In an ideal world, every bar would have activities. That way, life would be less boring, and every bad date could be saved by a round of skee-ball or ladder golf. And while Austin is about as close to that imaginary world as you can get, you still might need some help finding a spot to show off your awkwardly competitive side. That’s why we put together a list of our favorite places to drink and play games. Get some friends together, head to one of these spots, and show everyone how good you are at getting some sort of ball into some kind of hole.
When you walk into Kung Fu Saloon, odds are you’ll see two dueling bachelorette parties and someone dressed in a full astronaut costume. But once you push your way through the group of seven guys in variations on the same outfit, you’ll find the real reasons you came here - throwback arcade games, Pop-a-Shot, skeeball, and foosball. They also have a great outdoor patio for when your thumbs need a break, plenty of beers, and an alarmingly large selection of sake bombs. Before you know it, you’ll be convincing your friends to stay there for one more game as you try to beat the top score on the Ninja Turtle game.
We all have that friend who’s constantly planning tournaments. They require matching tees, a Google Doc for outlining the bracket, and at least 164 reminder emails. So when that friend gets the itch again, cut their WiFi and take them to SPIN - it’s gigantic and has more ping pong tables than any other spot in town. There’s also a bar in case you lose in the first round of the tournament or you swear you play better after a drink or two.
In the pantheon of things you’ll only ever see in Austin, Chicken Sh*t Bingo is very high on the list, and the only place you’ll find it is at Little Longhorn Saloon. They host it every Sunday and the game itself is exactly what you think it is, but louder and more fun. This North Austin bar has been around for more than 40 years, and while it’s a great place for a drink most nights, you should definitely go on a Sunday - at least once in your life.
After enough bar-hopping down West Sixth Street, there’s a good chance you’ll get an eerie sense of deja vu, like maybe you’ve already been at this busy bar with a cute patio today, or maybe they’re just all busy bars with cute patios. That’s when it’s time to head to Parlor & Yard. Their outdoor space is more of a backyard than a patio and it’s big enough for ping pong, corn hole, and dog frolicking. There’s also a solid food menu with wings, burgers, and tacos for when you need to refuel before the next game.
Punch Bowl Social in The Domain has a bit of a “bar in a mall” feel, but it’s easy to look past that once you see the pinball, skeeball, darts, ping pong, pool, and bowling. It’s the perfect place to come with a bunch of friends to feel like you’re having your seventh birthday party all over again, but without the sheet cake with your face on it, unfortunately. And once you’ve all had enough of being competitive, you can head into one of their private karaoke rooms to sing your favorite Oasis songs together.
Dodging scooters on Rainey is enough of an activity, but thankfully almost every bar here also offers something to keep you entertained. Lucille is our favorite with its hammocks, indoor and outdoor seating, and array of games. The backyard has lots of space for corn hole and ladder golf and inside there’s Jenga and checkers, so it’s a place you could hang at all day, after you argue for at least 20 minutes over who gets to play which game first.
We know all about that guilty feeling you get on Saturdays when you want to meet up with your friends, but your 60 lb. lab Larry is giving you “the eyes.” Yard Bar on Burnet seems to have been created solely so that dog owners don’t have to feel like selfish jerks when they want to go out drinking. It’s a huge, dog-friendly outdoor space with picnic tables, lawn chairs, a food stand, and beer, wine and cocktails. Even though there’s no corn hole or ping pong, you can play a game called “Watch Larry run away from the smallest dog in the yard.”
Hanging out in the bakery at Easy Tiger and seeing how long you can stand there sniffing the air before they tell you to leave is an activity in itself. But if you don’t want your friends to yell at you, follow them down to the patio. There are plenty of picnic tables, snacks, and a great selection of beers. There are also a few ping pong tables hidden along the side - so there usually isn’t a long wait to show everyone why your nickname in college was King/Queen Pong. The set-up works just as well for day drinking as it does for getting a group of semi-strangers together because you all made resolutions to finally branch out this year.
We’re still unsure why there isn’t a reality show about Dirty Sixth - with all its drunk people trying to pet police horses and tourists and college kids seeking out elevated surfaces to dance on. But if you’d rather watch that on TV and avoid it in real life, Buffalo Billiards is one of the tamer spots on the street (though by tamer, we mean there’s no mechanical bull). It’s a big space with a ton of game options like shuffleboard, foosball, darts, and, obviously, billiards, so your whole crew can come along while you try and fail to hustle other groups at pool.
Dean’s One Trick Pony is the more casual of the two new spots in the LINE Hotel, and leans slightly more bar than restaurant. Get the disco fries and burger while you play shuffleboard, and then when you lose badly, you can blame it on greasy hands. Since the hotel is in the heart of downtown, it’s best to hang here at off-peak times.
At one time or another, we’ve all imagined being in Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Sadly, Rustic Tap won’t fulfill your dream of swimming in Cheerios, but it does have giant beer pong. There are three-foot-tall “Solo cups” and a big ball to hurl across the way. Once the novelty fades after a game or two, though, head to the bar to hear some live music. Since the whole space is outdoors on West Sixth, make sure you head here on one of the 254 sunny days of the year.
Playing golf can be frustrating. Between the dress-code, the required inside voices, and the all-day commitment, it’s not for everybody. So next time you accidentally swipe right on someone who happens to be a golf addict, or one person in your group is determined to lower their handicap, take them to TopGolf. It’s a three-story driving range with a lounge area that a small group could hang out in all day. There’s food and beer, cocktails, and wine, and if you try hard enough, you can turn this place into a bar and make everyone forget about improving their follow-through.
This sand volleyball spot off Barton Springs is an ideal place to hang with your friends on a sunny day. Volleyball is the focus here, but if your last attempt at organized sports ended in double iced knees, there’s plenty of food, alcohol, and chairs to sit in while you watch other people throw balls over a net - especially since the games are usually fairly competitive and fun to watch.