Club Directory

Aaron Michaels 930 FM 518, Kemah, 281-334-3610.

Absinthe If you think youll be able to quaff a couple of the notorious green fairies of van Gogh and Gauguin infamy before painting your masterpiece, youve got another drink coming. No, theres no absinthe here, but there are plenty of other spirits to get you going. Housed in a former wash-and-fold launderette, this hard-to-locate brasserie is the picture of civility. An older, docile crowd inhabits this roomy, albeit occasionally packed venue. Surprisingly excellent homemade pizzas serve as a nice respite from the usual bar fare, and the clean tile floors and a tasteful decor add a touch of class to a ramshackle stretch of lower Richmond. 609 Richmond, 713-528-7575.

Acadia Louisiana Bar 3939 FM 1960 W., 281-893-2860.

Agora A pocketful of dollar bills would serve you well here on a Wednesday night, when this usually relatively tame coffeehouse/bar opens up into a belly-dancing arena, complete with onlookers from all walks of life. As befits its name, Agora's overall theme is distinctly Greek, but what has made it work is the clash (friendly, mind you) of cultures that forces the place to so often elude definition. At night, the scholarly atmosphere that prevails by day turns boozy, yet the boozers and the perusers get along fabulously. 1712 Westheimer, 713-526-7212.

Upcoming Events

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema The idea is staggeringly simple. First, get your hands on a regular six-theater mall cineplex. Then remove every other row of seats and replace them with tables. Scatter the tables liberally with menus featuring a wide variety of tasty food and drink. Next, book a constant lineup of current Hollywood offerings, sprinkling in the odd revival and theme night. What you end up with is the ultimate date setup: dinner, drinks and a movie simultaneously. And no need to come up with any of that pesky conversation. 1000 West Oaks Mall, 281-556-0204.

Als Sports Bar The name pretty much says it all. A mind-blowing 15-foot TV screen ensures you wont miss any of the heavy broadcast-event action (even if part of you wouldnt mind), and a selection of big-game video concessions leaves no shortage of chances to sort out the alphas from the betas theres even one of those plush-animal-grabbing machines so you dont lose touch with your softer side. Add the fact of Wednesday-night karaoke and live bands on weekends and youve got a recipe for F-U-N. Oh, yeah, and theres beer. 16203 Westheimer, No. 102, 281-493-9797.

Als Sports Bar No. 2 3838 S. Dairy Ashford, 281-493-3838.

Anderson Fair This may not have been the first club on the Houston folk scene, but Anderson Fair has endured to become the mother church. Way back when, former locals Lucinda Williams, Eric Taylor and Nanci Griffith cut their teeth on the stage over the famous red brick floor, and there you can still catch aspirants to their thrones along with touring stalwarts amid a radical '70s vibe. A tiny kitchen dishes out mean quesadillas, while a small adjacent library serves up food for the mind. (No smoking; beer and wine only.) 2007 Grant, 713-528-8576.

Ashburys 60s Bar 4608 FM 1960 W., 281-895-0884.

The Axiom When the Axiom first opened 15 years ago, the only toilet was in the middle of the dance floor, and if you looked up in certain places, you could see stars. Now, after changing names several times, the joint has been fully renovated by underground drama group Infernal Bridegroom Productions and serves as both their theater and the punk/indie rock club it once was. Drinks are cheap and the clientele ranges from slacker to artsy. 2524 McKinney, 713-522-8443.

Azteca's This multilevel Mexican restaurant at the crossroads of the Montrose area and Greenway/River Oaks is quickly becoming Houston's premier venue for Spanish alternative music. Rocenrol, tango, techno, hip-hop, salsa and pretty much anything that can be infused with a lil' Latin influence are showcased here on a nightly basis. The crowd reflects the venue's eclectic vibe, and the energy level is always high. 2207 Richmond, 713-526-1702.

The Balinese Room Though cheesy trinkets are now plunked in the gift shop that fronts this over-the-water pleasure palace on the seawall, the newly renovated Balinese still exudes the roguish Rat Pack vibe that once made it the most popular illicit gambling palace in Texas. During its Eisenhower-era heyday, everyone from Duke Ellington to the Chairman of the Board played the club's bamboo-walled South Seas Ballroom, which has been painstakingly restored and includes the original murals and art deco black neon palm trees. You can still catch live music there, albeit today of the modern rock, pop and jazz varieties, with the occasional Vegas-style celebrity impersonator thrown in for history's sake. If you're a true Texan, you'll hum ZZ Top's ode to the joint as you take the stroll back toward the ballroom. 2107 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, 409-762-9696.  

The Ball Room If billiards are your particular vice, then look no further. The Ball Room boasts a bevy of eight-foot red-felt pool tables and a few green professional-sized ones to boot. Games are free every Monday through Wednesday from 8 p.m. till closing, and theres lots of elbow-and-cue room, copious drink specials and waitresses who will take your order tableside so you dont have to interrupt the game just to keep the spirits flowing. And if the decisive crack of brightly colored balls starts getting you down, head back to the dance floor for a whole different vibe courtesy of resident DJ Tiger Jones. Rack em! Marina Gate Center, second floor, 18307 Egret Bay Blvd., Webster, 281-335-0700.

Bareback Bar & Ice House 19940 Kuyendahl, 281-353-7501.

Bar Fly and Drink Bar As it's nestled in a cove behind The Breakfast Klub, most folks don't know Bar Fly is even there, and that's the way the clientele likes it. The vibe here reminds one of the old Metropol downtown, except the crowd is better dressed (mostly service industry folks) and the music is hip-hop (both old and new school). We came in through a back door via Drink Bar (the same folks own both), but we couldn't really tell if we were supposed to enter that way or not. It added to the feeling we were "discovering" something, even though Bar Fly has been open a couple of years. The vibe is relaxed, and the place is super-comfortable. Let's hope it stays that way. 3718 Main, 713-522-9985.

Bartini This multifaceted club is the new kid on the Montrose block, but it has what it takes to go the distance. Downstairs two well-stocked bars flank a recessed dance floor where ones boogie can and will be gotten on. The trip upstairs is almost like a voyage to another dimension, flashing lights and jackhammer beats giving way to a softer, more opened-out space, with claustrophobia-curing windows and yet a third bar, this one offering frozen drinks and a wide selection of cigars. Cameras implanted downstairs give upstairs patrons a view of their more energetic peers, beckoning them back to the wild life from the relative serenity on high. 1318 Westheimer, 713-526-2271.

Bayou Bar & Grill 1026 S. Eighth, La Porte, 281-471-6363.

Beaches 11718 Grant Rd., 281-655-4290.

Beamer Place 12057 Beamer Rd., 281-464-8825.

