The Best Bars In Houston
photo credit: Richard Casteel
New bars open all the time in Houston—a sports bar beer garden is probably opening in your backyard this very second. Some are older than others, but each cocktail lounge and dive bar with a raggedy pool table is reliable for first dates, post-birthday-dinner celebrations, or a shot and a beer in silence. This is a definitive list of Houston’s best bars.
At Lei Low, a tiki bar in The Heights, the illusion of paradise awaits, or at least a well-stocked bar with every kind of rum you could imagine. The tiny space, decked out with grass cloth, palm trees, and tropical tchotchkes galore, serves up some seriously potent cocktails. There are the classics like a Navy Grog or Singapore Sling along with large-format cocktails made to split between two to four people. Visit during Happy Hour, like Mai Tai Tuesday, or join the Land Lover’s Rum Club and get 25% off on Sundays.
If you’re really into whiskey (or fancy booze in general) then walking into Eight Row Flint is like when those kids in The Goonies stumble into that room full of pirate treasure. What was once a mid-century dry cleaning shop in The Heights, is now a fully-stocked bar—like ready-to-withstand nuclear fallout stocked—complete with a 25-page food and drink menu and hulking casks full of delicious whiskey. You can also rent a locker, because that’s still a thing, and become That Whiskey Person. We all have our hobbies. Eight Row’s giant patio is also a great place to take a date, snack on a cheeseburger and wings, or grab a few Happy Hour drinks during the week.
Every city needs a reputable dive bar stocked with brown liquor, crusty locals, and a bathroom that’s seen better days. For Houston, that’s Poison Girl. Folks squeeze back and forth through the dark, narrow bar every night with zero respect for or expectation of personal space. Most people are just bar hopping up and down Westheimer. Some know of Poison Girl’s legendary bourbon selection, some exist solely as Montrose caricatures ordering rounds of Lone Star, and some don’t know how they ended up there in the first place. But everyone revels in the backyard patio atmosphere all the same.
If you want dive bar vibes but high-end booze, EZ’s Liquor Lounge in The Heights can set you up. Get bougie with an expensive bottle of champagne or the champagne of beers. You can relax and play a game of pool, double-fist a couple of chili dogs, while admiring the beer paraphernalia artwork or the fact that the music switches from George Strait to DJ Screw and back again. Even though the inside of EZ’s feels like someone went a little overboard on deep-cleaning, the sparkling sheen doesn’t make the drinks taste any different. Like most places in Houston, the dirt and grime will settle in eventually.
Monkey’s Tail, a cocktail bar in Lindale Park, knows how to cram a good time for just about anyone into every corner. They’ve combined a patio bar, frozen drinks, nightclub candy-flavored shots with romantic date night vibes, and TVs for people who want to see whatever game is on. They also have a long list of zhuzhed-up bar food, like the Chango Burger with Valentina mayo or barbacoa-laced nachos. Bring a date, your friend, or, hell, even your mom without feeling out of place.
Nearly everyone else here is on a date, so you probably should be, too. The Midtown wine bar 13 Celsius is great not only for its seasonally curated wine list, but also for the candle-lit ambiance, historic architectural patina, and being altogether dreamy and romantic. Whether you sit at the bar, a table, or the patio, service is always attentive and discreet. Trade glances over charcuterie, slowly snack on baked brie or duck rillettes, or order the toast-your-own s’mores for dessert with someone you want to get closer to.
Anvil functions as the reigning elder Montrose cocktail bar. Aged, wizened, and still pretty damn good. Bartenders take and make drink orders lightning fast and are somehow both abrasive and accommodating. They know every classic cocktail in existence, as well as original drinks containing anything from saffron tequila to osmanthus tea. Open every day, Anvil stays packed with just about every Houstonian you can think of: awkward date folks, oil and gas bros one-upping bourbon calls, stray lawyers comparing billables, service industry louts, and a handful of people who just look overwhelmed by the 100-deep classics menu.
