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Austin City Guide: SXSW's Super Secret Spots

Here at The Venue Report, we are all about finding reasons to gather, whether it’s attending a music festival or throwing your own off-shoot party to capture the spirit of celebration.  Festival season officially kicks off with one of our personal faves... Austin’s South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival - a ten-day party to celebrate art, culture and tech. 

As hundreds of thousands of people descend upon "The Live Music Capital of the World," you may be left wondering where those who know... GO. Whether you're looking to escape the crowds, shop, refuel and recharge,  grab some zzzzzz's, or host your very own gathering we’re covering the coolest insider spots you'll definitely want to check out when you’re not upfront and center-stage.

Written by Alyssa Brown
1 / 31
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Clark’s Oyster Bar

Austin, TX
We are total suckers for a well-executed nautical themed seafood restaurant, and Clark’s makes us really want to sink our anchor and float for a while. Happy Hour here is pretty amazing with .50 cents off oysters and half priced burgers. If you make it out for a bite, that hangover will be cured just in time for your next show!
2 / 31
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Fair Market

Fair Market is one of those massive East Austin industrial warehouses that’s still standing in spite of all the new construction in these parts. You can pack a solid 1500 people in this venue, so it’s grounds extraordinaire for an epic gathering. A breeze to get to from downtown, the space is a perfect indoor/outdoor combo. Definitely get some serious entertainment to make this spot boom with energy.
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3 / 31
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Figure8 Coffee Purveyors

Austin, TX
photo: Chase Daniel
It’s not often that coffee shops make our lists, but this East Austin hub is the epicenter of deliciously roasted coffee on the Eastside.  If a local experience is what you’re after while you’re in town, Figure8 certainly provides an authentic peek at life in ATX.  May we recommend the cortado, best consumed in the hidden backyard area.
4 / 31
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Contigo

Austin, TX
photo: Contigo
A ranch-like setting in the northern part of the city, Contigo is a Hyde Park restaurant that combines indoor and outdoor seating to create the most quintessentially “deep in the heart of Texas” vibe you’ll find in this part of Austin. The food is as down-home as the atmosphere, with plates like Rabbit & Dumplings taking front and center stage. If you’re looking to book an open-air party that’s casual and fun with classic Texan food and delicious cocktails, this is your jam.
5 / 31
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Elizabeth Street Café

Austin, TX
If there were Grammy Awards for hangover food, Vietnamese cuisine would most definitely sweep the category. Noodles and banh mi meet French boulangerie? Don’t mind if we do. The modern and light-filled space at Elizabeth Street Café will quickly make you forget the crowds you were fighting off all of last night, along with the one-too-many bourbons on tap you threw back at the White Horse Tavern while practicing your two-step.  This is a great place to #getoutandgather and recover from last night’s cray.
6 / 31
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Hillside Farmacy

An old 1920s pharmacy that has since been refashioned into one of Austin’s most gorgeous modern restaurant spaces, Hillside Farmacy is the ideal marriage of vintage meets contemporary. Whether you’re popping in for brunch with a couple of buddies or throwing a dinner for a whole slew of South By attendees, be sure to take notes on this space, venue lovers. As if the décor weren’t charming enough on its own, there’s even a soda fountain to belly up to!
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7 / 31
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Hotel St. Cecilia

Austin, TX
Named after the patron saint of musicians, Hotel St. Cecilia is luxe, luxe, luxe.  You can be sure some of the top record execs and headliners will be booked at this 14-room oasis in SoCo.  Between the lush patio and pool area, unique and cozy rooms, and the gorgeous bar, to say the ambience at this hidden gem is heavenly would be an understatement.  Every room here is like a little treasure trove.
8 / 31
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Blanton Museum of Art

This aqua hued art space gives us everything but the blues. Downtown’s Blanton Museum of Art is a modern art lover’s dream. If you’ve got some down time away from the packed music schedule, this fine art museum is certainly worthy of a pop-in. Check out Third Thursday for free admission and late night wine at the museum, which just happens to fall during SXSW Music.
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9 / 31
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Drink.Well.

Austin, TX
Cocktail party central, this Hyde Park drinking hub is always churning out the most delicious craft cocktails. If you’re looking for an intimate spot to kick off an evening of SXSW events, this place is adorable in all its house-made Twinkies glory. Plus, they boast three of our favorite things: cocktails, kitchen and kinship. Insider tip: if you happen to find yourself looking to get into a little trouble after a few too many cocktails here, be sure to check out nearby Little Longhorn’s chicken shit bingo, because that’s a (very Texan) thing.
10 / 31
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Hotel Ella

Austin, TX
photo: Hotel Ella
Located in the West Campus area of Austin, this boutique hotel is as charming as it is conveniently located. The swimming pool is a stunner and the event spaces here are pretty lovely too, with high ceilings and original wood floors. An historic Greek Revival mansion that dates back to 1900, this beauty houses 47 modern guest rooms with the most gorgeous marble bathrooms.  If making it out to Barton Springs isn’t in the cards while you’re in town, this pool is sure to be the next-best place to recharge.
11 / 31
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Hops & Grain

