Wanna know a secret, like really know a secret? So did I. That’s how my fascination with secret cocktail bars and speakeasies started, anyway.
Having a drink—especially in the case of a carefully crafted cocktail—can be an indulgence, if you choose to see it as one. And to hold that drink, that token of indulgence, in a spot that’s equally as transporting as your first sip—well, now you know half of the fascination.
The other half is how to get in.
I wanted to write a blog post about the secret bars in Austin, so I enlisted a friend of mine to explore them and uncover the mystery. Read on to get caught up to speed on the most alluring, secret cocktail bars in Austin.
SECRET BARS IN AUSTIN: Red-Headed Stepchild (aka Floppy Disk Repair Co.)
Rather than calling this bar a speakeasy, the folks at Red-Headed Stepchild prefer the term, “peek-a-boo lounge.” Unsurprisingly, nothing about this spot is what it seems. It’s also worth noting that among the secret bars on this list, RHSC was the most challenging to gain access to. Despite being notoriously exclusive—and linked to an amalgamation of rumored suggestions to get you in—this drink lounge has no problem drawing a crowd. The cocktails have hilarious (and provocative) names, such as, ‘Nobody Actually Liked Miranda,’ ‘Gary’s Spicy Fire Crotch Margarita,’ and ‘Life in San Antonio (Based on a True-Life Horror Story),’ to name a few.
HOW TO GET IN: Many people recommend going to HandleBar (above RHSC) and asking the bartenders for the keycode. (We’ve also heard that the guys at HandleBar will give it to you if you can tell them a really funny joke.) This is only half-true. The staff is diligent about changing the keycode on a monthly basis, and every time the update is made, they send it out to a group of their friends, who pretty much work exclusively in the service industry. Your best bet is to go hang out at your favorite bar and make friends with the bartenders—genuinely. Chances are, they are on that list of recipients, and will be happy to provide the code in gratitude of your patronage and good company.
119 E. 5th St., floppydiskrepairco.com
SECRET BARS IN AUSTIN: Small Victory
The location is subtle, but not totally hidden. Keep an eye out for the parking garage it’s attached to as well as the small red ‘V’ decal on the glass door. Once you’re in the lounge—a dark and very classy setting—you’ll notice that the menu is relatively short, but robust. The Singapore Sling is a crowd-pleaser, but these bartenders (a term that doesn’t even seem to do their work justice) have mastered the art of the craft cocktail, so you ultimately can’t go wrong with any drink. Small Victory isn’t so small that you can’t go with a group. In fact, there’s a round table in the back that’s perfect for you and five of your friends to share their Philadelphia Fish House Punch bowl. And in case you get the munchies (as one does while imbibing), they have an impressive charcuterie selection.
HOW TO GET IN: You have to know where you’re going or else you’ll miss it. Hit the buzzer and someone will open it. Walk up the winding staircase.
108 E. 7th Street, smallvictory.bar
SECRET BARS IN AUSTIN: Garage
Consider this your gateway drug into the underground cocktail scene. Tucked away in a parking garage, this bar keeps the lights low and vibes chill. No need for secret passwords or reservations, but you may find yourself wandering around this parking structure inspecting every corner and cranny looking for the entrance. It’s not challenging to find, but you will have to do a little bit of looking. Garage Bar is most well-known for their drink, the Indian Paintbrush. Made with simple ingredients that yield a crisp cocktail, you can tell that these drinks are elevated by the great care the bartenders take in mixing them. You can expect an ambiance that is seductive and moody; no wonder it’s Drake’s favorite bar in Austin.
HOW TO GET IN: Walk into the parking garage and keep following the path upward until you stumble upon the entrance of the bar (which was previously used as a valet office).
