Houston might be in the Bible Belt, but it's still easy to find a good drink. Local wineries and breweries have cropped up all over the city in recent decades, and there’s no shortage of watering holes to let loose come the weekend. Whether you’re looking for a fruity cocktail, a well-chosen bottle of wine, or a whiskey flight, these are the best bars in Houston.
Anvil Bar & Refuge
Anvil Bar & Refuge is all about quality—specifically quality drinks made with quality spirits—so it’s no surprise that this place consistently tops the list of best bars in Houston. Anvil is known for its 100 list: classic cocktails that all bartenders should master (the staff here know them inside and out) and all patrons should try. But a lesser-known offering is the bar’s constantly changing “break-even” bottles. These are top-shelf (often rare) bottles of spirits that are sold at-cost to give you a chance to taste high-end liquors without going broke.
Axelrad Beer Garden
If your idea of paradise is lying back in a hammock with a drink in hand, this bar has both in spades. Axelrad has a full bar inside, but the sizable patio outside and impressive beer list with local brews on tap is what gives it its “beer garden” title. Throughout the year, the bar hosts live music, outdoor movies, festivals and—occasionally—even politicians. The patio shares a space with Luigi’s Pizzeria, and you can go freely from one to the other with minimal hurdles, but if you aren’t feeling Italian food, a slew of food trucks regularly set up shop outside. You can easily spend the whole night hanging out—literally.
Grand Prize Bar
Located in the quiet Museum District, Grand Prize Bar hits that sweet spot between trendy and a dive. Inside, string lights and ironic bumper stickers collide with cleverly-named cocktails (like the “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer”) enjoyed by khaki-wearing office workers and curly-mustached hipsters alike. The converted residential home provides a good mix of spaces for small and large groups, and there’s a second bar and outdoor patio upstairs. It’s the kind of colorful local hole in the wall where you can come as you are, no judgment, and enjoy a good drink with friends.
OKRA Charity Saloon
If you routinely feel guilty about a night out drinking, OKRA Charity Saloon can help. Everything you spend here goes toward helping out the Houston community. It’s a pretty cool concept: You get a ticket for each food or drink item you buy at the bar, and you use your tickets to vote for one of four local nonprofit organizations. Whichever charity hauls in the most tickets by the end of the month gets the following month’s proceeds. Even if altruism isn’t your thing, it’s a good spot to add to your weekend rotation because of its crazy good food (naturally, the fried pickled okra is a must-try), expertly crafted cocktails and rotating local craft brews.
Midtown has something of a reputation for being home to countless loud sports bars and nightclubs, so this quiet wine bar is a classy reprieve. The lounge is named after the temperature of their wine cellar—a crisp 13 degrees Celsius (or around 55 degrees Fahrenheit)—and is housed inside a 1920s-era building that only adds to its European appeal. In addition to an extensive and well-curated wine list, the bar offers light snacks, cheese and charcuterie plates, and sweet desserts. It’s a great place to wind down a romantic evening or catch up with a small group of friends.
Mongoose versus Cobra
Mongoose Versus Cobra doesn’t have a mission statement; it has a manifesto—which should tell you pretty much everything you need to know about this Midtown bar. It is a unique experience that skirts the line between hipster and swank. There are more than three dozen beers on tap. The draughts are all listed out on the wall, but the taps are numbered, not labeled. No matter. The bartenders know which is which. Pair your pour with any number of head-scratching bites like currywurst (bratwurst + curry) or red pickled eggs, and grab a spot on a communal table while you play a game of Monopoly.
Flying Saucer Draught Emporium
It’s hard to find a better bar for beer lovers (or “beerknurds,” as they’re called here) than the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. The bar has dozens of brews on tap from all over the world, including many from Houston. Trying them all is something of a badge of honor. If you taste 200 different beers, you get your name on a plate (a “saucer,” if you will). And unlike other joints, it’s not something you do just once and call it good. Every time you hit 200, your plate color changes. The walls are covered with people who rose to the challenge—some of them dozens of times.
West Alabama Ice House
While there’s no official definition of what constitutes an icehouse, Texans know one when they see it. And West Alabama Ice House might be the last good one left in the city. Even in the Houston heat, these open-air beer joints use industrial fans and ice-cold beer to cool off patrons—not air conditioning. They’re neighborhood saloons, where long-neck bottles are wrapped in paper napkins and downed with loads of laughter and zero pretension. For many in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, the West Alabama Ice House is where you go when you want a break from the bustle of downtown or the stress of the job.
In a city that’s sweltering for nine months of the year, of course an underground beer garden would be a hit. Sitting below the busy streets of downtown, Conservatory isn’t just a beer joint. It’s Houston’s first food hall, featuring more than a half-dozen food vendors to complement its 60 draughts. It’s open late most days of the week, but the best time to go is for happy hour. Swing by between 4-6 p.m. during the work week, and draft beers are only $4, and you’ll get deals on food, too. It’s a favorite place for office workers to unwind.
As its name would suggest, this trendy Washington Avenue bar is all about cocktails. While you’re sure to find the best classics, the real treat are the house originals. The menu changes seasonally, so it’s always a bit of a surprise what you might find there, but the bartenders know their stuff and are usually happy to help you find something you’ll like. The cozy ambiance, unique cocktails and quality food menu make it a favorite date night for many Inner Loopers. In addition to one of the bar’s original craft cocktails, be sure to try the Gulf Coast oysters.
For indulgent drinks in an unapologetically fun atmosphere, you can’t go wrong with Lei Low. This tiki bar doesn’t look like much from the outside, but walk in, and you see elaborately made cocktails piled high with fruit and heavy on the rum. The drinks go a long way to create a festive vibe (what’s not to love about drinks served in plastic shark heads and coconuts?) but the tropical decor and relaxed ambiance seal the deal. Lei Low is a popular place to embrace the fleeting calm of vacation living—even if it’s just for happy hour.
Eight Row Flint
This open-air Heights bar is all about two things: whiskey and tacos. Sure, there are other drinks to choose from—the frosés and margaritas are well worth tasting—but the reason people keep coming back to Eight Row Flint is to sample some of its single-barrel whiskeys. Several flights are available to educate your palate on various types of whiskeys and bourbons. But before you do, be sure to fill up on one of the bar’s uniquely flavored tacos. The Sprouts taco, a crowd favorite, has Brussel sprouts, charred onion, radish, crema, and queso fresco. It’s an eclectic mix that somehow works together to make something awesome—which is basically Eight Row Flint in a nutshell.
Few places can pull off chandeliers and foosball, but that’s just Liberty Station for you. This chill bar off Washington Avenue has huge garage doors that open up to a covered, dog-friendly patio complete with picnic tables and cornhole. Inside you can sip craft beer while playing board games like Connect4, before grabbing a bite from one of the food trucks parked outside. The laid-back vibe, good drink selection and ample space make it a great spot for groups of friends looking more for a relaxing evening than an epic night out.
A grown-up bar for people with grown-up tastes, La Carafe doesn’t mess around with gimmicks or frills. It exudes sophistication, in part because of its rich history. Rumor has it, it’s one of the oldest bars in Houston. The building it’s housed in was built in 1847, just 10 years after the city was founded. It’s been a range of shops — from a bakery to a pony express station—before finally converting to its current form around the 1950s. La Carafe has been around so long that it’s the kind of place where time stands still, where you savor wine thoughtfully, while Etta James croons from the jukebox. The intimate space and pensive vibe lend itself well to small groups or a solo night out.