See what makes Austin the live music capital of the world by experiencing the city’s famed nightlife scene.
As the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin’s self-proclaimed title is best exemplified during the annual South By Southwest Music Festival (SXSW) in mid-March, when hundreds of bands converge at Austin bars, theater spaces, coffeehouses and even parking lots. But Austin’s recent cultural changes have added wine bars, lounges and ultra-lounges to the mix of Austin’s after-dark attractions.
Though Austin’s nightlife is typically associated with Sixth Street and its many bars and nightclubs, there are four distinct downtown zones to be aware of—plus some hidden gems off the downtown grid.
For those looking for the consummate Austin Sixth Street experience—and the college crowds to go along with it—the venerable Maggie Mae’s is a good place to start. Multiple rooms, live music and a 25-year tradition as an essential nightspot for several generations of Austinites, have helped the club maintain a steady identity, even as the clubs around it have changed names and identities. 323 E. Sixth St., tel. 512-478-8541. Hours: Tue. to Sat. 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., Sun. and Mon. 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. www.maggiemaesaustin.com
The new Aces Lounge (on the site of the former Hard Rock Café) combines an upscale aesthetic with eclectic musical offerings. Yet the club’s Texas Tuesdays are as close as you’ll get to a honky-tonk downtown, serving up some of the Lone Star State’s best-loved country troubadours, like Cory Morrow and Gary P. Nunn, along with 75-cent Lone Star Beers. 222 E. Sixth St., tel. 512-477-2237. Hours: Mon. to Sun. 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. www.acesaustin.com
One of the longest-standing traditions on Sixth is Esther’s Follies, a comedy troupe that combines music with irreverent send-ups of current events every Thursday through Saturday. Though many in Austin have attended Esther’s Follies, many more have gawked at the show from the sidewalk—only giant glass windows separate the action inside from the action outside. 525 E. Sixth St., tel. 512-320-0553. Check the Web site or call for show times and information. esthersfollies.com
The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz offers an enticing combination of food, drinks and movies in one of Sixth Street’s most distinctive buildings. An Alamo-style night at the movies can be a purist’s delight or a raucous affair in which audiences are encouraged to participate in sing-alongs. Consulting the schedule beforehand is highly recommended. 320 E Sixth St., tel. 512-476-1320. Hours: Daily 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Check the Web site for movie times. www.originalalamo.com
The four-block-long stretch of Red River from Sixth to Tenth streets anchors a different sort of nightlife experience, geared toward a generally edgier, alternative-minded group of 20- and 30-somethings. Emo’s, closing in on its 20-year anniversary, is one of the best-known live music venues in Austin, with a decidedly minimalist décor—in fact, “décor” might be too strong a word—and a consistent lineup of top alternative, punk and genre-bending acts. 603 Red River, tel. 512-505-8541. Hours: Open 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. when a show is scheduled. Check Web site for calendar. www.emosaustin.com
Stubb’s, in addition to boasting some of Austin’s best barbecue, is also one of the most integral Austin live-music venues, hosting major alternative touring acts like Neko Case, Modest Mouse and TV on the Radio in a giant outdoor expanse behind the restaurant. There’s also a more intimate indoor venue for local shows and touring acts with more selective audiences. 801 Red River, tel. 512-480-8341. Hours: Mon. 5 to 10 p.m., Tue. to Thu. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. to Sat. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. www.stubbsaustin.com
Mohawk, though one of the newer Red River clubs, has earned the mantle as Austin club du jour, featuring a solid lineup of up-and-coming Austin bands, cutting-edge touring groups, and other homegrown live performances on indoor and outdoor stages, and a rooftop deck from which to survey the place’s hipness. 912 Red River, tel. 512-482-8404. Hours: Live music, Mon. to Sun. 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Bar, Mon. to Sat. 5 to 8 p.m. www.mohawkaustin.com
Austin’s Club Deville, Mohawk’s neighbor to the south, has been one of the most reliable venues in town for swanky drinking and dishing since its 1994 opening. Most of the club’s action takes place on its expansive outdoor patio, complete with a stage for the occasional live band or fashion show. 900 Red River, tel. 512-457-0900. Hours: Tue. to Fri. 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Sat. to Mon. 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. www.clubdeville.com
The third hub of downtown nightlife runs along Fourth and Sixth streets, several blocks west of Congress. Largely geared toward Austin’s growing number of young professionals, these clubs offer the most diverse yet upscale nightlife in the city.
Qua, Austin’s answer to the ultra-lounges of Las Vegas, is so dedicated to its water theme that it features a see-through dance floor that doubles as a live shark tank. Though Qua’s booth and tables are reserved for bottle service, it’s possible to order by the glass, and while there’s no cover charge, a business-attire or dress-to-impress dress code is enforced. 213 W. Fourth, tel. 512-472-2782. Hours: Wed. to Sat. 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. www.quaaustin.com
Six and its neighboring Tap Room at Six, while not as splashy as Qua, offers its clientele a well-heeled mix of drinks, dancing and party people in haute couture mode. The main club features several different levels, including a rooftop deck with a beautiful view of the downtown skyline and the Warehouse District clubhoppers. 117 W. Fourth, tel. 512-472-6662. Hours: Six; Mon. to Sat. 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Tap Room at Six; Tue. to Fri. 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Sat. 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., Sun. 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. www.sixlounge.com
Opal Divine’s Freehouse, one of the anchor bars in the West Sixth Street milieu, caters to a diverse collection of Austinites. The Sunday night trivia fest, Geeks Who Drink, not only features questions appealing to the quirky intellectuals who favor the bar as a late-night meeting spot, but trivia organizers dutifully blog each week’s competition. 700 W. Sixth St,, tel. 512-477-3308. Hours: daily 11 to 2 a.m. www.opaldivines.com
The Broken Spoke is looking more and more anachronistic next to the lofts and modern stores popping up along South Lamar, but it still remains as Austin’s proud throwback to Texas Dance Hall days. A beloved group of troubadors and honky-tonkers play the Austin Broken Spoke Tuesday through Saturday for fans of two-stepping and chicken-fried steak. 3201 S. Lamar, tel. 512-442-6189. Hours: Tue. to Sat. 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. www.brokenspokeaustintx.com
The Nomad has become a favorite gathering place for the artists, musicians and other creative types making their home in East Austin. Tucked away in a shopping complex around the corner from a row of fast food chains, but renovated to be classy yet comfortable, Nomad offers a stellar section of beers, wines and exotic mixed drinks—including an elegant take on Brazil’s caipirinha—along with a tasty array of empanadas. 1213 Corona Drive, tel. 512-628-4288. Hours: Mon. to Fri. 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., Sat. and Sun. 11 to 2 a.m. www.nomadbar.com
Themes: Urban Endeavors
Emo's Hi, Phil. Great little night club reviews. I'm glad that you mentioned Emo's. It is one of the few clubs in town where the under-aged kids can go to see their favorite bands. I know, because I have a teenager!. They have early "All-Ages" Shows. Thanks, Lavanna