These holiday-loving bars are keeping Austin's spirits bright
Clark Griswold would be downright envious of the holiday decorations at certain Austin bars this year.
Sure, plenty of local watering holes show off their Christmas spirit with a wreath on the door and plenty of string lights on their patios, but a handful of places take their merry-making to the next level with veritable mountains of decorations and themed drinks to boot. Want to partake in their boozy festivities? Here's where to go this holiday season.
Donn's Depot, 1600 W. Fifth St. donnsdepot.com.
Longtime owner Donn Adelman loves Christmas so much that the downtown bar — a former train depot that now looks anachronistic in the sea of high-rise buildings around it — is transformed the weekend after Thanksgiving into a holiday wonderland. Nearly every inch of space is covered in tinsel, lights, Santa hats, ornaments and other decor, and the drink menu transitions into festive fare, divided into hot cocktails, cold cocktails, holiday shots, and wine and champagne.
You can start ordering seasonal sips, which have included classics like Hot Buttered Rum and German mulled wine, next week. Donn's Depot kicks off the merriment on Nov. 26, when a celebratory party reveals the cocktail menu and brings in musicians singing all your favorite holiday tunes.
Icenhauer's, 83 Rainey St. icenhauers.com.
The Rainey Street bungalow bar might not have the explosion of holiday decorations that places like Donn's do, but rest assured you'll feel the spirit of the season when you step into Icenhauer's cozy environs starting next week. Garlands with dangling, oversized ornaments are set to run across the ceiling over the main bar area; a twinkling Christmas tree will likely be visible from the street. And the backyard is going to be decked out with even more lights than in years past.
Let's hope more wintry weather is on the way: Icenhauer's prepares a menu of hot seasonal drinks — like the quintessential Hot Toddy — every year to keep you feeling warm and wonderful. Other drinks (not necessarily hot) include Buddy's Buzz Brew, a nod to the movie "Elf," with Absolut Vodka, Kahlua, caramel syrup and soda water. Irish Coffee and Peppermint Hot Cocoa are nice and steaming.
Lala's Little Nugget, 2207 Justin Lane. lalasaustintexas.com.
Christmas comes all year-round at this North Austin dive bar, famous for never taking down its holiday decor. In fact, Lala's regulars add to it every so often, and the owners who purchased the bar in 2015 gave it an initial kitschy update to take it even more over the top. (A certain leg lamp from "A Christmas Story" is one particularly eye-catching detail.)
One change that does arrive every December is the holiday cocktail menu, which this year includes both sips that will satisfy our sweet tooth (such as the Snowball, with Rumpleminze, Kahlua and Rumchata) and more subtly seasonal options (see Grandpa's Top-Shelf Manhattan, with Ben Milam Rye, Dolin sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters). Another big difference this time of year? The crowd levels. Expect it to get very, very busy.
Miracle on 5th Street, 307 W. Fifth St. theeleanoratx.com/miracle-on-5th-st.
For the second year running, the holiday-themed pop-up bar decks the halls of downtown cocktail bar the Eleanor with far more than boughs of holly. Expect Santa replicas, enough colored lights to wrap his sleigh five times over, and other decorations like poinsettias, wrapped gifts and a large Christmas tree. But the most alluring reason to visit Miracle — a festive concept now expanded to more than 90 locations worldwide — is the drinks, like the ever-popular Snowball Old Fashioned and Jingle Bell Nog.
Like last year, the Christmas-loving spot is sure to get packed, so be prepared for a wait both outside the door and at the bar to get a drink. If waiting is going to make you feel Grinch-like, Miracle will have Dasher Passes, new this year, allowing you to skip to the front of the line. Miracle begins Nov. 23 and runs 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily through Dec. 29, though keep an eye on the calendar for private event buyouts.
Sippin' Santa, 1133 E. Eleventh St. facebook.com/NickelCityATX.
The Miracle concept has been such a success that a sister bar has sprung from it, like reindeer off a roof: Sippin' Santa, a tiki version presented by venerated tiki historian Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. Sippin' Santa makes its debut at East Austin hangout Nickel City the day after Thanksgiving and will have tiki cocktails with wintry twists. Sip drinks like the Grinch Grog (blanco tequila, herbal liqueur, pine, pear, lemon juice and something called "Grinch syrup") in a festive and tropical-accented atmosphere.
Featuring tiki glassware shaped like Santa in swim trunks, among other fun details, Sippin' Santa might be just as busy as Miracle, but you've got a wider window to experience it. The pop-up, running through Dec. 30, opens at 2 p.m. weekdays and 1 p.m. on weekends. Want one of those holiday mugs? You can buy it, with 10 percent of sales donated to Action Against Hunger.