The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Dive Bars

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D&W Lounge.

"I know it when I see it." - Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, on correctly identifying pornography. Also applies to dive bars.

The dive distinction is complicated. Used to be you could stick a bar in the non-dive phylum if a web jukebox were present. But nowadays there are dives that still feel like coming down in a Greyhound station (in a good way?) even though you can download the Carpenters on the jukebox, if you're so inclined.

Dirt doesn't make a dive. Every bar is dirty. I'm not going to lick the floor at Red Lion, not unless I spill something really expensive, but that doesn't mean it's a dive. No matter what Guy Fieri says.

As for patrons, the West Alabama Ice House has a rode-hard crew of regulars, but since the place started dressing nicer (and flying a Greek flag, for some reason) it hasn't felt the same. A great neighborhood place - or a semblance of its former, grittier self, depending on who you ask - but not so much a dive any longer.

Then there are bars that give me particular trouble. La Carafe and Warren's - if they were college football recruits, I'd give them the amorphous "athlete" distinction and slap a rare five-star ranking next to their names. Despite the rating, I didn't include either on this list, and it's difficult to explain why. They have a timeless quality that doesn't make pigeonholing them impossible, but it does feel sacrilegious. Is Blood on the Tracks a rock and roll album? Stop typing, music geeks, that was rhetorical.

It should be clear, then, that this top-ten list is neither comprehensive nor meant to be gospel. (If you want comprehensive, get Press reporter John Nova Lomax's book.) And it's missing more than a few solid choices: Ruthie's, TK Bitterman's, REHAB, Catbird's, Shady Tavern, Blanco's, Big Star, Big Easy, Dan Electro's, a couple other places that Shilcutt poached for her best neighborhood bars list.

In a city as dirty as Houston, though, ten slots better not be enough to come up with a definitive dive bar list. Here's a shot anyway.

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Blue Lagoon.
10. Blue Lagoon

Last time I was at this Spring Branch dive, I talked to a woman who, based on her familiarity with the bartender and other patrons, seemed like she'd spent every weekend since the Clinton administration at the decades-old bar. Turned out she'd been drinking her white Russians there for only a couple weeks. Another month, and she might get her photo on the wall near the pool table, with the dozens of snapshots of other regulars. (Many of them are damn near hilarious, though I wouldn't expect any of the pictured to suffer much embarrassment.) A smoking patio out back looks like a porch where your country grandpa might retreat when Nana's working his last nerve. It's hard not to feel at home here.

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Photo by Troy Fields
Cozy Corner.
9. Cozy Corner

Westbury regulars drive this boozy outpost, and as the neighborhood has changed, so has this dive. When gays and lesbians who wanted to buy homes but couldn't afford Inner Loop prices starting moving in, the bar-goers among them naturally chose the only watering hole in the area. And the new residents and Westbury originals who patronize this seasoned little room next to a dentist's office get along like long-lost, tipsy pals. Shuffleboard gets played, Jello shots get passed around, and if you promise not to throw the controllers, you can even have a turn on the Wii. (Shilcutt already snatched this bar up, but it's hard to resist re-listing such a friendly place in a part of town with a dearth of nightlife.)

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The Uncle Sam sign says "I want you at karaoke." Can't argue with that.
8. D&W Lounge

This beer-and-wine joint in the shadow of the east-side coffee plant is a good reflection of its neighborhood - weather-beaten but not dangerous, racially mixed (though maybe just a little bit whiter than the rest of the Second Ward area), isolated-feeling despite being only a couple minutes from downtown. Saturday karaoke is popular, especially with grown-ass Hispanic women, and conversation on the chicken-coop patio is easy to come by any day of the week. I've wandered in and been pleasantly surprised by Nick Gaitan and the Umbrella Man playing a live set to a packed house. About a year ago this place was cash-only and had no online presence; now there are six Yelp reviews and a credit card machine. Hit it up before CultureMap does. Better yet, pick it as a first date spot to make sure your prospective guy or girl can hang.

Location Info

Map

Lone Star Saloon

1900 Travis, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Alice's Tall Texan Drive Inn

4904 N. Main, Houston, TX

Category: Music

PJ's Sports Bar

614 W. Gray, Houston, TX

Category: Music

The Dutchman

834 Wakefield, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Lola's Depot

2327 Grant, Houston, TX

Category: Music

The Poop Deck

2928 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX

Category: Music

Mr. Gino's

7306 Cullen, Houston, TX

Category: Music

D&W Lounge

911 Milby, Houston, TX

Category: Music

The Cozy Corner

11530 Burdine St., Houston, TX

Category: Music

Blue Lagoon

1248 Witte Road, Houston, TX

Category: Music


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18 comments
Tampico
Tampico

It's a nice list, but I wouldn't call half of these places DIVES. Several of them are just good, old-fashioned, neighborhood bars. When I think of dive I think dirty, off-the-beaten-path and slightly dangerous. Lola's is a dive. Blue Lagoon is a dive. Lone Star Saloon is a dive (although the pour meter should keep it off any top ten dive list.) The Tall Texan and The Dutchman are simple, friendly, neighborhood joints. You want some good dives not on this list, try The Red Hog Saloon on Hempstead or the Hunter's Pub on South Post Oak.

ddt
ddt

My neighbor's purse and car were stolen at D&W on New Year's Eve.