The Belmar The self-proclaimed Mediterranean in the middle of the metropolis lives up to the moniker, in that European and house beats, often delivered by a live DJ, inundate the bowels of this new Greenway-area bar/lounge. Free pizza during their generous happy hour certainly reminds one that he/she need not remember to bring a huge stack of travelers checks, however. A haven for the 25-and-up River Oaks set, the bar remains unpretentious even though the cars in the parking lot might suggest otherwise. An attentive waitstaff and large patio with comfy wicker chairs allows for a laissez-faire approach to bargoing. 2710 Richmond, 713-526-5667.

Belvedere One things for sure about this gaudy watering hole: If you belong here, youll know it sooner than later. This trendy Uptown Park hot spot is the logical spawn of The Social, which has the same owners. Well-to-do thirtysomething revelers smoke cigars and rehash the vicissitudes of the stock market during the early evening, but as the shadows lengthen, the already-generous drinks begin to appear more copious and the workaday scene devolves into the predictable Come here often? landscape. Also, for you Jehovahs Witnesses, beware that hidden cameras snap photos of patrons that are then displayed on a larger screen behind the bar. Its like those cameras that embarrass you at AstroWorld, but without all the mullets. 1131 Uptown Park Blvd., 713-552-9271.

Beverly Pub 6325 Beverly Hill, 713-334-3474.

Big Dog Ice House 214 Sheldon Rd., 281-457-0334.

The Big Easy Modeled after the blue-collar social and pleasure clubs that dot New Orleans, the Big Easy brings some down-to-earth charm and soul to one of Houston's most off-puttingly high-toned areas. The focus here is on local blues and zydeco artists -- the living legends from Houston's heyday as one of the country's top blues towns -- and the club's high volume level and physical intimacy offer patrons the chance to put these titans under a visual and aural microscope. 5731 Kirby, 713-523-9999.

Big Johns 1001 Dairy Ashford, 281-584-1631.

Big Johns Sports Bar This place is one giant rec room, and we mean that in a good way. Scoot around on the rolling miniature armchairs to get a better view of the continuous banks of various-sized TVs, play darts or pool, watch digital Centipede bravely take on digital Millipede, or just let the appetizers and beer flow like, well, appetizers and beer. Arrive early enough and you can head for the back to splay out on the comfy couch, just like at Moms house. All this under the benevolent gaze of a towering cardboard cutout of Big John Wayne himself. Ya heard me right, pilgrim. 6150 Wilcrest Dr., 281-498-3499.  

Big Texas Dance Hall & Saloon 803 E. NASA Rd. 1, Webster, 281-461-4400.

Blanco's Sprawling over a couple of acres of prime River Oaks real estate is this anomaly -- a bona fide if tiny Texas dance hall. Every Thursday and Friday (another oddity about Blanco's is that it's always closed on Saturday), the rustic-looking room is transformed into a sea of Stetsons, under which rowdy, back-slapping Shiner- and Lone Star-fueled locals can be found getting their boot-scoot on. Don't expect to hear any Tim McGraw or Kenny Chesney clones here -- in fact, don't even mention their names unless you attach an expletive. This place is as Texas-centric as the Alamo gift shop. 3406 W. Alabama, 713-439-0072.

Blondies 1026 S. Eighth, La Porte, 281-471-6363.

Blue Door Saloon 6535 FM 1488, Magnolia, 281-259-8024.

The Blue Lagoon 1248 Witte, 713-468-9398.

Blu Torch Lounge Perhaps what one notices first about this trendy downtowner is the enormous marble statue of a buxom woman with her head on fire behind the bar. Its that distracting. Complete with a makeout room in back and expensive paintings for sale in front, the Blu Torch actually does a good job of transplanting a New York feel while keeping bargoers aware that were still in Texas. The Blu Torch is roomy and has a down-home chic that might be attributed to sofas that look like they were taken from your parents house if your parents had a cooler house and a DJ over on the weekends spinning favorites from Tone-Loc to unremarkable but inoffensive techno. 809 Congress, 713-228-3409.

The Boardwalk Grill 2651 S. Hwy. 146, Baytown, 832-556-0486.

Boaka Bar Housed in the 92-year-old former Isis Theater and conjoined by a side entrance with the Mercury Room, this opulent, czarist Russia-themed dance club offers spectacular decor: a winding faux-marble staircase and giant chandelier dominate the interior, where the late twentysomething, see-and-be-seen crowd dances feverishly to dance remixes. While you might think that members of Cirque du Soleil will start trickling down from the ceiling, the Boaka Bar is far from a circus. 1010 Prairie, 713-225-6372.

Bogarts 1208 Uvalde, 713-455-5022.

Bojangles 1913 NASA Rd. 1, Seabrook, 281-474-5500.

Bonnies Club 1309 College Ave., 713-944-3070.

Borskis I-45 at Shepherd Hill, Willis, 936-344-6212.

Brasil What Houston establishment is likely to have a doctoral candidate stewing over her dissertation and sipping French roast while seated next to some Montrose hipster guzzling a Shiner? Brasil -- the perfect coffeehouse/bar hybrid. Roomy, with a smoking section and an outdoor patio, the full menu includes wine, beer, coffee and a broad selection of mostly healthy salads, sandwiches and pizzas. An eclectic variety of (often ethnic) live music and poetry readings draws in a varied crowd of foreign students and Montrosians. 2604 Dunlavy, 713-528-1993.

Brian O'Neill's The Rice Village Irish pub has a unique feature: a walk-up Guinness counter that supplies patrons out front with pints of the dark stuff. Inside is a dark Irish pub, complete with a cozy living room area with comfy leather couches. On weekends, blues, rock and country bands transform this into the loudest Irish pub in town. 5555 Morningside, 713-522-2603.

Bryants Ice House 26913 Katy Fwy., Katy, 281-392-5741.

Bucks 550 FM 1959, 281-481-2552.

Buffalo Freds 2708 N. Shepherd, 713-863-9409.

The Bull & Bear Tavern & Eatery Theres a real sense of symmetry and security within the confines of this westside hangout. Prominent dartboards and a selection of those quaint Punch magazine-style Guinness posters festoon the homey, wood-paneled walls, helping to create an environment nurturing to the Celtophilic athletic supporter in all of us. To top it off, a handsome display of about 30 taps lines the back of the bar, so curious consumers can see exactly what pint is being pulled and how. Still, patrons who initially stumble in for a drink often wind up coming back for the tasty and diverse food options. 11980 Westheimer, 281-496-6655.

Byzantio From the outside, this coffeeshop/bar looks like just another brick bungalow awaiting the wrecking ball and eventual transformation into town houses. But step inside and youll be swept away from the Gulf Coast and taken to Aegean shores. Owners Ilias Giannakopoulos and Dora Manolopoulos have transformed Giannakopouloss former abode into an authentic upscale Greek taverna, complete with Mediterranean snacks, lots of coffee and wine, and plenty of music. DJs spin Greek pop and hip-hop on weekends, while midweek nights find tango addicts and belly dancers sashaying across the hardwood floors. Its a little like Helios for the well heeled. 403 W. Gray, 713-520-6896.

