How to Find the Best Hidden Bars in Houston
Sometimes a bar draws you in like a moth to a porch light. You follow the incandescent glow of a flickering sign in hopes of being transported to another universe filled with other like-minded people fluttering around a jukebox or pool table. Other times, you find a bar by walking through a super 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 bars may not be “secret” per se, they are hidden away enough to require a bit of help to get in. So, in an effort to promote adventure and intrigue, we’re providing just that.
You’d never know it from the outside, but hidden right in plain site in Market Square Park sits the door to a hot new nightclub, only accessed by two unmarked elevators that unveil a 5,300-square-foot basement that goes beyond the surface of your typical club. The aptly named hideaway evokes the feel of an “eclectic billionaire’s basement,” with bottle service and DJs, dope lighting and luxurious decor, and a mysterious vibe for the in-crowd.
How to get in: Head to Market Square Park and find the door between Barnaby’s and Sapporo on Congress. Enter the lobby and take an elevator down to the basement level, where an evening of mystery awaits.
40 steps beneath Revention Music Center sits this sleek, underground bar and lounge; a choice spot to imbibe before a concert in the venue’s main hall. You’ll have to pay to access to the intimate space, but it also hosts a lineup of its own, open-to-the-public events, from Silent Discos to themed Trivia Nights.
How to get in: Purchase access prior to doors for shows, then take the exclusive entrance located inside Revention.
While the retro drinking establishment isn’t hidden itself, HandleBar rocks a secret, ‘80s-style speakeasy in the back. It’s a bar within a bar, and the Inception-like move totally works. Make your way there to drink rum punch under colorful lights, tinsel and the watchful, mustached gaze of Tom Selleck.
How to get in: Enter HandleBar, drink some things and play some games, then go past the women’s restroom to find the hidden back bar (look for the doorway under the neon palm tree).
Tucked away out back behind Bravery Chef Hall lies one of the most beautiful places to drink in town. Find it, and you can sip a picture-perfect French 75 inside a striking glass greenhouse covered in plants and flowers. The place is tiny, so snagging one of the seats inside can be tricky; if you can’t find one, the 2,000-square-foot patio makes for an equally enchanting setting.
How to get in: Enter Bravery Chef Hall, find Atlas Diner in the back, and you’ll see a door to the courtyard garden bar. You can also enter the space through a gate off Main Street.
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.
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.
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