Here are some of the top spots around Houston for fans of gay nightlife and LGBT-friendly dining and cafe-going.
A dark, hipster-hallowed bar and "refuge" along Westheimer Road in Montrose that's lately been booming with trendy restaurants and lounges, Anvil (1424 Westheimer Rd., 713-523-1622) rakes in a lot of bearded dudes and dressed-down dames, some gay, most straight - but everybody's quite welcome. The draw here are exceptional well-crafted cocktails (try the Shaddock Sour, with Flor de Cana Nicaraguan rum, charred grapefruit, key lime, and rosemary) and delish bar victuals, including fine meat and cheese platters, pork-belly tacos, and lamb meatballs.
Barnaby's Cafe (604 Fairview St., 713-522-0106) is a Montrose institution that's long had a following with the LGBT community - it's a go-to for satisfying breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and all at affordable prices. Start the morning with banana nut pancakes, huevos rancheros, and other hangover cures that you'll appreciate after a night of hopping around the several gay bars in the neighborhood. American food, often with world-beat influences, is served at other times, including one of the best meatloaf plates in town, plus addictive sweet potato fries with chipotle-barbecue dipping sauce. The owners also operate several other Barnaby's outposts, include "Baby Barnaby" next door 602 Fairview Street, and others in downtown, Midtown, Woodway, River Oaks, and the funky Heights 'hood.
A friendly little diner-style eatery in a cozy Montrose bungalow with a sizable, tree-shaded patio area, Baba Yega (2607 Grant St., 713-522-0042) has been serving the masses, including vegetarians and meat eaters, since 1975. Creative cafe fare is prepared from scratch, including flame-grilled artichokes with a ginger marinade, shrimp sauteed in white wine and garlic, fresh ceviche with avocados and tomatoes, and more substantial fare like sesame-encrusted tuna steak and vegan "hippie" meatloaf. The Sunday brunch is legendary - but beware there can be a long wait for a table.
Head to Blacksmith (1018 Westheimer Rd., 832-360-7470) for some of the finest artisan coffee in the city, and also simply to appreciate the cool, inviting vibe - there's a nice big patio to the side, and several tables inside the clean-lined, industrial-chic space. Coffee options range from single-origin to house-roasted Swedish coffees to exceptionally delicious flavored coffees - the owners admit to sort of hating flavored coffees, as most of it is in the form of mediocre coffee masked by overly sweet, synthetic syrups, so they make their own pretty damn good flavored coffees here, in flavors like butternut, English toffee, and toasted coconut. There's good food, too - fluffy biscuits with marmalade, Vietnamese steak and eggs, bacon-egg-cheddar croissants, curried chicken sandwiches, and plenty of fresh-baked pastries.
Among the many excellent restaurants in Montrose and the surrounding area specializing in South of the Border fare, El Real (1201 Westheimer Rd., 713-524-1201) scores high marks for its festive bi-level dining room, proximity to several gay bars, and hearty, stick-to-your-ribs cooking - the chef team here is talented and has plenty of experience with fine eateries around Houston. Favorites from the extensive menu include classic Frito pie, skillet-cooked pork tamales, "tin can" crunchy tacos with smoked chicken, steak Tampiqueno, and shrimp fajitas. And yeah, of course there's a good selection of margaritas and other cocktails.
A lively, welcoming lounge with a contemporary aesthetic and a location a bit outside the main Montrose bar cluster, Guava Lamp (570 Waugh Dr., 713-524-3359) is popular for socializing and chatting - it's not quite as loud or as much of a scene as the bigger clubs, and the interior of comfy leather booths and a long bar is conducive to conversation. Videos air music, comedy clips, and such, and there's a stage, and especially good nights include Drag Bingo on Tuesdays and karaoke on Wednesdays.
Like its namesakes in Dallas and Washington, DC, JR's (808 Pacific St., 713-521-2519) has been a mainstay of the gay scene for decades - it opened inside a vintage redbrick building in the heart of Montrose many years ago, and it's been going strong ever since. There are multiple bars for mingling and lounging, great karaoke nights, a huge patio with lush landscaping, and fun theme events, from amateur strip shows to Saturday's Pacific Street Block Party, when sister club South Beach joins in the Montrose revelry. Although generally considered more of a boys bar, JR's is pretty eclectic and draws plenty of women, too, as well as straight friends.