Cactus Moon Blues Cafe This no-frills joint is the premier blues venue for the north Houston crowd. Its small stage hosts a surprisingly strong number of high-profile blues acts (many on the Rounder, Bullseye and Alligator labels) as well as local and regional faves. You can count on many shufflin' and clinchin' bodies on the dance floor. Also has a full menu and bar game area. 22250 Eastex Fwy., 281-446-2202.  

Cactus Music and Video Frequent in-store performances turn Houston's roots-music retail haven into something akin to nirvana. Not only is there never a cover, but the beer is always free. It bears repeating: There's never a cover, and the beer is always free. Over the years everyone from Billy Joe Shaver and Townes Van Zandt to the Police and the Ramones have taken the Cactus stage. 2930 S. Shepherd, 713-526-9272.

Cadillac Bar 1802 Shepherd, 713-862-2020.

Cafe Artiste Menil-goers, St. Thomas and Rice students and neighborhood locals play the Parisian in this Montrose-area coffeehouse. A small library and free papers here feed the mind, while a full breakfast menu and light lunches and dinners feed the body. And if you want to imbibe, you can do with beer, wine or any of a bevy of hot nonalcoholic bevvies. A great place to mull over all those New Guinea tribal masks you just saw at the museum around the corner. 1601W. Main, 713-528-3704.

Canary Club 711 Freeport, 713-453-9437.

Caps Piano Bar 2610 Briar Ridge, 713-784-0024.

Catbirds Huge murals of American music legends dominate the decor at this eclectic, dimly lit Lower Westheimer date place with a vaguely New Orleans vibe, and the sounds they made constitute the soundtrack. Want to share a bottle of wine while Sarah Vaughan or Xavier Cugat provides the background music? Come here, and you and that someone will be sitting in the catbird seat. Brainboxes will be put in that same zone by the bar's heavy emphasis on NTN Trivia. 1336 Westheimer, 713-523-8000.

Cardis 9301 Bissonnet, 713-270-0053.

Carringtons Sports Bar 6985 S. Main, 713-669-8009.

Cezanne This venerable jazz club, located above the Black Labrador restaurant, is a breath of fresh air. Classy and elegant, with framed prints of paintings by its namesake on the walls, this is a place where serious music aficionados can go to actually listen to the best local and touring jazz performers, ranging from traditional and Latin acts all the way to Western swing. Antique furniture, track lighting and a friendly, knowledgeable waitstaff are mere icing on the cake. 4100 Montrose, 713-522-9621.

Chilly Willys Black stencil lettering on the metal exterior of this Lee College student hangout suggests a makeshift establishment at best, and the interior decor doesnt promise much more, but Chilly Willys is about the only place that caters to the understandably discontented drinking-age youth of the Baytown area. DJs alternate with an eclectic array of original bands every week, and each Sunday at 9 p.m. brings the highly competitive freestyle hip-hop contest, the only one of its kind for miles around. So bring your skills, cause the hundred-buck prize could sure help out with some bills. 1201 Alexander, Baytown, 281-420-2848.

Christians Tailgate Bar & Grill 7340 Washington Ave., 713-864-9744.

City Lites A mellow and insular (not to say comatose) neighborhood crowd lines the bar here nightly. You get the sense that everyone here knows everyone else so well that theres little need to speak, and the domestic beer just keeps pouring. Country and light rock and roll bands set up on Wednesdays n weekends, and all are careful not to upset the well-cultivated schnockered lassitude. Good times! 421 E. Texas, Baytown, 281-422-0990.

Clark's The denizens of this downtown recording studio/dance club seem to literally kill the night. Thunderous speakers keep the clubgoers bouncing like fuel-injected marionettes, and the hectic bar scene might cause the more dipsomaniacally inclined to ask, Dont you think we should have just gotten loaded beforehand? And since drinks take a backseat to dancing, the sheer energy of the place nullifies the need for an obligatory trek to the bar every 15 minutes to refill the glass. The John Evans Band plays every Friday. 314 Main St., 713-237-8220.

Club Go Youre probably not pretty enough to be in this dance spot, where guys dance with girls who dance with other girls who dance with guys dancing with guys. Confused? Just go with it. Once home to the now-defunct Hyperia, this feast of flesh pounds out dance and hip-hop beats into the late hours while sundry events such as a Miss Darque Tan competition or a luau roll by seemingly unnoticed by the sweaty hordes. 2001 Commerce, 713-225-GOGO.

Club Riddims Anyone who goes out looking for a serious dose of reggae flavor eventually ends up at Riddims, regardless of the fact that this hallowed reggae/dancehall spot is situated in a strip mall in the burbs. On any given weekend night, the parking lot fills to the point where a quick stop at the Bluemountain Cafe for a beef patty becomes nearly impossible. 8220 W. Bellfort, 713-779-0033.  

Cock-Eyed Seagull Dont flinch at the huge Open Water-esque shark frozen in mid-lunge over the bar, its all part of the maritime theme here, which also encompasses murals featuring more-or-less cartoonish sea life and scuba divers. In fact, the entire place is decked out to resemble a ship, all the way to the outdoor observation deck. Rock and blues bands with sufficiently developed sea legs play here every Thursday through Saturday, theres never a cover charge, and the poop deck is perpetually scrubbed, so drink up, me hearties. Or whatever. Marina Gate Center, 1010 NASA Rd. 1, ste. B, Webster, 281-335-5400.

Continental Club The crowd at this Midtown country/roots rock club runs the gamut from alt-country hipsters and Brylcreemed rockabilly fanatics to the occasional nine-to-fiver dropping in for happy hour -- basically, if you're not uptight you're welcome. While the place books name national and regional acts, Houston favorites like the loungy El Orbits also appear regularly. Cheap drinks, pool tables and shuffleboard in the back room, a large back deck and groovy vintage accoutrements like a giant bingo board and Atari tournaments on the bar TVs give the place a casual vibe even when it's packed. 3700 Main, 713-529-9899.

The Corner Pocket 5626 Red Bluff Rd., Pasadena, 281-991-6979.

Cosmos Cafe By day, it offers some of the best burgers and grilled tuna sandwiches in town. By night, it fills with hipsters in their forties and fifties and the local, almost-famous acts they've always loved. Want to be regaled with tales of old Washington Avenue, when Herschel Berry, the Dishes and the Cold Cuts ruled the roost? Come to Cosmos and hear the survivors tell the tales, in both words and music. 69 Heights Blvd., 713-802-2144.

