10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music

In an admittedly roundabout way, Satellite Bar’s recent decision to scale back its live-music calendar only highlights how important your neighborhood tavern’s background playlist can be. If it’s just okay, it may be as humdrum as the wallpaper; if it’s really good, it can build up a customer base almost overnight; if it’s awful, it’s hard to think of any other facet of the decor — even the lighting — that can send customers to another establishment quite so quickly. The following ten Houston bars represent the opposite end of that spectrum: some places trust the bartenders’ musical selections will be as agreeable as the drinks they serve, while others let their customers have a little more say, usually in the form of a jukebox (which, as luck would have it, haven’t become extinct quite yet). Either way, spend a night or two here and your ears will be thanking you long after it’s over. (Note: This list is in alphabetical order.)

10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music
Photo by Jack Gorman

BIG STAR BAR
1005 West 19th, bigstarbar.com
It’s not always easy to make out the music that emanates from Big Star’s satellite jukebox, but that’s kinda the point. This place bumps, particularly on weekends, with chatter from various groups of Heights hipsters and old-school types who prefer a “no frills” kinda bar. Various rock and country tunes blare throughout Big Star and make for a fine evening of background noise while you're shooting pool, smoking on the back patio or even just chilling on the couch that resides in the middle of the bar. Best not to think about those who have done so before you. CLINT HALE

10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music
Photo by Matthew Keever

CECIL'S
600 West Gray, cecilspubhouston.com
Arguably Montrose's most eclectic staple, Cecil's Pub boasts one of the city's most comprehensive jukeboxes. Its patrons — who range from seasoned gayborhood dwellers to out-of-town yuppies — make wide-ranging picks from the exemplary music box, which survived a fire that broke out in 2004. Iconic singers range from Johnny Cash, David Bowie and Elvis Costello to Tom Waits and Amy Winehouse. Essential rock artists include The White Stripes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead and Manchester Orchestra. Rap fans can choose from classic OutKast and Beastie Boys records or compilation albums, which feature hits from the likes of Vanilla Ice and Salt-N-Pepa. And punk lovers can treat their bar-mates to a dose of Dropkick Murphys, Iggy Pop or The Clash. Sprinkle in some Marilyn Manson and Tool for good measure, and the soundtrack at Cecil's Pub is as varied as its clientele. MATTHEW KEEVER

10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music
Photo by Matthew Keever

THE GINGER MAN
5607 Morningside, thegingerman.com/houston/
Across the street from Houston's hottest new burger joint, The Ginger Man has been a mainstay of the Village for more than 30 years. Most patrons visit for the expansive beer selection, but the pub's jukebox is quite impressive in its own right. Tucked in the middle of the bar, often out of sight on busy nights, sits an impressive selection of albums: Soundtracks to Boogie Nights, Crazy Heart and Pirate Radio nestle in next to Bob Marley, Rolling Stone and Beatles records, while Vampire Weekend's debut, multiple Arcade Fire albums, Matt & Kim's Grand and Dr. Dog's Be the Void tap into indie lovers' tastes. So many options could be a cause of anxiety for newcomers, but there isn't a bad song (or beer) on tap at The Ginger Man. When in doubt, just play some Trombone Shorty. MATTHEW KEEVER

Note: Jukebox subject to change.
Note: Jukebox subject to change.
Photo by HP Staff

GRAND PRIZE BAR
1010 Banks, Facebook page
Since 2010, this hole-in-the-wall bar has been serving up a great selection of artisanal cocktails and craft beer — winning the hearts of many as it always keeps a great selection of music floating over the spirits. During happy hour and throughout the post-dinner eve, it’s common to hear the chatter of voices mixed into the punk, oldies, electronic or indie-pop tunes hand-selected by the bartender. Into the wee hours, you might find yourself among a modest group of friends and strangers grooving to the beats, well-oiled from the tasty drink selection. For those customers willing to take a crack at providing their own ambience to this Museum District haunt, the jukebox located on a back is stocked with everything from Black Sabbath to Beck to Ben Folds. Just be sure to bring some singles. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS

10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music
Photo by Jack Gorman

LADYBIRD'S
5519 Allen, ladybirds bar.com
If you’re looking for a night of drinking, foosball and pool and “cracking open a cold one with the boys,” Ladybird's is for you. Its jukebox is an amalgamation of indie rock, classic rock, soul and country, leaning a little more toward country than anything else. The bar is musician-owned, so although this may seem like a sports bar, you’ll be surprised as to what you can find on that jukebox in the corner. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, so pretty much anything you put on will be well-received. Its location in the Heights and the large patio make it a go-to for a laid-back night out away from the clubs of Midtown. For a date or just a hangout night, no place I’ve been settles the night like a few Lone Stars at Ladybirds. ADAM OHAYON

