Where to Grab a Drink in Houston Right Now

From flashy cocktail dens and beer meccas to a bar built for trash pandas.

Night Shift
Night Shift | Photo by Justin Bowers
Night Shift | Photo by Justin Bowers

Whether you like to booze it up big or stick to the light stuff, there’s never been a better time to unwind at a Houston wateringhole. Not only are we getting over a rough year and currently sitting upon the perch of prime weather season, but the bar scene in Houston is just so damn exciting right now. From cult favorite establishments that are thankfully back up and running to hot newcomers bringing a refreshing take on traditional service, here’s where to imbibe in H-town.

Night Shift
Photo by Justin Bowers

Night Shift

East End

This buzzy passion project comes from talented hospitality vets Justin Ware (who managed Johnny’s Gold Brick for years) and Patrick Abolos (a top ten placeholder of the United States Bartenders Guild World Class Competition), offering a much-needed escape for hard-working Houstonians. There’s a stiff, seasonally rotating cocktail menu to help with that—smashes, swizzles, mules, and more—plus dope additions like a roof deck overlooking downtown and a ceiling with controllable LED uplighting that can change up the vibe on demand. Eats come from chef Danny Leal, who takes inspiration from his Mexican heritage to craft bites that’ll fuel you well into the night (last call for food isn’t until 1:45 am).
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.

Space Cowboy
Photo by Dylan Scardino

One of the greatest upsides of living in Houston is that pool season stretches well into fall (and possibly even winter). Enter this poolside bar and lounge concept, which sits over at the reimagined Heights House Hotel and comes from industry pros Greg Perez (Monkey’s Tail) and chef-partner Lyle Bento (Underbelly, Southern Goods). Former Monkey's Tail bartenders Samantha Ruiz and Karen Cervantes oversee the bar operations, stirring up super fun and quirky tropical drinks to match Bento’s island-style fare. Sip cocktails like the crushable rum, passionfruit, and ginger-kissed Sun Soaked on Montie Beach, get refreshed with a house-infused banana rum, whiskey, and papaya popsicle-spiked Comin’ 2gether, and score a pool pass for $20 so you can enjoy it all from the comforts of a cabana (or just stick to the open-access bar and lounge).
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Shoot the Moon

Spring Branch

Fresh on the scene, this highly anticipated choose-and-pour tasting tavern comes from longtime beer guy Kevin Floyd (known for establishing Hay Merchant’s killer program). Those who have gotten used to not having to interact with actual humans over the past year will love the setup: Show up, check in with a team member to say a brief “hey there” and open a tab, and you’ll take care of the drinks from there via your newly minted, self-pour access card. There are over 80 selections of beer, wine, cocktails, and liquor on draft or in bottles, plus higher-end mixers and sodas from the vending machine. If this bar ain’t the future, we don’t know what is.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

We may have said goodbye to the beloved OKRA Charity Saloon, but it really just reincarnated into Angel Share. New owner Mary Ellen Angel was a longtime general manager of the saloon, and the bar will continue on with one of OKRA’s most important features: donating a portion of its proceeds (this time, from a special menu) to a different local nonprofit each month. You can even help choose which organization gets selected by earning a vote with each food and bev purchase. It’s a bar on a mission, and that mission is best served with› a drink in hand.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Trash Panda Drinking Club
Photo by Dylan Scardino

Trash Panda Drinking Club

Northside Village

This second concept from Night Moves Hospitality (the minds behind Space Cowboy, also on this list) just opened up in Lindale Park. Owner Greg Perez and chef Lyle Bento teamed up with former Edison & Patton’s Chris Manriquez to revamp the place into a grungy cocktailery, the kind of spot that makes you channel your inner raccoon for the night (the bar’s official slogan is displayed in bright neon letters on the wall: “Death is Coming, Eat Trash, Be Free”). Get loose with the carbonated Purple Kush, or a Bubblegum Martini made with Brooklyn gin, green Chartreuse, and “bubblegum broth,” while noshing on snacks like tacos and fried crab claws.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Downtown is back, y’all. The epicenter of Houston was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, especially in the hospitality sector, as we saw many of our favorite hangouts completely shutter for the better part of a year. One of the sadly departed was this badass mezcaleria, but we’re happy to report its comeback is going down as smoothly as its top shelf sippers. Head here for the best Mexican spirits list in Texas, plus cócteles de la casa like the tomatillo- and poblano-kissed Poblano Problems or a smoked salt-rimmed mezcal margarita.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Roots Wine Bar
Roots Wine Bar | @rootshtx

This hidden gem 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.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

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.

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 tiny 10-seat concept comes from the team behind neighboring hand roll joint, Hando, which it shares a door with, 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 hype.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

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 book: Reserve via Resy or order take-out via Toast.

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 cocktail experience sits just eight guests around the white stone-topped bar with room for an additional 12 available throughout the space. Those who want to add on bites can turn to the new pintxos menu from burger-chan guru Willet Feng.
How to book: Reserve via 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 our ever-changing weather, 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 Tequila & Mexican Coke Highball or Dragon Fruit Margarita. Industry legend Lainey Collum is now the bar director, so you can expect excitement in the cocktail menu.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.

Outside of Bravery Chef Hall at Aris Market Square lies this not-so-secret garden, where you’ll find barkeep 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 tipple, 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 book: Stop by for counter-service and seating.

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 a rotating list of 80 taps, an 80-deep bottle list, and five cask selections for that), but you’ll find more than just beer geeks at this standout watering hole. There’s also a refreshingly cool cocktail program with drinks on tap, stirred, and frozen; and an addictive stable of pub fare that soars way above the average. Pair your Hop-a-licious, Sour and Funky, and Oddly Delicious beers with sweet and spicy fried pig ears, Korean braised goat, dumplings from the late Underbelly, and one of the best double cheeseburgers in town.
How book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out and delivery via Toast.

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 a number of 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 book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.

13 Celsius
VJ Arizpe / 13 Celsius

13 Celsius

Midtown

Winos should make a beeline for this European-style enoteca. Stashed in a swanky '20s-era building with a charming patio that makes for the perfect romantic 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 book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Julep
Julep | Photo courtesy of Julie Soefer Photography

Julep

Washington

Housed in an industrial 1880s uniform factory and making Houstonians swoon since 2014, this Southern charmer just got a little more exciting, crafting its first original menu since the pandemic began. 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—bold Sazeracs, hot and sour Creole rums, and new cocktails focused on migrant ingredients like the cardamom-infused Ela Milk Punch. Slurp your drinks alongside fancy picnic platters featuring Murder Point oysters, Toulouse sausage, Magnol French Baking baguettes, and house butter.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out online.

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 book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

This throwback ice house was around before household refrigerators became an “it” appliance. 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 instant respect. Expect all walks of Houstonian life sharing tables and laughs, from bikers and CrossFitters to some old guy rocking the hell out of a Fu Manchu.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

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 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 Berkshire carnitas tacos to Sonora dogs that pair perfectly with house margs. If you’re over in EaDo, check out sibling establishment and breezy cocktail emporium Miss Carousel, where the vibe is domestic-chic, the drinks are seriously tasty, and the patio space leaves picturesque fall nights wanting for nothing.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.

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. Drink it all in and look out for happenings like half-priced cocktails and pop-up steak nights on Facebook.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

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 strewn with hula girls, naked mermaids, and bursts of real flames. You’re not a local until you’ve said “Okole maluna!” to 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 book: Stop by for counter-service or order take-out via RevelUp.

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 Avengers-style 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 alongside specials like half-priced burgers by way of the equal parts crispy, beefy, juicy, and euphoric “Party Melts” at the bar after 9 pm.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.

This twin-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, swing seating, fire pits, and a packed crowd getting down on saisons, IPAs, and smoky mezcal- and bourbon-spiked numbers (as well as pork shank platters with 'nduja). Serious efforts are taken to keep things cool, in both the theoretical sense—stylish aesthetics, a dog-friendly patio, boozy brunches—and literal sense—there’s a three-sectioned temperature-controlled cooler in the bier garten and a crystal clear ice maker in the cocktail den. Drinking over in Midtown? Check out equally-as-stunning sibling watering holes Wooster’s Garden and Holman Draft Hall.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

King's Bierhaus
Courtesy of King's BierHaus

This 400-seat, 9,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor watering hole is pretty much an adult Disneyland—if Disneyland were in beer-crazed Germany. You’ll find ample seating throughout, plus fun stuff like live bands, a trickling stream, giant beer pretzels, boot-shaped steins and shot-skis, and a world-class selection of beers (a blend of German, local, and general import), whiskies, specialty cocktails, and German and Austrian wines. Also part of the show? The largest collection of authentic schnapps in Texas.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.

Cottonwood

Garden Oaks/Oak Forest

Any old time is the perfect time to hit up 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 (and scrumptiously) stacked with bacon, chiles, cheese, and a fried egg.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

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, the covered patio seating has your back alongside an indoor bar. Bonus for those with babies and fur-babies—the bar is kid-friendly till 9 pm and pet-friendly all night long.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

We’re guessing you could use a vacation right about 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 transport you straight to Palm Springs. Festive drinks (including refreshingly boozy spins on LaCroix served in the can) sit alongside rotating frozen concoctions, beers, and wines, while classic shareables like nachos, pizzas, and truffle fries keep folks sated. Also, brunch.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served 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.