Food & Drink

Texas Bars Guaranteed to Show You a Good Time

Published On 12/02/2016 Published On 12/02/2016
OKRA Charity Saloon
OKRA Charity Saloon | Julie Soefer
Courtesy of The Esquire Tavern

The Friendly Spot

La Villita

Friendly Spot is just that: a friendly, open-air bar frequented by San Antonio locals and their equally-friendly dogs. Because of that, it feels like you’re in a neighborhood backyard: complete with a big inflatable screen that’s always playing a movie (or a Spurs game) and retro lawn chairs. Oh, plus a beer list with 300 options and homemade sangria. You’ll never find a more restive hive of fun and thrillery.
--Christie Rotondo
 

Cullum's Attagirl

Housed in an unassuming, almost ramshackle building on a corner lot just off St. Mary’s Strip in Tobin Hill, Attagirl is the kind of bar you wish was walking distance from your house. It has the feel of a much older establishment, the kind of neighborhood joint you use as a landmark when orienting yourself or giving directions. Launched in the spring of 2015 following the success of Chris Cullum’s Attaboy food truck, dog-friendly Attagirl is a classic icehouse with eclectic music, a laid-back vibe, and bar food that is anything but an afterthought.

The chicken and waffles and fried bologna sandwiches have a cult following, but it is Attagirl’s smoked wings, with different flavors featured every day, that push folks from satisfied into full-on sated. The menu of craft beers is thoughtful, substantial without being overwhelming, and fluid enough to ensure that there’s always something new to try that will match your mood, your wings preference, or the season. If the weather cooperates, consider trying Attagirl’s brunch for a true Sunday Funday.
--Michelle Burgess

The Esquire Tavern

Downtown

Anyone opening a San Antonio newspaper on December 5, 1933, would have been greeted with a banner headline announcing the end of Prohibition. In related news, the termination of that long, painful dry spell was being celebrated with the opening of a new bar overlooking the San Antonio River. Today, The Esquire Tavern still welcomes thirsty patrons and, with its dark wood bar and banquettes and pressed-tin ceiling, feels a lot like it probably did when it was brand new.

But while The Esquire is a bonafide Alamo City institution, it has never been content to become a dusty relic, flocked to by tourists who are drawn by its history alone. Instead, it remains just as relevant as any of the city’s newer, flashier lounges and bars, thanks to an impressive house and classic cocktail menu, a dozen local beers on tap, and a fun and varied food menu that includes special touches such as its house-made pickles. Unique as well in its appeal to both tourists and locals alike, The Esquire is a bar for all seasons -- cozy and inviting when there’s a chill in the air, and a cool, dark oasis during our muggy summers.
--Michelle Burgess

Courtesy of Off the Record

Off The Record

Deep Ellum

A bar featuring over 20 local craft beers on tap and vinyl for sale may sound like the ultimate den of hipsterism, but don’t go running. The attention to detail put into Off the Record's offerings makes it simply a great bar for anyone who enjoys sampling the newest beer offerings or considers themselves a bit of a music nerd.  The thousands of records on offer are a selection curated by Dallas's own Good Records and there's an almost nightly schedule of DJ events, podcast recordings, and general vinyl nerd-out sessions. While you're perusing the latest offerings in indie rock, hip-hop, and vintage vinyl, you'll be able to sip seasonal beers from local breweries.
--Amanda Cobra

Victor Tangos

Vickery Place

There is no shortage of good bars in the upscale environs of North Dallas -- especially within the bustling Knox-Henderson and Lower Greenville districts that serve as a nightlife playground for SMU students and the city’s young professionals. But the gastropub Victor Tangos stands out in this crowded field for its expert staff, innovative cocktails, and a bar/restaurant dichotomy in which both aspects are equally strong.

Tangos is as pretty (on the inside, at least) as you would expect a Highland Park-area bar to be -- cool and dark, with a bar that spans the length of the room and closely spaced tables that usually host a lively, elbow-to-elbow crowd. Despite its ritzy address, Victor Tangos is welcoming and fun.

