Houston's 10 Best Bars for People-Watching

Photo by Ed Schipul via Flickr
Note: List is in alphabetical order.

A converted turn-of-the-20th-century house, AvantGarden is a bar, community venue and gathering point where creative and artistic people throughout the city come for poetry readings, live music, theatrical productions, independent-film premieres, art exhibits, improv comedy, cabaret, and more. The patrons here are sometimes described as hipsters, but the mostly friendly, non-pretentious people we have encountered here do not exhibit the more negative stereotypes of that sometimes pejorative label.

However, many customers here indeed have a flair for style and can dress pretty flamboyantly. For some serious people-watching, the best times to come are the customer-appreciation nights on Thursdays, when cheap drink specials bring in large and diverse crowds who gather in the patio/courtyard out back, which is illuminated overhead with sparkling lights, putting out a festival vibe.

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Deep Undercover at the YMCA's Beyoncé Fitness Class

Photo by Robin Harper/Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment
All hail the Queen.
Nykema Brown has just seamlessly executed a dance move that looks like a cross between something from a Qing Gong flick and a Crossfit burpee -- and she's managed to make it look sexy. She then whips her head back to the beat.

"...5, 6, 7, 8!" she shouts with a smile.

It's a Wednesday night and I'm dancing with the best of 'em at the Houston Texans YMCA (5404 Griggs Road), drenched in sweat in what could easily be touted as the fiercest dance class this side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Brown, the teacher, offers a modification to the next move in the routine, which looks physically impossible. I ask for a modification of the modification, and the class erupts in laughter.

The class consists of 25 women and myself, the lone wolf who might have gotten himself in a little too deep this time around.

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Studying "Tiki 101" at Lei Low, Sunset Heights' Rum-Happy Oasis

Categories: Night Life

Photos by Sean McManus
Have one more of these and this guy starts talking back.
"Try this! No, seriously...try this!"

That's how most conversations start at Lei Low, a traditional tiki bar in Sunset Heights, for good reason. This place makes some serious drinks.

I'm here on a hot Saturday night to get exotic and learn the ways of island life.

Bartender Stephen Caronna suggests a Mai Tai, which I've had here on several occasions; it's time to graduate from "Tiki 101" and start the next semester. He suggests a "Balinese Room #2," a boozy mix of lots of things I've never heard of: Barbados rum, Dimmi, Yellow Chartreuse and Peychaud Bitters.

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Cowboy or Club Roxy, Galleria Nightspot Had Quite a Run

Photo by Alexa Crenshaw
Now only memories: Club Roxy in the foreground, 2014
Quietly, the Roxy shut its doors several months back after billing itself for years as Houston's "longest-running nightclub." Whether that statement is true or not, an extensive, eclectic history lies within the now-empty space near W. Alabama and Sage Rd.

Personally, I remember the Roxy's teen night, where around age 14 I went with a group of gals, hating everything and being stuck in a crowd so thick I couldn't move. I lost my purple-and-black striped jacket that night, and to this day wish I could somehow find it. If you know where my jacket is...

Never mind. The point is, most Houston kids ended up at the Roxy -- or one of its many other iterations -- at one time or another.

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We're Looking for a New Nightfly

Categories: Night Life

Photos by Marco Torres
Perhaps one of the new Nightfly's first destinations will be the popular Gritsy bass monthlies.
Do you like to go out in Houston? Can you tell a good story?

If you can answer "yes" to both, you might be the person we're looking for. The Houston Press has a vacancy for Nightfly, our longstanding column that has seen some of the city's most intrepid writers get the lowdown on what happens in the places where lights are low and the music is too loud.

We're looking for someone who understands what a unique, fun city Houston is and can tell us in writing. Recent Nightfly excursions have included a trip to El Big Bad at the height of World Cup mania, giving the new jukebox at Alice's Tall Texan all it can handle, admiring the Star Wars toys at Neil's Bahr, or chilling in the pool (fully clothed) at Galveston's new Longboard's. Some more examples:

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Debonair Lounge Mondays at Cafe 4212 Are a Must

Photos by Marco Torres
Note: the following photos are from Marco Torres' visit to Debonair Lounge in February, like this one of hosts Tay Mitch and Brad Gilmore. See more at this slideshow.
People are spilling out the door of this little lounge on Almeda, a rare sight for a Monday night. Most bars in this area are ghost towns, closed for the night to avoid the dreaded weekday slump.

But not Café 4212 (4212 Almeda). On Mondays, the cozy lounge straddling the Museum District and Third Ward is packed.

"Hey man! Hurry up! We've been waiting for you for an hour now."

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The Tall Texan's Jukebox Is Not a Toy

Categories: Night Life

Photo by Larami Culbertson
Los Skarnales singer Felipe Galvan (right) and friends at the Tall Texan in 2010
"And I'm hungry like the wooooolf..."

The music from the jukebox blares throughout this tiny bar on North Main. Although pleasing to our ears, the cheesy '80s rock has sparked a rumble of laughter from the regulars splayed across the crooked counter.

It's not often that someone comes into Alice's Tall Texan Drive Inn (4904 N. Main) and takes over the jukebox so abruptly. This old saloon is generally full of mustachioed regulars, some sporting cowboy hats. Others flash crooked smiles and Hispanic Heights charm. Usually the regulars have full run of the place.

Until some silly young bucks step in, anyway.

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The Beautiful Game Is a Beautiful Thing at El Big Bad

Photos by Aaron Champenoy

A battle cry is being sounded across the bar by an overzealous fan. It's the tenth time he's done so, making it appear as though his boasting button stuck on repeat.

Every time his Netherlands team scores against Spain, his drawn-out call elicits looks of fury from the opposing team's fans. The breakneck speed in which they glare causes them to nearly spill their beers in the process.

The team from the Netherlands is dominating this opening-round match of the World Cup, which is infuriating their rivals. The shouts of "Orange! Orange!" - the Dutch team takes its nickname from the color of its jerseys - over the obnoxious "Goaaaaaaallllllllll" calls are as much fighting words as cries of victory.

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The Water's Fine at Longboard's, Galveston's Beachside Oasis

Photo by Angelica Leicht
"Oh no, you guys! I totally forgot my shoes!"

A pretty blond woman has just jumped straight into the pool, forgetting her shoes in the process. She's signaling and screeching, but her many friends are too busy doubling over with laughter to assist.

"Seriously! Come on! Someone grab these!"

We're watching with amusement, but aren't sure whether to help her or let the situation play out. We opt for the latter.

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May the Force Be With You at Neil's Bahr

Photos by Angelica Leicht
Yes, that is an AT-AT, and a nice one at that.
"Eat, sleep, game, repeat."

A tall, slick-haired guy whose black T-shirt is emblazoned with that very slogan pushes his way through this packed EaDo bar, but no one seems to mind. Most folks are giving him the thumbs-up, which seems strange given the density of the room. But he's earned a pass to part the nerd seas.

"Hey man, that's a sweet shirt," one admirer calls. "Where did you find that thing?"

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