Houston has come a long way from frozen margaritas and Lone Star beers. In fact, with its bars focused on everything from mezcal, to tiki drinks, to whiskey, it might have one of the most varied drinking scenes in the country. Downtown was once deserted at night, but now it comes alive with partiers stumbling down Main Street on Saturday night. Across town in Midtown and Montrose, there are plenty of chill spots to unwind with a cocktail on a lazy afternoon. The Bayou City’s bar scene has seriously grown up, and here are its 10 best.
10. THE HONEYMOON
This quaint coffee shop transforms into a bustling bar in the evenings. With it’s cloudy mirrors and marble cafe tables, it feels like a sanitized version of the French Quarter where you can order favorite New Orleans cocktails like the Vieux Carre, Pimm’s Cup, and even an upgraded Hurricane made with rum, lemon, and passion fruit.
9. LA CARAFE
Part of the Market Square drinking scene and housed in one of Houston’s oldest buildings, this quirky bar is rumored to be haunted, with the ghost of a dead bartender shouting out last call at odd times. Choose between beer served in frosty glasses or red wine served among dusty bric-a-brac, melted candle wax, and an old cash register. The second floor patio offers one of the best views of the surprisingly impressive Houston skyline.
Houston’s only dedicated tiki bar, occupying an old strip mall space in The Heights, is tough to find. You’ll likely drive by it the first time. But after you spot the small neon sign reading “RUM,” you’ll know you’re in the right place. Complete with wicker furniture and turquoise vinyl booths, each drink is garnished with flowers, paper umbrellas, and even real live flames. This is the place to embrace blue drinks like the nutty “Scorpion” made with rum, brandy, orgeat, curacao, orange, and lime.
7. POISON GIRL COCKTAIL LOUNGE
This Montrose area diamond in the rough is a favorite spot of local characters and in-the-know cool kids. You’re welcome to drink a PBR while playing pinball or a nurse a whisky at one of the patio picnic tables while basking in the shadow of a giant Kool-Aid Man. Actually, this bar has one of the best selections of American whisky in Houston, evidenced by the bar shelf nearly collapsing under the weight of all those spirits.
6. DOUBLE TROUBLE CAFFEINE AND COCKTAILS
This chill Midtown spot is ideal for day drinking. Choose from cocktails, beer, or coffee. Care is taken with each of them, so you can’t go wrong. Playful drinks, like the “Frozen Suffering Bastard” made with bourbon, gin, lemon, bitters, and ginger beer, perfectly suit the bar’s airy, tropical vibe.
5. MOVING SIDEWALK
This retooled cocktail lounge concept, which occupies the owners’ former bar and restaurant, is now thriving. They have plenty of space to turn out all the components of high-end cocktails like homemade bitters, syrups, and shrubs. These ingredients go into imaginative drinks like the Little Reed Horses that combines pisco and sherry with yogurt, cucumber, lime, bitter lemon soda, and celery seed. You also can’t go wrong with a perfect Old Fashioned served over a hand-carved ice cube.
Owner Alba Huerta focuses on juleps, of course, at this aptly named spot where a wall is lined with the drink’s signature silver cups. Choose from a menu of three different julep drinks and Southern classics like milk punch or a Ramos Gin Fizz. Or order original drinks that incorporate ingredients like sweet potato and kumquat in tribute to the flavors of the rural South. A white rocking chair is the only thing missing from this jewel box of a bar that feels almost like a breezy front porch.
3. GRAND PRIZE BAR
A favorite of Houston’s service industry professionals, this dark Museum District bar perfectly balances maturity while still evoking the comfort of your favorite dive bar of yesteryear. It’s the kind of place where you’ll feel comfortable pounding a PBR or sipping a serious Sazerac. Your memories will likely be hazy after a night out here, so don’t forget to pull your friends into the photo booth and take some pictures before you leave.
2. THE PASTRY WAR
Here, owner Bobby Heugel has created one of the best mezcalerias in the country. He regularly travels to Mexico and stocks the bar with small-batch mezcals, tequilas, and sotols made by families he knows personally. It’s best to go on a weeknight if you intend to taste a selection from his obscure list of agave spirits and pick the brains of the impressively knowledgeable staff. On a rowdy weekend night, sip a proper margarita with the crowds inside this stylish bar.
1. CAPTAIN FOXHEART’S BAD NEWS BAR & SPIRIT LODGE
The cocktails are perfect, the service is impeccable, and the crowds stay under control at this sophisticated lounge owned by veteran bartender Justin Burrow. The Prohibition-era decor is cooly masculine with it’s dark wood bar, chandeliers, and antique furniture. Besides the creative, affordable cocktails (try the “Pile of Pink” with gin mixed with grapefruit, lime, Herbsaint and Peychaud’s bitters), the bar never gets too crowded, even on weekends, due to a strictly enforced fire code. That means you can sip your draft Negroni on the wrought iron balcony while enjoying twinkly downtown views and laughing at the people waiting in line below.