With Sixth Street and Congress right nearby, Fourth Street is a hidden gem that can be easily overlooked. You'll know you've made it when you spot the colorful crosswalks along Bettie Naylor Street.
Known in particular for its bustling drag and gay nightlife scene, Fourth Street is where you’re most likely to catch a drag queen in her natural habitat. However, the strip is also a hub for fine dining, rooftop views and themed bars off the beaten path.
Home to many gay clubs and bars, Fourth Street is dubbed Austin’s Gay District—but everyone is welcome to enjoy themselves on this strip. In October 2021, rainbow crosswalks were installed at LGBTQ+ advocate Naylor’s intersection, commemorating that everyone deserves to feel at home in Austin.
Here’s what you can find in this bustling district.
☕️ WHERE TO GET A COFFEE
Halcyon | 218 W. 4th St.
This java house by day, bar and lounge by night is meant to give you the feeling of ‘halcyon’: calm, peaceful and happy. Halcyon has a fully-stocked kitchen with breakfast, lunch, pastries, drinks, cigars and sweet treats, including tableside s'mores. People-watch from the outdoor patio, drop in for some live jazz on Monday nights, live music every Wednesday and Thursday and drag brunch on Saturdays.
Houndstooth Coffee | 401 Congress Ave.
Nestled inside the Frost Bank building, Houndstooth Coffee is a hipster hangout with locations here and in Dallas. Using roasts from Tweed Coffee in Dallas, Houndstooth prides itself on being locally-owned and operated. Though you won’t find much to eat at Houndstooth other than a PB&J sandwich or popcorn, Houndstooth offers a full range of gourmet cocktails to go.
Juan Pelota | 400 Nueces St.
Located in a shared building with Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, Juan Pelota’s sporty indoors is a welcoming environment for a morning espresso whether or not you’re cycling. Marking the furthest point on the west end of 4th Street, Juan Pelota has been dealing local coffee, pastries and brewskies since 2008. Though it is only open until 5 p.m., or 2 p.m. on Mondays, the cafe starts its daily happy hour at 3 p.m. for $2 off beers and $1 off wines.
🍽 WHERE TO EAT
Group Therapy | 400 Lavaca St.
On the seventh floor of Hotel ZaZa, Group Therapy isn’t what it sounds like but you will leave fuller than you did before. A plush, velvet-lined interior will draw you in for either a classy evening meal or weekend brunch. Catch live music on the weekends, grab a drink at the attached Cabana Bar or watch the sunset over some whipped feta.
RA Sushi Bar | 117 W. 4th St.
Lively music, intricate cocktails and Instagram-worthy sushi rolls await at RA Sushi Bar. Dine-in either the vibrant interior, at the sushi bar or on the rooftop patio with a furry friend. Catch the afternoon and evening happy hour Monday through Saturday!
Péché | 208 W. 4th St.
Named after the French word for “sin,” Péché is Austin’s first absinthe bar, meaning it showcases a cocktail menu full of pre-Prohibition-style drinks and European fare. Bar manager Derek Weiss and executive chef John Lichtenberger aim for visits to be an educational experience, so come with questions in mind. You’ll know you’re there when you see the serpent on its sign tempting you with “sinful cocktails and cuisine.”
🏳️🌈 WHERE TO FIND DRAG
A drag queen is someone, usually male but not always, who uses clothing and makeup to construct an exaggerated female identity for entertainment.
During a show, a queen will typically hold a dramatic performance by lip-synching, singing, dancing, interacting with the audience and doing comedy. Attendees are encouraged to tip the queen during the show.
Coconut Club and Neon Grotto | 310-318 Colorado St.
These two adjoining nightclubs have both joined in on celebrating queer artists and culture but maintain a classic nightclub atmosphere. Both relatively new to the strip, the tropically-themed Coconut Club opened in 2019 from the people behind Cheer Up Charlies, whereas Neon Grotto turned its rainbow lights on in 2021. Check out Coconut Club’s rooftop bar and Gatorade-based drinks, Neon Grotto’s live DJs and lively drag shows at both.
Oilcan Harry's | 211 W. 4th St.
Claiming to be the oldest LGBTQ+ bar in Austin, Oilcan Harry’s opened its doors in 1990 as a safe haven for people of all walks of life. The bar has a little something for everyone: OCH is famous for its drag shows but also has a sports bar, hosts live DJs, and an outdoor patio to lounge on. OCH holds a drag show or two every single night, frequently alongside karaoke or competitions, on top of special appearances and RuPaul’s Drag Race watch parties. The bar is open to those 18 and older on Thursdays, so everyone gets to partake in the fun.
Rain | 217 W. 4th St.
Right next door to OCH, Rain will give you your fill of drag shows while offering some sexier content compared to its neighbor. Catch go-go boy dancers from every Thursday through Saturday, Thursday night amateur strip contests, Sunday happy hour from 5-7 p.m. and plenty of no-cover local drag queen performances on the weekends.
🍹 WHERE TO GET A COCKTAIL
DuMont’s Down Low | 214 W. 4th St.