Cotton Exchange It's hard to find plusher surroundings to knock back a Sazerac or two on the entire Gulf Coast than in this living reminder that Houston has a history. Vaulted ceilings encrusted with painted-on cotton plants overarch a marble bar and cozy nooks dotted with couches and Tiffany lamps, and the walls are festooned with pictures of Houston when cotton was king. Back in the day, this handsome high Victorian pile near the bayou was the center of the Houston economy and remains a place of negotiations; most of the clientele consists of bankers, lawyers and oil men cutting deals over Macanudos and single malt. That said, it would be a great place for a third date -- a deal of another sort. "Drink In the History" is the motto here, and better advice was never given, but if you go, make sure you're in high cotton; the drinks are pricey. 808 Franklin, 713-236-0499.

Crawdaddys 1053 FM 2094, Kemah, 281-334-2292.

Crooked Ferret 11835 Jones Rd., 281-894-0055.

The Crown Club 5001 Treaschwig, Spring, 281-443-0003.

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Houston's "summer shed" hosts the A-list national touring acts and packages across all musical genres. But while the seated areas provide a better view for a pricier ticket, the best action is often found on the lawn. That's especially true during rock shows, where the ant-free green carpet isn't the only grass being enjoyed up high. 2005 Lake Robbins Dr., 281-364-3010.

Dan Electros Predominantly an older, blue-collar crowd congregates at this guitar-shop-cum-nightspot on the eastern fringes of the Heights, which offers an intriguing mix of Texas-style rock, blues, bluegrass and country. Glass cases full of strings, picks and capos line the walls in the listening area, while out back is a lush garden under a canopy of live oaks where ferns, flowers, fountains and fragrant smoke provide a subtropical nirvana. 1031 E. 24th, 713-862-98707.

Darkhorse Tavern Housed in old 1920s five-and-dime, the Darkhorse feels like a bit of a relic. Nevertheless, this Sixth Ward bar features one of the best jukeboxes in town (Hooray! No Eagles!) along with better-than-average bar food. The laid-back and refreshingly eclectic drinking crowd is something of a novelty; youll feel welcome whether youve come in for a cold beer or a wine spritzer. 2207 Washington Ave., 713-426-2442.

The Davenport DJs and the bar staff spin a wildly eclectic cross-section of modern music at this Shepherd Plaza retro-lounge, where hipsters and button-downs alike flock in the early evenings. There they flop down on Jetson-style couches and Eames chairs and imbibe single malts, martinis and some of the most notoriously potent cocktails this side of moonshiner's convention. Walk, don't drive, to the Davenport. 2115 Richmond, 713-520-1140.

Dean's Credit Clothing You can browse through racks of vintage threads while you imbibe at this thrift store-bar hybrid. A typical night finds it packed with pretty people who wish they had better jobs and more interesting lives drinking expensive cosmopolitans -- in other words, the most palatable of the uptight downtown bars. Live bands playing improvised rock and DJs spinning acid jazz provide the musical backdrop. Dean's is a dark place, so be careful who (or which article of clothing) you go home with. 316 Main, 713-227-3326.  

Deb-A-Ros 916 W. Main, Tomball, 281-351-2599.

Delmers Ice House 15515 Garrett Rd., 281-456-0741.

DiverseWorks 1117 East Fwy., 713-335-3445.

Dog House Tavern Bring a picture of your pooch to hang on the walls of this chummy Midtown boozer. Pool-shootin, game-watchin and jukebox-groovin occupy most of the affluent and young regulars time. The casual bar also features a Thursday steak night. 2517 Bagby, 713-520-1118.

Double Bayou Dance Hall A few miles south of Anahuac in the African-American village of Double Bayou, the Place, as its known locally, is a ramshackle but friendly Texas original set amid swampy, Spanish moss-draped live oak woodlands near Trinity Bay. Bluesman Pete Mayes and members of his family have owned and operated this hyperfunky juke joint the oldest blues bar in Texas since the 1940s. Mayes hosts big parties here on special occasions and some holiday weekends at these events, the musicians cook up T-Bone Walker-style blues on stage, while outside on the front lawn, local men in cowboy duds smoke brisket and local women offer homemade pecan, lemon meringue and sweet potato pies. A quarter-mile east of FM 562 along Eagle Ferry Road, seven miles south of Anahuac, 409-252-4335, 713-633-0810.

Double Bayou Dance Hall 713-433-7550.

Double Ds Roadhouse Crosby, 281-462-9886.

Double Ts 14933 Bellaire Blvd., Mission Bend.

Downing Street A veritable rat-packers paradise, Downing Streets spare, conversation-friendly layout gives patrons the choice between secluded booths (each equipped with its own mood-lighting-control knob), a couple of huge couches near the entrance and a section of smaller tables designed for quiet socializing while serious drinkers just belly up to the meticulously stocked bar. The vibe is boisterous but not garish, and although folks are well dressed, theyre obviously more intent on enjoying themselves than on showing off. The most unique feature of Downing Street is its state-of-the-art walk-in humidor located in the center of the club, kept at a constant 73 degrees. The cedar walls are lined with hundreds of storage lockers wherein Houstons cigar elite can keep their smokes safe from decay, if not nuclear destruction. 2549 Kirby, 713-523-2291.

Drink Houston You want to hit a variety of clubs and get your drink on. A big party atmosphere would be nice, or a chill video lounge, or a honky-tonk; maybe a movie later. But you don't want to get a DWI en route from lounging to two-stepping. Though Drink at the Marq*E Entertainment Center offers a smaller version of City Streets' multi-party-plex, the main club (modern dance music, hip-hop and retro) is not scaled down by any means. The video lounge, billed as a spot to settle down for conversation, can be a bit loud but has a cool modern vibe. The country bar, like traditional ones, plays rock occasionally to step up the energy. It's also the most intimate space, with a small dance floor, a couple of pool tables and plenty of tables. 7620 Katy Fwy., 713-290-0041.

Duke of Hollywood Tailors Probably the weirdest place in downtown with respect to its marriage of the old and the new. What used to be, and in fact still is -- a tailor's shop opened by Duke Shapiro -- has been beautifully remade into a Market Square watering hole. A shoeshine booth sits to the left as you enter, followed by a behemoth working counter and the bar to the right, creating a bit of a squeeze, but none for the worse. The cabinets in the walls are still full of fabric and dress shirts, which, along with the various photos and newspaper clippings plastered around the place, help with the nostalgic feel. The only drawback is the music, which is all wrong for such a place, but serviceable drinks and a cigar-friendly atmosphere will make up for it in the eyes of many. A great place to bring someone visiting from out of town. 305 Travis, 713-227-5867.

Ebony Club 5505 Langley Rd., 713-631-6072.

Eldorado Ballroom From the depression era until about 1970, the Eldorado was the citys top upscale blues and jazz club. A roll call of the greats that have played there is endless suffice to say that on one long weekend in the 1950s, Guitar Slim, Etta James, Clifton Chenier, Jimmie Reed and Charles Brown all played at the home of happy feet. (Reed, James and Chenier on the same bill!) Desegregation spelled the clubs doom, as well as that of most of the rest of the once-thriving black-owned businesses on nearby Dowling Street the happy feet found other homes. Until 2003, when the artists of nearby Project Row Houses reopened the club. Now a historical landmark, today the club is open on special occasions. 2310 Elgin, 713-526-7662.  

