Beverage Director

The Best Bars in Houston Right Now

Monkey’s Tail
Monkey’s Tail | Shannon O’Hara
Monkey’s Tail | Shannon O’Hara
Restaurants and bars in TK City are currently closed for sit-down service due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But you can still safely order curbside pickup or delivery from these local favorites for now.

After years of hiding in the shadows, Houston’s bar scene has entered into the spotlight… and it’s a total hunk. We’ve got funky beer gardens and craft beer havens, we’ve got watering holes dedicated to the art of tiki -- we’ve even got a spot inspired by an ancient Aztec monkey. Long story short, no matter what kind of drinker you are, there’s a spot in Houston with your name on it (but not literally). If you're looking for something new, something old, or something to name-drop when your friends ask "where should we go tonight?", you've come to the right place. From the latest and greatest cocktaileries to old standbys slinging out simple, low-key beers, these are best bars in Houston right now.

JUMP TO: NEW & NOTEWORTHY | ALL-TIME BEST

NEW & NOTEWORTHY
monkey's tail
Shannon O’Hara | Monkey’s Tail

Monkey’s Tail

Northside Village

Indoor-outdoor hangout with Mexican-American spunk
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 hottest and 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 creamy, rum-spiked Three Milks and the habanero vodka and spiced rum-smooched Brass Monkey. Use them to wash down smashed Chango burgers and barbacoa pizza.

Two Headed Dog

Midtown

Serious cocktails and an unstuffy dive atmosphere
From a duo of barkeeps behind decade-old institution Grand Prize Bar (the oh-so skillful Billy Boyd and Lindsay Rae) comes this low-key cocktail dive, a mosh pit of expertly crafted libations and oddball fun. Sidle up to the bar or grab a seat in the quiet indoor space, or go outside to sit under the string lights as you sip drinks laced with things like tequila and aloe, smoked rum and coconut water, and hibiscus, gin, and citrusy “wizard’s stuff” (Rae makes a lot of the syrups and accompanying drink ingredients herself).

Secret Garden

Downtown

The most beautiful place for a drink in town
Outside of Bravery Chef Hall and 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 tiny, striking glass greenhouse engulfed in lush plants and flowers. It’s easily the best place to grab a stiff date night cocktail… that is, if you can snag one of the coveted seats. If not, you can always saunter out to the 2,000-square-foot patio. Gallardo’s modern plays on classic cocktails come with flair to match the enchanting setting, with signature flower branding for the ice blocks and candied citrus accoutrements.

the toasted coconut low tide cocktail
Courtesy of The Toasted Coconut

The Toasted Coconut

Montrose

Full-service tiki bar and kitchen invites you to get toasted
The team behind Nobie’s has brought mad vacation vibes to Montrose with this latest venture, which houses an outdoor palapa, tiki waterfall, and a neighboring “adult sandbox.” Get toasted on punny, boozy cocktails (like the Mermen, with Aquavit, blue curaçao, ginger, passionfruit, and lemon) from bar director and tiki enthusiast Sarah Troxell; and share tropical accompaniments like ginger pork dumplings and coconut shrimp skewers.

Social Beer Garden HTX

Midtown

Quintessential beer garden rocking movie nights, food trucks, and brunch
If string lights and views of the Downtown skyline aren’t enough to draw you to this sociable watering hole, perhaps the hammock garden, pup-friendly patio, and vintage arcade games will. The new-to-2019 beer garden houses two stories inside, where you’ll find those arcade games, pool tables, 35+ taps, and a second-story patio. Outside, a lineup of food trucks, picnic tables, and Adirondack chairs (oh yeah, and the hammocks) keep things super comforting. Stop in for steak and movie nights, trivia sessions, and Sunday Funday brunch.

ALL-TIME BEST

Kanaloa

Downtown

Fun-loving tiki bar bringing the Aloha spirit to the heart of Downtown
Tikiphiles can get their fix at this island-style rhum bar over in Market Square Park. Sip from a laundry list of tiki classics -- we’re talking Mai Tais, Pain Killers, and Zombies galore, complete with all the proper tiki fixins. If you show up with a bunch of friends, go for a giant, over-the-top shareable like the made-for-two Couples Therapy (in which Guatemalan rum is hit with apricot and banana liqueur) or the Treasure Chest, a whopping multi-rum and Champagne number that’ll serve a dozen of y’all for a cool $300.