Self-proclaimed “most unique new venue” in Austin, DuMont’s Down Low is located in a cozy basement lined with whiskey barrels from local distillers. Exposed brick and large furniture gives the bar a warm and inviting feeling. Try the seasonal clarified punch or the flowery Lavender Bee cocktail.
Driftwood Downtown | 319 Colorado St.
From real estate developer Discovery Land Company, Driftwood Downtown is a private club with three floors for lounging, coworking, meeting and entertaining. The club includes a taproom with a golf simulator, a mezzanine perfect for enjoying a drink and private rooftop overlooking downtown ensure you’ll never be bored at the club. Driftwood Downtown is open daily for members but can accommodate reservations for private events.
Hen House Basement | 117 W. 4th St.
You may have to do some searching to find this hidden bar, which is also known as the Lost Lei, but you’ll find a tropical paradise when you do. Tucked in an underground basement, Hen House is full of tropical decorations and fruity, festive cocktails. This is a great place for photo opportunities as drinks come in tiki glasses.
🥱 WHERE TO STAY
Hotel ZaZa | 400 Lavaca St.
Overlooking Republic Square, Hotel ZaZa puts you right in the center of downtown and surrounds guests with luxury amenities. With 159 guestrooms, Concept Suites and Magnificent Seven Suites, ZaZa has a range of opulent options. Hotel guests have access to the ZaSpa, seventh floor Cabana Bar and pool, and two different restaurants: Group Therapy and its “relaxed little sister” Perfect Strangers, which offers breakfast and lunch on the Fourth Street patio.
Prices fluctuate based on time of year, room and length of stay, but expect to pay at least $250 per night at this upscale hotel.
Onyx Hotel | 301 E. 4th St.
Inside the Grand Austin Hotel suite. (Onyx Hotel)
Marking the Eastern end of 4th Street, Onyx Hotel offers the Austin experience through themed suites for parties of all sizes. Ranging from $149-$399 per night, many of the suites feature multiple bedrooms. Check out the spiral staircases inside the Rock Royalty suite, complete with decor inspired by the many musicians that have passed through Austin, or the desert-esque Marfa suite. All suites come with a kitchen and gated parking.
🚗 WHERE TO PARK
Like Most places downtown, parking is going to be a challenge. Your cheapest options are likely going to be street parking or off 4th Street.
LAZ Parking | 400 Congress Ave.
Open 24/7, this parking lot is very central but charges upwards of $25 per hour.
SPACES Parking | 301 Congress Garage
Right across from the Frost Bank Tower, this garage will run you at least $15 per hour.
405 Colorado Street
One of the cheaper options, you can park in this garage from about $12 for two hours.
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Live Music Capital of the World. Mecca of all things "weird." City of hippies, slackers and honky tonks—Austin's reputation was once synonymous with all things "cool."
But after three years as the top city to live in the U.S., Austin fell to No. 13 in the U.S. News & World Report's ranking this year.
For over a hundred years, Austinites have lamented that their city's charm is gone, and some continue to worry that the city has swapped too many of its grittier live music venues for gleaming corporate towers.
Has Austin's coolness taken a fall from grace? Here's a look at what could be affecting Austin's reputation.
Migration and affordability—not so cool
3. The median priced home costs $635K, while the median Austin resident can only afford a $438K home.— Nik Shah 🏡 (@NikhaarShah) June 16, 2022
This affordability gap of $187K is 3x higher than at the national level! pic.twitter.com/CH036nj8Nn
There can always be too much of a good thing–including dating profiles bragging about packing up and moving to Austin.
Austin saw a higher growth rate than any other U.S. city from 2010-2020 as the metro attracted 171,465 newcomers in a decade.
With highly publicized move-ins including billionaire Elon Musk, podcaster Joe Rogan and tech HQs, came a gaggle of Californians eager to eke out a living in the burgeoning "boomtown" paradise.
An affordability crisis ensued.
Young people, who often serve as the drumbeat of a city's "coolness," are quickly being priced out amid skyrocketing rent. While a Rent.com study ranked Austin as one of the best cities for young professionals in 2022, the city's share of 20-24-year-old residents was 7.5% of the population in 2019—down from 8.6% in 2010.
And the so-called "slackers" that helped make Austin famous are now struggling to survive in a city where the median price for a home is now $550,000, especially as many in the city's creative class make well below a living wage.
Live music and things to do—still cool
The outside, Zilker, Towne Lake, Barton Springs, dozens of decent hiking within the area. This is the advantage, do the free outside stuff (Austin has wonderful patio restaurants, etc but then the 💵 goes) More time inside less advantage to living here.— Trust_w/o_Journey_Is_Compliance (@runningman902) June 7, 2022
Austin was famously dubbed the "Live Music Capital of the World" in 1991 when officials discovered that the city had more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. And with 46.4 venues per 100,000 residents in 2018, that mantra remained largely true for years.
