Half a mile long, lined with more than 20 bars, Rainey Street's entertainment district bustles as a large part of Austin's nightlife scene every weekend. With themed bars, a food truck park and an excitable atmosphere, it's no wonder why.
In 1885, Rainey Street sprung up as a quaint residential neighborhood with many of its turn-of-the-century homes still standing today. Over 130 years later, Rainey Street is reliably busy every weekend and one of the booziest streets in the city.
Whether you're looking for a fruity frozen cocktail, a full meal or an ice-cold beer, you can find it all on Rainey Street.
Best overall drinks: Half Step, 75 1/2 Rainey Street
Half Step's old fashioned cocktail is celebrated among visitors. (Half Step/Instagram)
This tiny bar has a huge patio to sprawl out on and it is serving up high-quality cocktails that are made with love. Choose from elevated classics like the draft Paloma and old-fashioned or a tantalizing take on yacht club punch made with absinthe. There will probably be live music playing when you get there and you can get a snack at Little Lucy's Mini Donuts, parked right nearby.
Most elaborate drinks: The Tipsy Alchemist, 70 Rainey Street
The Strawberry Tea Fizz is made with lemon, strawberry reduction, gin and topped with a rose. (Tipsy Alchemist/Instagram)
This elevated cocktail bar makes drinks with science while you observe Rainey Street from above. With an upscale yet wacky atmosphere, The Tipsy Alchemist serves different drinks that push the boundaries of physics, travel through a tube across the entire bar, are made with liquid nitrogen and come in a coconut.
Most "Austin" atmosphere: Javelina, 69 Rainey Street
Javelina was started by four Austinites who wanted to create an ice house, dance hall and beer joint. (Javelina)
This bar's unique fare is something the four local founders call "Hill Country Soul," so suffice to say the menu is savory and hearty. Just about anyone would feel more like a local after dining on some green chile pork fries or a cornflake-crusted chicken sandwich paired with a Hill Country lemonade. You can also get a meal until 1:30 a.m. here, later than any other kitchen on the street. Keep an eye out for the live music, drag queen brunches and burger specials that keep this bar weird.
Best overall atmosphere: G'Raj Mahal, 73 Rainey Street
G'Raj Mahal imports many of their furnishings directly from India. (G'Raj Mahal/Instagram)
This warm, colorful atmosphere will make you want to stay all night. Though the restaurant serves upscale Austin-inspired authentic Indian, and specifically Goan, food, Texas' signature Southern hospitality is not lost. Either outdoors or on the spacious patio, you can enjoy a traditional saag paneer or nutty korma made with free-range and grass-fed proteins while you people-watch or enjoy the full bar menu. As the restaurant says, they welcome you to "Sit and Namaste a While."
Best food truck: Little Lucy’s Mini Donuts, 75 1/2 Rainey St
Try the "Poodle," "Schnauzer" or " Maltese" flavors. (Little Lucy's/Instagram)
You've had donuts before, maybe even ones with creative names and fancy ingredients, but they don't compare to the donuts you get when you go to Little Lucy's. These mini donuts—just a little larger than a golf ball—are fried then doused in a luxuriously-flavored flavored sugar while still hot and fresh. We recommend the "Schnauzer," which are pistachio, lavender and vanilla flavored, or the "Maltese" Italian cream cake. I can already smell the donuts cooking 🤤
Best lunch and dinner: Emmer & Rye, 51 Rainey Street inside SkyHouse
The blackened grapefruit panna cotta is topped with beet bubbles and benne seed shoyu streusel. (Emmer & Rye/Instagram)
While this restaurant is some of the very best on Rainey Street, this is not the place to go to end your night. This menu changes with the season and the famer's harvest, meaning you're likely to try something new each time you visit. You have two options when you dine in at Emmer & Rye, stick to the menu or forget it and get the off the menu option, which comes out with a variety of dishes meant to be shared. You can also order specials off carts that travel around the dining room during the meal. Be prepared to shell out but enjoy it when you do!
Best tap beer selection: Banger's Sausage House and Beer Garden, 79 Rainey Street
Banger's has an ever-rotating selection of brews on tap. (Banger's Sausage House and Beer Garden)
You're going to be hard-pressed to find anything but beer at Banger's Sausage House but you will find more than 80 types on draft. In addition to the vast lineup of beers from all over the country, plus a few domestic choices, dozens of brews come straight from the capital of Texas. If that's not enough, the bar also has a pretty expansive food menu.