Find Bad News Bar by locating a line Downtown snaking outside of a blacked-out door marked for a lawyer’s office. Join in and head up to a bar with some of the best cocktails—and bartenders—in town. The cocktail menu here updates seasonally, but there is also a long list of mezcals, amaros, absinthes, and the bartenders seem to combine every single one into inventive drinks that get made in record time. It is also one of the only bars Downtown with a balcony and great views.
The inside of Grand Prize Bar, a two-story dive bar in the Museum District, is entirely blacked out, save for the neon lights scattered throughout to help you see the drink menus. Come by during Happy Hour and order a “Happy Meal” (a beer and a shot), shoot a round or two of pool with a stranger. The kitchen has a rotating menu of solid bar food (anything from birria tacos to chili-cheese hotdogs). And if you need to remember what the sun looks like, head up to the terrace overlooking Bell Park.
West Alabama Ice House has been serving cold beer to the Montrose masses since 1928. In true Texas ice house style, West Alabama consists of a tiny shack full of beer coolers and a small bar surrounded by massive covered and uncovered patios (that means no air conditioning, y’all). Most days, folks here are kicking back with Lone Star tallboys while their dog laps up water from a beer bucket, watching sports on one of the many screens, or having a few tacos from Tacos Tierra Caliente, a food truck next door. Roll up here solo for Monday Happy Hour, with a big group for a weekend pre-game, or to play a couple rounds of corn hole and shoot some pool.
A chill cocktail bar dressed up as a dive, Two Headed Dog in Midtown doesn’t take itself too seriously. The cocktails are amusing, like the frozen Blood Of My Enemies cocktails with gin and hibiscus, and the bartenders will pour shots of Fireball if that’s your thing. Most nights the bar is padded down with local punks and people who probably wandered a little too far from Main Street. The mismatched 1970s beer lights, giant patio, and canopy of fake plants make Two Headed feel like it’s been squeezed into the small space for decades.
Downtown's pseudo-speakeasy Off The Record might resemble a record shop, but behind the curtain, the cocktail bar feels like a party inside a swanky record cabinet. Decked out with stacked vintage speakers, framed gold records, and shelves of old hip-hop memorabilia, Off The Record blurs the line between bar and club. The music is loud and bass-pumping, but you don’t have to yell at the person next to you. Everyone, including the bartenders, is dancing, vibing, and singing along to Al Green, The Fugees, or whatever the DJ happens to be spinning. We like to slide past the DJ booth and grab a Wu-Tang Forever cocktail with Japanese whisky and amarena cherries and chill in the upstairs lounge or snag a couch spot and people-watch.
Voodoo Queen Daiquiri Dive in the East End is what happens when you smash up an arcade, a dive bar, a po’boy spot, and a frozen drinks tiki hut into a single unhinged entity. You could just as easily hang out playing pool and drinking beers all night, but you could also order a giant flaming tiki boat drink for yourself and three of your best friends. Or become an air hockey champ while you crush three different frozen drinks all swirled together. Enjoy fried shrimp po’boys, jalapeño hush puppies, and tater tots smothered in roast beef and spicy sauce while you knock back electric-lime-colored drinks and gaze longingly into the constantly twirling arms of the eight frozen drink machines.
If a fresh southern lily bouquet were a cocktail bar, she would probably be Julep. Oozing class and refinement, choosing the Sixth Ward bar as a date night spot lets anyone know you are in the mood for romance or want to drop major cash on julep riffs with hibiscus-infused mezcal and trays of oysters. While most of the drinks here are takes on classics, each one is served with attention to detail without the need of any flash smoke, mirrors, or ridiculous glassware.
Written somewhere is the understanding that any bar in The Heights Shady Acres neighborhood requires cornhole and horseshoes. Built to resemble a small town square, Shady Acres Saloon offers generous setups for both, along with a country-general-store-esque outdoor stage for live music. Most nights, anyone who wears cowboy boots regularly hits up the bar for Lone Star tall boys and ole smokey banana puddin' shots, fights over the one pool table that exists, or two-steps to whatever country band is twanging outside.