How to Get Into Houston’s Best Speakeasies & Secret Bars

Covert Mezcal dens, jazzy underground lounges, and the coolest house party in town.

Houston is big, and like any city worth its population, it’s practically teeming with amazing bars. Tracking down a good spot to crack open a cold one is child’s play—well, not literally, because children really shouldn’t really be going to bars, but you get the gist. However, attempting to locate a quality watering hole that's a little more mysterious, a bit more exclusive, and a touch more romantic, can send you down a sexy rabbit hole you didn’t even know existed. Choose this adventure and you’ll soon be sneaking through unmarked doors, venturing down shady alleyways, and making your way up creaky staircases only to be rewarded with a blissful boozy hideaway. Gear up for mystery, intrigue, and damn fine drinks courtesy of these 17 standout speakeasy-style Houston bars.

Mijo’s Mezcal Bar
Mijo’s Mezcal Bar

Mijo’s Mezcal Bar

Heights
This clandestine agave-fueled haunt hides, as it claims, in plain sight over at the roadside taco- and slushie-slinging Cantina Barba. It’s teeny-tiny, as the entire bar fits inside a single storage container, while neon lights and ample Dia de los Muertos decor add to the allure. Seek out the sketchy looking storage container out on the patio, step inside, hit up the bartender for a deadly mezcal cocktail, drink, and repeat.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Rabbit’s Got the Gun
Rabbit’s Got the Gun

Rabbit’s Got the Gun

Near Northside
Blink and you’ll miss it. The rusty sign is barely legible, the graffiti-strewn facade and bars on the doors suggest a bygone establishment, and most of the nearby action comes from a neighboring tire shop. But give it a second glance, and you may just spot the picnic tables outside filled with people enjoying the hell out of tacos, palomas, and rum old fashioneds. Inside, the funky cocktail bar and kitchen will make all your late night dreams come true. Head to Hogan and scout out the Rodriguez Tire Shop, then enter the adjacent doors crowned by a painting of an Alice in Wonderland-style rabbit (AKA some truly badass work from local graffiti artist w3r3on3).
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Kanpai Club
Kanpai Club

Kanpai Club

Heights
There are only 10 seats at this 400-square-foot shotgun-style cocktail den, but the tasty booze knows no end, from Japanese whiskey highballs and salted plum margaritas to satisfyingly fizzy gin creations. The stealthy drinkery comes from the crew behind buzzy hand roll joint Hando, and even serves as an overflow destination via an adjoining door. Walk into the romantic sushi spot and creep through the red door to the left to seek the promised land.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Bayou Music Center
Bayou Music Center

40 Below

40 steps beneath Bayou Music Center lurks this sleek subterranean bar and lounge, a choice spot to get your covert drink on before taking in a concert at the venue’s main hall. You’ll have to pay to access the intimate space (and possibly provide proof of vaccination, depending), but its exclusive events lineup, from silent discos to themed trivia nights, is worth the extra effort. Purchase access prior to doors for shows, then enter through the secret door located inside Revention.
How to book: Call 713-230-1633 or contact HoustonPremiumSeating@livenation.com to reserve.

HandleBar Houston
HandleBar Houston

HandleBar Houston

Washington
While this retro stalwart isn’t exactly hidden, it quietly rocks a less-than-obvious ‘80s-themed speakeasy out back. It’s a bar within a bar, and the Inception-style move totally works. Head past the women’s restroom to the back bar to savor rum punch under colorful lights, tinsel, and the watchful, mustachioed gaze of Tom Selleck.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Secret Garden HTX
Secret Garden HTX

Secret Garden

Downtown
Stashed behind Bravery Chef Hall lies one of the most beautiful cocktail escapes in town, a place where revelers sip picture-perfect French 75s inside a striking glass greenhouse strewn with plants and flowers. The place is seriously tiny, so snagging one of the seats inside can be tricky, but if you can’t find one, the 2,000-square-foot patio makes for an equally enchanting setting. Enter Bravery Chef Hall, spot Margaux’s Oyster Bar, and you’ll see the door to the courtyard garden bar. You can also enter the space through a gate off Main Street.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Marfreless

River Oaks
This hidden makeout haven, which opened in 1972 and moved to its current River Oaks Theatre shopping center location in 1976, may be under new ownership, but its iconic, unassuming blue door remains. Crack it open to see why this gem has maintained its cult following for 40-odd years, despite its original location marked solely by its name written across boarded-up windows. Also do it to make out like a teenager upstairs, as is tradition.
How to book: Call 281-630-6248 to reserve.