Montrose Mining Company - gay bar
Traditionally, the lovably dive-y Montrose Mining Company (805 Pacific St., 713-529-7488) has been the edgy, cruise-y, leather-ish hangout among the handful of buzzy gay bars on Pacific Street in Montrose. It's still definitely most popular with guys in denim, black Ts, and leather, but the crowd has become a little more varied over the years, from collegiate hipsters seeking muscle daddies to just about any dude with a yen for hot dancers. In general, the crowd here tends to be more approachable and less about posing than at some of the other Montrose standards. The bartenders are fun and friendly, and the bar is dark and slightly sleazy feeling, in a good way - note the ancient trough urinal in the bathroom. There's a good-size patio, too.
The endearingly quirky Pearl Lounge (4216 Washington Ave., 832-740-4933) isn't a lesbian bar per se, but it is women-owned and caters strongly to a women's crowd while also welcoming everybody else. It's an inviting space, with soaring beam ceilings, exposed-brick walls, leather sofas and vintage chairs, in the hipster-approved Heights neighborhood, along the trendy Washington corridor, which helps to account for the diverse crowd. Be sure to check out the comfy patio, decked with cool old signs, and note all the interesting artwork inside and out - this is definitely a cool alternative to the usual LGBT hangouts in Montrose. In addition to booze, Pearl Lounge also serves specialty coffee drinks.
Just a good, old (it opened in 1980) honest gay leather bar, Ripcord (715 Fairview St., 713-521-2792) is entirely without pretense, and very much a welcoming spot if you're into bears, otters, leather-and-Levi's, kink, and fetish wear - there's a cool little boutique inside stocked with jock straps, chaps, toys, and so on. It's pretty laid-back, although definitely with a cruise-y vibe, and you'll also find pool tables and a patio.
For dancing and clubbing into the wee hours, especially on weekends, Montrose's big and bustling South Beach (810 Pacific St., 713-529-7623) nightclub is the place to go. Friday nights draw big crowds thanks to the generous drink specials and memorable pop and dance tunes, while the Block Party Saturday events - which run until 4 am - feature some of the best DJs in the city. Plenty of South Beach devotees head here after first hitting up some of the other hot spots a few doors away, such as JR's. TC's show bar, and Montrose Mining Company.
Sparrow Bar + Cookshop - restaurant/mixed bar
Exceptionally talented chef Monica Pope has long been a fixture in Houston's LGBT community and its cutting-edge culinary scene - Sparrow Bar + Cookshop (3701 Travis St., 713-524-6922) is her hip but casual all-day (open till midnight) dining and drinking option in the Fourth Ward, straddling Midtown and just southeast of Montrose. The restaurant is handsome and intimate, nice for noshing with friends or venturing out on a special date, and the food that's seasonally driven, globally influenced, and consistently stellar - try the avocado sashimi with almond sambal, Sika deer bolognese with hand-cut noodles and orange gremolata, or grilled shrimp with saffron-sherry aioli. There's also a great weekend brunch, and a lighter bar menu with tasty smaller bites. She also operates a colorful, playful restaurant called Beaver's (2310 Decatur St., 713-864-2328) that's a short drive north of Montrose and east of the Heights (in the Sixth Ward) - it specializes in creative cocktails, and down-home mod cooking, from chicken wings in Big Daddy's hot sauce to barbecue brisket to lobster-crawfish mac-and-cheese. At either of Pope's restaurant, you'll encounter plenty of fellow LGBT'ers and find a lively, unpretentious atmosphere.
This city's favorite gay show bar, TC's (817 Fairview St., 713-526-2625) is steps from several other popular Montrose hangouts, including South Beach and JR's, and it's a riotously fun place to watch local drag talents work the stage and the room - Duckie DuJour, Regina Dane, and Tanya Hyde are among the regular talents. The All Star Sunday shows are especially popular.
Eagle is the longest running gay bar brand in the world, beginning in NYC in 1970. Started as a one-day-a-week party at a different nightclub, Houston Eagle's popularity merited a dedicated venue, eventually moving to 611 Hyde Park Blvd. in Montrose in June of 2014. A relaxed crowd with cold (29 degrees and served in a frozen glass!) draft beers, craft beers, and liquors await. Houston Eagle is also home to the Mr. Texas Eagle annual competition. DJs play on the weekends and sometimes well-known DJs are brought in. On Sundays, Houston Eagle hosts "Dirty Disco Sundays".
Located in the Montrose neighborhood at 2409 Grant Street, Hamburger Mary's is known for its weekly drag shows. On Tuesdays, it's "Charity Drag Game Night" with bingo and more. On Wednesdays, enjoy "Dinner & Divas", Thursdays are for comedy, and Fridays have a "Cyn-Ful" show. The menu varies from Asian to Mexican to burgers and comfort food.
Another party spot in Montrose, Bayou City Bar offers nightly entertainment, happy hours, drag shows, DJs, and no cover before midnight on Saturdays.