Sometimes, you go to a bar for fancy cocktails. Other times, you go for fancy craft beers and burgers. Then there are the times when you just want to sit in near-darkness eating stale popcorn and listening to war stories as you sip cheap yellow beers poured by a lifelong bartender who calls you "hon." So that you’ll never be stuck searching for a bar on those nights, we’ve assembled Houston’s best, diviest drinking spots for you to set up your home away from home.
Est. 2010 | Downtown A beachy oasis (with Jell-O shots) in the middle of Downtown Remember that one friend in school who had way cooler parents than yours, and had a tiki bar and ping-pong table in his basement? That’s pretty much what Sunny’s is like. You’ll feel strangely cool throwing down 10 bucks for a 10-pack of Jello shots for everyone else at the bar, and then there’s the “secret” Ray Charles Shot, where owner/bartender Sunny will have you close your eyes and throw three ice cubes at the liquor shelf. Whatever three bottles you hit, that’s what you’re drinking tonight.
Est. 1996 | Downtown The only place where you can find rock shows, slam poetry, and chess Its name is Houston spelled backwards, and that’s about the only thing that makes sense at this oddball, sketchy in-a-fantastic-way watering hole. To enter, you’ll need to look past the giant neon Clark’s clothing store and make your way inside for a night o’ fun. Slam poetry, underground rock shows, and “inspired” art installations are just some of the shenanigans going down on any given night. Buy cheap booze and be really nice (ie, tip well and be chill), and the bartenders may even let you smoke inside.
Est. 1984 | Heights Cash-only watering hole where frosty Lone Star and Shiner flow freely You don’t go to a dive for a fancy double IPA or a craft cocktail; you go for cheap booze, and that’s about it. Alice’s two taps pour frosty Lone Star and Shiner into colossal, 18-ounce goblets, and though there’s other stuff on offer, that’s about all everyone drinks. Shoot some pool, listen to old-school country on the jukebox, and be blissfully unbothered for however long you decide to stay.
Est. 1982 | Montrose Unapologetically gritty haunt in one of Houston’s trendiest ‘hoods There may be a little bit of a real-life Hoarders situation going on inside this seemingly normal looking house, but that’s just part of its charm. The bartenders are like family, especially on a slow night, and they’ve been that way for over 30 years. The punky drinking hole gets extra “we don’t give a crap“ points for continuing to serve drinks out of cheap plastic cups in an increasingly “green” world.
Est. 2014 | Oak Forest Modern dive with cheap beer, fancier beer, and sangria If there were such a thing as a “new school” dive bar, it’d be this basic neighborhood haunt that slings beers both cheap and fancy, plus tasty liquor and -- in their words -- “above-average” wine. The sprawling patio is the best place to escape that Oak Forest ‘burb life, though you’ll do well hanging inside with the pool table, jukebox, and arcade games, too.
Est. 2004 | Montrose The place for pinball and American whiskey Some say dive bars can’t sell nice booze, like a crazy good collection of American whiskey, for example. But we say that’s BS -- because that’s exactly what this swill-slinging hole does. And you’ll be just as welcome to partake in said whiskey as you would be in cheap Lone Stars. Vintage pinball machines and chill back patio complete with a giant Kool-Aid man out back contribute to the glamorously unglamorous feels that draw in the old, the young, and the restless.
Est. 1979 | Downtown Timeless hub rocking a cast of characters a few blocks from the Greyhound station A lot of people say a dive bar should remind you of a Greyhound station, so the fact that this suspect-looking dive bar is just a few blocks down from one makes it pretty legit. It may be the kind of place where you’re kinda scared to stay too long, but that just makes it all the more spectacular. Grab a pitcher of cheap beer and make friends with some pretty interesting folk.
Est. 1928 | Montrose A throwback to less complicated days with cold brews and a neighboring taco truck You’ll find all walks of life at this throwback ice house, which has been keeping Houston refreshed since way before air conditioning was a thing. Back in 1928, locals frequented the spot to get ice blocks and a couple of cold ones before heading home for the day. The open air bar and sprawling patio is so chill, you’ll find hipsters sharing tables with bikers and frat types. It’s the kind of thing that can only happen when you’re happily full of ice-cold beers and tacos from the nearby Tacos Tierra Caliente truck.
Est. 2012 | Montrose Unfussy sports bar meets wacky late-night karaoke spot Sure, PJ’s calls itself a sports bar. But when you combine a just-okay TV situation, a steady stream of potlucking locals, and a no frills attitude, this neighborhood spot falls more in line with a classic dive. Things get lively on Friday nights (and now Wednesdays), when the karaoke upstairs is downright impressive -- at least, it seems that way after you’ve had a few Jell-O shots.
Est. 1995 | Montrose Jazzy joint with Lone Star and Jagermeister on happy hour special If taking down tasty cold beverages and questionable popcorn in a neon-blue glowing room with non-stop ‘40s and older jazz and blues is your thing (and why wouldn’t it be?), this is your spot. Did we mention Happy Hour is everyday from 3-7pm, and that questionable popcorn is FREE? Hit this lower Westheimer haunt to experience old-school cool at its finest.
Est. 2009 | East End Quintessential Texas dive with early morning hours every damn day This bizarre East End enigma opens up early, which is the first clue that it’s perhaps Houston’s finest example of a true dive bar (in a building that’s been around since operating as an icehouse in the ‘40s). The second clue is the cheap drinks (duh), and the third is decor that looks like something out of That '70s Show... set in the country... on acid. Zero cover for live music most nights keeps the iconic boozery stacked with a steady crowd.
Est. 2008 | Heights Good beer. Good times. Normal-screen TVs. Though Houstonians let out a collective gasp when almost lost this off-the-beaten-path drink stop for good earlier this year, its landlords decided not to sell the place. For now, you can still join the friendly crowd for frosty Lone Stars and Fireball nightcaps on the patio, whether you’re sweating at a picnic table with your pup or warming up by the firepit during Houston’s short-lived “winter.”
Est. 2015 | East End Spunky concert venue and dive rocking an underground vibe It may be a little early to give this young gun bar and concert venue “best dive” status, but we have a good feeling this one is in it for the long haul. Why? Because it boasts a cooler full of cheap and delicious beers, IKEA lamps that open up like the Death Star, and the same excellent DIY music scene that gained House of Creeps a cult following. There’s also a food truck out back, and a Whataburger, and sweet looking taqueria next door, so…
Est. 2017 | East End New-age dive experience from local industry vets From the minds behind favorite watering holes including Grand Prize Bar, Sassafras, and Big Star Bar, this old-fashioned ice house is Houston’s next greatest dive destination. Cheap beers, shandies, and a full liquor selection rule the roost, while dim lighting, punk and metal playlists, and a chill-ass patio complete with vibe.
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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston writer who loves her some war stories and Death Star lamps. She’s also pretty sure she left off your favorite dive, so let her know which @BrookeViggiano.