One Armed Scissor

Downtown

The OSA team turns up the volume with a new EP
Originally located in the Heights-area next to Hughie’s on North Main (where it developed a cult following), this righteous and fun cocktail dive found a new home a stone’s throw from Market Square in Downtown. Owner Michael Molina earned his barkeep chops at spots like Wooster’s Garden and Moving Sidewalk, and he’s combined that expertise with his standard of impeccable service for the bar’s funky, triumphant rebirth. Choose from a short-but-sweet list of playfully named cocktails including The Working Title, a Plantation Dark Pineapple number splashed with lime, angostura, and piloncillo cane sugar; and the Thai Dolla $ign, with Citadelle gin, Thai basil, and crème de cassis. Each one is $10 a pop and sits alongside rotating beers, chalkboard specials, and “bonus tracks” like off-the-wall G&Ts and rye whiskey Mountain Dews.

the pastry war
Julie Soefer Photography

The Pastry War

Downtown

A tongue-in-cheek mezcaleria with the best Mexican spirits list in Texas
You’ll find exactly zero pastries at this best-in-show mezcalería, which began as a passion project to champion only mezcaleros and distillers using traditional methods to make agave spirits. That passion is still there, but the past couple of years have brought a more fun, lighthearted focus to the bar, with a recharged menu that zeros in on delicious, juice-forward cocktails influenced by the culinary aspects of Mexican culture. Drinks like the Bandolier-- a Bonded Bourbon, Vermouth, Averna, fig and cinnamon twist on a classic with “everything you need to arm yourself for a good night” -- sit alongside the house favorite Margaritas de la Casa, spiked with either habanero and serrano, strawberry balsamic, or blackberry and ancho and chipotle peppers.

the hay merchant
Julie Soefer Photography

The Hay Merchant

Montrose

A beer nerd’s dream world, complete with crispy pig ear snacks
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 beeks 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.

okra charity saloon
Julie Soefer Photography

OKRA Charity Saloon

Downtown

Where you can wet your whistle for charity
Spending your hard-earned cash on drinks becomes easier when you know you’re drinking for a cause. Enter OKRA Charity Saloon, a non-profit 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.

anvil bar
Julie Soefer Photography

Anvil Bar & Refuge

Montrose

The OG of Houston’s craft cocktail scene with a groundbreaking bottle program 
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.

13 celsius
VJ ARIZPE/Courtesy of 13 Celsius

13 Celsius

Midtown

Your go-to date spot for wine, charcuterie, and hip charm
Winos should head straight for this European-style enoteca, which recently celebrated its 13th anniversary. Housed in a swanky '20s-era building that makes for the perfect 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.

Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirits Lodge

Downtown

Masterful old-style cocktails in the heart of Downtown
Justin Burrow stacks his narrow Downtown stunner with what may be the widest selection of interesting spirits outside of Anvil (he was one of the original partners there, not surprisingly). Though the interior is dark and moody, the vibe is casual and friendly, with boozed-up, old-style cocktails laced with elderflower and spiced wine syrup. On nice nights, they are best enjoyed on the balcony with a view down Main, though on quiet nights, chatting with the ever-talented staff behind the bar is equally as refreshing.

julep
Julie Soefer Photography

Julep

Washington

Channeling old Southern grandeur with oysters and juleps
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.

Axelrad Beer Garden

Midtown

Where you can drink beer and eat pizza in a hammock
Hammocks and beer. Could a lazy afternoon get any better than that? It can here, because there are also bar 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. Bonus: You can get a 5% discount by coming on foot, via bike, or by ride-sharing (basically any way of transport besides driving yourself).

Public Services Wine & Whisky

Downtown

Go classy with wine and whiskey off Downtown’s Market Square
When a James Beard Award-winning chef (Justin Yu) teams up with a master sommelier (Justin Vann) to open a whisky-fueled side project, you pay it a visit. But not just once. In fact, you should find yourself constantly frequenting this wine and cocktail bar, housed on the first floor of the 1884 Cotton Exchange building. Sink into the plush sofas to embark on a classy buzz off Justin Vann’s boutique selection of hard-to-find Old World wines and New World classics, plus ciders, beers, and simple tinctures that you can sneak in as you please. When you’re hungry, nibble on ace bar snacks curated by Yu’s Theodore Rex.