CharBar
CharBar

Char Bar

Downtown
Walking by, you may think this place is a custom tailor shop—and that’s because it is. But it’s also a bar. Let us explain: When Tailor’s Row occupied Market Square back in the 1930s, this space housed a bustling bespoke men’s clothing shop. When business declined, owner Michael Shapiro added a bar to the shop to keep the money flowing. And guess what? It worked! Now you can get a whiskey and your pants hemmed at the same time. Head to Market Square Park and walk right into the bar at 305 Travis and don’t be fooled by the clothing hanging in the window.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Dean's Downtown
Dean's Downtown

Dean’s Downtown

Downtown
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. We say you shouldn’t judge a place by 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—the 1940s department store that used to occupy this space—this hip hideaway boasts reclaimed wood furniture plus the oldest electric elevator in Texas (and the third oldest in the country). Though the spot’s been since revamped under the name Dean’s Downtown, the sign and the speakeasy vibe of the original are still gorgeously intact. Look for the “Clarks” and “Dean’s Credit Clothing” signs off Main near the corner of Preston, and get excited.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Lola’s Depot

Montrose
From the outside, this unmarked dive bar looks like an ordinary house. And from the inside, it looks like a punk rock hovel from an episode of Hoarders decided to throw a really awesome rager. Track down the totally inconspicuous purple house off Grant and Fairview and enter at your own risk (which is absolutely zero risk, but it sounds cool). And if it's a slow day, try challenging the friendly bartender to a game of I Spy for shots.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Last Concert Cafe
Last Concert Cafe

Last Concert Cafe

Warehouse District
If you want to enter this Northside Downtown institution, you’ll have to submit to the longstanding tradition of knocking on the bright red unadorned front door. It’s a Houston right of passage, after all. Once you’re let in, you’ll be greeted with a kitschy café, bar, and live music venue complete with frozen margs, a back patio, classic Tex-Mex cuisine, and an anything goes ethos. But remember, you can’t just walk inside—knock twice, wait patiently, and enter when you’re welcomed.
How to book: Call 713-226-8563 to reserve.

notsuoH

Downtown
Look past the giant neon Clark’s clothing store to find this illicit haunt, which manages to combine an oddball look with one of the friendliest feels (because having a bathroom with an extra chair across the toilet is friendly, right?). Offering stiff, cheap drinks and underground music and art performances, this hole-in-the-wall outpost is something everyone should experience, hopefully multiple times. Notsuoh is Houston spelled backwards, so if you want to enter, you’ll have to spin around three times, hop backwards, and… we kid, we kid. Just catch sight of the “notsuoH” sign peeking out from beneath the “Clark’s” sign off Main and you’re good.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Tongue-Cut Sparrow
Tongue-Cut Sparrow

Tongue-Cut Sparrow

Montrose
Powerhouse bev master Bobby Heugel’s cocktail den is so off-the-beaten-path, it’s not even operating out of its own location these days. The elusive concept has temporarily set up shop inside the old Penny Quarter space over in Montrose, but you’ll still find all the elegance of a full-service Japanese cocktail bar, complete with top-notch drinks (Japanese highballs, swizzles, and Sazeracs) and the highest level of service (perfectly chilled glassware, complimentary snacks, and hot towels), to boot.
How to book: Reserve via Resy.

Capt. Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge
Capt. Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge

Capt. Foxheart’s Bar News Bar & Spirits Lodge

Downtown
Here lies one of the best craft cocktail bars in Houston, boasting a classy vibe, an ace lineup of bartenders ready to spew their wealth of knowledge, and drinks that make good use of fancy housemade ingredients like cantaloupe-tarragon syrup, celery bitters, and rosewater. Go through the inconspicuous door next to the law office sign, then ascend the dark, narrow, super-creaky staircase all the way to the top. On the left, you’ll see another weathered, wooden door. Open it, slip inside, and order something sexy.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Valhalla

Rice/West U
In Norse mythology, Valhalla was a great hall where "Odin receives the souls of heroes fallen bravely in battle." On Rice campus, however, Valhalla is an underground lounge where “graduate students receive the beers of the heroes who make the beers.” Though the hush-hush bar is not really so hush-hush anymore, it’s still fun to sneak into the dark, cavernous lounge that’s been keeping students in good spirits for over 40 years. Make your way to Keck Hall (the building that houses the Rice University Civil and Environmental Engineering department), before ducking around to the left side of the building near Laboratory Road, and spotting the Hobbit-sized wooden door that leads to the great drinking hall below.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Lei Low Bar
Lei Low Bar

Lei Low

Greater Heights
Devoid of a sign displaying its moniker, this clandestine rum bar is the definition of laying low. But it’s no slouch when it comes to drinks, cranking out complex tropical cocktails spiked with curious tinctures and served in showy glassware displaying hula girls and mermaids. Find Joe’s Food Store, located in a nondescript shopping center in Sunset Heights, and set your sights on the painted “Aloha.” Okole Maluna, pal.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Houston Watch Company
Houston Watch Company

Houston Watch Co.

Downtown
Hidden inside the 1910 Southern Pacific Railroad Building near Market Square, this throwback to another era is one of the most underrated bars in all of Houston. Lose track of time over a crafty old fashioned and spill some secrets you're sure to take to the grave—or at least until you finish your drink.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

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Brooke Viggiano is a contributor for Thrillist.