Austin bar makes Esquire’s list of 24 best cocktail bars in America

Laura Skelding / American-Statesman. Half Step specializes in making classic cocktails like the Old-Fashioned. Its attention to detail has earned it a spot on Esquire’s best bars of America list.

According to Esquire, Half Step is a whole leap ahead of the rest of Austin’s watering holes.

Esquire has once again released its list of America’s best cocktail bars, and the powder blue bungalow bar on Rainey Street is at the top of it.

“Prop an elbow on the padded bar and watch your cocktail materialize from the fresh ingredients cooling on ice. Pick the bartender’s choice. Or call for the Medicina Latina, which mixes tequila, mezcal, ginger, and lime to cure what ails you,” according to the list put together by Esquire editors.

Half Step opened in early 2014 as the Texas outpost from the masterminds of the venerated Los Angeles bar the Varnish. Although there’s a menu of cocktails, Esquire is sure correct about one thing: Go with bartender’s choice for something truly tailored to your tastes. The bar team knows its booze and has a wide arsenal of drinks, both classics and modern riffs alike, from which to pull.

Once you’ve had a drink or two at Half Step, don’t call it a night: Esquire recommends heading over to fellow Rainey Street bar Craft Pride, where Texas beers and Detroit-style pizza reign supreme.

The men’s publication organized the list by city in alphabetical order, which made Half Step the first item you read. Some cities, like New York, have multiple bars featured. And Austin isn’t the only Texas city to impress: Houston also made the cut with the Southern-inspired bar Julep from cocktail maven Alba Huerta.

Agree with the publication’s recommendations? Sound off in the comments or share your opinion with me on Twitter or Instagram. My handle on both platforms is @ariauber.

Lustre Pearl returns to Rainey Street with opening today

The bar that turned Rainey Street into the vibrant nightlife district it is today has returned — Lustre Pearl is opening next door to fellow Bridget Dunlap hangout Bar 96.

Photo by Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. Bridget Dunlap, owner of food-and-drink empire DunlapATX, is opening a sports lounge concept on West Sixth.
Photo by Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. Bridget Dunlap, who got her start as an entrepreneur opening the first bar on Rainey Street, is bringing Lustre Pearl back to its original home.

With this revival on Rainey, Austinites now have two Lustre Pearl bars to call their local. Off East Cesar Chavez Street about 10 minutes away, Lustre Pearl East opened last fall in the original powder-blue bungalow that housed the bar in its heyday on Rainey.

But food-and-drink impresario Dunlap, who also recently opened the throwback sports lounge Parlor & Yard in the old Arro space on West Sixth Street, always knew she wanted Lustre Pearl to find a home again on Rainey Street.

“We brought Lustre back to Rainey Street because Lustre Pearl is Rainey Street — she’s the darling of Rainey and she belongs here,” Chris Parker, of Dunlap’s company Dunlap ATX, said in a press release. “When the site came available, snagging it and adorning her in a colorful secondhand dress felt apropos. Now she will carry on as the matriarch of the entertainment district she started.”

The new Lustre Pearl, at 94 Rainey St., is a mix of new and old. Designed by Francisco Arredondo of North Arrow Studio, the bar has the original walls and windows of the house that came before it, now with white pine walls and combination floors. It’s also a lot bigger than the first Lustre Pearl bungalow, according to the press release; visitors will find there’s ample outdoor space, including an upstairs patio.

Plus, the laid-back bar will have games like ping pong, darts and Lustre Pearl’s usual colorful hula hoops, and later this month, the Baton Creole food truck that “pioneered jambalaya-on-a-stick” will start serving up Cajun food nearby. (Another new venture from Dunlap is the restaurant Ophelia, in the old Mettle spot off East Sixth Street, which features creole dishes from Baton Creole’s Lynzy Moran.)

Lustre Pearl is opened from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays and noon to 2 a.m. Fridays through Sundays.

For more information — including details on Lustre Pearl’s returning legendary crawfish boils — visit the bar’s Facebook page at