During South by Southwest, downtown Austin becomes filled with an infectious energy — and that energy is contagious, no matter what you might think of the festival that takes over the bulk of the city's core. It comes from the sheer number and variety of people attending, from celebrities to tech gurus to musicians and all manner of folks in between. That makes SXSW prime time for people-watching.
Enjoy the excitement by heading to these bars and restaurants, which offer tasty drinks and patios perfect for observing all of the festivities, without you having to get stuck in the thick of things:
Anthem, 91 Rainey St. Tiki drinks and tropical vibes await within the playful confines of this Rainey Street newcomer. Anthem pairs its cuisine, a fusion of American comfort food with Asian and Latin flavors, with 40 craft beers and rum-forward cocktails such as the Kegged Mai Tai. Each drink seems to have its own eclectic glassware, such as the Asian takeout boxes the mai tai is served in. Sip these on a colorful patio complete with wicker swings and decor that might make you feel transported to the Caribbean.
Corner, 110 E. Second St. Our best bet to observe festival fun without being involved in it is the wraparound patio at the JW Marriott's casual restaurant. The hotel is one of the main SXSW venues, so it's sure to be bustling with activity that you can watch from the square bar or the comfy lounge seating surrounding it. Corner specializes in local draft beers and tequila cocktails.
Easy Tiger, 709 E. Sixth St. Overlooking Waller Creek, the popular beer garden remains open for all Austinites during SXSW. Though there's a limited food menu for the duration of the fest, we can still order pretzels with beer cheese, along with a variety of craft beers. And rousing games of ping-pong in the expansive outdoor space are sure to be on order, too.
Il Brutto, 1601 E. Sixth St. Besides downtown, East Sixth Street is another major hub for the fest, but this pan-Italian restaurant will be business as usual. Head there for happy hour to have the Il Brutto Spritz (ever-essential Aperol, bubbles and orange) or maybe the Limoncello 75 featuring house-made limoncello. What you'll appreciate the most, however, is sipping them while sitting at the adjoining patio where a sprawling live oak has been strung with golden lights.
P6 at the Line Hotel, 111 E. Cesar Chavez St. Acclaimed local architect Michael Hsu (along with interior designer Sean Knibb) transformed a former parking garage into a rooftop bar with stunning views of Lady Bird Lake and the nearby Congress Avenue Bridge — suitable not just for bat-watching this weekend but for people-watching, too. That's best with a drink in hand, of course, such as the Daybreaker with Aperol, gin, grapefruit and white wine.
Parkside, 301 E. Sixth St. Keep it classy in the heart of Sixth Street with a dinner of oysters and bubbles. (Sparkling rosé is always a go-to.) Shawn Cirkiel's flagship restaurant is an oasis of serenity amid the chaos, with a rooftop patio where you can watch everything unfold below.
Perla's Seafood and Oyster Bar, 1400 S. Congress Ave. Perla's wooden deck with blue-and-white umbrellas, red-and-white director's chairs for seating and a couple of large oak trees wrapped with lights sits in front of the restaurant, along the bustling corridor of South Congress. The street is crowded with diners and shoppers on an average weekend but is sure to be more so now. And Perla's patio is a prime place to see it unfold.
Second Bar + Kitchen, 200 Congress Ave. A longtime staple of Austin's dining scene, the restaurant at the corner of Congress Avenue and Second Street serves up some of the best cocktails in the city from behind a sparkling white bar. Thanks to careful direction by beverage director Jason Stevens, the drinks are often clever twists on classics — such as the Congress GT with Citra-hopped gin and housemade IPA tonic — that will taste extra refreshing from the cozy covered patio.
Waller Creek Pub House, 603 Sabine St. The laid-back beer bar across the street from Easy Tiger wants to be our SXSW sanctuary and is even offering special prices for locals all throughout the festival. Beers here range from draft wall staples, such as Independence Brewing's Native Texan Pilsner, to more seasonal pours like Brazos Valley Brewing's Slippin' Into Darkness, a Russian imperial stout.