Best specials: Idle Hands, 85 Rainey Street
Idle Hands has tropical drinks on deck, plus a healthy selection of beer and wine. (Idle Hands)
In addition to the fruity cocktails, full menu and tropical atmosphere, Idle Hands offers a new special Monday-Thursday. Time your visit right and you can get $10 draft cocktails, 50% off a Cubano sandwich or a $4 slice of cheesecake while you relax on one of the bar's swinging wicker chairs. If those specials don't tickle you, keep an eye on the bar's Instagram, where it announces specials like Paella Night or free oysters for early guests.
Best brunch: Anthem, 91 Rainey Street
With Asian barbecue brisket and curry potatoes are the stars of the brisket breakfast tacos. (Anthem/Instagram)
If you're looking for a break from the classic eggs benedict and pancakes, Anthem has you covered with it's umami-filled brunch menu. Branch out with Thai doughnuts topped with yuzu icing, basil and black sesame seeds or a more traditional JFC biscuits & gravy with sriracha hot honey and shoyu gravy. The main menu is filled with plenty of Asian-inspired bites, so there's reason to visit anytime. You can still get your mimosa or Michelada but brunch is only served on Saturday & Sunday, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Best place to dance: Augustine, 86 Rainey Street
With a spacious front patio, indoor space and plenty of room in the backyard, Augustine is "a little classy, a whole lot of groovy," with plenty of room to get down. With a colorful cocktail menu, great photo ops and a glowing green sign, it's impossible to miss this bar.
Where to park:
You might be able to find street parking if you visit Rainey Street between Monday-Wednesday, but don't count on it. Rainey Street does have an attached gravel parking lot but costs tend to be expensive, like $10-20 per hour type expensive, so the best option is to walk, Uber or branch out to one of the many options that will be cheaper to park.
You can try your luck with the many street parking options around Austin or get free parking at...
- 742 Interstate 35 Frontage Road
- Triangle Park and Ride, 4600 Guadalupe Street
- Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River Street (only free on Sundays)
You might just have to do a little walking!
$5 or less
Finding parking for a small fee is very doable if you're willing to do some scouting.
- Hyatt Regency Austin, 208 Barton Springs Road ($4)
- N Interstate 35 Frontage Road / E. 6th St ($5)
- 801 Trinity Street ($5)
- 1501 E. 6th St ($5)
$10 or less
This category gives you the most options while still saving a little bit of cash for Rainey.
- 604 Driskill St. ($10)
- 314 East Cesar Chavez St. ($8)
- One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road ($8)
- 707 East 7th St. ($10)
- AMLI Downtown Garage, 201 Lavaca St. ($6)
- 419 East 7th St. ($10)
- 313 East 7th St. ($10)
- 717 Red River St. ($6)
- 108 West Gibson St. ($6)
Where to stay:
(Hotel Van Zandt)
If you're trying to stay walking distance from Rainey Street, you have options across the board.
In the two-star range, Rainey is home to some eclectic hostels. The Heirloom Lounge and Rusty Railway Hostel is a colorful homage to old Austin, not just another "hipster hostel," offers $3 breakfast buffets and regular movie nights. With a cafe and bar onsite, Native Hostel is an upscale hostel tucked away inside an 1890s railroader hotel. Though you'll be sharing a room with four to six people, the luxurious furnishings will make you feel cozy and you might even make some new friends.
For a guaranteed private room, you'll need to move to the three star range. Homewood Suites has rooms from around $140-$200 and sits along I-35, right behind Rainey Street, so you won't even have to Uber. Just a little further away is the Holiday Inn, sitting further South on IH-35, but is still a very comfortable walk to Rainey Street. You can stay there for cheaper too: around $90-$175.
If you can swing it, Austin has some luxurious hotels to lay your head for the night. Four-star hotel Locale Austin offers fully-furnished apartments to stay in, so you'll feel right at home, and comes complete with expansive views of the city. Hotel Van Zandt has been named "#1 Hotel in Texas" by Condé Nast and you can enjoy the downstairs restaurant Geraldine's for a fancy meal, or have them bring it to you as part of the 24/7 room service. Both hotels are just a stone's throw away, sitting right beside Rainey.