503 Colorado Street, garagetx.com
SECRET BARS IN AUSTIN: Watertrade
Among the many eateries in the South Congress Hotel hub, is an intimate bar tucked away at the top of a staircase. To the right, is Otoko, and to the left, is the omakase-style cocktail bar, Watertrade. Upon your approach, you might be guided by the wafting smell of palo santo, which is always being burned behind the bar. The room is nearly pitch black, with the exception of a couple of vintage desk lamps and a backlight set behind their wall of spirits. While the cocktail menu is relatively short, the list of Japanese whiskies and sakes is extensive. Feeling indecisive? Tell the bartender what kind of flavors you prefer and leave it in their hands to serve you something inventive.
HOW TO GET IN: Walk up the stairs in the South Congress Hotel courtyard, open the door, and go left.
1603 S. Congress Ave., southcongresshotel.com/eat-drink-details/watertrade
SECRET BARS IN AUSTIN: Midnight Cowboy
With your reservation, you are granted two hours to enjoy yourself in one of their booths. Similar to Here Nor There, the cocktail menu (which is inspired by a passport) boasts a global range of drinks and flavors. Some of their options have a “cart” sticker on them, indicative of a service Midnight Cowboy is known for. They roll a bar cart in front of your booth and make the elaborate cocktail of your choice while talking you through every pour and stir. The history behind this place is just as interesting as the beverages. The location was previously a seedy massage parlor (the kind with happy endings, if you know what I mean), until the FBI raided it back in 2011. Even though Midnight Cowboy is now owned by the team behind Alamo Drafthouse, the staff says they still get calls inquiring about their spa offerings. Also worth mentioning is their patio service, which is available Thursday through Sunday. Although their cocktails are pretty boozy, Midnight Cowboy isn’t exclusive to drinkers. Their mocktails list is just as impressive (and delicious) as the hard stuff.
HOW TO GET IN: Make a reservation in advance online and ring the Harry Craddock buzzer for entry.
313 E. 6th St., midnightcowboymodeling.com
SECRET BARS IN AUSTIN: Here Nor There
Meet the cocktail bar that’s so suave and with the times, it has its own app. You heard right. This spot looks like the image that comes to mind when you hear the word “speakeasy”—adorned with velvet curtains and a taxidermy bear. Regardless of what time you go, the atmosphere is so transcendent, you’ll feel like you’re having a late-night drink among the rich and famous. The drink menu is inspired by the owner’s travels around the world, so expect a varied selection. Attention to detail is their forte, hence the branded ice cubes, palate-cleansing champagne, and knowledgeable staff.
HOW TO GET IN: Download the Here Nor There app and tap “Request New Reservation.” A confirmation email will be sent to you the day of your reservation with the door code for that particular night (it changes daily). The entrance looks like a gated alleyway, at which you’ll use the code you were sent on the keypad.
612 Brazos Street, hntaustin.com
SECRET BARS IN AUSTIN: Firehouse Lounge & Hostel
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is the key to finding your way into this speakeasy. Firehouse Lounge fronts as a hostel on the outside—in fact, you may very well be asked if you’re checking in when you walk in the door. Behind the bookcase lies a hidden world aglow in red and washed in the sound of an acoustic guitar player performing onstage. This speakeasy is skilled at the classics (Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Gimlet, and so on) served at very reasonable prices. What you’ll find here, that you probably won’t get anywhere else, is out-of-town visitors. You may find yourself posted up at the bar next to someone who is staying in the hostel next door and becoming fast friends over a couple of cocktails.
HOW TO GET IN: Give the person behind the counter a nod and a “no” and make a beeline for the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. Slide it from left to right and enter.
605 Brazos Street, firehousehostel.com/en-us
Gretchen Goswitz is a freelance editor, writer, and astrologer based in Austin, TX. She studied journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder, then continued her education to receive a master’s in business administration from St. Edward’s University. After many years serving as the editor of Austin Fit Magazine and running the marketing departments for a few of Austin’s booming CPG companies, she has most recently ventured onto a more entrepreneurial path in launching her own company, Far Out Astrology. In her free time, she enjoys writing, ceramics, swimming at Barton Springs, and eating all the food that A Taste of Koko takes pictures of.