Expert Tips


Best Nightlife in Austin

Austin's nightlife scene, from its famed live music and beyond

Austin has more than 200 venues that put on multiple live music shows a week. That's a lot to choose from! You can stroll down Sixth Street and just pick something that sounds interesting, or go with the tried and true at one of Austin's longest-running and beloved venues such as Broken Spoke, Cactus Cafe, Stubb's, or the Continental Club. Famed Antone's is moving back to 5th Street downtown, and should be open before SXSW Festival 2016. 

If dancing is your thing, this city won't disappoint; there are perennial favorites where regulars and newcomers pack the floors every night, practicing their swing, salsa or two-step moves. But handcrafted cocktails are also big business here, and several upscale lounges with inventive drinks and expert bartenders made the list. Even seeing a movie is anything but typical here, combined with food and drinks and perhaps some karaoke or dancing afterwards.

Austin is known as a party town, and our 10 Best Nightlife list is meant to give you a good start on the nearly endless options around town.


Congress Avenue

This new downtown spot is a high-end cocktail lounge and performance venue in one. Modern cocktails & elegant small plates are served in a historic space with chic, throwback decor. The Townsend's specialty is serving exceptional cocktails & tasty food options with creative performances in an elegant, acoustically dynamic setting. The space is beautiful, in one of Congress Avenue's most iconic historic buildings, with elegant decor, in the middle of everything happening downtown. Make a full night out of it by taking in a show at the Paramount Theatre across the street either before or after drinks and nibbles at The Townsend.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The newest nightlife spot in this list, The Townsend has opened to rave reviews and is sure to become a prime draw for Congress Avenue.

Shelley's expert tip: The Townsend is doing something pretty innovative: Their rotating lineup of cocktails is designed by guest bartenders, who are paid royalties for each drink a patron orders.

Read more about The Townsend →

Congress Avenue

Voted Austin's "Best Jazz Bar" for seven years running, Elephant Room is located below street level and features cool jazz in an intimate setting seven nights a week. Local and national acts both take to the stage and the joint is so hip that it's not unusual to see both performers and patrons don sunglasses. Called the epicenter of the Austin jazz scene, this sexy, intimate little spot is the perfect place for a date. Most shows begin around 9 pm, and with its location in the heart of downtown Austin, there are plenty of places nearby to grab dinner before the performance.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: There aren't very many live jazz venues in town, and Elephant Room is one of the best and originals.

Shelley's expert tip: This is a great place to take a visitor or newcomer to Austin; it's like letting them into a little secret.

Read more about Elephant Room →

Red River District

One part restaurant, one part legendary outdoor music venue, Stubb's offers both great BBQ and live music. Its downtown location makes it Austin premiere outdoor venue which attracts big names acts across all genres of music. It also a great place to nurse a long Saturday night as Stubb's features a gospel brunch on Sunday mornings. There really is a "Stubb" – Christopher B. Stubblefield from Navasota, Texas. Stubb's legendary BBQ was started in Lubbock in 1968 (his sauce is even sold in grocery stores), and by the 1970s, Stubb's restaurant in Austin became the heart of an explosive music scene. Stubb's was ground zero for musicians like Joe Ely and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Other famous musicians who would "play for their supper" included Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Robert Cray, George Thorogood, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Linda Ronstadt and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: From Texas barbecue to live music featuring small local acts to huge worldwide legends, Stubb's is a classic Austin venue.

Shelley's expert tip: Check the local listing or Stubb's website for details on performances.

Read more about Stubb's →


The White Horse has quickly gone from being an East Side neighborhood dive bar to one of the most popular bars for live music, dancing, pool and patio hangout in town. With a rockabilly vibe, this unpretentious place still has good prices on drinks and no cover charge for 99% of their live music shows (the only occasional exceptions are for specific artists or charity events). Serious dancers gather here; Two-Step, Zydeco and Cajun dance lessons are held weekly, and they host old-fashioned sock hops every second Sunday of the month at 9 pm. There's a Bomb Taco truck outside for the munchies, and a cool free Popcorn machine inside. Dogs are welcome on the patio.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: This is as authentic as Austin gets - the single place I always recommend out-of-town friends check out.

Shelley's expert tip: Check out the flea market held at The White Horse every Saturday (weather permitting) from 3 to 7 pm for fun and funky finds.

Read more about The White Horse →

Alamo Drafthouse has distinguished itself by the food and drink service offered inside the theater, including an exceptional beer list. In addition to box office hits, they offer occasional unique programming such as silent movies scored by local bands playing live accompaniment, food-themed films such as Like Water for Chocolate served with a dinner matching the meals shown on screen, and retrospectives of various directors and stars. Alamo takes dinner and movie to whole new level. With five locations around town (and a sixth coming soon to Mueller), Alamo is a great nightlife destination combined with several of their partner restaurants and bars. At the South Alamo location, hang out at Highball before or after the show to enjoy live music, dancing and karaoke. Lakeline offers the Glass Half Full Taproom, or check out 400 Rabbits at Slaughter Lane, specializing in tequila and mescal based cocktails.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Alamo Drafthouse has redefined the "dinner, a movie and drinks" night out concept, around Austin and the country.

