The Best Bars in Houston Right Now
You could probably use a drink.
Bars have had a rough 2020. After being forced to close down for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston watering holes are just beginning to open back up, and that’s after tackling re-permitting and the insane loan process, having to furlough employees and deal with frustrating insurance policies, hosting pop-ups and pivoting to to-go models just to survive, adjusting table service and pricing to meet new requirements, etc.
This is all to say, if we want our favorite local bars to stay in business past 2020, we need to support them hard right now. You can do so by contacting your local and state government officials and answering the easy call to action steps from groups like the Texas Neighborhood Bar Coalition, or by simply buying some drinks.
From funky beer gardens, fancy cocktaileries and even one spot inspired by an ancient Aztec monkey under our collective umbrella, these are the best bars in Houston right now. All of them could use your support.
Channeling the spirit of Ozomatli, the monkey companion spirit to the Aztec god of music and dance, this Mexican-American cocktail dive is one of Houston’s vibe-iest neighborhood hangouts. The indoor-outdoor setup features an extensive draft system with 20 taps on a custom-designed tower (there are 15 beers, one nitrogenated ale, and four craft cocktails), plus billiards, cool light fixtures and furniture straight from Mexico, and a dog-friendly patio. Beverage Director Greg Perez (of Calle Onze, Edison & Patton) has dreamed up a superlative menu, showing off his heritage with drinks like the banana and panela-kissed C.R.E.A.M. or the Candy Paint, Drippin’, which blends rum with things like maple syrup and Fanta. Use them to wash down smashed Chango burgers and barbacoa pizza.
How to order: Now offering dine-in and curbside. Place a to-go order online for cocktails, beer, and wine (with the purchase of food), and check out its “On My Tab” program to support out-of-work food and beverage industry workers and first responders.
Outside of Bravery Chef Hall at Aris Market Square lies this not-so-secret garden, where you’ll find bartending vet Jonathan Gallardo (Hughes Hangar, Prohibition) showing off his mad maestro skills inside a striking glass greenhouse engulfed in lush plants and flowers. It’s easily the best place to grab a stiff date night cocktail, especially these days, since you can saunter out onto the 2,000-square-foot patio to enjoy it. Gallardo’s modern plays on classic cocktails come with flair to match the enchanting setting, rocking fun stuff like signature flower branding for the ice blocks and candied citrus accoutrements.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, and there’s a patio, to boot.
The Hay Merchant
You may think of The Hay Merchant as a strictly “hops and barley” kind of place (thank the rotating list of 80 taps, 80-deep bottle list, and five cask selections for that), but you’ll find more than just beer geeks at this watering hole. There’s also a refreshingly cool cocktail program with drinks on tap, stirred, and frozen; and an addicting stable of pub fare that soars way above the average. Pair your Hop-a-licious, Sour and Funky, and Oddly Delicious beers with sweet & spicy crispy pig ears, Korean braised goat, and dumplings from the late Underbelly, and one of the best double cheeseburgers in town.
How to order: Open for in-restaurant/patio dining and curbside pickup. Place to-go orders online for pickup or delivery where applicable.
The Original OKRA Charity Saloon
Spending your hard-earned cash on drinks becomes easier when you know you’re drinking for a cause. Enter OKRA Charity Saloon, a nonprofit bar that gives its proceeds to a different charity every month. Here’s how it works: Every drink you purchase earns you a vote, so the more passionate you are about a cause, the more “fun” you’ll likely experience that evening. Narrow, exposed brick walls, a gorgeous original circle arch and barrel vault ceiling, gas light fixtures, and a fine-looking central bar give the space a beautiful aesthetic to match its heart. Combined, the entire atmosphere makes you feel good about that last shot of Fernet.
How to order: While it’s currently closed for in-house drinking (follow Facebook for updates), beer, wine, batched cocktails, mixed drinks, and snacks are available to-go (with delivery to Aris Market Square and Market Square Tower free of charge). Visit its website for a menu and call 713-237-8828 to place an order. Open 3pm-8pm Friday and Saturday.
