By Veronica Meewes
Austin is known for its live music, its bar-hopping districts and its many food trucks, which all tend to go hand-in-hand. But in the last few years, the quickly developing city’s skyline has been rising too, bringing in a number of rooftop bars where you can sip on cocktails while taking in beautiful views.
There’s no better way to experience the city’s colorful ‘“violet crown” sunsets up close and personal or get a bird’s-eye view of the Mexican free-tailed bats making their nightly exodus from the South Congress Bridge. Many of these rooftop destinations also come with the opportunity for pool access and even cabana rental, if you’re feeling fancy. So whether you’re slowly easing back into open-air socialization or just want to get high to escape for a night, these rooftop bars offer something for everyone.
Named for its former life as a parking garage, P6 is now a rooftop lounge on the sixth floor of the Line Hotel. The elevated lounge, complete with fluttering pink prayer flags, serves Mediterranean-inspired plates and seasonal cocktails with sweeping views of Lady Bird Lake and the bat-centric South Congress Bridge. Try the Wild Side, a refreshing herbal blend of sotol, basil syrup, cucumber, and basil seeds, alongside the crispy patatas bravas, which come with Parmesan, red pepper, pine nuts and aioli. During happy hour (Monday through Friday from 4 to 6pm), find deals on beer, wine and selected plates, and save $20 on bottles of wine starting at 4pm on Sunday. Expect to book via OpenTable at least a month in advance for Friday and Saturday sunset reservations, and at least a couple weeks out for weekday slots.
Seven stories up really does feel like a world away when you enter Zanzibar, the tropically-themed rooftop pool and lounge crowning the Marriott Austin downtown. Huge, vibrant tropical plants set the scene and, whether you’re relaxing in lounge chairs or perched at a high-top table, you’ll find plenty of city views. The cocktail menu features classics (like Mai Tais and Birds of Paradise) plus beach-inspired signature drinks, like the frozen Tradewinds, made with rum, coconut, peach, Aperol, and lime. The food menu is also island-leaning, with offerings like poke bowls, massive shrimp skewers and pulled pork on Hawaiian rolls with pineapple slaw. (The pool area, which is only open to guests, features its own food and drink menus.)
The only bar in Austin dedicated entirely to gin, this East 6th Street cocktail lounge pours over 75 different labels of the spirit from all over the globe. Though it was closed for most of the pandemic, Gin Bar recently reopened at the Arrive Hotel, a location that explains its sleek, modern design elements: delicate geometric shapes, wooden bench seating, fire tables, and intentional pops of red. There’s no better place in town to tuck away and enjoy a dirty gin martini with a view of East Austin.
Located right on the edge of University of Texas’ Austin campus, the music-themed Otis Hotel and its rooftop lounge — appropriately dubbed Otopia — act as a beacon of blissful escape from the collegiate realness below. Meet up with friends for the ultimate Sunday Funday, complete with poolside bites, comfy lounge chairs, icey drinks and a DJ-fueled soundtrack if you’re lucky. Each day, visitors are welcome from 5pm to close to enjoy fresh bites like tuna wonton tacos and Wagyu carpaccio, plus “sunshine sips” and elevated classics like Let the Man-go (rum, pineapple, lime, mango puree, jalapeno and mint). Monday through Thursday, one hour before sunset until one hour after is known as The Golden Hour, when you’ll receive half off selected appetizers, $2 off wine by the glass and can enjoy a $8 rotating specialty cocktail while the sun sinks behind the Texas Capitol. Pro tip: In order to use the pool between 12pm and 5pm, purchase a day pass online.
This multi-tiered Mexican restaurant, named after its longtime chef Alma Alcocer-Thomas, is best known for its rooftop patio, which offers a lovely view of downtown Austin from just south of the river on Barton Springs Road. A stone staircase built into the rock formation at the center of El Alma leads to the patio, which is non-reservable and first come, first served for seating. It doesn’t get better than happy hour, which runs daily from 3 to 6pm and features $7 margaritas! While there’s a full menu of Mexican dishes, this is the perfect spot to snack with friends on shareable plates like the jalapeno crab queso dip and tuna ceviche tostadas.
