Food & Drink

The Best Dive Bars in Houston

Published On 01/26/2016 Published On 01/26/2016
Sam Davenport/Thrillist (edited)

Sometimes, you go to a bar for fancy cocktails. Other times, you go for the most popular craft beers and burgers topped with things like bacon and foie. And 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 that 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 where you should make a home away from home.

Sunny’s

Downtown

Remember that one friend in HS 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 the “secret” Ray Charles Shot? It’s all together bonkers. 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, fool.

Notsuoh

Notsuoh

Downtown

It’s name is Houston spelled backwards, you guys. And that’s about the only thing that makes sense at this oddball watering hole. Slam poetry, underground rock shows, and “inspired” art installations (did you happen to catch the ‘Bloody Whore Murder Party’ painting?) 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.

Alice's Tall Texan

The Heights

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. And though there’s other stuff, too, that’s about all everyone drinks. Hit the icon to shoot some pool, listen to old-school country on the jukebox, and be blissfully unbothered for however long you decide to stay.

Lola's Depot

Lola’s Depot

Montrose

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 gritty drinking hole gets extra “we don’t give a crap“ points for continuing to serve drinks out of cheap plastic cups in an ever ‘going green’ world.

Sassafras Salon

Sassafras

Oak Forest

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.

Flickr/D.L.

Poison Girl

Montrose

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.

Lone Star Saloon

Fourth Ward

A lot of people say a dive bar should remind you of a Greyhound station. The fact that this suspect looking dive bar is just a few blocks down from one means one thing and one thing only: it is 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.

West Alabama Ice House

West Alabama Ice House

Montrose

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. Open 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.

Flickr/Reggie Bibbs

PJ’s Sports Bar

Montrose

Sure, PJ’s calls itself a sports bar. But when you combine a not really great 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, when the karaoke upstairs is downright impressive. At least, it seems that way after you’ve had a few Jell-O shots.

Flickr/Andy Walker

Jimmie’s Ice House

Heights

Don’t expect any bells and whistles at this White Oak stalwart. Just beat-up picnic tables, unapologetic bartenders, regulars who won’t look you in the eye, and cheap, ice-cold brews. It’s exactly the way a dive should be.

Catbirds

Catbirds

Montrose

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 3pm-8pm, and that questionable popcorn is FREE?

D&W Lounge

East End

This East End enigma opens up first thing in the morning for coffee plant workers getting off the late shift, which is the first clue that it’s perhaps Houston’s finest example of a true dive bar. The second is 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 boozery stacked with a steady crowd.

Big Star Bar

Big Star Bar

Heights

Good beer. Good times. Normal-screen TVs. This off-the-beaten-path drink stop is as simple as that. Plus, the crowd is friendly and the outdoor patio has picnic tables and warm fire pits. Bring the pup, pop a frosty Lone Star by the fire, and finish the night with some Fireball nightcaps, because this zone is judgement free.

Scott Doyle

Satellite Bar

Satellite Bar

It may be a little early to give this brand new bar and concert venue “best dive” status, but we have a good feeling about this one. 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...

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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 you favorite dive, so let her know which @BrookeViggiano.

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1. Sunny's 902 Capitol St, Houston, TX 77002 (Downtown)

Alcohol-soaked pineapple for $.25? Yes, please. Named after owner/bartender, Sunny, this Downtown dive is run the way she deems the best, and so far, her way has earned the bar a strong and positive following, delivering a beach-vibe in the middle of Downtown Houston.

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2. notsuoH 314 Main St, Houston, TX 77002 (Downtown)

This dive bar enforces a slight time-warp aesthetic from the moment you step inside. Separated from the bar next door with a thin wall and red curtain, the decor stays quirky and oddball while the stage hosts everything from poetry slams to live music.

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3. Alice's Tall Texan Drive Inn 4904 N Main St, Houston, TX 77009

Frosty Lone Star and Shiner flow freely from the two taps at Alice’s Tall Texan. There are no rotating taps. No fancy IPAs or stouts. Just two tasty choices for only $2.50 (cash only). You can have an ice-cold goblet of said choice, while playing some pool and contemplating what your next goblet will be filled with. Lone Star? Shiner? Both?