Of course, no matter how visually appealing the atmosphere and attentive the bartenders, nothing is as important as what’s on the menu; fortunately, Tangos is pretty close to perfect here as well. Food standouts include the duck and goat cheese flatbread and the divine warm toffee cake; on the cocktail side, the Chi Chi Rodriguez charms with its mix of tequila, blackberries, mint, pineapple, lemon, and cane sugar. But regardless of what you’re hungry or thirsty for, you can’t go wrong.
--Michelle Burgess

Courtesy of Industry Alley

Industry Alley

Cedars

Founded by longtime local bar legend Charlie Pap, Industry Alley is not likely to be offering gently infused craft cocktails and the term "mixologist" is definitely one that you'll want to leave at home when you enter this bar. Located on the edge of the burgeoning Cedars, the drinks match both their proprietor as well as the aesthetics of its surroundings. Sure, you can request something with muddled mint and garnished with delicate flower petals. But you'd be missing out on one of the best Old Fashioneds that this town has to offer. Industry Alley is truly that. The kind of bar that industry veterans and folks who just enjoy a stiff and honest drink go to chat with neighbors and total stranger alike.
--Amanda Cobra

Courtesy of Deep Eddy Cabaret

Deep Eddy Cabaret

Clarksville

In old west Austin you'll find the last remnant of life before the tech companies moved in. Deep Eddy has fifty-cent games of pool, six-dollar pitchers of beer with frosted mugs, and a jukebox full of honky-tonk classics to insulate you from the rest of the city. Considering born and bred Austinites feel like there's a siege on their beloved hometown, Deep Eddy is like the last bunker standing. The joint's size is limited which lends to the family atmosphere, so be prepared to engage in conversation with a bearded, 70-something Austinite with stories to tell. When you're done conversing, try your hand at an old-school Pac-Man game. If you're good enough, a crowd of regulars might surround and watch you try to beat their record. Best part of it all? Magnolia Cafe is directly across Lake Austin Blvd. So go drink beer and dance to honky-tonk until closing time and wash it all down with Mag Mud at Magnolia. That's an Austin night.  
--Stephen Ross

Courtesy of Moontower Saloon

Moon Tower Saloon

South Austin

What were once a few acres on a 1950s ranch in South Austin are today one of the favorite neighborhood hangouts: Moontower Saloon, the best backyard in Austin. Hang out under a shady oak while you sip on a brew, listen to a live band, or grab a bite from a food truck.  We suggest “deez lugnuts”: bacon-wrapped, deep-fried, pepper jack cheese bites from the Triplewide truck, too.
--Christie Rotondo

Courtesy of Punch Bowl Social

Punch Bowl Social

North Burnet

Punch Bowl Social is not serving up the “punch” from your college dorm days. Nope, this old-school-arcade-meets-karaoke-bar-meets-bowling-joint has mixed punches that include ingredients like blackberry elderflower liqueur and coconut chai tea. And while the vintage games may please your leisurely side, the food menu’s got plenty of indulgences to excite you, like wagyu cubed steak and St. Louis ribs.
--Christie Rotondo

Julie Soefer

OKRA Charity Saloon

Downtown

How can you not have a fantastic time whilst drinking for a cause? Trick question. You can’t. Wait, we mean you can’t not. Whatever. Housed in an old 1882 casino saloon (look up! The original barrel-vault ceilings are still intact), this handsome bar looks even finer when you realize it donates all of its proceeds to a different charity each month. Beauty and character? How refined!

Here’s how it works: You order a drink at the bar. The supercool bartender also gives you a ticket to vote on one of the 4 not-for-profit charities that are competing to win that month. The charity with the most votes at the end of the month gets ALL THE MONIES. You feel great, the charity feels great, the bar feels great, and basically, everybody wins. Even when Downtown gets sleepy (as it has been known to do from time to time), you’ll still find a crowd happy houring for charity. It’s a beautiful thing.
--Brooke Viggiano

West Alabama Ice House

Montrose

If you want a bar that screams TEXAS! -- or one that most accurately depicts the mishmosh that is Houston, rather -- this is it. The Ice House has been open since 1928, before refrigeration was an “it” thing, and though it may not look like much to the naked eye, its bare bones conceal something truly special. You’ll have to visit to fully understand. When you do, you’ll be met by a cheerful crowd of locals coming from all walks of life; hipsters, frat guys, bikers, hell, even the Lululemon gang, all hanging with their dogs and sipping ice cold brew in harmony at shaded picnic tables.

