Three bars in Austin — the pop-up Miracle on 5th Street, Lala’s Little Nugget and Donn’s Depot — have taken their Christmas decorations to Clark Griswold levels. The effect at all three is a veritable holiday wonderland unlike anywhere else, though each place decks its halls a little differently.
Here, we’ve broken down what to expect at each one to guarantee the merriest time possible, whether that means you prefer the downtown cocktail bar Miracle, the longtime dive bar Lala’s or the casual honky-tonk Donn’s. Keep in mind that all are busy this month as customers seek out the holiday spirit.
Miracle on 5th Street
The concept: The owners of the Eleanor, a new events venue, and the neighboring cocktail bar the Roosevelt Room transformed the Eleanor the day after Thanksgiving into one of more than 50 Miracle locations around the world, spreading boozy cheer through New Year’s Eve.
What to expect: Rows upon rows of colored string lights hang along the ceiling amid carefully wrapped presents, poinsettias don nearly every table and the usual barware of copper mugs and delicate coupe glasses has been replaced by outlandish Santa-shaped cups. Arguably, Miracle’s biggest strength is the menu of themed cocktails, which go beyond alcoholic hot chocolate and eggnog.
Popular drinks here include the Run Run Rudolph (Olmeca Altos Blanco Tequila, Borghetti Espresso Liqueur, iced hot chocolate, whipped cream, cinnamon and cacao powder) and the Yippie Ki Yay … ! (a winter tiki cocktail with Appleton Estate Rum, Leblon Cachaça, Plantation OFTD Overproof Rum, purple yam-coconut orgeat, pineapple and mint — served in one of those aforementioned Santa cups).
The bottom line: The lure of craft cocktails with a Christmas spin, coupled with the decor, makes this place a delight to visit, but time it well. It gets line-out-the-door-busy later on in the week and is also occasionally closed for private parties. Keep an eye on the schedule on the Facebook page. Miracle is also hosting a Misfit Christmas Party on Dec. 25 and It’s a New Year’s Miracle celebration on Dec. 31. (307 W. Fifth St. facebook.com/miracleon5thst)
Lala’s Little Nugget
The concept: It’s Christmas all year round at this North Austin dive bar that opened in 1972. In 2015, a group of bar magnates — including Max Moreland and Matt Luckie of FBR Management (Star Bar, Mean Eyed Cat, Lavaca Street Bar and more) — took over with the promise that Lala’s would retain its holiday spirit.
What to expect: If anything, FBR Management has taken Lala’s festive, kitschy charm to the next level. Lala’s regulars also come by sometimes with decorations they want to contribute. As a result, ornaments, tchotchkes and garlands cover and dangle from every surface. A certain leg lamp from “A Christmas Story” stands tall near the Christmas tree. And beer posters on the walls are often advertising seasonal brews like Karbach’s Yule Shoot Your Eye Out.
“We took the Christmas decor and wanted to make it much more over the top,” Moreland said recently. “We continued to add to it. We finished up a meeting (shortly after taking over) and I said, ‘Let’s get to Target, let’s get to Lowe’s.’ You can’t add too much Christmasy stuff in here.”
Nothing changes during the month of December, although there’s now an Advent calendar near the bar that offers a different drink special each day and a menu of holiday cocktails, like the Snowball with Rumpleminze, Kahlua and RumChata. Draft beers, such as Austin Beerworks’ Choco Leche and Victory Brewing’s Winter Cheer, are similarly wintry.
The bottom line: Lala’s remains the most joyous place in town. It’s especially busy this time of year, “a madhouse,” according to Moreland, who noted that “we’ll see our regulars, but then also people coming in from word of mouth, people from out of town. People having their work holiday party somewhere else, they’ll have dinner and then come here before or after.” It’s hosting a Christmas party on Dec. 15 and opening on New Year’s Day at 3 p.m. with Bloody Marys, mimosas and eggnog. (2207 Justin Lane, lalasaustintexas.com)
The concept: Formerly a train depot now dwarfed by the high-rises of downtown Austin, Donn’s remains a classic honky-tonk with live music and dancing every night it’s open. The owner, Donn Adelman, still plays in his band Donn & the Station Masters every Tuesday and Friday, and a range of swing, country, and modern folk and pop music fills the expansive, multiroom bar with more tunes the rest of the week.
What to expect: It takes between 20 and 25 people to deck the halls of Donn’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when both bar staff and regulars cover the entire space with white and multicolored string lights and other festive decorations — including a bunch of Santas, multiple Christmas trees and a menorah. Even the women’s restroom (a real train caboose) is adorned in tinsel.
“I love Christmas, although I don’t do too much of the decorating anymore because of my physical attributes,” Adelman, who took over the bar and renamed it in 1978, said with a chuckle. “The only problem we have here in terms of lights is we run out of outlets. Buildings are now required to have a 10-foot distance between outlets, but it wasn’t always that way. We have more lights than we can plug in.”
The holiday drink menu includes a variety of cocktails, such as the always-popular the Grinch: a White Russian with a splash of peppermint. There’s even a Lump of Coal (mezcal, allspice, bitters and a Campari rinse).
The bottom line: There’s nothing like celebrating Christmas with a few generations of locals who all seem to know each other’s names. Donn’s also might have a line out the bar during its busiest days this month, one of which might well be on Dec. 22 for its annual 12 Days of Christmas party, when different groups of people sing through the classic holiday song. Donn’s New Year’s Eve Party — featuring Adelman and his band — sells out regularly. (1600 W. Fifth St., donnsdepot.com)