El Pueblito The back room of this piquant Guatemalan-Mexican restaurant often hosts live music usually a solo artist with keyboard or guitar or a small combo. Tropical good times result there and on the adjacent back patio, where torchlight and margaritas round out the sabor. 1423 Richmond, 713-520-6635.

Elvia's Okay, it's billed as a restaurant and cantina, but nobody ever, ever eats here. This southwest Houston hot spot is just for dancing. Flamenco shows and salsa lessons warm up the early crowd, and live cumbia and merengue bands take over after 10 p.m. Novices beware: The competition on the dance floor can be cutthroat. 2727 Fondren, 713-266-9631.

EM. I. Karaoke Bar Four whole nights (Thursday through Sunday) of solid karaoke action, with full bar and a throbbing, young, polycultural vibe. Simultaneous DJ/MC Ekin runs the show, keeping the multilingual (English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.) sing-alongs moving and spinning trance and hip-hop in between, while the foxy waitstaff attends to your every (well, most every) need. Good clean fun, or a new Gregg Araki film waiting to happen? The choice, she is yours. 6101 Wilcrest, 281-495-7078.

Empire Bar Three floors' worth of dancing and music are interspersed at this weekend spot housed in an old law office in an otherwise empty block of NoDo. While most of the original brick and flooring has been saved, it is now accented by new, refined lighting and a thunderous sound system. The first floor serves as a staging area, vacant except for a few stragglers just wandering in and getting their first drink, while the second and third floors serve as the pulsating dance areas. Hip-hop's on floor two, with Latin music just above. 108 Main, 713-223-9108.

The Energy Corridor Pub 1001 Dairy Ashford, 281-584-9631.

Engine Room Diverse crowds turn out for the equally eclectic shows at this metal, alternative and hip-hop venue with the mechanical moniker, but don't expect a scene from the bowels of the Titanic when you go. The large warehouse-style club has minimal frills and decor but is equipped with fancy, intelligent lighting and a decent sound system. The bar offers blue-collar beers (Lone Star, Pearl) and stiff mixed drinks. 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.

Ernie's on Banks Tired of TV-saturated sports bars that make you feel like you've gotten trapped insides a sports kaleidoscope? Ernie's on Banks is for you. It's not the place to go if you're a fan of some weird team like the Seattle Seahawks -- they just don't have enough TVs. But if you're a Houston homer and want to watch the game and converse with your pals, Ernie's is the place. The baseball-themed downstairs area -- which is stocked with a jukebox, a pool table and a library -- is worth a visit even if there's no game on. Unlike all too many bars in the Montrose/Museum District, Ernie's is as pretension-free and laid-back as Charlie Rose on Valium, and that's what makes it one of the best neighborhood bars in town. 1010 Banks, 713-526-4566.

Etta's Lounge Older African-American regulars, young University of Houston students and Montrose hipsters mix easily at this Third Ward institution, especially on Sunday nights, when Grady Gaines and his Texas Upsetters take the stage for a long night of blues and soul. The dilapidated building and, uh, unique decorating scheme only add to the charm. (Do they ever take the Christmas decorations down?) And this seals the deal: The cover is a measly $3 and they'll serve you cold beer in a bucket if you ask for it. 5120 Scott, 713-528-2611.

Eureka Club 10414 Hempstead Hwy., 713-682-9125.

510 Club 7410 Fairbanks, 713-896-1381.

F2 Pizza, burgers and dogs arent the only draw at this little downtown eatery/lounge, which is owned by the folks who brought you Franks Pizza. Inside the bold orange facade youll also find a couple of dart boards, DJs spinning hip-hop and acid jazz, and a full bar, while outside seating on Main allows you to view downtowns nightlife while you eat. F2 also has a pizza window open until 3 a.m. where weekend wee-hours revelers can grab a slice and go. 306 Main, 713-229-9999.

Faces 1453 Witte, 713-463-9099.

Firehouse Saloon If rockin' Texas country is your disease, then put on your pearl-snap shirts and pull on your Ropers and head to the Firehouse for the cure. Here you see Texas music acts before they play at Willie's Picnic. Get there early if you want a seat at the picnic bench. Otherwise, expect to stand. 5930 Southwest Fwy., 713-977-1962.

Fitzgerald's The granddaddy of them all on the Houston scene has undergone many drastic changes in style over the years. Long ago it was a Polish dance hall, then it had a long run under the current ownership as a blues/roots venue, and today, it's Houston's punk, underground rock and metal mecca. Somehow the substance of the place has remained unchanged: It's hot, dirty, spacious and eclectic, just like the city it's in. Midlevel national acts perform upstairs, while up-and-coming national and local bands perform downstairs on multiband bills. Don't miss the upstairs patio overlooking the boulevard. 2706 White Oak Blvd., 713-862-3838.  

Forgetta Bout It Club 13245 Jones Rd., 281-807-4116.

Front Porch Pub Standing right in the middle of newly gentrified Freedmens Town, this friendly watering hole offers upwardly mobile urban homesteaders a huge array of beers to choose from. As the name implies, you can kick it alfresco here and luxuriate in beery splendor, right there in the shadows of the Skyline District. 217 Gray, 713-571-9571.

Gallant Knight This is the home of real-deal R&B with live bands three nights a week, and the atmosphere is as down-home as the music. Middle-aged regulars surround the bar while Rice University students sit on lumpy, threadbare couches. The zigzag layout means plenty of dark corners for lurking, Shaft-style. 2337 W. Holcombe, 713-665-9762.

The Gatsby At first, this deco "social club" sought to bring some upscale nocturnal class to the Rice Village, where this spot rests comfortably above the many eateries and businesses on University. But then, the spot switched aesthetics and became the premier hip-hop/house dance club for those looking to get a taste of sin, downtown-style, without having to take on all of the traffic and parking ordeals. Good luck getting in, though; you may need the Jaws of Life to pry your way up to the front ropes. 2540 University Blvd., 713-874-1310.

The Ginger Man As the encyclopedic (if not downright pedantic) beer list attests, this is a microbrew snobs paradise. Of course, any bar that features bottles of Arrogant Bastard Ale is asking for it, perhaps, but the Ginger Man is up to the challenge. Featuring a great CD jukebox and a crew of dressed-down, het-up Rice Village regulars, this is the place to go if you want to hear the finer points of John Ashcrofts singing style debated while a soundtrack of The Card Cheat by the Clash nags at you in the background. 5607 Morningside, 713-526-2770.