The bar rocks a strong roster of craft brews to keep you quenched, plus horseshoes, a basketball hoop, and what is widely considered the best taco truck in Houston selling $2 tacos al pastor parked right across the way. The icon is a throwback to better days, and it’s always a choice spot for good times.
--Brooke Viggiano

Poison Girl

Montrose

If you’re looking for a trendier crowd but refuse to admit it, this Montrose gem is the haunt for you. Poison Girl (or PG as some locals call it, which is ironic because it’s anything but PG) is a Houston locale where patrons have no problem going alone sipping their American Whiskey on the rocks, but are just as accommodating for whoever might scoot up to the bar or table next to them. Odds are if you made it to the same spot, you either love or hate the same things. You’ll have plenty to talk about -- like your favorite whiskey (while recounting PG’s extensive whiskey menu together), your preferred ink spot just a few blocks up, or blissfully making fun of the $30,000 millionaires a few blocks over in Midtown. The laid back and easygoing crowd vibe extends to everyone, including those behind the bar. Probably the least pretentious place you can visit in Houston, all at a great price.
--Jayme Lamm

Under the Volcano

Rice Village

During the hot months of Houston (so basically all year long), the only thing that will quench your thirst are the frozen drinks and liberal jukebox at Under the Volcano, located in Rice Village. A spot that can accommodate even the most discerning drinkers, dancers and partygoers, you’ll find a new reason to love it each time you visit. Try a frozen screwdriver or any of their other specialty drinks (which are always changing, depending who’s manning or womanning the bar) and their Standout Sangria is reason enough to come back.

In 2012, Garden and Gun Magazine named this one of the 50 Best Southern Bars and it’s gotten exponentially better since the accolade. Although their calendar of events is ever-changing, be sure to check out steak night and any night featuring live music. This place will teach you to love Houston in a whole new light.
--Jayme Lamm

bruthanick/Flickr

La Carafe

Downtown

No matter how much downtown Houston gets revitalized, this tavern will remain just that – a tavern. You won’t see anything fancy here and the patrons and staff continue to pay homage to being the oldest “haunt” in all of Houston, having been around for 125+ years. The small and cozy La Carafe is more reminiscent of what you’d find in New York City or New Orleans (thanks to their eclectic jukebox that will bring a smile to your face with each and every tune) than downtown Houston, but perhaps that’s half the charm. And likely one of the reasons it’s lasted more than a decade and continues going strong.

Speaking of old-timey charm – La Carafe is beer and wine only and even more impressive – cash only. You’ll get a kick out of their antique cash register that chimes each time you pay your tab. This Houston landmark is well worth the visit to an ATM, no matter how long the line. As Houston’s downtown gets trendier by the minute, it makes this place stick out like a not-so-sore thumb. It’s great for people watching, meeting new friends, or just avoiding the douchey ones around the corner.
--Jayme Lamm

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1. The Friendly Spot 943 S Alamo St, San Antonio, TX 78205

The Friendly Spot took the old model of the ice house and modernized it for the craft beer fan. Instead of sipping on Lone Star or Coors Light, you’ll have to decide which beer to order from one of their 76 taps or 250 bottles on hand.

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2. Cullum's Attagirl 726 E Mistletoe Ave, San Antonio, TX 78212

Cullum's Attagirl Ice House is the answer to San Antonio's stress. Here you can enjoy a meal anytime, whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and you'll have a variety of drinks to choose from, including but not limited to ales, wines, beer, and anything in between.

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3. The Esquire Tavern 155 E Commerce St, San Antonio, TX 78205

The dim interior of this bar founded in the ‘30s is lit with oil lamps on the tables and is a taxidermists dream, including animals such as a Rio Grande turkey and a huge bison head. While The Esquire’s bar food is fantastic -- get the fried pickles -- this place is known for their cocktails.

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4. Off the Record 2716 Elm St, Dallas, TX 75226

Craft beer (more than 20 taps), craft cocktails, and vinyl are the stars of the show at OTR. You can grab a drink at the bar and then browse the record collection, which is more than 2,000 strong.

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5. Victor Tangos 3001 N Henderson Ave, Dallas, TX 75206 (Knox Henderson)

A classy, dimly lit Mexican restaurant doling out savory goodness like roasted marrow bones and brisket with chimichurri and toast, Victor Tangos in Knox-Henderson also offers killer cocktails to boot. Seasonal ingredients shine in boozy libations like the Pepper Smash with gin, red bell pepper, local mint, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and house-made clover-honey syrup.