After the worst of the COVID pandemic, which was estimated to shutter up to 70% of music venues in the Red River Cultural District alone, the city's live music scene has worked hard to bounce back. The city now has the fifth-highest number of small music venues per capita in the nation and comes in at No. 4 among the best live music cities in the U.S., per a 2022 Clever.com study.
And many of Austin's unique attractions remain timeless. While paddle boarding on Town Lake has become overcrowded and even caused swimmer's itch for some, outdoor attractions like Barton Springs Pool, the Barton Creek Greenbelt and other Hill Country swimming holes remain a popular pastime.
And while the coolness of Sixth Street has become riddled with violence and safety concerns, the city still boasts plenty of nightlife districts.
Instead of the Armadillo Den of Austin yore, the new Austin boasts bachelorette party entertainment on West Sixth Street, intimate concerts in East Austin and a refuge for tech professionals on booming Rainey Street.
Keeping Austin Weird—barely hanging on
If you know...you know pic.twitter.com/auDQyVurUy— Evil MoPac (@EvilMopacATX) September 3, 2021
Leslie Cochran, the high-heel-wearing homeless man who personified the "Keep Austin Weird" movement, is long gone. In his place are controversial attempts at keeping that mindset alive, including an Instagrammable sculpture of the mantra approved by the city's Historic Landmark Commission in February.
But pockets of that signature Austin feel still exist. It's not uncommon to see Sam Greyhorse riding on his horse on South Congress.
And while South Congress is losing longtime businesses and gaining luxury retailers in its new Music Lane development, other areas—like Barton Springs—still retain their carefree, old Austin feel.
New "weird" strongholds have cropped up as well, like Austin FC's Q2 Stadium, where 20,500 soccer fans gather to chant Austin's mantras, lift up inflatable chickens and celebrate their community.
"Cooler" alternatives emerge
Moving out of Austin is so good for your mental health.— 𝒟𝑜𝓁𝓁𝓎 𝒷𝒶𝒷𝓎 🥂 (@adeeoxox) July 30, 2021
Still, Austin's residents are facing the second-most overvalued housing market in the nation, and many are looking for greener—and cooler—pastures.
Instead of cross-continent moves, some new move-ins are now relocating to nearby cities, according to a Placer.ai study. The study found that Austin's "boomtown" status could already be overshadowed by new tech markets like Philadelphia, Phoenix and Raleigh, North Carolina.
And even within the state, Austin fell behind Dallas, Houston and San Antonio as Texas' most sought-after city.
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Fact: It’s insanely hot in Texas.
So far, there have been 14 100-degree days in Austin this year, and that's been before the official start of summer is this week. Texas usually ranks as one of the hottest states in the U.S., outside of Arizona’s dry heat, while Austin easily ranks as one of the top 10 hottest cities.
Austin hit its all-time high temperature, 112 degrees, in September 2000 and again in August 2011, but if you think it’s hot here, try spending some time in these cities.
Death Valley, CA | Record temp: 134°
Less than 600 people live in Death Valley and for good reason—its long basin and elevation of 282 feet below sea level make it the record-holding hottest place on Earth. The aptly-named Death Valley had 154 days above 100 degrees in the summer of 2001 and rarely has more than two inches of rain per year. It’s typical for Death Valley to have 120-degree days or higher in the summer, which has never happened in Austin and is the highest temperature ever recorded in Texas.
Kairouan, Tunisia | Record temp: 122°
The capital city of Tunisia set a new record high temperature in December 2021 when it hit 122 degrees, smashing the previous record of 118 set in 1982. On average, the hottest months tend to fall between June-September and with 60% humidity or above, it makes it feel much hotter.
Phoenix, AZ | Record temp: 122°
Few places on Earth are hotter than Phoenix, which consistently tops the chart as the hottest city in the U.S. According to Accuweather, Phoenix reaches triple-digit temperatures on a near-daily basis from late May to mid September, which is well over 100 days out of the year. The city usually hits 90 degrees or higher for half of the year. Anyone living on the border of Arizona and California, like the Yuma or Lake Havasu area, is liable to see similarly sweltering heat.
Austin has much more temperature variability year over year—the city hit 100 degrees 12 times in 2021, 49 times in 2020 and 57 times in 2019. Like Austin though, Phoenix is known for extremely mild winters that rarely dip below 60 degrees.
Las Vegas, NV | Record temp: 118°
The fabulous Las Vegas shares a record temperature with Tucson, Arizona, and sits just over 100 miles from California’s Death Valley, so it shares some of its heat waves. Residents of Las Vegas spend over a third of the year, around 135 days, weathering heat that is above 90 degrees, though Austinites fall right behind with 123 days above the same threshold. Just an hour and a half south in Laughlin, the record high temperature reached 125 degrees.
Athens, Greece | Record temp: 116°
Athens leads the charge on Europe’s hottest country but you’ll still find that Austin is hotter on average: Athens has an average high temperature of 85 degrees in June, while Austin’s average is 92. However, Athens broke Austin’s record high-temperature last August when it reached 116 degrees, making the city so hot they had to start shutting archaeological sites down.