The G.R.A.B. Built on the site of the former downtown favorite Globe News, the G.R.A.B. (Game Room and Bar) maintains a neighborhood-bar feel within the deluge of downtowns trendy martini watering holes. The G.R.A.B. manages to retain a core group of liver-spotted regulars while still appealing to a younger, beer-swilling and tequila-shooting clientele. On Saturdays, a DJ spins vinyl from the likes of Perry Como and Iron Maiden, and dont be surprised if you find yourself in the midst of a heated nine-ball tournament while glassy-eyed quasi-bohemians take in the hackneyed Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon event on the big-screen TV. 809 Pierce, 713-655-0707.

Grand 1894 Opera House Whether you squeeze into the smallish wooden seats to hear the Galveston Symphony, an aging pop star or country legend or a touring blues or jazz tribute, the natural acoustics of this hall easily eclipse any lack of knee-room. (It must be true: People were smaller back then.) No seat inside this historic building, which survived the Great Storm of 1900, seems far from the stage, even in the balcony, making any concert an intimate affair. (Tip: There are a few vision-impeding posts, so check out the seating plan before you buy.) 2020 Postoffice, Galveston, 800-821-1894.

Grasshopper This one wins the award for the most misleading outer design in regards to what you'll find inside. A gorgeous mock-Tudor facade runs up some three stories, but inside the feel is more modern, with a long, curving bar and space-age booths for seating. Upstairs you'll find a straight-up booty club, with rather placid house music and dancers on the third floor shaking it in front of the windows for patrons on the sidewalk below. Long lines and expensive drinks, yes -- but it's supposedly a great pickup joint. 506 Main, 713-222-1442.

Griffs Houston athletic history drips from the walls of this Irish-tinged 40-year-old Montrose sports bar. Regulars here join various sports-themed armies that band together to watch the game on one of the bars 16 TVs or pile on to the bars own open-top party bus and head for Reliant, Minute Maid or Toyota Center. St. Patricks Day is huge here their celebration is among the biggest in the state. 3416 Roseland, 713-528-9912.

G's This scaled-down Gilley's-style honky-tonk is the place where the petrochemical workers go to drink longnecks, shoot pool and fight in the parking lot. Enjoy a burger, ride the mechanical bull or shop for western or Rebel flag T-shirts that hang above the bar covered in plastic like dry cleaning. G's is a regular stop for big-name country acts of a certain vintage such as David Allan Coe and Johnny Lee. 6961 Hwy. 225, Deer Park, 281-479-9213.  

Gulf Greyhound Park I-45 S., exit 15, La Marque, 800-275-2946.

The Gulley Crosby, 281-462-0469.

Hard Rock Cafe The decor at Houston's outlet of the Hard Rock empire is a slap in the face -- it features numerous relics of Austin rockers and Delta bluesmen while ignoring the city's rich heritage almost completely. (C'mon, folks, there's more to Houston than ZZ Top.) Every Friday, the club hosts multiband modern rock shows and occasionally hosts battles of the bands in conjunction with other Hard Rocks in other towns. 502 Texas, 713-227-1392.

The Harp Eclectic seating arrangements are the order of the day at this Irish pub on lower Richmond. You can take your pick from stools at the bar, couches in the nooks and crannies, or tables both inside and out. Twentysomething singles -- ranging from hipster to button-down -- congregate here to sup up Guinness and whiskey, on Fridays to the strains of local rock and pop singer-songwriters. Beware of errant darts on Wednesdays, when citywide competitions can get fierce. 1625 Richmond, 713-528-7827.

Helios A bohemian oasis in the heart of Montrose, this stoner-chic, slacker-friendly bar/coffeehouse defines eclectic. On any given night you can hear jazz, hip-hop, bluegrass, poetry or some dude belting out Pink Floyd classics accompanied by only a synthesizer and a drumstick. With three stages -- one upstairs, one downstairs and one in the backyard -- you never know what will happen next. You might even stumble into a fire-eating belly dancer on hip-hop night. 411 Westheimer, 713-526-4648.

Hickory Hollow Bluegrass and giant chicken-fried steaks are the twin word associations that come to mind when Hickory Hollow comes up, but this Heights-area saloon also dishes out 'cue, catfish and ribs on tin plates, cold drinks in mason jars, and straight-up country on the stage. If it's the music you're after and not the chuckwagon grub, come on the weekends and come early -- they usually sing "Happy Trails" by ten. 101 Heights Blvd., 713-869-6300.

Hideaway 3122 Dunvale, 713-977-3515.

Hobby Center for the Performing Arts This gorgeous stunner is the newest and most beautiful jewel in the Theater Districts glittering tiara. Inside, the 2,650-seat Sarofim Hall stuns with both its ornate yet tasteful neo-Victorian splendor and its stellar acoustics, and is home to Theatre Under the Stars and the Broadway in Houston series. Those who fill the 500 seats in the more intimate Zilkha Hall are treated to performances by everything from alt-country singer-songwriters to Tamil dance troupes. 800 Bagby, 713-315-2400.

The Hop This is definitely your father's gig. If you think Nirvana is, like, old, or that the Dave Clark Five were bank robbers from Killeen, you're in the wrong place at this windowless disco in the middle of strip mall, um, nirvana. Most nights the DJ spins everything from Buddy Holly to the Beach Boys to the Bee Gees, so it's the place for boomers who refuse to let go of the past or the younger folk who think modern alt-rock isn't worth a darn. Occasionally, bands are booked along the same lines -- hardy perennials Vince Vance & The Valiants are a fave draw. Hwy. 3 at NASA Rd. 1, 281-332-6702.

H-Town Arena Theatre The room's design is a study in intimacy, with a revolving stage in the center of a circular theater that sits no more than 50 feet from its farthest spectator. While the capacity is just under 3,000, it certainly doesn't feel that large. The domed roof brings the entire room down to a cozy, comfortable level that focuses on the entertainer but brings the crowd together as well. 7326 Southwest Freeway, 713-988-1020.

The Hub Sinking into one of the modern-retro leather couches at this downtown cocktail lounge, you may be tempted to search for the price tag. The Hub might as well be called The Bar at IKEA. Lit in rich amber tones with hanging lamps and upholstered in faux-animal skin prints, the environment reflects the mass-manipulation of a furniture store catalog. Its familiarity is what makes it comfortable to the well-dressed crowds it draws Thursdays through Saturdays. If you're still not sure it's your scene, stop in for a drink on an empty Tuesday night and check the picture displays with photos of various patrons. 312 Main, 713-224-8880.

HUSH Who knew Houston could generate a nightclub like this? For starters, its 25,000-plus feet of boogie real estate make HUSH a Texas-sized forum for thunderous beats and a truly beguiling clubbing experience. Even the restrooms are a dazzling production unto themselves. A paucity of conventional light sources throughout the club makes for an interesting scene; add in the requisite fog machine and bewildering arsenal of dance-inducing lasers, and this one-of-a-kind dance club should provoke some well-deserved buzz. 15625 Katy Fwy., 713-330-4874.  

