Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 7 Downtown Bars
Life is about perspective and so is Houston's downtown. Perhaps some look at it as a commercial district and once wannabe party king that lost its luster with the emergence of its cousin Midtown. Or you can see it as a beautiful skyline -- the best in Texas -- that's lightly peppered with a magnificent mix of hole-in-the-wall, hip and grown-up bar establishments.
Photo by Jeff Balke
It's not the scene where you're seen, it's the scene where you soak up the booze and the atmosphere and carry the conversation like a grown-up. You ignore the "for lease" signs on the establishments that once gave the central hub a swagger that excited the city in ways it hadn't in years, and you concentrate on what's left...the rest of the best.
Some old, some new, but all worthy, and the previous two Best of Houston® winners are still pouring strong.
7. Dirt Bar: Dirt should be the backdrop to a True Blood episode. It's gothic and dark and it blasts metal in the midst of an almost pitch-black atmosphere lit only by red-illuminated ice pick-like lamps hanging from the ceiling and two great big TV flat-screens quenching sports nuts' thirst. With such little light, the TV pictures are pristine with NBA playoffs.
Dirt is right next to House of Blues and so whether you use it as a starter bar or a landing spot, you'll get your fix. Beer or maybe a little blood from the Texas version of Sookie. You never know.
1209 Caroline, 713-651-3988, Web site.
6. State Bar & Lounge: State Bar is a great big piece of mahogany carved out of Houston's historical political prowess. The scent that hits you as you walk in the door takes you to a place of antiquity. This gorgeous lounge sits on the second floor of the Rice Lofts, paying homage to the city's oil boom.
John F. Kennedy might have sat in the chair you're bound to drink in at State Bar.
If you're into history, you should know that the furniture and memorabilia are from "the old Rice Hotel's Capitol Club, a legendary locale from the turn of the century that witnessed such historic milestones as the first electrical lights and air conditioners of the city, prominent judges and oilmen cementing the success of Southern Texas, and the last place President Kennedy ate before traveling to Dallas in 1963," according to its Web site. And that's plenty reason to drink with history.
909 Texas #2A, 713-229-8888, Web site
5. Lone Star Saloon: Rocks Off has blurry flashbacks of the Golden Q, a black-and-gold-painted bar in Elsa, Texas. Our mother used to send us in there to get our father when he didn't come home. But he was arm-wrestling for money and respect.
Like the Golden Q, Lone Star Saloon in downtown Houston has patrons who are friendly, but also a random lineup of blue- and white-collar workers and tortured souls who didn't bother to put in their dentures, but you don't pay their dentist bills, so deal with it.
Lone Star is a narrow corridor with a wall fan that hasn't been cleaned for a few decades and the cleanest bathrooms you'll ever use. It's a beautiful contradiction. This isn't for the fufu, faint-at-heart wanting Top 40 blasting from the speakers, who want to be seen by the scene. This is George Strait's "Run" leg-humping R. Kelly's "Bump and Grind."
It belongs in Eagle Lake, but it's in the heart of downtown. Bartender Nancy is amazing. It's the Mike Tyson of bars. Its style is impetuous, its defense is impregnable and it's just ferocious. It wants your heart. It wants to eat your children. Praise be to Allah!
1900 Travis, 713 757-1616
1209 Caroline, Houston, TX