Anvil Bar & Refuge
Bobby Heugel’s first bar put Houston’s cocktail scene on the map, with a focus on form and a robust collection of house-made bitters, sodas, and infusions. The team at Anvil deserves to be taken seriously, too, as the staff goes through an intense training process ending with a 50 count blind taste test, and several of the highly skilled alums have gone on to open some of the most exciting bars in town. Cocktail fiends can and should journey through the 100 list: a bucket list of the bar’s take on iconic classics, and those looking for a taste of the unknown can get it through the menu’s seasonal revamps. There’s also a cool as hell break-even bottle program to make luxurious sips more affordable.
How to order: Order cocktails, extremely limited upgraded cocktails, and tamale snacks online for pickup Thursday-Sunday 4pm to 9pm, and follow Anvil’s IG or Facebook accounts to see when the bar will reopen its doors for inhouse service.
Winos should head straight for this European-style enoteca. Housed in a swanky '20s-era building and with a charming patio that makes for the perfect socially distanced date night, the stalwart prides itself on storing wines at a temperature that you would never, ever guess by its name, with an extensive 450+ library of global selections. Get offerings by the bottle, glass, half-glass, and taste, and do it alongside damn fine charcuterie and bar snacks, wine-centric dinners, pop-up tastings and art installations, and a special list of Sunday bottles help to raise your enjoyment levels that much higher.
How to order: Stop by and hit the patio until midnight Sunday through Wednesday and till 2am Thursday through Saturday. Reservations are not required except for parties of 6 or more (no more than 10, call 713-529-8466). Available seating is first come, first served.
This Southern charm has been making Houstonians swoon since 2014, earning its stripes as one of the best cocktail bars in America just one year later. In addition to masterful odes to the bar’s namesake drink, bourbon boss Alba Huerta ups the game with a flourish of back porch inspirations that read like a history book of the South. Housed in an industrial 1880s uniform factory, the space is just as stunning as the lineup of refreshing juleps, bold Sazeracs, and hot and sour Creole rums, with a gorgeous copper bar and sophisticated details that give you all kinds of feels. To the old Southern grandeur, slurp your drinks alongside a platter of oysters.
How to order: Julep has officially reopened for dine-in, with glass and wood dividers installed between each booth and 6-feet in between each table. Curbside pickup is also available with online ordering, and the Julep To Go truck is also open and available for delivery and catering 3-10pm daily anywhere within the Beltway (and it has Frozen Pops in flavors like Mint Julep, and Old Fashioned, and Cherry Bounce Sour, y’all).
Axelrad Beer Garden
Hammocks and beer. Could a lazy afternoon get any better than that? It can here, because there are also board games, picnic tables, food trucks, the occasional live music, and a next-door pizza joint that will bring garlic knots straight to you. Hanging out in this super-chill beer garden is the day drinking equivalent of going to a spa (especially during prime patio season). The eclectic collection of craft beers -- poured from cool-looking tap handles by Venezuelan-based artist, Maria Rangel -- only brings your relaxation to the next level; and those that prefer cocktails or wine can get down with choices by the glass and bottle.
How to order: The rad bar has reopened for service, reserve a table online.
West Alabama Ice House
This throwback ice house was around before refrigerators became an “it” thing to do. First opening back in 1928, locals frequented the spot to get ice blocks and a couple of cold ones before heading home for the day. Today, they’re doing the same damn thing, minus the ice and adding in tacos al pastor from the nearby Tacos Tierra Caliente truck. West Alabama Ice House’s sprawling patio and tiny indoor space is so unapologetically no frills, it earns your instant respect. As such, you’ll find all walks of Houstonian life sharing tables and laughs, from bikers and CrossFitters to some guy rocking the hell out of a Fu Manchu.
How to order: The icehouse has officially reopened for business (and those nearby tacos), with seating first come, first served.