Indigo Lounge Artificial waterfalls set the tone at the entrance to this monument to all things party-down. Its like Holly Golightlys dream of the techno-future, with campy modern-kitsch paintings, couches set atop raised lightboxes, and an overall visual feel set somewhere between campy nostalgia and up-to-the-minute hipsterism. On the aural end, Latin and dance music pound relentlessly through the sound system. 2151 Richmond, 713-524-5551.

International Ballroom 14035 S. Main, 713-631-1040.

Jacks for Cocktails 11720 Wilcrest, 281-498-3410.

Java Jazz Coffee House Only the "java" half of this club's name is entirely accurate -- no alcohol is served here, and smoking is banned. But don't let the "jazz" part fool you. This Old Town Spring coffee bar is best known as the premier spot for live music lovers of the under-18 set. Everyone from local high school bands to national names such as the Voodoo Glow Skulls and Finch have rocked at the little converted bungalow. Parents are welcome to pogo among the hundreds of shiny-faced teens who descend here every weekend, though their kids themselves will likely encourage them to, like, go away. 419 Gentry, Spring, 281-528-8129.

Jax Bar & Grill 1613 Shepherd, 713-861-5529.

Jones Hall With wall-to-wall red carpet, Houston's old faithful anchors the Theater District. This general-purpose music hall might seem a bit tame by today's standards, but its stage has seen everyone from Minnie Riperton to Mariachi Vargas and Yo-Yo Ma. 615 Louisiana, 800-889-8457.

J.P. Hops House At first a trip here feels a lot like walking into someone's living room uninvited, but the spaciousness of the place allows for more privacy once you settle in. Set up a lot like a barbecue joint, J.P. has a stage in the front corner where folkies and singer-songwriters hold sway and a large area for dart tournaments in the back. Dozens of beer taps and hundreds of bottled varieties remind us that, as the name implies, this is most assuredly a tribute to good ol' brewski. 2317 S. Hwy. 6, 281-496-0623.

Kaveh Kanes Coffee Jack Kerouac, the High-Tech Texan and Ol' Dirty Bastard would all feel equally at home at this downtown coffeehouse/gallery/performance space. By day, tech geeks can connect to the Internet over the wireless house system while tweaking out on some of the best espresso in town. Then there's the music on offer at night. Hip-hop and alternative rock rule the roost -- this ain't your daddy's Kumbaya coffeehouse. 912 Prairie, 713-236-0411.

Kay's Lounge Kay's Lounge was immortalized in the late-1970s publishing sensation The Preppy Handbook as one of the top bars in America for the oxford-cloth set, and that remains true today. Then and now, though, it's decidedly a spot for a regional subspecies of the critter (Preppius Texicus) similar to their brethren and sestren from elsewhere except for their distinct footwear (Justin Ropers are common markings) and taste in music (country is their call). The club features live acoustic shows on Wednesdays, but it's mainly a place for pool, darts and big-screen TV viewing. 2324 Bissonnet,713-528-9858.

KCs Here is a sports bars sports bar, boasting television screens numbering in the double digits, visible from every possible vantage point in the spacious, rec room-type layout. Theres a huge array of diversions available for the competitively minded consumer, with multiple dartboards, a prominent foosball table and everyones favorite rifle-powered video game, Big Buck Hunter. Basically a Chuck E. Cheeses for grown-ups, KCs raison dtre is its unpretentious selection of beers, served with gusto to an even less pretentious crowd. 1975 West T.C. Jester, 713-864-3944.

Kenneallys That rare thing, a local bar thats old enough to drink. A neighborhood institution that just turned 21, Kenneallys is a neighborhood Irish pub nonpareil, boasting homey atmosphere along with Guinness, Harp, Fosters and other heady beers on tap, not to mention authentic Chicago-style pizza. When a place has been around this long, it acquires a degree of character you just dont find elsewhere. The Kenneallys staff has recently moved into a privileged position, as the regulars kids have begun to reach drinking age and make their way through the same friendly doors to belly up to the same bar where their parents caroused, making this a truly multigenerational institution. 2111 S. Shepherd, 713-630-0486.

Knuckleheads Anyone reading this who self-identifies as a big, scary biker type, be advised: Knuckleheads is your kinda place. The cluttered, open-air bar goes straight to the mainline of the hog-rider at heart. Tuesday night is auspiciously set aside for steak and lingerie, Thursday is the big pool tournament, and Friday the proverbial mike is rendered open. On weekends theres live music and good eats, with crawfish on Saturday, catfish on Sunday. Motorcycle mamas (and papas) unite! 701 N. Main, Baytown.  

La Carafe Housed in the oldest commercial building in town, La Carafe exudes history. The jukebox plays no small part in this process -- stocked as it is with Clifton Chenier, Benny Goodman and Lady Day -- and so do the candles behind the bar resting atop mountains of their own melted wax. The brick walls are covered with photos and paintings of the city in bygone days and even one of the city's namesake -- the museum-worthy collection is dominated by a huge portrait of Sam Houston himself. 813 Congress, 713-229-9399.

Lance's Turtle Club Built on a barge and accessed by a gangplank, this wooden floating party palace is the vision of a popular beer ad come to life. All summer long, it's the place where powerboats rumble up to deposit guests or merely troll by to give patrons an eyeful of the captain's rippling pecs while young ladies in teensy thongs linger along the bow. Everything from classic rock to blues to Parrothead fare graces the stage here on weekends. 2613 NASA Rd. 1, 281-326-7613.

Last Concert Cafe You still have to knock three times on the red door to gain entry to this former bordello in the Warehouse District. A little slice of heaven for hippie types and drum circle junkies, the indoor-outdoor Mexican restaurant/venue is quite possibly the most eclectic concert spot in town. Reggae, world beat, blues and rock in all its colors (though very often of the jam band hue) can be showcased here on any given night, under the stars and away from the traffic of downtown and the Richmond Strip. Think Woodstock meets Emo's in Europe. 1403 Nance, 713-226-8563.

Leon's Lounge The oldest continually operating bar downtown and arguably in the city, Leon's has more character than your crazy uncle who ran off to join the circus. Antique crystal chandeliers hang over the long mahogany bar, which competes for space in the long and narrow front room with a shuffleboard set. Behind the bar is a game room dominated by a small pool table and several stuffed critters harvested by the owner's family on hunting trips. In back is the newest addition: a piano bar. Most of the clientele have been sipping their Busch tallboys undisturbed here for years, so expect a little gruffness from the regulars when you go. And take your soap and shampoo along -- the men's room near the pool table has a shower. 1006 McGowen, 713-659-3052.