This vibrant bar and restaurant located on the fifth floor of the Austin Proper Hotel features a serene rooftop pool deck overlooking the downtown bustle—and it’s perfect for golden hour. While the pool is only open to hotel guests, its menu is a slightly condensed version of La Piscina’s, which highlights coastal Mexican cuisine with a Texas twist and specializes in ceviches, aguachiles and sizzling tabletop fajitas plus decadent snacks like loaded steak arrachera nachos and lobster quesadillas with pineapple pico. In addition to plenty of patio seating, the interior’s almost entirely windows, with sun-soaked teak and tropical plants bringing the outside in. So whether you choose to soak up the sun or hide from it, either option is perfect for sipping on one of their well-executed cocktails (like hot fuschia hibiscus margarita or the elote cobbler, made with bourbon, tequila, corn liquor, almond milk and orgeat).
The rooftop is the crown jewel of this two-story Warehouse District dance club, which has hosted everything from daytime dance parties to artist markets to drag shows. Coconut Club gets pretty busy, especially on the weekends, so it’s usually easiest to order something simple (like a ranch water, the unofficial drink of Texas), though it really won’t matter what’s in your hand when you’re on the dancefloor, wrapped in laser lights, surrounded by skyscrapers and dancing like there’s no patriarchy. When you work up an appetite, head downstairs to the attached Cuatro Gato for tacos by Vaquero Taquero.
Unfortunately, this entire block (Austin’s LGBTQ district) is slated for demolition next summer to make for another mixed-used development, so get your kicks in while you can.
When The Thompson Austin opened downtown this spring, Austin gained another rooftop oasis. Wax Myrtle’s (appropriately named after a shrub that thrives in the South) is a tropical hideaway, green with thriving plants that cascade over the outdoor bar and provide privacy throughout a labyrinth of plush lounge chairs. A covered area provides table seating and a fireplace with city views for cooler months. The pool deck is surrounded by plush beds and cabanas that may be reserved by both hotel guests and visitors alike on Resy. The ever-changing Mediterranean- and Mexican-inspired menu serves some of the best rooftop plates in town, with plenty of fresh veggie options, and the drink menu features riffs on classic cocktails, boozy frozens and wine spanning Texas to Greece.
With bad news rolling in on the daily, who couldn’t use a break from the headlines for a little group therapy? Head to the bar of the same name, located on the seventh floor of Hotel Zaza, overlooking downtown Austin and Republic Square Park. In addition to the indoor dining room and several event spaces, Group Therapy features a lovely pool-facing terrace with blue and white talavera tile, French bistro chairs and potted philodendrons lining the building’s exposed brick. The menu features seasonal specials but, true to its name, leans toward classic comfort with dishes like a Texas wedge, beer-braised shortribs, and crispy chicken with whipped potatoes. A sizable cocktail menu offers something for just about every taste, and you cannot leave without one of their signature espresso martinis. While reservations can be made on OpenTable, walk-ins are also welcome; plan your visit around their entertainment calendar to catch some live music on the rooftop, too.
Some of the new builds in Austin are truly doing their best to preserve the spirit of the city, and Hotel Van Zandt is one of them. The boutique hotel is named after hometown folk hero Townes Van Zandt, and its rooftop bar and restaurant, Geraldine’s, is named after a famous neighborhood guinea fowl who used to roam Rainey Street long before barcrawlers did. Music is a huge part of the program here, especially at Geraldine’s, which features live performances on its stage nearly every night of the week for a lovely, laid-back dinner slash theatre experience. But first, enjoy the day lounging on the pool deck, which is open to both guests and visitors via bookings on Resort Pass. The pool bar offers refreshing cocktails like the Aloe Bout it (gin, aloe liqueur, habanero and lime) and the Oaxacan on Sunshine (mezcal, pineapple, cilantro-jalapeño syrup and lime), plus snacky essentials like a spicy fried chicken sandwich and mushroom tacos al pastor. They’re hosting themed Sip and Swim events throughout the summer, the city view is breathtaking as the sun goes down, and their deck is the place to be when fireworks go off over Lady Bird Lake.
One step inside Rules & Regs, with its bright whites and nautical stripes, and you’ll feel like you’ve set sail. The bar and restaurant on the 7th floor of the Fairmont Austin features a spacious outdoor patio with plenty of coverage from the sun while it opens up to an expansive view of downtown Austin. A coastal Mexican-inspired menu features dishes like cheesy Mexican street corn ribs and duck confit sopes, and the signature cocktails are all appropriately tropical (try the Acapulco Breeze, made with sotol, tequila, banana liqueur, lemon, cucumber and prickly pear). Reservations for the bar and restaurant can be made for any day via Opentable, but the pool is only open to visitors Monday through Thursday, with reservations via ResortPass. The Fairmont Austin also boasts one of the biggest pools in the city, so it’s perfect for a group celebration. Check out their various themed cabana CosmoTrips, which provide everything you need for a stress-free bachelor, bachelorette or birthday party.
If you like your rooftop bars to come with fun and games, Upstairs at Caroline is the summer camp you seek. The spacious interior features picnic tables on Astroturf, and doors line the perimeter, opening up to views of Congress Avenue and 7th Street. An offset roof provides coverage from rain and sun while letting plenty of light and breeze in while you play Giant Jenga, cornhole, foosball and pool. Caroline is the Aloft Austin Downtown’s more austere sister restaurant, while Upstairs offers a selection of tacos (which become just $2 on Tuesdays), as well as chips and dips. In addition to daily weekday happy hour specials, they also offer daily specials where their draft cocktails (like the coconut-spiked Hipster-jito) and frozen drinks (like the Bad Life Choices, a watermelon frosé with an Everclear floater) are just $7. And on Sundays, bring your furry friends for 25% off your Yappy Hour order.
Easy Tiger, the little German-inspired bakery and beer garden that opened in a small, historic space on Sixth Street in 2012, now supplies restaurants and stores all over the city with their delicious baked goods—and has graduated to three spacious locations. The newest location features a lovely west-facing rooftop patio overlooking the lush Greenbelt, perfect for sunset viewing. Their giant signature pretzel with beer cheese is a must, but you also can’t go wrong with any of their house made sausages or sandwiches— and their egg sandwich (available during weekday breakfast or weekend brunch) is simply one of the best in town. They’re known for their well-curated selection of craft beer from near and far, but they also offer rotating wine specials and a small but solid cocktail list. During happy hour (all day on Monday and 4:30-6:30pm the rest of the weekdays), enjoy specials on pretzels, sausages and grazing boards plus select wines, beers and cocktails— and don’t forget to leave with a bag of their dreamy pastries.
By day, 77 Degrees (named for the “perfect temperature”) is a breezy, sun-lit patio bar that overlooks the Domain, North Austin’s shopping center—and is heavy on the rattan basket swing chairs. But when the sun goes down, the music goes up and it becomes a glowing, three-story club with an outdoor dance floor, plus plenty of lounge spaces to tuck into with your crew. Their signature cocktails are a reasonable $12, and you can upgrade to a pineapple bowl for extra tropical vibes or order hookahs for your table as well. If you’re really looking to throw down, book VIP bottle service and they’ll pull out all the bells and whistles.
This rooftop cocktail bar perched on the East Austin Hotel is perfect for a Sunday Funday situation, not least because the hotel has a sweet pool to drink and hang the day away. The Upside’s also heavy on the transportive travel vibes, with rattan patio furniture, Moroccan poufs, goldenrod tile, a sparkly red bartop, and nightly projected films that truly transport you to another time and place. Floor to ceiling windows and a wraparound patio look out onto East 6th Street so you can people-watch while you sip, too. On Monday through Thursday, happy hour runs from 4-6pm, with half off their riffs on classic cocktails plus beer and wine, while Friday and Saturday brings a sweet reverse happy hour from 8-10pm. Bar snacks span the globe with options like gochujang queso and blistered shishitos with yuzu aioli. Non-guest visitors can use the pool from 12pm—4pm or 4pm—8pm with a $40 pool pass (available through Resy).