Scott Whitt
Scott Whitt

Lone Star is #1? Really? They have a pour monitor and make the smallest shots this side of an AA meeting. PJ's should be disqualified just for the fact that they have that many lights.Seriously, Lola's is the obvious choice. The staff has been their longer than most bars have been open. Dirty, should be quarantined toilets, way too strong drinks, and something crazy always happens.

joe o
joe o

Your paper and the events the Press puts on are just a sham. Your Summer Fest gig did nothing but to take advantage of your advertiser's money. Your Best of crap is just that,  Crap. How about worst rag in Houston, though the Chronicle is still around you would come in a strong Second. So keep builking your sponsers while putting out trash thats not even worth wiping your ass with. Good luck in 2012.

KAC
KAC

I remember the first night I went to the Blue Lagoon. Honestly, it's the dirtiest bar I've been to since when I spent my formative teenage years in Juarez. Seedy, yes, but you'll always have a good time there.

Honcho
Honcho

I think I am gonna get stabbed everytime I go to Lola's. Its part of the charm. Best Lolas memory was watching a friend play pool with a large man dressed like a girl scout. good times.

KING
KING

The potential for getting stabbed at Lola's is outweighed by the fact that they now accept credit cards.

your pal
your pal

good call on the D&W, the deer with the hat on named Vincent and the pony on the ceiling are wonderful.

AtaboyLuther
AtaboyLuther

Lest we not forget the Chez Lounge.  It has been around since forever.

Eastender
Eastender

Westbury has the cozy corner, Glenbrook Valley has the cockpit. 

bibulb
bibulb

(A) I remember that the Reign used to do a song about Lola's, which leads me to ...(B) I gotta say, I much preferred PJ's back when the space was Blythe Spirits (where I'd see the Reign, among many other bands) - before Cecil's opened up... THAT was a hell of a bar.

Anse
Anse

The first time I went to Lola's I thought I was gonna get stabbed.

Glenn Livet
Glenn Livet

As far as the order goes, most of these are basically interchangeable, based on mood and personal preference.

Glenn Livet
Glenn Livet

So, which part about this post do you disagree with, Joe?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Actually, Summer Fest is put on each year by a different newspaper, Free Press Houston. And I thought it went quite well this year, too.

DanMan
DanMan

We call him the Man Grenade!

Glenn Livet
Glenn Livet

It's actually been closed for years.

anonymous
anonymous

f ASIANS CAN ACTUALLY READ MINDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!they can hear and see what your visually thinkingthis is the complete truth

The reason a lot of Asians have completely expressionless faces, only associate with Asians and don't associate with non Asians that much, and are very unfriendly in general is to avoid accidentally revealing that they can read minds. If all over a billion Asians where to show facial expressions all the time just as much as non Asians, associate with non Asians much more, and be much more friendly and talkative, then a lot of them might accidentally reveal that they can read minds by accidentally showing a facial expression or dirty look when someone thinks, or visually pictures something in their mind they don't like, find astonishing, or funny etc because those people might see that and and really wonder what that was that just happened there and see the connection, if they all associated with non Asians a lot more then there would be a lot more people around for them to accidentally show facial expressions when those people think things they don't like etc, so they only associate with Asians so there won't be anyone around for them to see that and have any accidents happen in the first place.

Think about it, it's not normal how a lot of them act, it's not normal human behavior! and the entire way they act is all to hid their mind reading abilities, it makes perfect sense to do all of that to hide that they can read minds, because all of that is the perfect way to do it!Every single Asian alive is hiding their mind reading abilities, they will always deny that they can read minds, they will lie about having mind reading abilities forever!!!Because they value hiding their mind reading abilities more then their own lives! That's why nobody knows about it!

Try thinking, best yet visually picturing in your mind something absolutely crazy as you possibly can when you are around Asians, and try looking for Asians who give people particular looks, especially dirty looks for what appears to be for completely no reason, that is them giving people looks when they hear and visually see someone thinking something they don't like, find astonishing, or funny etc.It still happens spite a large percentage of Asians having completely expressionless faces all the time, it would just happen a lot more if none of them had completely expressionless faces all the time, it's still not uncommon!

I know this sounds crazy, impossible and completely unbelievable, BUT IT ISN'T CRAZY WHEN ITS TRUE

The reason you think this truly is crazy, impossible, and unbelievable is because our society as propagandized us into believing that nothing extra ordinary is real, and that it is impossible that people can read minds, and that it is crazy to think that it's true that people can read minds, all just to cover up that Asians can read minds! who says that can't exist? the people who have mind reading abilities who are trying to cover it up!

You have to spread the message!!!!!The world has to know about this!!!!!

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