One of the best parts of being a UT college student is spending weekends downtown and exploring Austin's thriving nightlife. There’s just one catch — where do you go? With so many bars and clubs in Austin, it can be hard to choose. To put your worries at ease, check out one of these venues on your next downtown excursion.
The White Horse
500 Comal St.
It wouldn’t be Texas without a honky-tonk. Located on the Eastside, the White Horse hosts a diverse crowd with an energetic atmosphere, music and dancing. Live bands play tunes that are just what you need when you’re itching to two-step, and the White Horse has plenty of space for you and your partner to swing the night away. Along with the inside bar, the fenced-in outdoor area is perfect for drinking, dancing, barbecuing and eating tacos. The brightly-colored exterior reflects the energy inside, which comes from both the patrons and staff.
Starting as a close-knit group of friends, the White Horse staff set a goal to create a welcoming environment and quickly deliver drinks in a friendly way. Additionally, the staff eases your wallet pain by keeping drink prices low, and the music events are typically free. Their consistently low prices are why they don’t have drink specials; every time you go into the bar, you know exactly what you’re going to get. And low prices and free music are exactly what college students need downtown.
What’s the hoot?
“We have a wider demographic than we could have ever hoped for. It’s something that appeals to all ages and all types of people. The mix of people is what really makes it special; we just seem to catch everybody.”
— Denis O’Donnell, co-owner
“The people who come into the bar are really good, nice people. If it was a club full of jerks, it would be harder for us to be as friendly as we are. Everyone is there to have a good time, and you can really feel that energy.”
— Lauren Burton, bartender
Spider House Cafe
2908 Fruth St.
How many cafés do you know that include a bar? Just north of campus, Spider House Cafe gives a whole new meaning to study party. With its rustic interior and mismatched outdoor furniture, Spider House embodies Austin's eclectic spirit and attracts a crowd of various types. Outside, the seating area has a backyard feel, with patio furniture enclosed by fences that seem to have been plucked from lawns. Starting at 10 a.m., you can eat, study and hang out with friends without feeling like you’ve left home. The café area creates a relaxed ambiance, and the bar gives the place an edge. Once you're done hitting the books, move inside, grab some drinks and enjoy the entertainment on the mini-stage.
When it comes to nightlife, Spider House has more to offer than just the bar and patio areas. The 29th Street Ballroom is home to many events during the week, including the Austin Poetry Slam every Tuesday. Largely composed of live music, the events are listed on Spider House’s website in case you want to plan your night in advance.
What’s the hoot?
“I love the atmosphere and the mismatched furniture. I really like the Christmas lights in the bar too.”
— Kelsey Thompson, patron
“They’ve had some cool live music here before, like when a guy played this jazzy mix on a saxophone.”
— Skylar Moran, patron
“My favorite thing about working at Spider House is the people. Everyone here is real and genuine.”
— Chris Balcom, bartender
Kung Fu Saloon
510 Rio Grande St.
Stop playing video games in your room, and head down to Kung Fu Saloon — to play theirvideo games. Vintage arcade games line this bar's inside walls, and the theme continues outside with brick wall cut-outs shaped like the aliens from Space Invaders, complete with glowing eyes. This funky space also sports plasma TVs, so you can take a break from playing games and watch them instead.
Kung Fu Saloon offers a coaxes patrons to play like kids but in an adult way. Kung Fu’s bar includes a full sake bomb menu along with the standard brews. The best part? While you’re at the bar, you can master games like Pinballz, Ms. Pac-man, Giant Jenga and Skee Ball.
Especially inviting for college students whose childhood isn’t far behind them, Kung Fu encourages its customers to loosen up, play some games and enjoy time with their friends. The drink specials and free game play during happy hour every Sunday keep Kung Fu expenses within the limits of a tight college budget too.
What’s the hoot?
“I came to this place for the pixelated painting of the guy who looks like Martin Luther King, Jr. doing Kung Fu.”
— Aaron, patron
“If you’re ever in a bachelor party of 10 to 12 guys, and you’re all going to wear orange T-shirts with dinosaurs on them saying, ‘Make me a taco,’ you’ve got to go to Kung Fu.”
— James, patron
“We went for a fresh, old-school video game theme. Most of our clientele are in their mid-20s to 30-years-old, and they all grew up playing these games. We wanted to bring back all the cool games that Dave and Buster’s has except for big kids.”
— Ernie Zuniga, bartender
Cheer Up Charlie’s
1104 E. Sixth St.
Although most assume Cheer Up Charlie’s is a gay bar, the staff strive for an ambiguous space where everyone is welcome and no judgments are made. Often in costume, the patrons fill both the bar and the outdoor stage area to enjoy the night’s affair. Events at the bar can be anything from concerts to an all-girl arm wrestling tournament. If you’re tired of Top 40 hits and searching for independent artists, Cheer Up Charlie’s is the place to go. The staff focuses on live music and likes to showcase small, local bands to give them a chance to start their career. When it comes to booking groups, Cheer Up Charlie’s has a progressive outlook. The staff always looks to bring in younger artists that draw a college crowd.
The staff and patrons of Cheer Up Charlie’s are open-minded and accepting of everyone. By embracing music and art, the idea is to create a space where your lifestyle doesn’t matter, and the ambiguity of the crowd is what makes Cheer Up Charlie’s unique. Everyone is free to enjoy the party without fear of ridicule. College can be a tough time for many reasons; if it were up to Cheer Up Charlie’s, worrying about how others perceive you wouldn’t be on the list.
What’s the hoot?
“I love the clientele; it’s always changing. There’s always something new and fresh happening here. I wouldn’t say it’s like any other bar.”
— Bryan Almaraz, bartender
“It’s always laid back. I never feel like I’m bogged down when I’m working. The ownership is great, and they’re really fun to work for.”
— Cole Evans, bartender
“I love the area around Cheer Up Charlie’s. I feel like East Sixth is where people go to hang out, opposed to Dirty Sixth where people go to really let loose. It’s almost like an oasis from nightlife.”
— Herbie Wei, patron
“The whole idea is to bring in a diverse, not-sure-if-it’s-queer, not-sure-if-it’s-straight crowd. And because of that, in the two years that it’s been here it has really grown.”
— Maggie Lea, booking manager
710 W. Sixth St.
With its western decor and lively atmosphere, this three-tiered bar is packed every weekend. One of the largest bars on Sixth Street, the Ranch’s different levels coupled with the outdoor deck make it a popular downtown spot. Every Friday and Saturday, the bar fills up with Austinites choosing to party on West Sixth. However if you want to hang out with a group of friends at your own table, the Ranch allows bottle service and party reservations.
In fact, many of those who frequent the Ranch on weekends are UT students. The owners are UT alumni, so they’re known for hosting specials on Longhorn game days. Each Saturday, UT fans head to the Ranch to indulge in drinks and watch Longhorn football. The Ranch’s main bar’s capacity is 349 people, and it's full of televisions, so you and your tailgate buddies will never miss a play. Even if the main bar is packed, there are two additional floors for you and your pals to congregate on. If you’re looking for a classic, southern bar with a large UT following, the Ranch could be for you.
What’s the hoot?
“This is an up-and-coming area, and with our huge capacity, it tends to be packed every Friday and Saturday. We get all walks of life in here and a lot of fun people every weekend.”
— Matt Norcia, manager
“It’s right in the middle of everything that’s happening downtown, and there’s always something different every night. There’s never a dull moment.”
— Jay Caballero, bartender