West Alabama Ice House

Montrose

A low-key watering hole that channels Houston’s essence 
This throwback ice house was around before refrigerators became an “it” thing to do. Open 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.

eight row flint
Joshua Black Wilkins

Eight Row Flint

The Greater Heights

A relaxing modern ice house with whiskey and tacos
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. Named after the heirloom corn that was the first corn ever distilled into whiskey in the US, 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. Food comes from the food truck, with the menu created by Agricole’s other half, Chef Ryan Pera. 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. Look out for the the bar’s seasonal events, from crawfish boils to a weekly outdoor cooking series.

Reserve 101
Rebecca Wright

Reserve 101

Downtown

Ground zero for whiskey and cocktail enthusiasts
The decade-old favorite is known for a roster of whiskeys that goes unrivaled in the city. Sip on selections from far and wide, including East, West, and Mid-Coast varieties, and an entire library dedicated to the ruckus juice of Kentucky. All that, plus international blends from Scotland to Japan. The expert staff also gives its cocktail list seasonal facelifts, mixing up bold, seriously boozy creations alongside special tastings to keep your experience perfectly on point. Pay it a visit to see why we once named it the best whiskey bar in Texas.

Johnny’s Gold Brick
Kirsten Gilliam

Johnny's Gold Brick

Heights

A Heights hangout with 10 classics and a well-versed library of spirits
The guys behind Grand Prize Bar and Moving Sidewalk opened this vintage neighborhood joint just a few years back, but it still hits 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 ‘90s inspired “Craze of ’94” -- a wintry riff on a classic with rye whiskey, spiced syrup, creme de cacao, and mole bitters -- 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.

Wooster’s Garden
Courtesy of Wooster’s Garden

Wooster's Garden

Midtown

Giving Midtown’s party scene a much-needed kick of class
Though it’s had just a few years under its belt, this relaxed craft cocktail and beer garden feels like it’s always been a part of the Midtown scene. We don’t know what’s better: the fact that it 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 -- made with a kiss of cinnamon, molasses, and straight-up bourbon -- that will put any shot you’ve taken in the past to complete shame.

tongue-cut sparrow
Julie Soefer Photography

Tongue-Cut Sparrow

Downtown

High-class, formal cocktail bar with a secret(ish) entrance
Thought Houston was missing a formal cocktail bar experience? So did mixology mastermind Bobby Heugel, who quietly opened this gem in early 2017. Housed in a nearly 120-year-old building and accessed through a staircase in the back of The Pastry War, the 25-seat space offers 15 cocktails (Japanese highballs, swizzles, and Sazeracs), plus a handful of beer and wine selections; and it does so with the highest level of service -- think top-tier, chilled glassware, complimentary house snacks and hot towels, and bowls of hard candies with your check. Behind the bar, you’ll find the city’s top, fresh-faced talent. Reservations are accepted, with around half the seats kept available for walk-ins.

Lei Low Bar
Lei Low Bar

Lei Low Bar

The Greater Heights

Fan-favorite tiki bar that will have you screaming “Okole Maluna!"
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!”

better luck tommorrow
Jenn Duncan

Better Luck Tomorrow

Heights

Neighborhood hangout with an all star cast and great cocktails and food to match
A whole bunch of notable industry folk (including Anvil’s Bobby Heugel, Theodore Rex’s Justin Yu, and talent like Terry Williams, Alex Negranza, and Justin Vann) came together in Avengers-like fashion to open this neon-lit neighborhood hangout back in 2017. 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.

Heights Bier Garten & Worcester's Annex

Heights

Where you’re bringing your dog and co-workers for day drinks
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 courtyard with plenty of shaded benches, 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.