- Some Austin businesses will keep masks despite Abbott's order ... ›
- Dramatic downtown Austin drone shows scope of Project Connect's ... ›
- Austin bars that lifted the mask mandate like Abbott - austonia ›
- Craft Pride and Javelina may be replaced by Rainey highrise ... ›
- Final Rainey Street residential home cleared for demolition - austonia ›
- Final Rainey Street residential home cleared for demolition - austonia ›
- San Jac Saloon's custom doors were stolen - austonia ›
- Where to find gay bars, drag in Austin's 4th Street - austonia ›
- Where to Eat Now's seven local dishes, desserts and drinks - austonia ›
- 4 Austin semifinalists named in James Beard Awards - austonia ›
- UT McCombs student wins Jeopardy! National College Championship - austonia ›
- No Lights No Lycra allows locals to dance in the dark - austonia ›
- New brewery, The Stay Put will open on Austin's Rainey Street - austonia ›
- Rainey Street's Container Bar, Bungalow to have last hoorah this weekend before new tower moves in - austonia ›
- New nightlife venue at E. Riverside and South Congress in Austin - austonia ›
Chi Lee, the director of architecture firm HKS’s new Austin office, describes this point in our city’s life as puberty.
“Our voices are changing and we have freckles everywhere,” Lee said. “You know, starting to look like an adult but still acting like a kid kind of thing.”
But as Austin matures and faces all the pressures of its increased popularity—competing for company relocations and expansions all while managing rising rents and affordability woes—Lee thinks we should look outside when planning an approach to Austin’s growth.
“A big mistake we could make is if we don't embrace what other cities, nationally, regionally, internationally have done to improve upon the experience of all the folks who live there.”
Chi Lee and Brad Wilkins (HKS)
Lee and HKS studio design leader Brad Wilkins keep this in mind as the firm, which has carried out projects in Austin since the 80s, further cements its presence here.
HKS is making ambitious strides in Austin: the firm has more than 50 projects in design or under construction in the Austin market, including Domain 9, the Dell Children’s Medical Center expansion and projects in the Rainey Street District including one that may end up being the tallest tower in Texas.
The Bowie, a 36-story apartment tower HKS designed in Austin's Central Business District. (HKS)
“We've been able to do things during the pandemic, and since then, which are really pushing the boundaries of what Austin would typically do. And frankly, what would be done anywhere in the world,” Wilkins said. “Things like having outdoor space on every level of an office tower and creating the spaces not just to be like outdoor spaces, but to be spaces that people can actually enjoy.”
As these projects span all over the city, Lee and Wilkins are observant of how action on certain quality of life factors could be key to preventing problems as Austin draws in a larger population.
For Wilkins, that’s informed by his international work. He’s lived in about half a dozen places in Europe and Asia, starting his career out in Chicago. He’s carried out big projects and was one of the designers of the first LEED platinum building just outside of Hong Kong.
“One thing that we're always needing to be very careful about is looking at things that were not done great,” Wilkins said. “There are mistakes in public transportation in those cities that I worked in overseas, there are mistakes in public housing.”
It’s partly why the pair see Project Connect—the $7.1 billion transit system expansion voters approved in November 2020 that includes light rail lines, a downtown subway and an expanded bus system—as a boon to the city’s future.
Lee said he’s excited that HKS is working on a couple of projects that are along the future lines and sees it as a massive opportunity for the city.
“We need to get out of our cars if we can. We just don't have the type of transportation infrastructure in place that needs to be in place,” Lee said. “A lot of major metropolitan and urban cities have subway systems and light rail systems and things like that, where we don't.”
The Ashton (HKS)
Still, someday Austin will. The plan is trudging ahead with moves on anti-displacement initiatives and collecting input on design proposals for key lines. So even while HKS prepares for changes to the city from the ground up, Lee and Wilkins aim to maintain the city’s personality.
“I'm always more about the local place, not the international place, even though I do bring with me international experience,” Wilkins said. “Chi and I are only interested in doing Austin, we're interested in making Austin special, keeping Austin culture.”
- 43 story office tower coming to downtown Austin - austonia ›
- A new office tower is coming to North Austin's Domain area - austonia ›
- Tallest tower in Texas coming to downtown Austin - austonia ›
- Tower with luxury hotel, condos coming to Downtown Austin - austonia ›
- Facebook's Meta signs for Austin's tallest tower in largest downtown ... ›
- 675-foot tower to add apartments, retail to Downtown Austin - austonia ›
- Cielo breaking ground on Downtown Austin 46-story tower - austonia ›
- Architect talks shaping Austin skyline with Google tower - austonia ›
- Drone: New Google tower begins to take shape downtown - austonia ›
- Latest Rainey tower gets Planning Commission support - austonia ›
Austin may still be the most expensive metro area for Texas renters, with reports of rent rising upwards of 25-40%, but the apartment hunting process can still be daunting no matter your budget.
