Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 7 Downtown Bars

Houston downtown.jpg
Photo by Jeff Balke
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.

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 HoustonĀ® winners are still pouring strong.

The Dirt.jpg
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.

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John F. Kennedy might have sat in the chair you're bound to drink in at State Bar.
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.

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

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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


Location Info

Map

The Dirt

1209 Caroline, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Warren's Inn

307 Travis, Houston, TX

Category: Music

The State Bar & Lounge

909 Texas, Houston, TX

Category: Music

The State Bar & Lounge

909 Texas, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Reserve 101

1201 Caroline, Houston, TX

Category: Music

MKT BAR

1001 Austin St., Houston, TX

Category: Music

La Carafe

813 Congress, Houston, TX

Category: Music

My Voice Nation Help
9 comments
Church
Church

Absolutely love Reserve 101. Great atmosphere and the entire staff are friendly and knowledgable. I am frequently found there enjoying some great whiskey and great local beers!

lauren covington
lauren covington

MKT bar is one of my new favs! and I have to agree with La Carafe at #1, there's nothing like it and it's cheaper than a plane trip to Paris.

KAC
KAC

I love Warren's and their strong drinks! Such an awesome vibe there. I have to admit, I've never been brave enough to step inside the Lone Star Saloon and I've been to some godawful scary places in Houston (ie La Fronterra in the Sixth Ward)

T.C.
T.C.

I have to admit that I was never a fan of downtown despite the occasional foray there, but the more I thought about it the more I realized I seemed to always have a good time when there. Despite the obvious heightened police presence there didn't seem to be anything obtrusive about it the more time I spent, and the more it reminded me of many a downtown area where the police truly just want to see everyone have a safe time. Since Dirt Bar moved to it's new location there I've spent more time there and I am now a true fan of the area and the fact that it's much more of an adult clientele at these establishments and not the weekend warriors spending their entire paycheck on bottle service. It pays to try new things.

agautumn04
agautumn04

I am sad to see Char Bar missing from this list. Great bar owned by a great family.

cookie monster
cookie monster

I would make Warren's #1. If for no other reason, they have a full bar vs. la Carafe only beer & wine. and no true Woody Allen fan would reference Midnight In Paris.

Wyatt
Wyatt

And no true Scotsman would feel that La Carafe and Warren's aren't interchangeable in terms of ranking.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Terrific list. And throwing in my two cents for my favorite little underground (quite literally) bar, The Cellar at Georgia's Farm to Market (all craft beer and wine) as well as the life-affirming Jell-O shots at Sunny's.

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