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.
How to get in: Head to the back of the shopping center that houses the River Oaks Theatre, and look for the blue door under a staircase off Peden.
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: in the 1930s when Tailor’s Row occupied Market Square, this space housed a bustling custom men’s clothing shop. 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!
How to get in: Don’t be fooled by the clothing in the window case. Head to Market Square Park and walk right into the bar at 305 Travis. Head upstairs and you’ll find a balcony overlooking the park.
One of Houston’s greatest beer bars feels slightly off the grid because there’s no sign out front and an ivy veil blankets half the building. But you’ll want to step inside 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.
How to get in: Find the ivy-covered building across from Leon’s Lounge on McGowen and step on in.
Though not exactly hidden (there’s a nice big Prohibition sign out front), a true speakeasy experience awaits at this historic theatre and its sister oyster bar. Built in 1912, it was once home to Houston’s first silent theatre. Today, it houses a grand stage, art deco touches, a serpentine staircase, and -- most importantly -- a moody burlesque troupe called The Moonlight Dolls. Grab a drink at the next door oyster bar before settling in for dinner and a spicy show.
How to get in: The theatre and the oyster bar at Prohibition rock separate entrances off Prairie, with the box office and theatre to the right, and the bar to the left.
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 -- the 1940s department store that used to occupy this space -- the hip bar boasts reclaimed woods and furniture, plus the oldest electric elevator in Texas (and the third oldest in the country). Though the bar’s been revamped under the name Dean’s Downtown, the sign and the speakeasy vibe of the original are still in tact.
How to get in: Look for the “Clarks” and “Dean’s Credit Clothing” signs off Main, near the corner of Preston.
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. If it's a slow day, maybe try challenging the bartender to games of I Spy for shots.
How to get in: Locate the totally inconspicuous purple house off Grant and Fairview and enter at your own risk (which is absolutely zero risk, but it sounds cool).
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. It’s a Houston right of passage. 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, classic Tex-Mex, and a funky feel.
How to get in: First, you’ll need to find parking around Nance St. and William St. Eventually you’ll want to end up on Nance Street standing in front of a giant red door on an unmarked white building. Don’t just walk inside. Knock twice, wait patiently, and enter when the door opens for you
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.
How to get in: 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. You’ll see the “Notsuoh” sign hidden in the entry beneath the “Clark’s” sign off Main.
From powerhouse bev guy Bobby Heugel, this elusive bar evokes the elegance of the full-service cocktail bars of Japan. In a nearly 120-year-old building, you’ll find a handsome, 25-seat space with top-notch cocktails (Japanese highballs, swizzles, and Sazeracs), plus a handful of beer and wine selections; and the highest level of service -- think perfectly chilled glassware, complimentary snacks and hot towels.
How to get in: Go to the back room of the city’s hottest mezcaleria, The Pastry War, and open the unmarked door. Climb the staircase and you’ll unlock a formal cocktail experience like no other in town.
Gone is hip nightclub The Mink and in its place is this discreet, low-key speakeasy. Enter the dark, fresh space, which features a shotgun-style alleyway and a variety of vibes throughout the rooms that flank it, and you’ll find everything from ‘90s hip-hop and live alt-rock to steak night and vintage cocktails. Hit the hookah downstairs, find music upstairs, or walk across the alleyway to unleash even more good times.
How to get in: Head to Mid-Main district and look for the teeny tiny bar sign and entrance off Main.
Enter this place and you’ll make it one of the best craft cocktail bars in Houston, complete with an anti-frat boy vibe, A-list lineup of bartenders ready to spew their wealth of knowledge, and drinks crowned with fancy stuffs like cantaloupe-tarragon syrup, celery bitters, and rosewater.
How to get in: Go through the inconspicuous door next to the awesomely-named Law Offices of Tucker Graves, then climb the dark, narrow, super-creaky staircase all the way to the top. On the left, you’ll see another weathered, wooden door. Open it and go inside. Now order something sexy.
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 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.
How to get in: Make your way to Keck Hall (the building that houses the Rice University Civil and Environmental Engineering department), head around to the left side of the building near Laboratory Road, and look for a Hobbit-sized wooden door into the great drinking hall below.
Without a sign repping its moniker, this clandestine rum bar literally is laying low. But it doesn’t when it comes to the drinks, putting out fancified tiki cocktails splashed with bitters and Herbsaint, and served in showy cups displaying hula girls and mermaids. Okole Maluna!
How to get in: Find the sign for Joe’s Food Store, located in a nondescript shopping center in Sunset Heights, and you’ll also see an Aloha graffiti and a sign saying “Rum.” Proceed in that direction.
Hidden inside the 1910 Southern Pacific Railroad Building a stone’s throw from Market Square, this throwback to another era is one of the most underrated bars in Houston. 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.
How to get in: You’ll find the entrance next to the lobby of the Bayou Lofts on Franklin Street, between Travis and Main. Look north towards the bayous for the large red rooftop neon sign.