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Chances, the G-Spot and the New Barn SaloonA veritable lesbian Valhalla, this Montrose bar complex might not be all things to all women, but it sure makes a solid attempt. Female-centric musicians of all stripes come from far and wide to perform at Chances, which has an unpretentious neighborhood-bar feel and also hosts a highly competitive karaoke night every Sunday. The G-Spot, in contrast, is geared toward a more hyped-up dance-oriented crowd, featuring a throbbing soundtrack of hip-hop and disco music. Meanwhile, the shit-kickin’, boot-scootin’ demographic gets its due in the New Barn Saloon, which recently won the coveted Best Country and Western Lesbian Bar award from OutSmart magazine and boasts its own, twangier karaoke night every Thursday. 1100 Westheimer, 713-523-7217.

Club Rainbow It’s “always ladies’ night” at this laid-back, diverse, split-level lesbian bar. Regular DJs Chaz, Alexis and Spice play a wide variety of music throughout the week, featuring groovy R&B on Thursdays and Sundays, while the Latin crowd congregates upstairs. Thursday also marks Rainbow’s weekly Beer Blast, which translates to 50-cent drafts and free food, among other wonders. 1417-B Westheimer, 713-522-5166.

EJ’s Discreetly nestled a block off Westheimer deep in the heart of the Montrose, EJ’s is a neighborhood gay bar that features live boys on stage and regularly hosts benefits for relevant causes. Four separate, well-stocked bars with daily happy hour specials work together with a rotating cast of live DJs to make sure that stimulation never flags among the diverse clientele, which leaned noticeably toward Midnight Cowboy-Marlboro Man types the night we visited. 2517 Ralph, 713-527-9071.

1415 Bar and GrilleThis second-floor Montrose (read: gay) restaurant and bar is dimly lit and casually elegant like the stylish patrons that people it. The walls are lined with contemporary art, which is also available for sale. DJs spin Sinatra on Fridays and hip-hop on Sundays. 1415 California, 713-901-4863.

Guava LampGuava Lamp and its clientele seem to enjoy the fact that it's off the beaten path, tucked away in Shepherd Plaza a few miles away from the Pacific Street fray. Attracting mostly young professional types, Guava Lamp offers a little hipper alternative to JR.'s. Karaoke Night on Wednesdays offers a good comparison -- Guava Lamp's is a lot more mean-spirited and fun than the painfully earnest Thursday-night wannabe diva-fest at JR.'s. Things can get a little crowded on the weekend, and the design of the bar can make moving around a little difficult, but everyone seems to be in a good mood when they're at the Guava Lamp. 2159 Portsmouth, 713-524-3359.

JR.'sThe "Queen Bee" of Houston gay bars, JR.'s is the place to go if hanging out with a whole lot of folks wearing the same brands of clothing is your idea of a good time. The high ceilings give a feeling of spaciousness even if the place is packed, and the design definitely encourages cruising. Karaoke on Thursday and "amateur" strip night on Tuesday are both local institutions, thanks in large part to their hosts, Marsha Carlson and "Kofi," respectively. Carlson's kindness and tolerance on Thursday are nicely contrasted by Kofi's Tuesday-night acerbity. Its several bars mean you won't have to wait long for your drink -- the much-vaunted patio pales next to the those at Ripcord and Montrose Mining Company, though. 808 Pacific, 713-521-2519.

Mary's LoungeThis popular motorcycle/leather bar is one of the largest and oldest bars in the gay community, granddaddy to the trendier hangs in the Montrose and Pacific Street district. Anyone who's ever driven down Lower Westheimer has seen the "out"-standing mural and painted windows advertising various events, like annual "drag" races and the Gay Pride Parade, but most people don't know that the bar encompasses an acre of space. Inside the landmark bar, a motorcycle dangles over the pool table in the main room, there's an intimate covered patio, a stage area and a large yard, which is open on special occasions. Sunday nights draw a considerable lesbian crowd. Look for dominatrix/comedienne/bartender Tiffany on certain nights. She'll take good care of ya. 1022 Westheimer, 713-527-9669.

MeteorThis large, well-laid-out space is one of the most comfortable bars in the city. The clientele is mostly young professional types, perhaps a few years older than the JR.'s or Guava Lamp crowd. Tons of screens throughout the bar show dance videos to provide visual stimulation if nothing in the well-dressed crowd grabs your eye. The ample space encourages conversation, and there are plenty of couches in case it all becomes too much for you. 2306 Genessee, 713-521-0123.

Montrose Mining CompanyAptly known as the Mine, the Montrose Mining Company provides an alternative to its neighbors across the street, JR.'s and South Beach. The low ceilings and dark lighting can really make you think you're in a Kentucky coal mine -- that is, until the sight of the scantily clad dancer yanks you back into reality. The ample patio provides a refreshing alternative to the claustrophobia inside and a ringside seat to all the brouhaha on Pacific Street. 808 Pacific, 713-529-7488.

RipcordRipcord has a reputation for being a "rough" bar thanks to its more than 25 years as Houston's premier "Leather and Levis" bar and weekend nights can sometimes look like a reunion of the cast of Cruising. Go during the week, though, and you'll find much more of a neighborhood vibe. Thursday is classic rock night, a definition that seems to include everything from .38 Special to Television. Maybe not the place to bring your straight friends, since the scrotally enhanced painting over the stage seems to draw a line in the sand, but a great place to meet for drinks and good bar conversation in an attitude-free zone. 715 Fairview, 713-521-2792.

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