Eight Row Flint
Whiskey, beer, and tacos. You really only need one of the holy trinity to survive in Houston, but this Agricole Hospitality bar number has all three. The modern icehouse and lounge carries over a hundred selections of whiskey, including proprietary barrels of bourbon that beverage director Morgan Weber hand-selects and showcases in a cool looking rickhouse-like structure behind the bar. Take down short pulls like the Hell’s Bells -- a shot of Buffalo Trace with a shot of Revival b&b pickle brine and a Lone Star -- alongside superior-quality, scratch-made tacos filled with things like braised beef cheek and Berkshire pork collar carnitas. And now, since it’s operating under a restaurant permit, you’ll find even more eats, from chicken tamales and shrimp tostada to fajita platters that go perfectly with the house margs.
How to order: Place food and drink to-go orders online or stop in for dine-in service (seating first come, first served).
Johnny's Gold Brick
With a few years under its belt, this friendly neighborhood cocktailery continues to hit the mark today. That’s probably because all 10 of its expertly balanced classics remain just $8 a pop, and the seasonal menu and well-versed selection of spirits keep regulars on their toes. Go from the spot on Gimlet with housemade lime cordial to a Boiler Maker, which takes a Lone Star and house Old Fashioned pairing and turns it on its side with Luxardo cherries and an Angostura-dipped orange peel.
How to order: The bar is currently open for to-go cocktails, follow opening, pop-up, and ordering updates on Facebook, and place orders online.
We don’t know what’s better: the fact that this relaxed craft cocktail and beer garden has 49 on-tap brews running from the dark and savory to the sour, funky, and alluring, or the fact that the barkeeps pull out all the stops with showy concoctions featuring thoughtful touches -- think infusions of fruit that get smoked with wood chips from repurposed whiskey barrels. Plus, there’s house-made Fireball -- hit with a kiss of cinnamon, molasses, and straight-up bourbon -- that will put any shot you’ve taken in the past to complete shame. Just a few blocks away, you’ll also find an impossibly cool draughthouse with 100 temperature-controlled taps, sibling establishment Holman Draft Hall, which is definitely also worth checking out.
How to order: Thanks to having eats, too, the cocktail garden is currently open for walk-ins, with first-come, first-served seating.
Rum is the spirit of choice at this unassuming Heights haunt, where the Tiki spirit is just as strong as the tastefully quirky drinks. Fancified island-style cocktails come with top-shelf spirits, with the appropriate splashes of bitters, Herbsaint, ginger beer, and lemongrass, plus some showy drinking vessels complete with hula girls, naked mermaids, and FIRE. You’re not a local until you’ve said “Okole Maluna!” to least one of Lei Low’s library of Mai Tais (including a classic version that is on tap). In case you were wondering, “okole maluna!” means “bottoms up!”
How to order: Order to-go tiki cocktails (like the Rummy Bear, with guava, banana, coconut lime, and grenadine and a bear for keeps) online and snag ‘em for curbside pickup. Follow Facebook for pickup hours and any updates on the bar’s reopening for in-house service.
Better Luck Tomorrow
A whole bunch of notable industry folk (including Anvil’s Bobby Heugel, Theodore Rex’s Justin Yu, and many more) came together in Avengers-like fashion to open this neon-lit neighborhood hangout a few years back. Today, the crew continues to fly beyond the rigid structure of serious cocktail bars and tasting menus, showing off a sense of humor with everyday food, a short and smart list of original cocktails (try the Japanese highball), and a chilled out, all-are-welcome attitude (including your dogs on the patio). There’s also a break-even wine selection modeled after Anvil’s spirits program, AND specials like half-price burgers (the equal parts crispy, beefy, juicy, and euphoric “Party Melts”) at the bar after 9pm.
How to order: Now that the bar has reopened for business, you can expect some changes in the form of new menu items, weekday lunch, earlier brunch hours, and lower drink prices, including half-off drinks during happy hour (now you can throw some extra dough at the hardworking staff). To-go orders can be placed online.
