Food & Drink

The Most Important Bars in Houston

Published On 06/04/2014 Published On 06/04/2014
The Hay Merchant
13 Celsius | VJ ARIZPE
13 Celsius (info and address)

This European-style enoteca, housed in a swanky '20s-era building, prides itself on storing wines at a temperature that you would never, ever guess by the name of the place. The extensive library of over 450 eclectic, global selections is curated and cared for by co-owner Mike Sammons and grape goddess Adele Corrigan, and offers drinks by the bottle, glass, half-glass, and taste. As if that’s not cool enough, damn fine charcuterie and bar snacks, wine-centric dinners, pop-up tastings and art installations, and a special list of Sunday bottles help raise your enjoyment levels that much higher.

Anvil Bar & Refuge | Julie Soefer Photography
Anvil Bar & Refuge (info and address)

Anvil will forever be the bar that changed how Houstonians drink. Many of its highly-skilled alums have gone to open some of the most exciting bars in town. The industrial refuge keeps things fresh with seasonal menus and a collection of house-made bitters, sodas, and infusions to round out the seriously heavy-handed drinks. Cocktail fiends won’t want to miss the alluring “100 list,” a bucket list of the bar’s take on iconic classics. Those looking for something a little extra should go for “The Brave,” made with Bobby Heugel-approved mezcal and blanco tequila -- plus amaro, spiced liqueur, bitters, and a flaming orange peel -- a daring and stiff-as-hell cocktail that is not for the timid.

Camerata at Paulie’s | Kirsten Gilliam
Camerata at Paulie's (info and address)

This wine bar has some serious pedigree in beverage director David Keck and restaurateur Paul Petronella, who value serving unusual wines without the pretense. The user-friendly "DAMNED WINE LIST" is broken down by flavor instead of origin, making it easier for EVEN YOU to find the perfect glass or bottle (though the staff is also well-equipped to assist). There’s also a nice selection of beers, ciders, salumis & cheeses, and even Lone Star tallboys, making it quite possibly the coolest wine bar ever.

Grand Prize Bar (info and address)

Museum District
Ample rooftop for smokers? Check. Pool table for losing some money? Check. Kickass jukebox for dirty dancing or just tapping your foot awkwardly while you stare at that hot girl across the bar? Check. All of the above make this gritty two-story bar a popular industry hangout, or a place to go if you’re just plain cool. Stiff, expertly-crafted cocktails are the poison of choice, but you’ll have just as easy a time finding cheap beer and shots, if you’re into that thing (and why wouldn't you be?).

La Carafe | Flickr/Sean Davis
La Carafe (info and address)

Housed in Downtown’s oldest building, this dark-and-dingy-in-a-good-way wine bar feels like a time warp to the 1800s. Candelabras and antiques line every nook and cranny, creating a sexy vibe along with the exposed brick, dim lighting, and intimate seating. If this place doesn’t help you get laid, we don’t know what will. Just make sure to bring cash, you’ll need it to pay for the classy selection of beer and wine that you’re about to house.

Little Woodrow’s (info and address)

Midtown (and multiple other locations)
If we told you there was a huge indoor/outdoor sports bar that held turtle races every Thursday night, all Summer long, and was known to shut down the entire street for block parties or whenever the guys over at Extreme Midget Wrestling came into town, and that despite all of that, it was still an incredibly chill hangout -- would you be interested? Okay, because all of this happens at the Midtown Little Woodrow’s. So does cheap beer by the pint and bucket, plenty of fun, and just general debauchery. Other locations, like the one on Shepherd, may not have the same patio, but they have just as much of the good stuff.

OKRA Charity Saloon | Julie Soefer
OKRA Charity Saloon (info and address)

Every proper gentlemen knows that drinking for a cause is the new drinking just for the hell of it. The first charity bar in town, this airy saloon with a speakeasy vibe donates 100% of its proceeds to one of four non-profit organizations each month. Every drink you buy earns you a vote -- so you should probably buy lots of drinks, right?

Petrol Station
Petrol Station (info and address)

Garden Oaks/Oak Forest
This no-frills watering hole was one of the first full-fledged craft beer bars in Houston, entering the scene way back in the harrowing days of 2007. But thanks to a solid rotation of interesting, hard-to-find brews, it remains one of today’s finest. Beer geeks flock to the converted gas station to fill up their tanks -- and by tanks we mean guts -- by the pint, or if they’re really getting after the day, by the growler. But be warned: no one’s looking to hold your hand here. You’ll have to make your way through the list of "Younglings," "Padawans," and "Jedis" all by yourself.

