Tomorrow’s Austin360 cover story — which is online now — will be all about the best places in town to get a good drink, whether you’re looking for wine, beer or cocktails, a casual outdoor atmosphere, or live music befitting Austin’s title as the Live Music Capital of the World.
There was one category I had intended to include in the story but cut it for space — bars where the food is as good as the drinks. Because quality can so often be lacking for either one, I’m including that roundup now. Look for the American-Statesman restaurant critic Matthew Odam’s dining guide in a big spread online and in print on Sunday, when he’ll spotlight Austin’s top restaurants.
Drink.Well & Backbeat
When local bar owners Michael and Jessica Sanders, who had helped transform the North Loop area into a budding entertainment district with cocktail bar Drink.Well, announced they were opening a second space, Backbeat, on South Lamar Boulevard, they made it clear that both places were going to be very different from each other.
But Backbeat hasn’t differed from Drink.Well in one regard. Both serve as well-rounded hangouts where food items like chicken liver mousse or a spicy kimchi reuben are as thoughtfully crafted and delectable as the cocktails. Drink.Well, in particular, focuses on the seasons for both programs and has recently released its fall menus, with drinks such as the Jinn’s Tonic (Old Tom Gin, apricot, grapefruit, cardamom, rose water and Mediterranean tonic) specifically intended to pair with the dishes.
You won’t go wrong at Backbeat, either, where the list of original cocktails are divided by flavor profile and types of spirits, and the food options include the sorts of higher-end snacks befitting such classy drinks, whether it’s a beet salad or a paté melt that you’re desiring. Backbeat also has seasonal menus to choose from.
3110 Guadalupe St., hopfieldsaustin.com.
Is it a charming French bistro? A laid-back beer bar in the campus area? Hopfields, a gastropub with French-inspired fare, manages to straddle both identities seamlessly. Here, you’ll find one of the best burgers in Austin — juicy, with creamy camembert cheese and caramelized onions — as well as a tap list that regularly features sought-after brews like Lakewood Brewing’s French Quarter Temptress or the AleSmith English Nut Brown. Don’t miss out on Hopfields’ pomme frites, with herbs and aioli, either. They’re an indulgence you won’t regret.
79 Rainey St., bangersaustin.com.
Although the feat of having more than 100 taps of beer — often ones you can’t find anywhere else — often overshadows all the other things Banger’s has to offer, the Rainey Street bungalow bar draws regular crowds for its dog-friendly patio and its food as well. The kitchen here specializes in gourmet hot dogs that run the gamut from more traditional fare (sausages like andouille and bratwurst) to the more exotic (sausages made from rabbit and South Texas antelope). It’s your chance to be as adventurous with your carnivorous side as with your craft brews.
208 W. Fourth St., islaaustin.com.
The sister bar to French-focused Peche in the Warehouse District, Isla is meant to feel like a Caribbean cantina that you’ve just stumbled into in the middle of downtown Austin. That theme plays out with both the food and the rum-filled cocktails like the Tituba (rum, coconut cream, lime, basil and jalapeño — a see-saw of spicy and sweet). The dinner menu is full of island specialties, including three types of ceviche, jerk-spiced beef rib and cast-iron lime chicken with Cuban beans and rice. Ready? Your tropical paradise awaits.
Waller Creek Pub House
603 Sabine St., wallercreekpubhouse.com.
Across the street from another beer haven, Easy Tiger, this downtown pub opened last year with 30 rotating beer taps and a menu of straightforward bar food. Waller Creek Pub House — named for Austin’s first mayor, Judge Edwin Waller, and the creek near the bar — has pub grub such as wings, grilled cheese and burgers, all the sorts of things we want in our bellies after a night of multiple pints. Get one of the “heaps of fries” baskets, which come as either plain, Greek, Asian or Italian-flavored fried potatoes.