Heights Bier Garten
This two-faced powerhouse offers a 94-tap beer and wine garden on one side and a craft cocktail and whiskey den on the other. In between, you’ll find a spacious courtyard with plenty of shaded benches set for social distancing, swing seating, fire pits and a packed crowd getting down on saisons and IPAs and smoky mezcal and bourbon numbers (as well as pork shank platters with 'nduja). Serious efforts are taken to keep things cool, in both the theoretical sense -- stylish aesthetic, dog-friendly patio, boozy brunch -- and literal cold sense -- there’s a three-sectioned temperature-controlled cooler at the biergarten and a crystal clear ice maker at the cocktail den.
How to order: Both spots are open for in-house service with walk-in seating on a first come, first served basis.
This 400-seat, 9,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor watering hole takes a much more modern approach than the original King’s Biergarten in Pearland, mixing its signature liters and wursts with German-American tastes and turning the space into an adult Disneyland. There’s ample seating both indoors and outdoors, plus fun stuff like live bands, giant beer pretzels, and a bunch of hammocks… because those “das boots” are no joke. Anyone looking for something besides world-class beers (a blend of German, local, and European) can visit the extensive list of whiskey, sip specialty cocktails and German and Austrian wines, or hit up the largest collection of authentic schnapps in Texas.
How to order: The BierHaus is open for dine-in (open seating) and to-go with online ordering for pickup.
Any time is the perfect time to hit Cottonwood’s fantastically large patio. Repping a full bar & kitchen and a roster of entertainment that runs the gamut from live music to late-night fireside chats with your pup, the indoor/outdoor bar exudes easy livin’. Go for the enviable selection of beverages, including Texas and Kentucky brown stuff and 42 beers on tap (two of which are cask-conditioned), then stay for more of said enviable selection of beverages because you’re probably going to be here for a while. If you get hungry, get a burger stuffed with poblanos and sloppily stacked with bacon, chiles, cheese, and a fried egg.
How to order: The open-air patio and bar is back open. For current hours, check Facebook or Instagram.
The monster truck-sized beer garden is a carnival for grown-up kids, rocking live music, flat screens, food trucks, and a legit Ferris wheel that one sweet day you’ll get to use again. Snag some open-air, truck-bed seating, or an umbrella-shaded picnic table and you can laze the day away with trash can punch, strawberry spritz, and mojitos, mules, and margs on draft. When the weather doesn’t mesh with the open air, there is covered patio seating (and an indoor bar which also houses a Philly cheesesteak food court, though the indoor section is closed for seating at the moment). Bonus for those with babies and fur-babies, the bar is kid-friendly till 9pm and pet-friendly all night.
How to order: Seating is open outside only, first come, first served; check the website for its current operating hours.
We’re guessing you could use a vacation right now. Or at least a little fun that somewhat resembles a vacation. That’s where this kitschy watering hole comes in, rocking palms and flamingos, neon signage and wall gardens, plenty of outdoor space, and vibes that will take you straight to Palm Springs. Festive drinks (including refreshing Clawtails and boozy takes on LaCroix) sit alongside rotating frozens, beers, and wines; while shareable foods like bar pies to truffle fries come from The Burger Joint chef Matt Pak. Also, there’s brunch.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, with a host to seat you and plenty of space on the patio.
Agricole Hospitality has a winner in this easy living cocktail bar, where the vibe is living room chic, the drinks are seriously tasty, and there’s patio space, too! Cozy up with a flawlessly crafted Old Fashioned hit with chocolate, cherry, and walnut bitters, or quench your thirst Miss Carousel’s taking on the drink of the moment, Ranchwater. Here, it’s made with Sotol, clarified lime, salt tincture, and grapefruit oil. Eats from sibling establishment Vinny’s - A Slice Is Nice, from New York pizzas to Korean barbecue wings, add fuel to the fire.
How to order: Just stop in, seating is at least six feet apart and first come, first served; check online for current hours of operation.