The 16 Best Dive Bars in Houston
From throwback ice houses to back alley pool halls.
Houston’s bar scene has something for everyone, from high-end cocktail lounges where the bartenders are dressed better than your average wedding guest to dingy dives where the beer is cheap and the food program is stale popcorn. Today, we’re focusing on the latter—those dimly lit, lovable watering holes that bring character and a steady stream of cold drinks to neighborhoods all over Houston.
These 16 outposts represent some of the very best dives around. Grab a seat, keep your order simple, and chat up the friendly regulars who blend seamlessly into the worn decor.
Some people say dive bars can’t sell top shelf spirits. Those people clearly haven’t been to Poison Girl, which stocks an impressive collection of American whiskey while wholly maintaining its grit. Despite the upmarket booze, you’re just as welcome to partake in said whiskey as you are to crush Lone Stars all night long. Vintage pinball machines and a chill back patio with a giant Kool-Aid man prop contribute to a unique ambiance that draws in both the cool kids and the neighborhood barflies.
This bizarre East End enigma opens up early and stands as one of the city’s finest examples of a tried-and-true dive bar. It’s housed in a building that once operated as an ice house in the ‘40s, which lends it some street cred. The drinks are cheap (a recurring theme among these joints), and the decor looks like something out of That '70s Show… set out in the country… and on acid.
You’ll find all walks of life at this throwback ice house, which has been keeping Houston fully refreshed since way before air conditioning was even a thing. Back in 1928, locals swung by the spot to load up on ice blocks and a couple cold ones before heading home for the day. The open air bar and sprawling patio beckon folks from all walks of life, from the tragically hip to leather-clad bikers, and many an unlikely friendship has been forged in the cauldron of icy beers and tacos from the nearby Tacos Tierra Caliente truck.
If there were such a thing as a “new school” dive bar, it’d be this no-frills neighborhood haunt slinging beers both cheap and fancy, plus tasty liquor and—in their words—“above-average” wine. The sprawling patio is always a good place to hunker down with drinks in hand, though you can’t go wrong inside with the pool table, jukebox, and arcade games.
From the minds behind watering hole favorites like Grand Prize Bar, Sassafras, and Big Star Bar, this old-fashioned ice house is one of Houston’s newer divey destinations. Cheap beers, shandies, and a full liquor selection line the back bar, while dim lighting, punk and metal playlists, and a comfortable patio round things out.
Remember that one friend in school who had way cooler parents than yours, the kind of parents that might stash a Tiki bar and ping-pong table in the basement? Well, that’s Sunny’s. You’ll feel strangely at home throwing down 10 bucks for a 10-pack of Jello shots or cracking a couple $2 beers before lighting the world ablaze with your karaoke falsetto. Then there’s the “secret” (and not exactly PC) Ray Charles Shot, where owner-bartender Sunny has you close your eyes and throw three ice cubes at the liquor shelf. Whatever three bottles you hit, that’s what you’re drinking. Bon chance.
There are divier dives than Hunters.—Hell, the bar grills up pork chops and ribeyes on Thursday nights. But that grilling occurs out back, not, like, in a proper inhouse kitchen. More bonafides come via its tucked-away stripmall location, bare-bones interior, and bargain-priced beverages. Kill some time with a bucket of beers and some shuffleboard, or head out back to the covered patio to watch the game.
Big Star Bar promises cheap beer, retro TVs, a jukebox, and lots of room to dance. Score a table inside or tote your tipple out to the large patio, where you can sun yourself at a picnic table during summer and warm up by the firepit during Houston’s short-lived “winter.” Whatever the season, prepare to see a cat or two—the friendly felines roaming outside the bar are usually amenable to a head scratch, but they’re not above stealing your seat.
You don’t have to care about whatever game’s taking over the television to enjoy yourself at PJ’s. The friendly stream of locals walking through the door will keep you entertained, as will the cheap booze and casual atmosphere. Things turn lively on Wednesday and Friday nights when karaoke’s in session, so grab a pitcher and work up the courage to join in.
The Shiloh Club’s black-and-white-checked floor has seen some things during its time. The bar is one of the neighborhood’s original treasures, serving up good drinks and friendly vibes for decades. The prices may have increased slightly over the years, but they’re still unreasonably reasonable. The weekday happy hour starts at 10 am and features $2 well drinks, while each day brings something unique, from discounted craft beers on Mondays to $4 glasses of wine on Saturdays.
This friendly, stripmall dive is an area go-to for cold drinks, solid jukebox jams, and karaoke. The bartenders hold court behind the sunken bar, doling out beers with a side of convivial conversation—don’t be alarmed when someone inevitably asks your name. And if you’re starting early, they serve a daily lunch special—think hot dogs, potato soup, Swedish meatballs—for just a few bucks.
The first thing to know about Blue Lagoon: It opens at 10 am. The second thing to know about Blue Lagoon: There’s a sign above the bar that reads, “No pissy attitudes.” So, show up early and smiling, ready to greet the bartender before placing your order (a shot and a beer will be met with an approving nod). Then put a couple dollars in the jukebox, play some pool, and check out the hundreds of pictures lining the walls (we’re talking hard copy photographs, friends) depicting scores of customers in their natural habitat.
Mad Bull Club
If you find yourself in Northwest Houston, lost and wandering among the manufacturing and wholesale businesses in search of a cozy dive to quench your thirst, you might think you’re in the wrong place. But if you’re lucky enough to spot the beige rectangle reading Mad Bull, you’re good to go. The simple, neighborhood bar might be off the beaten path, but it draws crowds for darts, pool, shuffleboard, and, of course, the requisite bill of cheap drinks.
If taking down cold brews and questionable popcorn in a glowing, neon-blue room with non-stop throwback jazz and blues coming over the airwaves is your thing, then this old-school joint is right up your alley. Happy hour runs every day from 3 to 7 pm, the booze selection is surprisingly solid, and said questionable popcorn is free, so there’s really no reason to pass by without stopping in for a drink. Which, if history is any indication, will turn into multiple drinks.
When people talk about Lola’s, they use words like “eclectic” and “charming.” And they’re not wrong. Inside the purple house on Grant Street, you’ll find worn furniture and walls plastered with stickers and band art, all bathed in the glow of neon beer signs. Play some pool between rounds, put a couple songs on the jukebox, then grab a seat at a picnic table outside when you need some air. The bartenders here are fixtures of the community, pushing strong pours in plastic cups like vestiges of a bygone era.
Lone Star Saloon’s location next to the light rail and bus station makes it both convenient and prone to attracting an interesting mix of clientele. The iconic Texas-shaped sign above the bar lures curious passersby inside, while the low-cost drinks keep them there. It’s all too easy to park yourself on a red stool next to a grizzled regular and lose track of time while immersed in this delightful, windowless hole-in-the-wall.