Where To Find Custom Cocktails and Affordable Wines During SXSW

A penny saved is a cocktail earned

Bar Congress
Bar Congress (Photo by John Anderson)

For those of you enjoying South by Southwest, Austin may appear to have become suddenly expensive because some of our bars have chosen to temporarily do away with silly things like happy hour. With so many customers, who needs discounts? Well, we do. Luckily, we have a bunch of dependable places that are either sticking to their discounts or are holding the reins on their prices. We love places with exotic beers, perfect cocktails, and unusual wines, all at prices that make us smile when handed the final tally. Here are a few of our favorites, all but one within walking distance of Downtown.

The Cloak Room (1300 Colorado, 472-9808) is the unofficial home of the Texas Legislature. Why? No windows, dark, and quite anonymous. Two hints: Be obsequiously polite to Bev the bartender (she don't allow no sassin'), and leave her big tips from the very first drink so she knows you're serious. Also, spend a little time perusing the jukebox. This is quintessential old Austin.

Cedar Door (201 Brazos, 473-3712) The big draw, as it has been for decades, is the Mexican martini ($8.75 or $10.75 with the highly recommended Pepe Z Tequila Blanco). This is where the drink was invented and it's still one of the very best. It's 17.5 ounces and has a stronger kick than a Jalisco donkey. Stop by on Mondays when they're just $7. And before you go, check the website or call to avoid private event closings during SXSW: www.cedardooraustin.com.

Congress/Bar Congress (200 Congress, 827-2760) Expensive? Yes, but reasonable if you choose to sit at the bar, where the drinks are inventive and the food is brilliant. Insiders combine the braised-veal-and-sweetbread sliders with Gruyère, arugula, and white-truffle aioli with an order of black-truffle pommes frites with pecorino and more truffle aioli for a mere $14. Add a glass of Château d'Or et de Gueules Cositères de Nîmes for $11, and you have a small dinner of high-quality gourmet food and wine in one of Austin's most chichi bars for a mere $25.

The Ginger Man
The Ginger Man (Photo by John Anderson)

Crú – A Wine Bar (238 W. Second, 472-9463) has a thoughtful selection of well-priced wines and lovely indoor and outdoor seating. On Thursdays, all sparkling wines and Champagnes (!) are half-price.

Dive Bar & Lounge (1703 Guadalupe, 482-3483) and the Dog & Duck Pub (406 W. 17th, 479-0598). Dive Bar's big sale is Wednesdays when it serves half-price bottles of wine, but locals gather for the popular happy hour, 4-7pm daily, during which you will see folks with big cans of $2 Lone Star or PBR tall boys. When you're done there, the Dog & Duck is across the street, serving a great selection of artisanal beers from around the world, as well as big, juicy burgers; very British fish-and-chips; and the ever-popular Scottish eggs with chutney.

East Side Show Room (1100 E. Sixth, 467-4280). If craft cocktail guru Dale DeGroff came to SXSW, this would be one of his go-to bars. It uses freshly squeezed juices and prepares its own syrups, tinctures, and infusions. It also serves $5 classics from 5 to 7pm daily.

The Ginger Man (301 Lavaca, 473-8801) Beer, glorious beer. This is where you will find obscure drafts of Maredsous or Adelbert's Scratchin' Hippo along with 70-plus others.

Málaga Tapas & Bar (440 W. Second, 236-8020) Thursday is the prime day for the price conscious, with bottles of wine 25% off when you buy three tapas. With its smart, Old World-dominated wine list, you can find real bargains like Feudi Di San Gregorio Ros'aura discounted to $26.25, or Montecillo Gran Reserva Select down to $45.

Ruth's Chris Steak House (107 W. Sixth, 477-7884) Go most nights and you'll find a good happy hour (till 7pm) with discounted cocktails, half-price apps, and 25% discounts on bottles of wine. But go on a Thursday, and you'll have the chance to hang around afterward, get a comfortable seat, and hear a local treasure, jazz trumpeter Jeff Lofton.

Vino Vino (4119 Guadalupe, 465-9282) is a bar/restaurant and retail operation all rolled into one and just a short cab ride north of Downtown. The vibe is friendly, the food surprisingly inventive, and the inexpensive wine list is manna for both connoisseurs and the adventurous. Try either the Avinyó Cava ($35) or the Bodegas Bleda 100% Monestral ($30) for proof.

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