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Bars We Love: The White Horse, Austin

Bars We Love: The White Horse, Austin: Lars Plougmann Flickr

Lars Plougmann Flickr

Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got a Tejas bar where people wearing cowboy boots mingle with people wearing Chuck Taylors.


NAME: The White Horse
LOCATION: East Side, Austin, Texas
EST: 2011
ON THE STAGE: Bo Porter, Leo Rondeau, Conjunto Los Pinkys

WHAT TO ORDER (NEWBIES): The Two-Step special: a can of Lone Star beer and a shot of well whiskey
WHAT TO ORDER (REGULARS): The Two-Step special

WHY WE LOVE IT: The White Horse bar in Austin, Texas, has the best wine list in town: Red ($5), White ($5) and Shut Up ($10). “We’re a honky tonk,” co-owner Denis O'Donnell says. “If you come in and ask for a martini, we’re going to laugh you out of here for being stupid. We aren’t going to muddle exotic fruit into your liquor. You’re going to get a beer and a shot and drink them like a grown person.”

In addition to its no-nonsense drinks menu, the East Side institution features a music stage with a dance floor and an outdoor patio with a taco trailer. Sometimes there’s even a real, saddled-up horse tied up next to the bike rack outside. O’Donnell and his partners Marshall McHone and Nathan Hill opened the East Side institution as an alternative to the city’s growing cocktail culture and insulated live music scene, which they had worked in for many years prior. “There wasn’t a venue in town where young country musicians could perform,” O’Donnell says. “We try to pick up the little guys who are in their 20s and 30s, who are cutting their teeth and happen to kick a lot of ass, but don’t have a stage.”

The White Horse formula—feature lots of young, local talent and don’t charge a cover fee 99 percent of the time—works: the bar is packed out on most nights and patrons seem to come from every demographic in town. “The difference between us and a lot of these other guys is that everybody’s welcome,” O’Donnell says. “People from all ages and classes enjoy themselves here. It’s a bar for the people.” Since he opened the bar, O’Donnell has seen a sharp increase in the number of people interested in two-stepping and other Western dance styles. (The White Horse hosts dance lessons a few times per week.)

“Country music is not a new thing in Austin, Texas,” he says. “But the Nashville, Tennessee, bull shit on the radio sucks so bad. I could not pay rent if I played that silly ass music in my bar. People would leave. They want roots. They want traditional George Jones and Hank Sr. kind of music and authentic country is coming out of Austin. People are singing from a knot in their throat, from a place of honesty.”

This is why for South By Southwest, the bar has decided to forego the typical established musician, sponsored shows. “We’re only going to promote local musicians and we’re going to shower these guys with all of those tourists’ money,” O’Donnell says, laughing. “If you come to Austin and you want to have a genuine experience, come to The White Horse.”

Tyson Zoltan Heder

Tyson Zoltan Heder


Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. She often frequents The White Horse. Find her on Twitter: @amshep


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