Sometimes, you find a bar by following the giant glowing sign with its name on it. Other times, you find a bar by walking through a really creepy looking, unmarked door without being sure whether you’re in a bar or the opening act of a horror movie. While these excellent Houston drinkeries may not be “secret,” they are hidden away enough so that you would never find them without help. And we’re providing just that:
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This hidden makeout haven, which opened in 1972 and moved to its current shopping center location in 1976, may be under new ownership, but its iconic, unassuming blue door remains. Go behind it to see why this hideaway gained a cult following that lasted 40 some odd years, despite having just its name written across boarded up windows in its original iteration. Also do it to make out upstairs, as is tradition.
The sans-sign building that houses this lower Montrose hideout is just as elusive as the condemned elixir that it’s named after. But don’t let the vaulted door and dark, moody aura fool you -- the inside is as sultry and inviting as ever. Hit the low-lit lounge to sip flaming cocktails and get a glimpse into why absinthe played muse to the artists of 19th century Paris.
Head to the front patio of eatery Cook & Collins, climb the staircase, and follow the neon key sign to unlock Midtown’s most worthwhile secret. With powerhouse beverage guy Chris Frankel behind the concept, the clandestine bar has a short, but expertly curated collection of classic and house cocktails, plus an intimate, laid-back feel that stands out from its party-hard neighbors.
Walking by, you may think this place is a custom tailor shop. That’s because it is. But it’s also a drinkery. Let us explain: the space once housed a bustling custom men’s clothing shop in the 1930s, when Tailor’s Row occupied Market Square. When business declined, owner Michael Shapiro added a bar to the shop to keep the business afloat. And guess what? It worked! Now you can get a whiskey and your pants hemmed!
One of Houston’s greatest beer bars feels slightly off the grid thanks to no sign out front and the ivy veil that blankets half the building. But you’ll want to step inside to get a look because it’s also one of Houston’s most beautiful bars. Stop by for 40+ craft brews and all kinds of cocktail goodness, plus a pretty excellent house pretzel.
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. We say you shouldn’t judge a place by the name on its sign. Because if you did, you’d be missing out on one of Downtown’s coolest watering holes. Opened in 1999 and named after Dean’s Credit Clothing -- a 1940s department store whose space the bar now occupies -- the hip space boasts reclaimed woods and furniture, plus the oldest electric elevator in Texas (and the 3rd oldest in the country). Though the bar’s been revamped under the name Dean’s Downtown, the sign and eclectic, old school vibe of the original are still in tact.
If you want to enter this Northside Downtown institution, you’ll have to submit to the longstanding tradition of knocking on the bright red unmarked door. Once you’re let inside, you’ll be greeted with a kitschy café, bar, and live concert space complete with frozen margs, a back patio, and classic Tex-Mex.
Look past the giant neon Clark’s clothing store to find this covert haunt, which manages to combine one of the most oddball looks with one of the friendliest feels (because having a bathroom with an extra chair across the toilet is friendly!). With stiff, cheap drinks and underground performances of music and art, the hole-in-the-wall is something everyone should experience, hopefully multiple times.
From the outside, this unmarked dive looks like an ordinary house. From the inside, it looks like an episode of Hoarders got sloppy and threw a really awesome rager. Enter at your own risk (which is absolutely zero risk, but it sounds cool).
You still find a sign for The Mink hanging outside this discreet speakeasy. Though that spot has since closed, don’t let that stop you from entering this dark, fresh space, which features a shotgun-style alleyway and a variety of vibes throughout the buildings that flank it. Whether you want ‘90s hip-hop and live alt-rock, or steak night and vintage cocktails, this alley bar has it.
Right next to the sign for the Law Offices of Tucker Graves (can we just take a moment to recognize the best lawyer name to ever existed, ever?) lays an inconspicuous door. Go through it, then climb the dark and narrow, super creaky staircase all the way to the top. On the left, you’ll see another weathered, wooden door. Open it. Now go inside and order something sexy. You just made it one of the best craft cocktail bars in Houston.
In Norse mythology, Valhalla is a great hall where "Odin receives the souls of heroes fallen bravely in battle." On Rice campus, Valhalla is an underground lounge where “graduate students receive the beers of the heroes who make the beers.” Though the hush-hush bar -- located underneath the steps of Keck Hall -- is not really hush-hush anymore, it still feels fun to sneak into the dark, cavernous lounge that has been keeping students quenched for over 40 years.