Austin, TX
photo: Live Mom
Austin has become a major hub of craft breweries in the past few years.  One of Austin’s most popular Eastside breweries, Hops & Grain offers tours throughout the day and they’re sure to be busy busy during South By. The tasting system here makes it easy to try a little bit of everything on tap. Be sure to check out the Mass Gallery next door to ogle some amazing contemporary art and pop into the best art gallery shop in ATX. You might also consider either space for an event venue.  If you make it out here on a Thursday-Sunday, the burgers from the Kick Drum food truck are out of control.
12 / 31
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Barr Mansion

Not so shabby and instead utterly chic, this Southern Victorian home is the Lady Luck of Austin.  Typically used as a wedding venue, we could see Barr Mansion, its gardens, farmstead and ballroom easily transforming into celebration central for a record label party or supper club event.  The crazy talented catering team picks produce fresh out of their own on-site gardens and nearly everything on the menu is certified organic.
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13 / 31
13
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$319 avg. room rate
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South Congress Hotel

Another newcomer to the Austin scene, the South Congress Hotel is a real showstopper.  For starters, the pool deck is capital-E Everything.  It’s like Palm Springs meets musicians’ paradise.  The rooms and suites are well designed and boutique feeling, very well thought out.  And unlike most hotel restaurants, Café No Sé downstairs is honestly phenomenal.  The flavor combinations on the menu are fun and interesting, while the space is perfectly curated.  There’s also a Japanese restaurant and an American Bar & Grill, yet this hotel doesn’t feel overwhelmingly huge or inconsistent with its stomping grounds.  It kind of just works with the SoCo neighborhood, and each of the restaurants could be a great spot to host an event during SXSW.
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14 / 31
14
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$279 avg. room rate
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Hotel Van Zandt (Kimpton)

A newcomer to Austin’s ever-growing skyline, Hotel Van Zandt is equal parts rock-n-roll and impressive.  A Kimpton property, service is as top-notch as the bedding selection, and the downtown views from the roof terrace are unbeatable.  If you’re able to get your hands on one of the 319 rooms, consider yourself lucky enough to hang by the rooftop pool.  The proximity to Rainey Street is also a major score for bar hoppers looking to avoid late-night transportation fails.
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15 / 31
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Foreign & Domestic

Austin, TX
A mainstay in the Austin food scene, Foreign & Domestic tows that faint line between serving comfort food staples like fried chicken biscuits and dishes that seem single-handedly dedicated to keeping Austin weird, like fried pig ears with fish sauce caramel.  And no, we didn’t make that one up.  The ambience here is low-key and it’s a cozy neighborhood spot to refuel.  Local tip: oysters are only a buck a piece on Tuesdays.
16 / 31
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Hotel San Jose

An Austin favorite, Hotel San Jose is the kind of small boutique hotel you want to tell all your friends about, but also desperately want to keep a secret so you can always get a room on South Congress with this much style. Nestled in what many consider the heart and soul of Austin, this 40-room SoCo haven has the most treasured courtyard in the area. Small events can be booked here, and this is the ultimate place to lay your head or level up on evening cocktails.
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17 / 31
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Malverde

Austin, TX
photo: Malverde
La Condesa’s gorgeous private event space, Malverde, is located in the center of it all.  A downtown go-to for booking a fiesta of up to 125 guests, this venue has Instagram-worthy written all over it.  From the patio overlooking downtown to the hanging plants throughout the indoor and outdoor spaces, this place is dripping with life.  The menu is modern Mexican fare and the décor falls right inline with that aesthetic – think Tulum meets mod squad.  Margaritas all around, por favor!
18 / 31
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JM Dry Goods

Austin, TX
Set just on the other side of Spartan Shop, JM Dry Goods is the go-to for all things tropical. This boutique sources handmade textiles, homewares and scents straight from Oaxaca and sells up some serious tropical gangster goodstuff. If you’re looking to get off the “everywhere is packed” track, the retail therapy here is a ten out of ten.
19 / 31
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Juliet Ristorante

Austin, TX
photo: RobertJ Lerma
Juliet is one of those wonderful Italian restaurants that make our eyes water as much as our mouths. Don’t be mislead by the simplicity of its black and white awning shell; the interior dining spaces here are beautiful. Events are fairly easy to book, making Juliet an easy spot to meet up with a crew. The Negroni craving is real right now.
20 / 31
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Kettle and Brine

Austin, TX
photo: Feliz Austin
Fair warning to all our shopaholic readers: you’re going to love this home goods store. We may be a wee bit biased because their concept is “goods for feasts and gatherings,” which is so up our alley it’s kind of unfair to other shops, but these guys know what’s up. Everything in the shop is top-of-the-line in design while still being totally useable and not too fussy in the kitchen. Plus, they just launched a gift registry (hello, brides!) and an e-commerce site.  Really, with this space, can we just move in?
21 / 31
21
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Kimber Modern

