Austin will always be the place where, more often than not, we sit outside on a bar or restaurant patio, drinking margaritas in our shorts and flip-flops. But while the flood of local watering holes that opened in 2017 largely reflect our love of the laid-back hangout, they also nod to our desire to broaden our drinking horizons, more deeply exploring the likes of whiskey, mezcal and wine.
Here, we highlight five of the best local drinking spots that racked up our tabs this year and kept us coming back for more.
Nickel City, 1133 E. Eleventh St. nickelcitybar.com.
The concept of a neighborhood bar isn’t new, but this East Austin watering hole — formerly the Longbranch Inn space — found a way to feel fresh by taking inspiration from the laid-back pubs of Buffalo and the food of Detroit, where the founders, who include the Via 313 Pizza owners, are from.
The Delray Cafe is parked out back with no-fuss Detroit-style fare like Coney dogs, cheese fries and chicken wings, which you can enjoy with the simple namesake boilermaker (Coors with Evan Williams bourbon) or a more elaborate drink like the Coffee Julep. This is the sort of place where you can order a Miller High Life or a Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale and feel welcomed either way.
Celis Brewery, 10001 Metric Blvd. celisbeers.com.
When Austin’s first craft brewery was resurrected this summer by the daughter of famed Belgian brewer Pierre Celis, many longtime locals wondered if the beers, in particular the beloved Celis White, would be as they remembered them.
The verdict? Christine Celis has perfectly blended her father’s Belgian brewing tradition with all the trappings of a high-tech 21st-century brewery, making classics like the White alongside newer styles like the Citrus Grandis New England-Style IPA. Her father would be proud.
Las Perlas, 405 E. Seventh St. 213hospitality.com/las-perlas-austin/.
Austin had mezcal bars before this cozy place from the Los Angeles-based hospitality group 213 Hospitality came along (as not complete local outsiders; the group also owns Rainey Street cocktail bar Half Step). But hundreds of tequilas and mezcales on the menu in a downtown bar designed to look at home in Oaxaca, Mexico, means that agave-loving Texans can take their love of the spirits to the next level.
The importance of a Texas bar paying due attention to all the small-batch mezcales making their way to the U.S. market from just across the border can’t be overstated. Las Perlas does it right, highlighting ones most of us have never heard of but should appreciate through its meet-up group for mezcal enthusiasts. The bar also has street tacos and a live music program with mariachi bands, spaghetti cumbia and more.
Still Austin Whiskey Co., 440 E. Saint Elmo Rd. stillaustin.com.
The city’s first urban whiskey distillery opened in South Austin in the fall with the intent to showcase whiskey made using Texas-grown grain. Still-aging bourbon is on the way, but in the meantime, Still has a welcoming tasting room, tasty cocktails and an on-site food truck, Puli-Ra, that occasionally makes its Indian-Texas fusion food with the whiskey.
Still is just one of the boozy neighbors in the Yard complex, featuring St. Elmo Brewing, Spokesman Coffee and the Austin Winery, and as a whole, it’s one of the best places in town to explore the creativity of local booze makers.
Aviary Wine & Kitchen, 2110 S. Lamar Blvd. aviarywinekitchen.com.
Once a home decor store with a small wine bar, Aviary has transformed into a full-fledged restaurant with an extensive wine list that may well be the best in town. It’s certainly the most fun. Co-owner Marco Fiorilo gave the wines a personality embodied by a famous person to help visitors navigate the menu.
His philosophy, carried over from those home furnishings store days, is that wine should be accessible to anyone, even those who aren’t oenophiles and don’t recognize grape varietals beyond chardonnay and pinot noir. So bubbly wines are found in the David Bowie section, rosés have a home with Jayne Mansfield, and Willie Nelson perfectly embodies vintage wines that have stood the test of time.