The Hay Merchant (info and address)

Brew aficionados flock to this Montrose wunderkind for beer done right... nay, done flawlessly, because Kevin Floyd, co-owner and CEO of all-things-barley, hand-selects the bar’s rotating list of 80 taps and five casks himself. Even your light beer-guzzling buddy will be turned on by the bar’s dynamic selection of fine-as-hell brews, broken down into categories like “Sociable & Refreshing,” “Hop-a-licious” and “Not for the Faint of Heart.” At the very least, he’ll be impressed to find out he likes crispy pig ears.

The Pastry War | Julie Soefer Photography
The Pastry War (info and address)

Agave is the name of the game at this Downtown mezcalería named after the French/Mexican conflict that began when… just look it up. Come for the most top-notch small-batch tequila and mezcal in town, as the bar pays serious attention to the spirits it houses, only selecting those from family-owned distilleries that heavy-hitters Bobby Heugel and Alba Huerta have personally visited. You’ll always find a crowd packed around the colorful, backlit bar, but it’s worth waiting your turn to get a taste of sneaky good cócteles and margaritas, nearly 20 different kinds of Mexican beer, and absolutely no pastries.

West Alabama Ice House (info and address)

You won’t find any beer snobs at this throwback to better days, just fellow Texans looking to take down a few cold ones. A strong roster of brews and a sprawling patio full of bikers, hipsters playing horseshoes, or just people getting drunk help to make sure you never want to leave. And considering what may be the best taco truck in the world is parked right next door, you’ll never need to.

Julep | Julie Soefer Photography
Julep (info and address)

This 2014 Southern charmer isn’t just one of the best cocktail bars in Houston; it also earned its stripes as one of the best cocktail bars in America. Bourbon boss Alba Huerta is constantly upping the game with a flourish of seasonal back-porch inspirations that read like a history book of the South. Housed in an industrial 1880s uniform factory, the bar's space is just as stunning as the lineup of refreshing juleps, bold Sazeracs, and hot & sour creole rums, with a gorgeous copper bar and sophisticated details that give you all kinds of feels.

Axelrad (info and address)

With a sea of hammocks and an eclectic collection of craft beers pulled from hand-carved taps housed inside a restored century-old building, it’s clear that Axelrad gets Houston, and Houston gets Axelrad. Hit the yard of the totally chill brew garden for good times, local suds, and slices and knots from the always trusty Luigi’s Pizzeria, which shares the yard and will bring the slices straight to your picnic table. Or to your hammock, if you can balance all that while Snapchatting.

Leon's Lounge
Leon's Lounge (info and address)

Good fortune has shone down upon us, because one of Houston’s oldest and most iconic dive bars has been brought back to life after shuttering to a public outcry in 2015. The new owners, which include Davenport’s Duane Bradley, have kept the character of the original by making only a few well-received structural changes. Who doesn’t like more open space and a stage for live lounge acts? Reacquaint yourself to an old friend through a nice lineup of American whiskeys and drink specials like the Citywide, in which you get the completely classy combination of a bottle of Lone Star and a shot of Jameson or Fireball.

Quy Tran/Canard
Canard (info and address)

Powerhouse craft cocktail queen Leslie Ross has been killing it as the beverage director for Treadsack, so it’s absolutely no surprise that her first very own concept is killing it as well. With only 50 or so seats, the vibe is intimate and lush, with French-smooched accents, and the tincture queen herself impresses with impossibly good concoctions, from a beautifully done Old Fashioned to seasonal drinks backed with Chartreuse, vermouths, ports, bubbly, and special touches like essential oils, delicate adornments, and house-made sodas. With neighbors like Treadsack’s Foreign Correspondents and the new coffee spot Morningstar, this newly developed strip is hands down one of the coolest destinations in the Heights.

Moving Sidewalk | Courtesy of Flickr/Moving Sidewalk
Moving Sidewalk (info and address)

Hand-carved ice, liquid nitrogen-chilled glassware, and homemade bitters and syrups are just a few of the delicious things at this cocktailery helmed by beverage director Alex Gregg. The program is constantly evolving with freakout-worthy cocktails, but all the cool kids know to start with the reliably great and perfectly poised house Old Fashioned. The drink comes complete with a hand-chiseled, crystal-clear cube of ice that adds just the right amount of chill.

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