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6. Industry Alley Bar 1713 South Lamar, Dallas, TX

Outfitted with pinball machines, pool tables, an old-school jukebox, and an outdoor patio, this divey hangout is the epitome of laid-back -- it doesn't even offer a cocktail menu, allowing you to pull up a bar stool, bob your head to whatever tune is playing, and order to your heart's content. That doesn't mean the bartenders are slackers, though: Industry Alley has become a launching pad for skilled, up-and-coming mixologists who train under beloved owner Charlie Pap, who plans entire nights around certain themes and drinks like Japanese sake.

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7. Deep Eddy Cabaret 2315 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703 (Tarrytownexposition)

This longtime local favorite has been serving cheap drinks in a nostalgic, comfy atmosphere for over 65 years. The walls are decorated with a hodgepodge of pictures, posters, and beer signs lit up by the string lights hanging throughout the bar.

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8. Moontower Saloon 10212 Manchaca Rd, Austin, TX 78748 (South Austin)

The family-friendly hangout in Southwest Austin is perfect for those of us who travel with kiddos and fur-babies. The tree-filled grounds, cheap beer, and live music make Moontower Saloon a weekend must for South Austin residents, or any visitor interested in savory food truck eats that include Texas chili dogs and “Deez” Lugnuts -- pepper jack cheese stuffed dough, wrapped in bacon and served with ranch dip.

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9. Punch Bowl Social 11310 Domain Dr, Austin, TX 78759

Punchbowl Social on Domain offers a killer food menu, drink menu, and lots of entertainment including bowling, ping pong, shuffleboard, darts, billiards, and karaoke. Order a Bachelor's Bowl for your group; it's made with bourbon, blackberry elderflower liqueur, mango black tea, lemon juice, and Simple Syrup. Sharing is caring!

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10. OKRA Charity Saloon 924 Congress St, Houston, TX 77002 (Downtown)

Named not for the beloved Southern side dish, but an acronym for "Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs," OKRA uses its simple American fare for the forces of good and not profit. When you order a classic cocktail and round of waffles fries or avocado fritters, you're gifted a a ticket (like the ones you get at the carnival) that grant you a vote. Every customer's vote deems which charity get all -- all -- of the restaurant's profits for the month.

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11. West Alabama Ice House 1919 W Alabama St, Houston, TX 77098 (Montrose)

To a non-native Houstonian, West Alabama Ice House doesn't look like all that much, given that it's just a covered bar and patio in West Montrose. But this iconic bar has seen Houston through history since 1928, when it operated as a literal ice house, just shilling the cold stuff to neighborhood homes. Now, of course, it's a regular haunt for Houston's most in-the-know, who come, humidity be damned, for a frosty Lone Star Beer, a taco from whatever truck is parked across the street, and some love from the regular influx of dogs that appear with their owners.

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12. Poison Girl 1641 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

Poison Girl is a Houston dive bar as infamous for its oddball decorations as for its whiskey selection. Pose for photos with a giant Cabbage Patch Kid and a life-size Kool-Aid man who has (sadly) seen better days as you sip on whiskey that, lucky for you, tastes far more expensive than it actually is. Try your hand at pinball before browsing Poison Girl’s collection of 1970s portraits of nude women that seem to surround you. However you choose to spend your time here, you can be sure it’ll be a memorable evening.

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13. Under the Volcano 2349 Bissonnet St, Houston, TX 77005 (Rice Village)

Under the Volcano in Rice Village is named for a macabre 1947 Malcolm Lowry novel. The cozy bar is much less menacing than its namesake, though (apart from the arguably ominous masks that line the walls), and it offers some of the best value for bar food and drink in the city. Weekly steak deals include hand-cut certified Angus rib-eye served with authentic Argentinian chimichurri sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, and house sesame raspberry vinaigrette-tossed salad, while the daily menu offers snacks like pulled slow-braised beef tacos and Italian charcuterie. All cocktails are made from scratch to have robust flavors, and highlights include the Bloody Mary, strawberry-basil margarita, and the mojito.

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14. La Carafe 813 Congress St, Houston, TX 77002 (Downtown)

Settled inside Houston's oldest building, La Carafe looks as if it's about to fall to pieces on the outside, but is rife wth history on the inside. Miraculously still level and smattered with antiqued photos and mementos, La Carafe's been close to shut down on the basis of broken fire codes many times since the '80s, but its jazz-bumping jukebox, impossible to imitate ambiance, and massive wine selection have kept it alive.

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