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Tippling from Tap to Tap

Down and out (and drunk) in NoDo

Sometimes, a person just wants to cut through all the nauseating glitz and trendiness of downtown Houston and just get tore the hell up like Barney on The Simpsons.

Can't a person stroll NoDo in search of a place to merely imbibe refreshing alcoholic beverages? Isn't there a spot without earsplitting techno music, a cozy nest free of women in tight leather pants who are tinkering with the idea of making out with each other? Not that there's anything wrong with techno or bi-curious women. But sometimes you just wanna go out and enjoy a night of decent, all-American inebriation. And we're not talking about hitting one of those classy Main Street dives like Dean's (316 Main) or The Hub (312 Main), and guzzling $7 cosmopolitans or lingonberry-infused Absolut like you're Sarah Jessica Parker.

We're talking about beer -- and not just bland, flat-ass crap like Bud Light -- a library of beers: lagers, pilsners, ales, bocks and stouts. Warren's Inn (307 Travis) and La Carafe (813 Congress) are nice, venerable downtown taverns, but their meager beer selection prohibits them from full accolades here.

One night yours truly went out among the Prada-clad trend-chasers in search of a watering hole that truly lives up to the term -- a place where, dare I say it, everybody knows your name.

We begin at the State Bar & Lounge (909 Texas, suite A). A magazine described this place as "masculine," so one expects a strong menu of brews. But it's hard for a bar on the second floor of the Rice Hotel to truly let its nuts hang, surrounded as it is by such yuppie havens as Jamba Juice and Liberty Noodles. But it's less masculine than cozy, actually. Bar stools, comfy chairs and tables occupy the front of the bar, but there are a bunch of booths in the back. Add to that the terrace overlooking Texas Avenue, and you just may have the most comfortable bar in the CBD. The bar has about a dozen beers on tap, including all the faves (Bud, Guinness, Shiner Bock, Ace Pear Cider), and 11 more in bottles, all at somewhat reasonable prices.

Bottom line: It may not be a down-and-dirty dive, but it's a great place if you wanna get sloshed and comfortable.

Over at Slainte Irish Pub (509 Main) the speakers blare music by the Pogues and U2 ad nauseam to remind you, that yes, this is an Irish pub. The two-story spot, owned by the same cats who operate Rice Village's Bronx Bar(5555 Morningside), does have the feel of a Dublin tavern. The walls are festooned with Guinness and Boddington's ads (okay, so the latter is English). And it has a nice lineup of draft beers. Hell, you may even get to meet an actual Irishman, like Paul, a Dubliner who's been around downtown long enough to know the most popular beers drunk at Slainte are Guinness (big surprise!) and Harp. One thing worth pointing out: In the front bar on the first floor dwell the usual suspects: Guinness, Foster's, Killian's Red. But it's near the back where you'll find the more obscure beers like Paulaner, Warsteiner and even Woodpecker Cider, all tasty suds.

Bottom line: an acceptable place to have a beer -- and maybe corned beef and cabbage.

The Brewery Tap (717 Franklin), like the aforementioned bars, has fashionably hip surroundings. In fact, it's on the same block as the rowdy collegiate temples TOC Bar & Lounge(711 Franklin) and Rehab (709 Franklin). But since it's an older downtown hangout (it's been around since 1986, says the barkeep), the Tap has kept its German Bierhalle-type ambience without going too upscale. And why change? With 35 beers on tap, they're doing just fine. But you better start supping the ale the minute you walk into the door. When one customer asked the bartender for a taste of the bar's most-requested beer, Germany's Spaten-Franziskaner, he bluntly retorted, "I would if you looked like a paying customer." Ouch! What if a dude just wanted to taste it to see if it's worth plunking down the dough for it? "This is not a place for frugality," the barkeep replied.

Bottom line: a modest selection, but if you don't look like you have the money to take it all in, take your sorry ass over to Cabo (419 Travis).

The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium(705 Main) is where beer-a-holics go when they die. No fewer than 85 beers -- you hear me, 85! -- gush from the taps here. They even have beer cocktails like a Blue Velvet (port and Guinness) and -- everybody's favorite -- a Pair of Tits (Tennent's Lager and Ace Pear Cider). The place is as roomy and blunt as an Oktoberfest beer hall. Monday nights are "Pint Nite," with all drafts going for $2.50. On Wednesday night it's "Brewery Nite," where they spotlight a beer and you can keep the glass. And then there's the U.F.O. Club, in which a beer lover can fork over 14 bucks for a card that tracks the different beers you've consumed. After 200, you get immortalized on a brass plate and placed in the "Ring of Honor" above the bar. Let's face it. Isn't this what you've been looking for your entire life? Beer-fueled immortality?

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