There are a lot of neighborhoods, apartment complexes and prices floating around, which can make the already difficult hunting process more confusing. Smart City apartment locator and lifelong Austinite Maddie Hastings told Austonia which areas are trendiest, cheapest, most over-hyped and hidden gems.
Quick tips from Hastings:
- Don’t do it alone: Apartment locators offer free services from licensed real estate agents that usually have “behind the scenes” information.
- Don’t rely on online prices: Apartment prices change every day and third-party websites usually don’t have up-to-date information on capacity or current rates.
- Take everything with a grain of salt: Read recent reviews and try to see through photos of staged units.
Hottest: Downtown, Barton Springs and South Congress(Earl McGehee/CC)
Hastings said only a small portion of people she locates have previously lived in the Austin area—with the city’s growth, many come from Chicago, New York or the West Coast.
New residents tend to want to be near Austin’s most famous landmarks like Zilker Park, Barton Springs and Downtown, Hastings said. The problem is that housing in those areas is often limited and expensive, between $1,918-$3,163 on average, according to RentCafe, though she understands the hype.
“I do like South Austin because I feel like it's more accessible and easier to get downtown—it's close to Zilker Park, close to Barton Springs,” Hastings said. “A lot of people want to be downtown and the rest want to be in that South Central area where South Lamar, South Congress and South First is.”
Not: North Austin suburbs and Riverside(Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock)
Hastings said it isn’t that she doesn’t place people in apartments in places like Round Rock, Pflugerville and Cedar Park, it just tends to be people that work in the area, are specifically looking to live in the area or have an “outside reason” drawing them there.”
Meanwhile, Hastings said that one neighborhood she consistently hears people don’t want to live in is Riverside, which is a cheaper option with the average tenant paying $1,583 per month, according to RentCafe.
Though Hastings says not to let that taint your image of East Austin. If you like the price but don’t want to live in Riverside, Hastings recommends looking at apartments in Montopolis and Pleasant Valley.
“They do have some nice, newer complexes,” Hastings said. “So for me, I mean, it's a great way to get a good price on a new place that's close to downtown.”
Most underrated: Mueller and Southpark Meadows
Though it may be on the more expensive side, about $2,000 on average for a one-bedroom, Hastings said she really enjoyed living in the Mueller area herself. The perks: It’s relatively newly developed, home to the biggest farmer’s market in town, has restaurants and coffee shops, trails and feels like a good neighborhood area.
“I personally love Mueller,” Hastings said. “It has that neighborhood feel but it's one of the few walkable areas in Austin. I really like that you get everything you need, right in that little area, and it's so close to Central Austin and downtown.”
Hastings also said she loves living in Southpark Meadows, which may be a bit cheaper, has easy highway access, nearby shopping and may also land you a newer building.
“If it was me looking on my own, and I had to consider money, that's personally where I would recommend people to get the most bang for their buck,” Hastings said.
Most overrated: South Lamar and The Domain(Peter French/CC)
Hastings said she understands the immediate appeal behind wanting to live at The Domain—the shopping, restaurants, glamor and bar scene—but doesn’t like the traffic, higher price tag and lack of “Austin” character”
Plus, Hastings said she doesn’t often see people living there for long.
“People move to Austin because it's quirky and different and while The Domain is a good time, it's just super commercialized so you're not really getting the Austin experience,” Hastings said. “It's not my favorite, I've definitely leased a few people in The Domain and then after a year they’re like, ‘Yeah, I'm over it, I'm ready to be somewhere else.’”
Hastings had opposite things to say about South Lamar—she thinks it embodies the city’s character—but there just isn’t enough housing to go around right now because it’s in such high demand. Plus, it has a pricey average rent at $1,918, according to RentCafe.
“I understand why everyone wants to live on South Lamar—that’s where everyone wants to be,” Hastings said. “And I can't really say it's overrated because there are so many restaurants and things to do.”
- For Austin renters, it's time to face the music: adapt to record rent ... ›
- Hot housing market pushes Austin rents to all-time high ›
- New micro units are coming to South First St. - austonia ›
- How much space is $1,500 worth? 9 Austin apartments on the ... ›
- Where to rent: Top neighborhoods for apartments in Austin - austonia ›