Austin has always been Texas's dirty liberal secret, but the last 10 years have been a serious coming-out party. The ATX commonly ranks top-tier among cities for economic prospects and per capita food and leisure spending, while vehemently defending the title of "live music capital of the world." Not for nothing, South by Southwest, the city-consuming confab that brings young musicians, filmmakers, and techies together for a nonstop 10-day party, has become an industry-defining event (its 25th installment took place March 11'20). So how does Austin keep the energy up the rest of the year? Downtown remains gay nightlife central with mainstays Rain and Oilcan Harry's and rabidly popular video dance night TuezGayz at Barbarella. But for the freshest action head farther afield, particularly east of the city's major dividing point, IH-35.
Slake your thirst at cheap hipster dive bar Shangri-La (1) (1016 E. 6th St.) or the prewar cabaret-inspired East Side Showroom (2) (1100 E. 6th St.), where bartenders shake up vintage cocktails with house-made accoutrements like seasonal preserves and pickles. Try the Velpar, a palate-blasting blend of Texas rum, lemon, St. Germain, and absinthe.
Fizzy, vinegary kombucha on tap and juice-filled fresh young coconuts highlight the new-age vegan menu at Cheer Up Charlie's (3) (1104 E. 6th St), a queer-leaning and dog-friendly live music joint, now with a full liquor license. In warm months, the action spills out back.
With fresh-baked biscuits and addictive drinks like the choco-vanilla-cinnamon-flecked Iced Lightning, Progress Coffee (4) (500 San Marcos St.) is a good base to explore recently gentrified East Sixth Street, ATX's new cool zone. At Birds Barbershop (5) (1107 E. 6th. St.), you can plink on an old-school Jr. Pac-Man machine and sip on a complimentary Lone Star beer while waiting for your souvenir snip. Mohawks and buzzcuts just 15 bucks.