Beverage Director

The Best Bars in Houston Right Now

‘Tis the (patio) season.

White Rhino
White Rhino | Photo by Egidio Narvaez Photography
White Rhino | Photo by Egidio Narvaez Photography

There’s never a bad time to wet your whistle in Houston, but springtime may be the best. The humidity has yet to reach that “not sure if I’m still damp from the shower or just sweating profusely” level, meaning it’s prime time to take advantage of one of the city’s greatest assets: patio bars. Under that umbrella falls places like hammock-filled beer gardens and whiskey-fueled terraces, an enterprising wine bar with a “try before you buy” system, and one watering hole inspired by an ancient Aztec monkey in addition to all the fully AC’d indoor spots we know and love. These are the best bars to visit in Houston right now.

Roots Wine Bar
Roots Wine Bar | @rootshtx

This newcomer puts a fresh-faced spin on the classic wine bar concept with its innovative “try before you buy” approach. Claim a spot on the super sleek patio then head inside to check in, grab a card, and hit the self-serve wine-dispensing machines offering one, three, and five-ounce pours of 50+ wines. There’s also a top-notch bottle list you can enjoy onsite or at home. Look out for seasonal fun like crawfish boils and more.
How to reserve/order: Dine and sip in, or grab retail wines by the bottle to-go.

Houston was missing a formal cocktail bar experience until Bobby Heugel and co. remedied that in 2017. Then, when the pandemic hit, we were missing it yet again. While the doors to its handsome 25-seat Downtown space aren’t open just yet, Tongue-Cut Sparrow has moved its magic making over to the former Penny Quarter space next to Anvil, where it’s hosting a pop-up cocktail bar with Japanese highballs, swizzles, Sazeracs, and its signature top-tier hospitality (think: perfectly chilled glassware, complimentary house snacks and hot towels, bowls of hard candies with your check, and some of the city’s top talent behind the bar). 
How to reserve/order: Some space is saved for walk-ins, but scoring a Resy is your best bet.

White Rhino
White Rhino | Photo by Egidio Narvaez Photography

White Rhino

East End

Sustainability is the name of the game on this Tulum-inspired patio. The bar is built with some of the latest and greatest sustainable products like paint that purifies air and acts as its own forest, a water generator that reverse osmosis-es the hell out of Houston’s humidity to make clean drinking water, and an onsite bottle crusher that pulverizes used glassware into sand. That’s all super cool, but you’re  probably wondering about the cocktails. They’ve got those, too, like Oaxacan Margaritas, Jungle Birds, and Rhinapple Swizzles plus rotating food trucks, taco nights, and a mission to give a portion of its proceeds to conservation efforts like the Houston Zoo.
How to reserve/order: Pop by for drinks and feel-good vibes.

Kanpai Club
Kanpai Club | Photo Courtesy of Kanpai Club

Japanese whiskey highballs, spiced milk punch, and fizzy gin drinks are just some of the enticing concoctions awaiting guests inside this shotgun-style cocktailery. Wagyu gyoza, fiery edamame, and curry fries are a few more. The new concept comes from the team behind neighboring hand roll joint, Hando. In fact, the tiny 10-seater shares a door with its sister, serving as an overflow destination for diners while holding its own with a great happy hour, small plates, and late night goodies. Join the club to understand the buzz.
How to reserve/order:  Dine-in service is available 7 days a week.

The Toasted Coconut
The Toasted Coconut | Photo by Vivian Leba of Snapbox Studio

Sipping an umbrella-adorned tiki drink under the starlit palapa at this tropical oasis is something every Houstonian should experience. A refreshing venture from the crew behind Nobie’s, TTC serves mad vacation vibes with help from a rushing waterfall, adult sandbox, and punny, boozy cocktails like the Lychee Self Go (mezcal, lychee, housemade purple sizzurp) from bar director Sarah Troxell. Level up your staycay by pairing your drinks with ginger pork dumplings and Baja mussels swimming in zesty guajillo broth.
How to reserve/order: Dine-in service available via walk-in and reservations or order takeout for pickup.

