Back in 94' Austin was an exciting place to be as it still is, only different. The feeling was as if you were part of a secret that hadn't spilled yet. A lot of people think that feeling is gone but it still lives on...in Austin.
Go to the East side. There's a place on the corner called the Brixton and it embodies the real, open and friendly vibe that you remember.
It was part of the Bar Rescue show that works in reverse. Bars don't actually contact the "Bar Rescue" show. The producers outbound bars untill they get a bite. The Brixton turned them down and relented the second time.
The owner agreed to be portrayed as an ass and the shenanigans began. The show's producer's create a drama and invest 50,000 in renovations, including some electrical work that needed to be done. In a nod to the Brixton's attitude: They tore down all the renovations a week after the show left.
The place has local beer, domestics, liquor and crafted cocktails. I'm not a big fan of signature cocktails but do recommend a solid mix called the Casbah.
Go outside. You'll find a porch to hang out with friends and have a smoke. There are all ages that hang out here, although the mix appears to be largely late twenties to early thirties. You'll find them drinking under a sign which reads "A house divided against itself cannot party."
Back inside you'll find excellent taste on the jukebox, a foosball table, and wall art that is actually inventive and worth checking out.
In reference to the bar staff, I'm not sure if the people one hires are a reflection of the management but if the theory holds: The owner must be the nicest guy in the biz.