partay is so on and so damn fun it hurts, leaving your indie radar and your liver in tears of joy and you, like a child with a popped balloon, wearing a big frown when it's done. The megafest has so much to hear, see, smell, laugh at … some plan way ahead and coordinate their exact routes minute for minute, band by band. Others get a cab and go wherever the festival takes them 'til four in the morning. And when that best party of the year is over, the only consolation is this: It'll be back next year.

South by Southwest
1400 Lavaca

Best Place to Dance

Yes, it's crowded, and yes, the line at the bar is often longer than the ones to (or in) the bathrooms, but dammit, man, this shit is off the fucking hook, yo. Seriously: Where else can you shuffle your indie/hipster Chucks to the cacophonous clamor of My Education or Many Birthdays on the back porch before heading inside to bust a glute on the dance floor to DJ Mel, Car Stereo (Wars), or Santigold? Nowhere else. (Added bonus: The front porch is the key scene to be seen doing bad things late at night, à la Warhol, et al.)

John Anderson

Best Scenester/Mover & Shaker

One is a professional party host, the other a professional party guest. One dresses like Michael Jackson as often as possible; the other has such impeccable fashion standards he puts us all to shame. (Even the cargo-pants arsonist – of Governor's Mansion fame – is no match for Chronicle "After a Fashion" columnist Stephen Moser's leather pants and fur coat.) The last 10 years have been a fertile fashion decade for Austin, and Moser has been right there in the middle of it – pyrotechnics and all – giving new local talent their weekly, bold-face due. No fashion show, boutique opening, or fundraising gala is complete without him. Meanwhile, no swanky South Austin restaurant, hip Eastside dive bar, or Downtown afterparty (all in a night’s work) is complete without Henri Mazza, the Alamo’s work-hard-to-play-hard creative director. Though he’s known for packing the Alamo theatres with his original programming (think film festivals, sing-alongs, and Thriller dance-offs), carting famous people like Kristen Bell around town, and uncannily tapping in to the pop-cultural zeitgeist over and over, our favorite thing about him is his heart of gold – and his gold high-tops to match.

Stephen MacMillan Moser

Henri Mazza

Best Wine Selection

You should always store your wine in a cool, dark place. But that's also exactly where you should store your winos: that way they'll stay the freshest. And vino vino has more than accomplished this with its inviting and sophisticated interior – dim lights, hardwood floors, and wine bottles lining the walls – and highly knowledgeable and friendly staff; they know their wines and are helpful with recommendations. Drop by for a glass of wine and a cheese plate, or buy a bottle to enjoy at home.

photo by John Anderson

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