Shelley's expert tip: You can have your very own photo opp from The Shining by posing on the giant tricycle in front of the mural of the film's famous hallway at the Alamo South Lamar location.

Read more about Alamo Draft House →

One of Austin's newest addition to the multi-activity lounge concept, The Goodnight opened in The Village on Anderson Lane in November 2012 and bills itself as "absurdly magnificent." Stepping into The Goodnight is like stepping into an adult playground with an 80-person social dining room, a groovy bar and lounge where Dean Martin might feel at home, eight vintage bowling lanes, four custom billiards tables, two table-tennis courts, shuffleboard tables, an outdoor deck and two private conference parlors. There is also constant live music and DJ mixing on the calendar.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Multi-activity venues are great nightlife spots, where you can eat dinner, get drinks, dance or play games all in one spot.

Shelley's expert tip: The Goodnight is for adults 18 and over, so it is truly an adult playground.

Read more about The Goodnight →

University Area

The Cactus Café is a live music venue and bar on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin, and one of the city's great acoustic music traditions. The Cactus is an intimate performance venue, and since opening in February 1979 has acquired a national reputation, showcasing the top local, regional, national and international acoustic music acts on the circuit today, from proven names to new faces. A number of well-known artists have played in the Cactus, and Billboard Magazine named it as one of fifteen "solidly respected, savvy clubs" in the United States, from which careers can be cut.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Lucinda Williams, Shawn Colvin and Ani DiFranco are among the singer-songwriters who graced the Cactus stage early in their careers.

Shelley's expert tip: Entrance to the Cactus is through the main West Mall Lobby. Check out the special attractions that are presented during the year in the Shirley Bird Perry Ballroom and Texas Union Theater.

Read more about Cactus Cafe →

Warehouse District

Speakeasy opened for business in 1997 in the historic Warehouse District of downtown Austin. Speakeasy has become one of downtown's signature places to sit back, relax and listen to live music with friends. Speakeasy is a nod to our heroes of the prohibition era and to the live music scene in town. Enjoy three different unique areas of Speakeasy and its live music which all offer a different atmosphere to suit your mood: the Music Lounge, with its stunning hardwood finishes and a roaring 20s vibe; the Mezzanine, a lounge setting with antique couches and bar overlooking the main music stage; and the Rooftop Lounge Terrace59, the most famous outdoor spot in Austin to take in the romantic view of the downtown skyline. With lit palm trees, full service bar and hip music it is a chic and elegant way to spend an evening or host a private event. The cover lends the opportunity to spend an evening with us rain or shine.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: With its authentic 1920s Prohibition vibe and killer cocktails, Speakeasy remains a favorite in Austin's crowded nightlife scene.

Shelley's expert tip: Don't miss the hidden two vintage bowling lanes in the Mezzanine area.

Read more about Speakeasy →

South Congress Avenue
Continental Club

In a city known for live music, this granddaddy of them all has enjoyed its reputation as the premiere old-school music club since 1957. The likes of Willie Nelson, Tommy Dorsey, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joe Ely have played here. Roots, country, rock, blues, jazz, Americana – the Continental Club has it all. You'll love the retro interior, with some of the best rockabilly, country, and swing memorabilia around. Also, don't miss their award-winning Happy Hours. Be sure to check their website for upcoming shows, and keep your eyes open for one of the surprise guests that often take the stage unannounced; visiting celebs such as Johnny Depp have been known to jump up on stage and play.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: An absolutely legendary live music joint in the live music capital of the world.

Shelley's expert tip: In between live music sets, the Continental Club has an awesome jukebox to keep things going.

Read more about Continental Club →

South Austin
Broken Spoke

The Broken Spoke is Texas' most definitive dance hall and they serve up Texas' best honky-tonk. There is a big dance floor for two-stepping while listening to a Texas legend. Take a self-guided tour of the small museum dubbed "the Tourist Trap," where you'll find country music curios like Bob Wills' hat and Johnny Bush's boots, plus photos of legends onstage at the Spoke such as Willie Nelson and George Strait. It might also be surprising to discover that the food here is pretty good, too. The barbecue and chicken fried steak both get rave reviews from customers, for good downhome Texas style cooking. And if you're not sure of your dance moves, check out times for two-step and swing lessons, held every week.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: This is really THE definitive Texas honkytonk dance hall in Austin. No other explanation needed.

Shelley's expert tip: Spend some time checking out the hundreds of pieces of music history and memorabilia here - it's like a mini museum of Austin music!

Read more about Broken Spoke →


Meet Shelley Seale

Shelley Seale is a freelance journalist and author in Austin who has written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian and Texas Monthly, among others. She loves yoga, indie movies,...  More About Shelley