Austin’s recent flood of tattooed millennial hipsters, future tech millionaires, and big city folks escaping their grind for something more affordable has sparked a battle for the very soul of the Texas capital. Belly up to any dive bar in town and you’ll undoubtedly hear diehard “locals” and their bartenders crying about the good ‘ol days over a bottle of Lone Star and cursing their new boomtown status.
South By Southwest is a microcosm of this current state of affairs. What was once a down-and-dirty, barhopping jam session where indie bands would go to attract record label attention has lately exploded into an all-out media convention with major corporate sponsors, online gurus, and Hollywood moguls all jockeying for the next big deal.
The good news is that the best venues are still booking the best unknown bands in the world while old school acts show up to get back to their club roots. Combine that with one of the hottest bar and food scenes in the country and you just may need to take a few sick days (or at least a long trip to the steam room) to recover from the week’s debauchery.
It all goes down March 9-13. Here, the hottest areas in Austin to eat, drink and party down at South By Southwest.
Getting around town during the festival can be tough, so attacking the scene by neighborhood is your best option. Start by checking into the plush South Congress Hotel, ground zero for festival schmoozing and within walking distance of iconic “SoCo” neighborhood clubs.
Kick things off with a cocktail at white hot sushi spot Otoko off the hotel’s courtyard and up a flight of inconspicuous iron steps, then prepare for the night’s boozing with a wood-fired prime rib downstairs at Central Standard. Head up the hill on South Congress to C-Boy’s Heart & Soul for authentic Texas rock-n-blues and soul acts in one of the coolest rooms anywhere. Down the hill a half mile is the legendary Continental Club whose SXSW lineup features punk, rock, blues, rockabilly and everything in-between.
Afterwards, join the boozy hoards at Home Slice Pizza for a to-go New York-style slice, perfect for the stumble back up the hill to crash.
The biggest bang for your party buck is on the hipster-dominated east side. Weather Up is a slick bar with a convivial courtyard, perfect for day drinking and making new friends. A few blocks up Chicon Street you’ll find Whisler’s, a high-end cocktail bar with divey vibes, an awesome soundtrack, and Thai Khun, the only food truck to ever earn a spot on Bon Appetit’s top 10 best restaurants in America list.
Grab three cans of Austin Beerworks’ Pearl Snap (trust us, you’ll need all of them), order the Beef Penang Curry and try to hold back the tears. Later on, hit The White Horse where, if you play your cards right, you’ll be taught how to dance Texas style by a local rockabilly babe. Finish the night off with a few Bee’s Knees cocktails at late-night service industry hangout King Bee Lounge and order it “stung” with Ancho Reyes Chile Liquor.
Rainey Street’s shitshow potential is always high, but this jam-packed strip of bars is worth braving for Craft Pride’s selection of over 60 Texas-brewed beers.
Grab a pint and head to the back yard for gut-busting Detroit-style pizzas baked in industrial metal pans at the Via 313 truck. After that carbo-loading session, make your way up the block to The Blackheart and sample their impeccably-curated bourbon list and enjoy eclectic live band and DJ sets.
Downtown boasts three of the best cocktail-centric bars anywhere, with two of them keeping it weird inside actual parking garages. First, Small Victory is a sleek, windowless hideaway that fills up fast and stays that way all night, so get there early.
A few blocks west, Garage spins classic vinyl soul and R&B and serves the best Negroni in town. Over on Congress Avenue, The Townsend’s swank digs, world-class booze list, exceptional bar bites, and back room rock shows and DJ sets make it the perfect one-stop-shop.
Tacos & BBQ
No matter how cosmopolitan Austin gets, Tacos and BBQ always have and always will rule. Tacos are eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and starting the day off at Veracruz All Natural is a rite of passage. Arguably the most famous taco in town, the Migas’ awesome mix of eggs, tortilla chips, avocado, pico de gallo, and Monterey jack cheese will cure whatever damage you inflicted the night before.
Licha’s Cantina is Chef Daniel Brooks’ ode to his mother’s Mexico city-inspired recipes. Order the Alamabre tacos consisting of skirt steak, bacon, queso asadero, onions & peppers and watch the crowd roll past on West 6th Street.
The simple but genius blend of Austin’s two iconic foods can be found on the far south side of town at Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. Smoked brisket, pulled pork, and pulled chicken tacos draw all-day crowds, but the scene-stealer is The Real Deal Holyfield, a massive taco bursting with fired eggs, beans, potatoes, bacon, and your choice of pulled pork or brisket.
Franklin Barbecue gets all of the well-deserved headlines, but the waiting in line can be torture. Instead, head a few blocks east to Micklethwait Craft Meats and wrestle with a pound-and-a-half beef rib, house-made sausages, and the Brisket Frito Pie, all worthy of multiple instagram posts.