Diversión
Diversión | Photo Courtesy of Diversión

Diversión

Spring Branch

Sister concept to avant-garde tasting menu restaurant, Degust, Diversión focuses on pure flavors, scratchmade ingredients, and top shelf booze. Chef-partner Steven Salazar goes above and beyond to make sure your drinks are fresh, personally foraging and preserving Meyer lemons for year-round citrus as well as fashioning his own tinctures, ferments, and vinegars. The result is next-level cocktails like the Espumante and Caviar, a dressed-up tipple made with Brut Rosé, Cognac, local strawberry vinegar, blackberry cordial, and hackleback caviar. The intimate bar experience sits just eight guests around the white-stone topped bar with room for an additional 12 available throughout the space.
How to reserve/order: Book a seat on Resy.

Monkey’s Tail
Monkey's Tail | Photo by Shannon O'Hara

Monkey’s Tail

Northside Village

Channeling the spirit of Ozomatli (that’s the monkey companion spirit to the Aztec god of music and dance, obviously) this Mexican-American cocktail dive is one of Houston’s vibe-iest neighborhood hangouts. The indoor-outdoor setup is perfect for spring, with a dog-friendly patio on nicer days and a funky indoor space with billiards to keep you entertained during the inevitable rainstorm. There’s also an extensive draft system with 20 taps on a custom-designed tower and superlative food and bev menu. Wash down smashed Chango burgers and barbacoa pizza with a Big Red Highball or blanco tequila-kissed Juan Collins.
How to reserve/order: Now offering dine-in and curbside with online ordering.

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
The Hay Merchant | Photo courtesy of Julie Soefer Photography

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.

Anvil Bar & Refuge
Anvil Bar & Refuge | Photo courtesy of Julie Soefer Photography

Bobby Heugel’s first bar put Houston’s cocktail scene on the map with a focus on form and a robust collection of housemade bitters, sodas, and infusions. The team at Anvil deserves to be taken seriously, too, as the staff goes through an intense training process culminating in a 50-count blind taste test, and several skilled alums have gone on to open some of the most exciting bars in town. Cocktail purists can and should journey through the 100-strong lineup spanning iconic classics and twists while those looking for a taste of the unknown can get their fix via a host of seasonal revamps. There’s also a cool as hell break-even bottle program that makes luxurious sips more affordable.
How to reserve/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.

13 Celsius
VJ Arizpe / 13 Celsius

13 Celsius

Midtown

Winos should make a beeline for this European-style enoteca. Housed in a swanky '20s-era building with a charming patio that makes for the perfect socially-distanced date night, this stalwart prides itself on storing its extensive 450+ library of global selections at ideal temperatures. Get in on offerings by the bottle, glass, half-glass, and taster alongside damn fine charcuterie and bar snacks, wine-centric dinners, pop-up tastings, art installations, and a special list of Sunday bottles designed to raise your enjoyment to the next level.
How to reserve/order: Stop by and hit the patio for first come, first served seating.

Julep
Julep | Photo courtesy of Julie Soefer Photography

Julep

Washington

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).

Hammocks and beer—could a lazy afternoon get any better? Actually yes, because Axelrad also offers board games, picnic tables, food trucks, occasional live music, and a next-door pizza joint that will bring garlic knots straight to your table. Hanging out in this 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 sweet tap handles designed by Venezuelan artist Maria Rangel—only heightens your relaxation while those who prefer cocktails and wine can get down with choices by the glass and bottle.
How to reserve/order: The bar has reopened for business with first come, first served seating.

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
Eight Row Flint | Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

Whiskey, beer, and tacos: You really only need to excel at one component of this holy trinity to survive in Houston, but somehow this Agricole Hospitality number manages all three. The modern icehouse and lounge carries over a hundred selections of whiskey, including proprietary barrels of bourbon hand-selected by beverage director Morgan Weber and showcased in a rickhouse-like structure behind the bar. Sip house Old Fashioneds and Green Chile Ranchwaters, play games of ring toss for prizes, and fuel up with superior eats from scratchmade tacos filled with braised beef cheek and Berkshire pork collar carnitas to Sonora dogs and fajita platters that pair perfectly with house margs.
How to reserve/order: Place food and drink to-go orders online or stop in for dine-in service (seating is first come, first served).

Johnny's Gold Brick
Johnny's Gold Brick | Photo by Kirsten Gilliam

With a slew of solid years under its belt, this friendly neighborhood joint continues to hit the mark. That’s probably because all 10 of its expertly balanced classics remain just $8 a pop while the seasonal menu and well-versed selection of spirits keep regulars on their toes. Grab a seat on the patio and 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 reserve/order: Stop by to drink it up and look out for happenings like half-priced cocktails and pop-up steak nights on Facebook.

We don’t know what’s better: The fact that this relaxed craft cocktail and beer garden has 49 draft 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 like fruit infusions smoked with wood chips from repurposed whiskey barrels. Plus, there’s housemade Fireball, a scorching combo of cinnamon, molasses, and bourbon that puts its big name inspiration to shame. Just a few blocks away you’ll find sibling establishment Holman Draft Hall, an impossibly cool indoor-outdoor draughthouse with 100 temperature-controlled taps that’s definitely worth checking out.
How to order: Walk-in, grab a seat, and quench your thirst.

Lei Low
Courtesy of Lei Low Bar

Lei Low

The Greater Heights

Rum is the spirit of choice inside 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 and the requisite splashes of bitters, Herbsaint, ginger beer, and lemongrass, plus some showy drinking vessels complete with hula girls, naked mermaids, and bursts of real flames. You’re not a local until you’ve said “Okole maluna!” at least one of Lei Low’s many Mai Tais, including a classic version on tap. (And in case you were wondering, that means “Bottoms up!” in Hawaiian.)
How to order: Pop in to get tiki-fied in person or order to-go cocktails online for curbside pickup.

Better Luck Tomorrow
Better Luck Tomorrow | Photo by Jenn Duncan

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.

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.

King's Bierhaus
Courtesy of King's BierHaus

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.

Cottonwood

Garden Oaks/Oak Forest

Any time is the perfect time to hit Cottonwood’s fantastically large patio. Repping a full bar and kitchen plus a roster of entertainment that runs the gamut from live music to late night fireside hangs with your pup, the indoor-outdoor bar screams easy living. Go for the enviable selection of beverages, including Texas and Kentucky whiskies as well as 42 beers on tap, and if you get hungry, follow it up with a poblano pepper-stuffed burger 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 and happenings, hit up Facebook or Instagram.

This monster truck-sized beer garden is a carnival for kids of all ages, rocking live music, flat screens, food trucks, and a legit Ferris wheel that one sweet day you’ll get to use again. Post up in an open-air truck-bed or get cozy at an umbrella-shaded picnic table and laze the day away with signature Trash Can punches, strawberry spritzes, mojitos, mules, and margs. And when the weather doesn’t cooperate, there’s covered patio seating has your back alongside 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 long.
How to order: Seating is open outside only on a first come, first served basis.

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 breezy cocktail emporium where the vibe is domestic chic, the drinks are seriously tasty, and the patio space leaves picturesque spring nights wanting for nothing. Grab a flawlessly crafted Old Fashioned, smoked and laden with the perfect ice cube, or quench your thirst with Miss Carousel’s take on the drink of the moment: Ranchwater, jazzed up with clarified lime and salt tincture. Eats from sibling establishment Vinny’s Pizza, including New York-style pies and Korean barbecue wings, add fuel to the fire.
How to order: Stop in for socially-distanced, first come, first served indoor seating.

Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who thinks she may need to book some of these properties before y’all do. Let her know if you beat her to it on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @brookeviggiano.
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