Published on AustinExpat.com in August 2013.
As the summer season begins to wind down and classes start up again, the return of the fall semester can only mean a few things for UT students: homework, football, and Thirsty Thursdays. Okay, let’s be real… More like Thirsty Thursday-through-Saturdays. When in need of a night or two to shake off the stress of a long week at school, no place in Austin rivals downtown’s historic district.
The Violet Crown’s exciting nightlife is one of the many reasons why people from all over the country venture to downtown Austin for special occasions ranging from bachelor parties to birthday celebrations. But even the locals can’t stay away on the weekends to soak up the live music, munch on delicious street food, and unwind with a few drinks. As a college student with limited funds and a love for dancing, I’ve scoped out a few of the best places to have fun on a Friday night without breaking the bank.
A typical evening for me and my friends might kick off around 8pm with dinner and lime juice margaritas at Iron Cactus on Trinity. Right in the middle of historic 6th street, this laidback Mexican cantina takes a different (and delicious) approach to the Tex Mex dishes we all know and love. (They even have a gluten-free menu!) We usually prefer dining outside on the Rooftop Patio, where we can look out over the city and sometimes catch the sunset if we’re lucky. After our stomachs are full and our glasses empty, we’ll stop in at several of the old house-turned-bars on Rainey — 6th Street’s “hipster” younger sister — to sip on cranberry vodkas, chat about everything under the moon, and simply relax. Lustre Pearl, my personal favorite, comes complete with fireplaces, candle-lit tables, and a fairly tranquil ambiance that gives it a warm, homey feel. For the livelier bunch, there are ping-pong tables and hula-hoops set up in the backyard. (But don’t be surprised if they’re taken! This place fills up fast.)
Later on, if we’re feeling up to it, Barbarella is our third pit stop for an hour or two of letting loose on the dance floor. Not for the faint of heart, the loud music and crowded rooms make it easy to get lost in the mayhem. Next door’s Swan Dive, however, is the classier (and cleaner) choice than fun and fast-paced Barbarella, but still eccentric enough to attract a wide variety of Austinites. Plus, there’s tons of open floor space and of course, a cocktail bar to help with the dance moves.
Finally, after all of the craziness of a college night out on the town, there’s no better place to sober up than on one of Halcyon’s comfy couches with a fresh cup of steaming coffee. Not such a coffee person? Their peanut butter hot chocolate is to die for (even in this summertime heat). But the best part about Halcyon has to be their marshmallow roasting sets available for making s’mores right at your table! Now don’t tell me that doesn’t sound like the perfect ending to a fun Friday evening.
There you have it! These Austin hotspots are just a few of my favorites on the must-visit list for college students. But I’m curious… Which downtown watering holes are you frequenting on the weekends?