Navigating Austin’s downtown districts

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Guillermo Hernandez

Shakespeare's Pub | 314 E. Sixth St.

Elyana Barrera

With monthly alcohol sales ranging from $45-60 million, Austin has become internationally known as a party hub, with Sixth Street stacking up along the likes of Bourbon Street in New Orleans and Memphis’ Beale Street. With many bars to frequent in the downtown area, there’s an area for every scene. Each district has its pros and cons, and each has its own vibe, creating a variety of party-ambiance choices when going out. Here are downtown Austin’s most popular districts.

Dirty Sixth

On any given night the boozy boulevard is filled with a mixed bag of players in the barhopping game, where a college kid working on his start-up might be throwing back shots with a 30-something rapper from England while stray members of a bachelorette party cheer them on.

Sixth Street’s reputation as a party hub undoubtedly comes from the nearly 50 bars and clubs occupying the six blocks between I-35 and Brazos Street. Its diversity of patrons has made it a place to mingle with people from all walks of life. For those choosing to drive, drinking can come with the hefty price of a DWI, and measures have been taken by Cap Metro and the city to ensure the safety of patrons by closing off the most populated areas and encouraging students to take the E-Bus, a route specifically designed to take students to and from Sixth Street.

Warning: If you wear high heels, you’ll probably end up walking barefoot at some point.

Our picks: Blind Pig Pub

Accessibility: Cap Metro, Taxi, Pedi cab, Bike, Pay-to-Park

 

Rainey Street

Comparisons of Rainey Street to Sixth Street aren’t far off, with Rainey being smaller and with pricey cocktails. There are already 10 bars and restaurants open in the compact street and its reputation as Austin’s new hot spot has been well established. The crowd tends to be made of older college students and young professionals, but the street has something separating it from other areas of Austin.

The businesses on Rainey all look like they could be a grandmother’s home complete with rocking chairs on the porches of some. In the coming years it will be interesting to see if the laid-back atmosphere Rainey Street advertises is preserved while commercial developments move in. The city of Austin has already installed parking meters on the street, and it is uncertain whether Rainey Street can maintain its cozy feel for long.

Hot Tip: Make sure to hit up Lustre Pearl before construction of a high-rise takes its place.

Our Picks: The Blackheart

Accessibility: Taxi, Pedi cab, Pay-to-Park, Bike

 

East Sixth

East Sixth Street has garnered attention for the gentrification and controversy in the area; some have even compared the area to Williamsburg. And just like the hipster hot spot, East Sixth has its fill of creative 20-somethings, sipping kombucha and eating from vegan food trailers. This haven has everything for the blatantly obvious hipster — you can even take a literal mustache ride on a facial-hair-inspired seesaw in front of Cheer Up Charlies. But don’t let the hipsters deter you, there’s a reason the word ‘hip’ is in their title. A couple of routine trips to this district will keep your dance moves funky and your lingo fresh.

Hot Tip: Don’t skip visiting East Sixth Street during South By Southwest, where impromptu gatherings of bigger name bands isn’t uncommon.

Our picks: Gypsy Lounge, Violet Crown Social Club

Accessibility: Taxi, Pedi cab, Bike, Street Parking 

 

Fourth Street

Rain on 4th | 217 W. Fourth St.

If Stefon from SNL had been an Austinite instead of a New Yorker, chances are he would come out to play in Austin’s Fourth Street District. A string of gay bars light up the street where glamorous drag queens work and caged male go-go dancers twerk. The area has been struggling with its identity recently and has been the topic of controversy, with The Red Room Lounge, formerly known as an LGBT bar by its clientele, was accused of turning away gay patrons.

The controversy with Red Room hasn’t changed the playful tone of Fourth Street. An establishment catering to the LGBT community, Castro’s Warehouse, was recently added in place of Qua, and the fierce patronage of the street has made it clear with Red Room protests that they are not to be turned away.

Hot Tip: Don’t assume anyone’s sexual orientation

Our Picks: Rain, Castro’s Warehouse

Accessibility: Cap Metro, Taxi, Pedi cab, Bike, Pay-to-Park

 

Red River Street

If there was ever an argument against Austin being the Live Music Capital of the World, Red River Street would be the rebuttal. Running perpendicular to Dirty Sixth, Red River Street hosts a number of venues showcasing big name artists such as Mumford & Sons and Lil B. Each venue has a different feel — Club de Ville is usually more subdued, while patrons of Red 7 are no strangers to mosh pits. The bands and stage acts performing will hint at what’s in store during any given night, but the trick to enjoying yourself in this district is to be open to new genres of music.

Hot Tip: Red River is a great place to hang out at for those who aren’t 21 yet, most venues welcome all ages or are 18+.

Our Picks: Mohawk, Red 7

Accessibility: Cap Metro, Taxi, Pedi cab, Bike, Pay-to-Park