10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

LITTLE DIPPER
304 Main, Facebook page
Little Dipper is a favored haunt because the patrons are chill, the drinks are cheap and you can grab some Smarties (or a condom, depending on your craving) from candy dishes along the bar. Its music is always interesting but never intrusive. Although the clientele typically seems rad enough to be trusted with one of those gawdawful TouchTunes monstrosities, the urge to drunkenly dial up "Don't Stop Believin’" is mercifully quashed since all the songs are tuned from behind the bar by some of the coolest drink-servers in town. They know music and how it should add to but not overwhelm the atmosphere, which swings heavily toward friendly conversations between friends and strangers. For instance, we were chatting with a couple visiting from Germany one night but had to beg their pardon in order to Shazam up Carl Smith's "Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way" — then it was right back to our discussion. Parquet Courts, Courtney Barnett, Detroit Cobras, Darondo, Wanda Jackson…we’ve heard them all in the background while gabbing it up or just accepting ice-cold Lone Stars from the lovely Jessica, who knows exactly what we’re going to order just as soon as we walk in. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music
Photo by Jack Gorman

NOTSUOH
314 Main, notsuoh.com
This strange little dive bar is standing its ground as downtown's premier spot for weirdos and hipsters alike. If you’re looking for a wild time that goes against the grain, this is the spot. The drink selection is just as unassuming as the front of the bar. You won’t find any fancy trendiness here; at NotsuoH craft cocktails and fancy craft beers are in no-man’s land. Grab yourself a PBR and take a seat in one of the salvaged benches next to the baby-doll heads and mannequin body parts strewn along the walls while the sounds of acoustic Smashing Pumpkins covers, strange electronica or punk oscillate throughout the venue. Also known for providing live music and spooky after-hours antics, this bar (when it’s quiet) is a nice place to stop for a chat. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS

10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music
Photo by Clint Hale

POISON GIRL
1641 Westheimer, Suite B, Facebook page
If you’re a Houston local, you never know who you’re gonna bump into when you go to Poison Girl. So it goes with the music. On any given day or night, depending on the bartender, you could walk into the sounds of Death Metal blasting through the bar, '90s punk or your favorite indie-rock tunes. On more than one occasion, I’ve been serenaded out the door with some Tom Waits or Beirut. It’s a great mix and keeps the mind open while you’re chugging down those Lone Stars, drinking your favorite cocktail or just want to relax. If it gets too loud you, can always escape to the back patio and enjoy a drink under the shade of the giant Kool-Aid man in the corner. ADAM OHAYON

10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music
Photo by Clint Hale

WAKEFIELD CROWBAR
954 Wakefield, wakefieldcrowbar.com
This volleyball bar in Garden Oaks has one of the more eclectic playlists you’ll find in Houston. One day, more modern fare like the Killers, Foo Fighters or Kings of Leon will dominate the airwaves. The next day, it’s all '80s, all the time. On a recent Sunday trip to Crowbar, the place was jamming predominantly '90s West Coast hip-hop. On another visit, classic-rock bands like Queen and Creedence Clearwater Revival were on the playlist. Point being, there’s really no telling what will be pumping through the speakers on any given trip to Crowbar, but it’s a safe bet it'll be entertaining. CLINT HALE

10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music
Photo by HP Staff

WARREN'S
307 Travis
Warren's is a beloved Houston institution for a host of reasons; with its delightfully dingy ambience, colorful bartenders and heavy pours, it's a bar that's easy to fall in love with. But tucked in the corner of this downtown watering hole there's a music gem that any local worth his or her salt should know about: the jukebox. Old, yellowed and packed with faded CD covers, the Warren's jukebox may not have every song that you want, but it sure has all the songs that you need. You can drown your Gen-Xer sorrows listening to tracks off of Morrisey's Bona Drag. You can con your date into swing dancing to The Andrews Sisters. There's deep, soulful crooners like Etta James and Sarah Vaughan, or country legends like Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. The Warren's jukebox doesn't try too hard to impress you, but it's full of the kind of music that makes you feel like you're right at home. Notes from the jukebox weave themselves into the Warren's experience just as much as the dark woods and dim lighting. And that's what keeps people coming back, maybe even more than those stiff cocktails. KATIE SULLIVAN

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >