2022 Readers Poll
2022 Critics Picks

photo by David Brendan Hall

Best Austin Bastion of Ballroom

Ballroom culture, the historic drag competitions founded in underground Black and Latinx queer culture, blossoms in Austin thanks to the House of Lepore. Headed up by Mother Natalie, aka Ms. Girl 6, this drag family whips up breathlessly beautiful events with cash prizes that bring all the girlies out. Writing their names in the history books as the first official ball at South by Southwest, giving fantastic plastic at their April Doll Ball, and blazing forward a future for queer, BIPOC-prioritized spaces: It’s House of Lepore’s world, babe, and we’re just walkin’ in it.

Best New Beer Bar

Beer bars – remember those? They were like mainstream news media aggregators of the early 2010s craft beer industry, curating only the most interesting hazy ales and sweet stouts, all under one roof! But now everyone mostly just flocks to the source of the action, the brewery taproom, out of sheer convenience. But Burnet Go To is changing the narrative of exploratory boozing back to the well-constructed beer wall, bringing hard-to-reach lagers and ales by brands like Southern Heights, ABGB, and Family Business all the way to North Austin. They also are keen to show frequent footy matches (with sound!), great interior lighting, and an all-day coffee bar to boot.

Burnet Go To
6800 Burnet Rd. #2

photo by David Brendan Hall

Best No-BS Dance Zone

In a city as obsessed with becoming bigger and better as Austin is, Outer Heaven Disco Club does the opposite. The club prides itself on its no-bullshit attitude, proving night after night that all it takes is good music, colorful lights, and a big ol' disco ball to get a crowd going. Head on down any Friday or Saturday night for dance-induced bliss (or Thursday for karaoke), and be sure to check out @outerheavendiscoclub on Instagram for the club owner's personal tell-all about the trials and tribulations of holding the keys to heaven.

Outer Heaven Disco Club
1808 E. 12th

Best Neighborhood Bar That's Never Too Crowded

Looking for a bar you can bring your mom to? A low-key first date hang? Cheap drinks without sacrificing ambience? A place you're probably not going to see anyone you know on the weekend? Rare is the bar that encompasses all of these moods and more, but the Aristocrat delivers. Off the beaten path in a huge lot on Burnet, with impeccable mood lighting, comfy booths, two usually accessible pool tables, ample outdoor seating, and a food truck parked outside, it's the perfect place for when you can't be bothered to choose. Devoid of all that makes lesser bars grating – pretension, crowds, no parking – the Aristocrat provides the ineffable vibe that one looks for, arguably, in every dive bar: coziness, fun, an escape. A neighborhood place where you can lose track of time.

Aristocrat Lounge
6507 Burnet Rd.

photo by Zeke Barbaro

photo by Bret Brookshire

Best Texas-Inspired Vietnamese Smokehouse to Sip a Cocktail by Dim Light and See Live Bands

The AC staffers are paid BIG money by BIG ALT NEWS bosses to take in small jazz dive bars, drink exotic cocktails, and indulge in random BBQ spots all around town. That takes time! But every once in a while, one place will converge into a singular, sizzling nightspot that impossibly offers all three. Tucked afar in a part of North Lamar where one could never randomly expect to become intimate with brisket and char siu pork on rice, Viet-Tex martinis, and a stand-up double bass as other similarly smitten patrons lightheartedly sway to bebop, Smokin Beauty hits all the perfect notes to a supernova evening.

Best Natural Wine Hangout

In February 2020, Austin earned its first-ever natural wine bar and bottle shop. Tucked in the previous Gypsy Lounge building nestled next to Hotel Vegas, the Eastside hangout has provided ideal informal cool since its popular opening. Pick between a huge outdoor patio and a cozy indoor space, warmed by light wood and glowy globes. Alongside natural and sustainably focused pours, the menu includes beers, spritzes, and sociable snacks like a crusty baguette or tinned fish. Find food pop-ups and frequent DJs, including Kyle Dixon of Survive, spinning in the takeaway bottle corner. A parking lot and occasional celebrity sightings don’t hurt either.

1504 E. Sixth

photo by Jana Birchum

Best Neon Labyrinth

Since launching in December 2019, tropical-themed Coconut Club’s huge patio, tucked among high-rises in the LGBTQIA-emphasizing Warehouse District, found an instant afterhours fan base. The hub amends Austin’s reputation as not-really-a-clubbing-town with pristinely picked DJs emphasizing house and electronic in the laser pit. Alongside the queens leading Coco Cxnts Drag Brunch, collaborating nightlife names like Y2K, Shared Frequencies, Peligrosa, and Joaqu.n helped build the mystique. Co-owners and former Cheer Up Charlies bartenders Brian Almaraz and Cole Evans expanded their neon-lit labyrinth to include on-site bar Neon Grotto, eatery Cuatro Gato, and short-lived club Forever Eternal Moments. Now facing demise for a mixed-use tower on Fourth Street, Coco wins Best Developer Baiting for putting “COOL CHEF DRIVEN RESTAURANT” in their Instagram bio.

Coconut Club
310-B Colorado

Best Way to Follow in the Footsteps of a Serial Killer

If you partake in Murder Walk Austin, it is very possible that after a tension-building moment digesting the grisly injuries found in an 1880s autopsy, someone will shout, "That'll do it." For the irreverent, historically minded, and true-crime-obsessed among us, Walking Tours of Austin's nighttime jaunt through Downtown's former crime scenes scratches every itch. The tour focuses on Austin's very own 19th-century axe murderer, the man O. Henry dubbed the "Servant Girl Annihilator." Best experienced with either a notepad or a belly full of margarita, take your pick.

image courtesy of Vacancy Brewing

Best Pandemic Project

While everyone was hunkered down in their pandemic bubbles, Vacancy was busy building themselves a nifty little warehouse brewery in the truest sense: a sectional garage door as the main entrance, a dozen tight little recipes on the big board (including a first-class mainstay Pilsner called June and a spectacular rotational dark lager in Puddle Splasher schwarzbier), and indoor picnic benches to workshop grand post-pandemic ideas with your drinking pals. This small but cleverly embellished, open-late, St. Elmo-area brewery is reminiscent of something straight out of Seattle’s Ballard District, like Stoup or Reuben’s Brews, bringing a fresh perspective to Austin’s replicating taproom scene.

Vacancy Brewing
415 E. St. Elmo Ste. 1-D2

Best Baby Sister Bar

It takes some moxie to open a business smack-dab in the middle of a global pandemic, but co-owners of Eastside hang zone Drinks Lounge teamed up with longtime bar maven Sabrina Brochu to do just that last year. The team’s combined decades of experience and determination birthed a winning formula in what they call “Drinks’ little sister,” nestled under the Davis SoCo apartments. Baby sis echoes its sibling’s laid-back vibe but with a twist of girl-gang energy, serving up creative cocktails, affordable brews, and tasty pizzas to a chill crowd of south siders who call it a home away from home.

Little Drinks Lounge
3801 S. Congress #116

photo by Jana Birchum

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