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4. Lola's Depot 2327 Grant St, Houston, TX 77006

There's enough ephemera decking out the walls, ceiling, and patio to echo an episode of Hoarders, but the interior decorators (aka the bartenders) did a fine job of making it all work. If it's a slow day, maybe try challenging the bartender to games of I Spy for shots.

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5. Sassafras 5022 Pinemont Dr, Houston, TX 77092

Housed in the old Crazy J’s spot, this neighborhood haunt is as cool and laid-back as it gets. The sprawling patio is the best place to take down "fancy and cheap beer, above-average wine, and tasty liquor" (their words, but their words are correct).

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6. Poison Girl 1641 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

Whether it’s a mascot or simply random "decoration," this whiskey hotspot has a GIANT rainbow-colored Kool-Aid man on the back patio, and that makes it worth of a visit, or two, or three. Bring quarters, 'cause while shooting back a tasty and wide variety of whiskeys, you can play one of their many vintage pinball machines.

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7. Lone Star Saloon 1900 Travis St, Houston, TX 77002

Lone Star Saloon serves cheap drinks in a chill atmosphere just blocks away from the Greyhound station.

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8. West Alabama Ice House 1919 W Alabama St, Houston, TX 77098 (Montrose)

To a non-native Houstonian, West Alabama Ice House doesn't look like all that much, given that it's just a covered bar and patio in West Montrose. But this iconic bar has seen Houston through history since 1928, when it operated as a literal ice house, just shilling the cold stuff to neighborhood homes. Now, of course, it's a regular haunt for Houston's most in-the-know, who come, humidity be damned, for a frosty Lone Star Beer, a taco from whatever truck is parked across the street, and some love from the regular influx of dogs that appear with their owners.

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9. PJ's Sports Bar 614 W Gray St, Houston, TX 77019 (Montrose)

Set up in an old style Victorian in the Fourth Ward, PJ's is a favorite neighborhood watering hole where a visit feels a night spent with friends. The fully stocked bar is decked out with odds and ends of sports regalia, so sit back, crack open a cold one, and root for your home team. They also cook a mean crawfish boil and host weekly karaoke parties.

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10. Jimmie's Ice House 2803 White Oak Dr, Houston, TX 77007

This ramshackle ice house opened its doors 1950, and it hasn't changed much since. Just unapologetic bartenders, beat-up picnic tables, and cheap, ice-cold brews.

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11. Catbirds Lounge & Patio Bar 1336 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

Located in the heart of Montrose, Catbirds serves tasty cold beverages in a blue neon glow with non-stop jazz and blues from the '40s or older. Happy hour is every day from 3pm-8pm, and there's free popcorn ALL THE TIME.

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12. D&W Lounge 911 Milby St, Houston, TX 77023 (East End)

This quirky spot in the Second Ward is a deal any day of the week, and their early openings hours (7am Monday-Sunday) ensures you can get your drink on at any time. With pool, karaoke, and live bands most nights of the week, D&W Lounge has something for everyone.

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13. Big Star Bar 1005 W 19th St, Houston, TX 77008 (The Greater Heights)

Off-the-beaten-path, Big Star Bar draws the kind of crowd that... well let's just say you're likely to see many scooters out front. A people-friendly (and pet-friendly!) dive, Big Star has an outdoor patio with picnic tables and warm fire pits, so bring the mutt and enjoy a frosty Lone Star by the fire. Getting tired? Fix it with shots of Fireball and concentrated coffee.

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14. Satellite Bar 6922 Harrisburg Blvd, Houston, TX (East End)

This cool East End music venue and bar features great tunes by local and visiting indie bands, and as any dive would have it, lots of cheap beer. The best part is, they are located right next to a 24-hour Mexican restaurant and a Whataburger so that you can get some delicious late night bites after a night of drinking.

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