King’s BierHaus
Courtesy of King’s BierHaus

King's BierHaus

Heights

A German Disneyland where the party is as extra as the mugs
An offshoot of King’s Biergarten in Pearland (and a much cooler one at that), this 400-seat, 9,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor watering hole takes a much more modern approach than the original, mixing King’s signature liters and wursts with German-American tastes and turning the space into an adult playground of sorts. Think giant communal tables, corn hole, ping pong, live bands, 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.

Cottonwood

Garden Oaks/Oak Forest

Pup-friendly favorite where it’s always patio season
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 and crawfish boils to corn hole and 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), stay for more of said enviable selection of beverages because you’re probably going to be here for a while, and it’s almost impossible to have just one. If you get hungry, get a burger stuffed with poblanos and sloppily stacked with bacon, chiles, cheese, and a fried egg.

Truck Yard

EaDo

Kitschy outdoor hangout with live music and a boozy ferris wheel
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 (pay $10 and you’ll get a spin and a drink). Snag some open truck-bed seating or an umbrella-shaded picnic table and laze the day away with trash can punch, strawberry spritz, and mojitos, mules and margs on draft. When the weather doesn’t mesh with sitting in the yard, there’s covered patio seating and an indoor bar (which also houses a Philly cheesesteak food court). Bonus for those with babies and fur-babies, the bar is kid-friendly till 9pm and pet-friendly all night.

Holman Draft Hall

Midtown

Impossibly cool draughthouse with 100 temperature-controlled taps
Wooster Garden and Heights Bier Garten’s youngest sibling may be the best-looking of the bunch. Set in the old VrSi space, the cool, indoor/outdoor bar is sittin’ pretty with sky-high ceilings and windows, a mini second-story terrace, gorgeous pavilion, and a wealth of seating wrapped around the place (including plush velvet couches and swings). Join the crowd to indulge in a lineup of 100 craft beer and wine taps -- all controlled in a three-zone cooler to get you a properly crisp pilsner or cellar-temp Cab Franc -- plus frozen cocktails courtesy of Wooster’s. Food and shareable snacks will help you stay longer, from tandoori nachos to bulgogi beef burritos.

Ralph Smith Studios/Goodnight Charlie’s

Goodnight Charlie’s

Montrose

A bourbon-fueled honky-tonk with late-night tacos and Houston soul
You’ll need to bring your dancing (and drinking) shoes to this new honky-tonk, the first in a lineup of Goodnight Hospitality establishments taking over lower Westheimer (there’s also modern bistro Rosie Cannonball, wine shop and bar Montrose Cheese and Wine, and an intimate Mediterranean spot opening in 2020, March). Alongside its lineup of Texas craft brews and fine bourbons is a list of simple but not-so-basic highballs and stirred drinks -- from an Espolòn Blanco tequila-infused Ranch Water to the Horse’s Neck, a drink made with Goodnight Charlie’s Elijah Craig 11-year Bourbon and housemade ginger beer. Wet your whistle, try your hand at the Texas two-step, and finish the evening with lamb barbacoa tacos and five-leches funnel cake.

Little Woodrow's Houston
Courtesy of Little Woodrow's Houston

Little Woodrow’s Midtown

Midtown

Easygoing patio bar at the heart of Houston’s central party zone
This well-known party spot has changed a lot over the years, first adding a full liquor license after operating as beer-only joint, and now getting some much needed botox, transforming its patio space into an absolute outdoor oasis for those 21+. Fun swing seating, life-size Connect Four, and plenty of outdoor misters keep things cool outside year-round, while the fully-stocked indoor bar has all the provisions you’ll need. And don’t miss turtle racing season running every Thursday night, beginning in early March and going through fall.

Present Company

Montrose

A funky, scenic patio bar with decor as bright and fun as its drinks
Fun times are in your future at Present Company, the hot-to-trot haunt set in the totally revamped Royal Oak space on Westheimer. The kitschy vibes will take you straight to Palm Springs, with chandeliers, neon signage, palms, and flamingos abound and a large backyard vertical garden that will assuredly snap a selfie in front of. Festive drinks (including two refreshing numbers served in LaCroix cans) sit alongside rotating frozens, beers, and wines; while shareable foods like bar pies to truffle fries come from The Burger Joint chef Matt Pak.

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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who doesn’t discriminate against types of bars. Find her championing wine, beer, and whiskey on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @brookeviggiano.