Austin, TX
photo: Kimber Modern
Shhhhh… please, please, please don’t tell anyone else about this little SoCo boutique hotel. We really heart it. The décor certainly lives up to the modern promise, with most rooms having a minimalist look and one work of contemporary large-scale art. The outdoor areas here are lush and full of places to lounge, making Kimber Modern just one of many awesome spots to relax and recharge during South By.
22 / 31
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Brazos Hall

photo: Jerry Hayes
You could easily throw an event for upwards of a thousand people at this turn-of-the-century warehouse with a giant rooftop overlooking downtown. Brazos Hall could be an incredible space to transform into a moonlit evening lounge with burlesque performances and circus acts. The full moon in March falls on the 23rd, which means that the whole week leading up to it will be SXSW dates. That’s pretty magical from a mood-setting perspective and you know we’re all about throwing parties based around moonlight.
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23 / 31
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Cenote

Austin, TX
Chugging iced coffees and espresso shots on this adorable patio might be the only thing to keep you amped up during a hectic SXSW schedule. Built in 1887, Cenote is one of those great neighborhood cafés in a house, where cozying up to get your caffeine fix makes you feel almost like a local. The fresh pressed juices and full breakfast and lunch menu are a welcome commodity to keeping you healthy throughout the week’s chaos.
24 / 31
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Launderette

Austin, TX
photo: Launderette
Can’t decide whether to tout the food or brag on the design first. This place kind of has it all goin’ on. The space is cheerful and open, the kind of restaurant you imagine when you think 1950s prom night but with really badass artwork, leather banquettes, outdoor seating, and kind of perfect everything else. Nominated for a James Beard Award this past year, the menu is nearly flawless whether you’re visiting for brunch, lunch or dinner.
25 / 31
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Justine’s Brasserie

Austin, TX
A French outpost on a residential street in East Austin with an undeniably rock n’ roll vibe, Justine’s is prime grounds for a courtyard party that’s three parts rambunctious with just a dash of romance.  If you can book the whole place, the indoor/outdoor combo is trés chic.  Toss back rosé till your heart’s content, but whiskey might be even more fitting for this scene.
26 / 31
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Parkside

As most locals will admit, Sixth Street can feel kind of like Bourbon Street on steroids, with slightly more varied live music options. Yet, Parkside has set itself above all that, almost as a quiet oasis overlooking the wildness of the street below. The patio here is quaint and this gastro-pub could easily lean toward being casual or fancy-pants, depending how you spin it. The venue fits 200 for an event and can really be dressed up or down in any fashion to fit the vibe.
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27 / 31
27
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Spartan Shop

Austin, TX
photo: Spartan Shop
Whoever curates the collection at retailer Spartan Shop might actually be a genius.  Or maybe just our retail soulmate.  It seems that everything sold from behind these doors is absolutely beautiful.  From leather goods to ceramics to jewelry, there’s a little bit of everything in this South Lamar boutique.  If you’re looking for keepsakes to remember your time at SXSW, this might be your best haunt.
28 / 31
28
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Snack Bar

Austin, TX
A neighborhood gathering spot that feels like a retro diner with a healthy spin, Snack Bar is the place you’ll want to know about when you’re dying for a decent bite to eat.  The burgers here are legendary and the quinoa salad with grilled pineapple makes quinoa worth learning how to pronounce (if you haven’t figured it out by now: keen-wah).  There’s usually some live music component here in the evenings.  And the parking lot turns into a shopper’s paradise on Saturdays, with local purveyors selling things like leather goods and handmade jewelry.
29 / 31
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Swan Dive

Austin, TX
photo: Swan Dive
This place is cool, like really cool. Basically a wide open space with white walls and grey banquettes, it’s clear that if these walls could talk they’d tell many a story of late night burlesque parties and certainly a scandal or two. If you’re on the lookout for a stellar space to throw a dance party that’s big but not overwhelming, Swan Dive might be your sweet spot.
30 / 31
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Weather Up

photo: Melody Fury
Giant oak trees and bistro lighting on an open-air patio. Does it get any more Austin than this? Weather Up is that old-school Austin vibe, the way it felt before they moved the Lustre Pearl from Rainey Street to East Austin. Yes, the cocktails are craft and the food farm-to-table, but there’s nothing pretentious about this cozy bar and eatery.
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31 / 31
31
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Radio Coffee & Beer

Austin, TX
Should you find yourself looking for a moment to reset in South Austin, be sure to check out Radio for a caffeine boost or to try one of their many locally brewed beers. With a ton of outdoor seating, this spot is almost always a good place to catch some sunshine. Regularly parked in the lot here, Veracruz has some of the best tacos in Austin. These guys put on some serious parties, so be sure to check the calendar for their evening events.  Bluegrass Mondays are not to be missed!
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