You may think Phoenicia Specialty Foods is just an excellent place to grocery shop while watching fresh pita slide across a giant conveyer belt. And it is. But it’s ALSO a place to get a delicious drink while eating za’atar spiced fries and listening to live music. Just head to their in-house MKT Bar for good times.
Just a stone’s throw from Market Square, hidden inside the 1910 Southern Pacific Railroad Building and adjacent from the Bayou Lofts lobby, you’ll find this throwback to another era. It’s the place to completely lose track of time over an Old Fashioned and SECRETS THAT YOU MUST TAKE TO YOUR GRAVE. Or just over the Old Fashioned, whatever.
1. Marfreless2006 Peden St, Houston
2. Absinthe Brasserie609 Richmond Ave,
3. Spare Key2416 Brazos St Ste C, Houston
4. Charbar305 Travis St, Houston
5. Mongoose Versus Cobra1011 McGowen St, Houston
6. Dean's Downtown316 Main St, Houston
7. Last Concert Cafe1403 Nance St, Houston
8. notsuoH314 Main St, Houston
9. Lola's Depot2327 Grant St, Houston
10. The Alley Kat Bar & Lounge3718 Main St, Houston
11. Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirits Lodge308 1/2 Main St, Houston
12. Valhalla (Rice University)6100 Main St, Houston
13. MKT BAR1001 Austin St, Houston
14. Houston Watch Co.913 Franklin St, Houston
This bar is tucked away under a shopping center with a bright blue door as the entrance. Once inside you'll hear them playing classical music and patrons sipping on glasses of champagne. On Wednesdays bottles of bubbly are half-off, so that's a plus.
This bohemian, chic bar is hidden away and is the perfect spot to meet up with friends. Grab a cocktail and a flatbread pizza from here and sit back and enjoy the cozy feel of this bar.
This hidden, tasteful bar has just five classics and five house cocktails on its rotating menu. But with powerhouse beverage guy Chris Frankel behind the operations, those 10 cocktails are sure to be mighty fine. Take the staircase inside sibling resto Cook & Collins to get to the second-story, where you’ll find refreshingly bold libations and an easy-going crowd.
Houston locals know this bar inside a custom men's tailor shop is the real deal.
40 taps at this wine and craft beer bar make the Midtown spot a definite contender for the after-5pm crowd. While there's no full kitchen in the back, you can fill yourself up on pretzels the size of your head, as well as sauerkraut and bratwurst.
This little hipster bar has live music on Sunday nights, comfy living room style seating, and cool drinks like their apple cobbler shots and briar patch cocktail.
This spot has live music weekly and serves up delicious Mexican dishes and margaritas. Try the cheese enchiladas and the beef fajita nachos.
This dive bar enforces a slight time-warp aesthetic from the moment you step inside. Separated from the bar next door with a thin wall and red curtain, the decor stays quirky and oddball while the stage hosts everything from poetry slams to live music.
There's enough ephemera decking out the walls, ceiling, and patio to echo an episode of Hoarders, but the interior decorators (aka the bartenders) did a fine job of making it all work. If it's a slow day, maybe try challenging the bartender to games of I Spy for shots.
They play tons of house music at this little cocktail bar and lounge. Grab a drink (try the Eastern Standard), check out the artwork in their alley. When it's nice out you can enjoy their outdoor patio.
Be prepared to feel the effects after just one of spirits guru Justin Burrow’s boozed-up, old-style cocktails laced with things like elderflower and spiced wine syrup. But before you can enjoy the drinks, you have to find them through a nondescript door downtown. Climb the dark, narrow staircase all the way to the top, where you can enjoy views of downtown in a small, sexy space.
Located on Rice University's campus this little hideaway is the perfect place to grab a beer and eat a sandwich.
Live music, pizza, brunch, booze -- there aren't many desirable things in this world that MKT bar doesn't have. Creative takes on American (read: Southern) staples like crispy chicken and waffles, braised lamb tacos, and ground chuck cheeseburgers will have you stuffed, but you'll make the room for a couple drafts from the Lone Star state or a bottle of something sparkling.