Licor Lounge This bright danceteria in the bottom of the building that once housed Homage/Red Square looks like something that might appear in a Stanley Kubrick film. A colorful decor that centers on a bright white theme flows throughout one room, which is broken up wonderfully by various bars, benches and blocks raised here and there for either sitting or dancing. It's almost like a playground more than a dance club -- and it works. The music is great, too, falling in line with downtown/Midtown's affinity for house but throwing in a few pop gems here and there. No cover, reasonable drinks and accessible parking. 2204 Louisiana, 713-654-0869.

The Limelite Man, oh man, what a difference a few couches, a new paint job and some photos of the Rat Pack on a wall can make to an old watering hole. Originally the Union Station Tavern, the bar has now turned itself into The Limelite, an upscale spot nestled among the bail bond offices and corner convenience stores around the ballpark once known as Enron Field. If the rest of NoDo becomes too crowded on the weekends, there's a classy little dive for you on Prairie. 1207 Prairie, 713-223-2100.

Live! Sports Cafe Downtown eatery by day, another vibrant dance club on the weekend nights. What serves as a home for the Houston Astros' talk show Astroline each Wednesday has also become a weekend hot spot. This is likely due in no small part to a great balcony that overlooks Main and Prairie in one of the more open areas of downtown. Techno and house occupy the sound system, while multiple levels spread out the patrons and even out the vibe. Karaoke takes place on Fridays, and live bands appear on select nights. Nothing special about the drinks, but the location cancels out all else, and the view is hard to beat. 407 Main, 713-228-5483.

Lizzard's Pub There's a decidedly homey feel about this place, especially when you venture into the smaller back rooms with their old, worn plush sofas and walls covered in dated wood paneling. One cozy backroom nook sports a curious nude painting that inevitably raises questions and all sorts of drunken musings. Who is she? Did people really look like her once upon a time? Do you think she's dead by now? Drink specials vary in this neighborhood bar, and the faces are always friendly. If you don't know anybody going in, you're likely to leave having met some chatty character brimming with local color. 2717 Sackett, 713-529-4610.  

The Lone Star Saloon 102 S. Third St., Richmond.

Lone Star Saloon This venerable downtown dive is home to a bar, a pool table, a country/classic rock jukebox and not much else, and that's okay. The clientele is primarily blue-collar, the beer is cheap and very cold, the shots are stiff, and it opens early in the afternoon. What the hell else do you need to get your drink on? A Golden Tee machine? And now you can get your drink outside -- they've just added a brand-new deck. 1900 Travis, 713-757-1616.

The Lounge A smaller, slightly hipper cousin to owner Charlie Watkinss Tavern on Gray, the Lounge packs a bar, a club and a sushi restaurant into a surprisingly small space. Inexpensive pitchers draw in pretty, well-heeled young professionals by the Lexus-full. DJs and live party-type bands vie for space on the Lounges stage. 4704 Montrose, 713-520-0020.

LZ Pub You'll never see a bar's demographic change so drastically within a single day. By weekday, LZ's is a watering hole to a smattering of neighborhood retirees. By night -- especially Thursdays, it seems -- it's a sanctuary for frat bros and sorority sisters on their cells and on the prowl. The jukebox boasts an eclectic rock and classic country mix -- a little Patsy Cline, a little Ramones. Wednesday happy hour offers a unique treat: There's a limited supply of dirt-cheap freshly made sangria; and around 6 or 6:30, a stack of pizza pies arrives, free for the taking. Another note of interest: Comedy fans will find a number of local comics on both sides of the bar on a regular basis. 2239 Richmond, 713-522-7118.

Magnolia Bar & Grill 6000 Richmond, 713-781-6207.

Marfreless Tucked away in a nondescript white hulk of a building near River Oaks is this hidden treasure. Theres no sign over the blue door, but walk right in. Oh, yeah and this is vital dont forget to bring a date, because this is Houstons finest public indoor makeout spot. You and your honey can plop down on one of many couches on the bars two levels, order up a bottle of wine, drink in the low-in-the-mix classical music and soft lighting, and go to it like eighth-graders behind the skating rink. 2006 Peden, 713-528-0083.

Maribelle's In the shadow of the Kemah Bridge, Maribelle's has a well-earned reputation as one of the Gulf Coast's most colorful roadhouse bars. Though known in the past as strictly a biker bar, these days pickup trucks and SUVs share equal space with the hogs parked out front, and folks race in to reserve one of the two pool tables adjacent to the stage. On weekends, local country/rock cover bands take over from the jukebox, which often blasts out rap or metal tunes between sets, making for quirky time-warp transitions. In the summer, bands or singer-songwriters often set up on the huge outdoor deck, where patrons who forget to spray down grapple with seagull-sized mosquitoes. 305 Bath, Seabrook, 281-474-9919.

Market Square Bar and Grill The downtown branch of the T.K. Bitterman's mini-empire, this laid-back tavern on the square has a blue-collar appeal sorely lacking elsewhere downtown. As with its West Alabama cousin, baseball is the motif -- pictures of Astros greats and near-greats from the Cesar Cedeo orange-rainbow era adorn the bare brick walls, but Market Square also offers a full menu and live blues and folk on the weekends. 311 Travis, 713-224-6133.

Marquis II Early evenings find this seedy-looking lounge filled with hard-drinking geriatrics, and the ambience is something like that of an icehouse: lots of arguing and bullyragging over local, national and world affairs. Around ten, the old folks clear out and the students and other assorted twentysomethings rush in -- it's one of the closest things Houston has to a frat/sorority bar. Giant Long Island teas are the main attraction on the bar menu, while a large-screen TV and several pool tables in the back room offer up viewing and playing options. 2361 Bissonnet, 713-522-2090.

Martinis & More 311 Sawdust Rd., 281-296-8464.

Mary Jane's Fat Cat The newest incarnation of one of Washington Avenue's most storied rooms, Mary Jane's Fat Cat continues to book the touring indie rock bands that were its stock-in-trade when it was plain old Mary Jane's. A grandly mirrored bar, a stuffed moose head and a cheap tapestry (more of a rug, actually) portraying the Last Supper adorn the walls, and the entire staff is composed of musicians and veteran music lovers. 4216 Washington Ave., 713-869-5263.

Max's 2002 The best-known southwest Houston spot moved from its Augusta location to the former home of Club Phoenix a while back, and now it's wilder and rowdier than ever. If there's one place in this city where it can get so hot in therre that you will literally see people take off all their clothes, it's Max's. Somebody tell Nelly that he has a club for an after-party the next time he performs here. 64 Woodlake Square (Westheimer at Gessner), 713-266-3443.  

M Bar Yes, it is located on the same sacred ground where that cavern of NoDo hedonism known as Prague once stood, but that doesn't mean you'll be getting the same type of experience. Well, maybe a little. (The notorious unisex bathrooms are still functioning below the club.) Although it may be scant on the fashionable debauchery Prague made into its calling card, M Bar is still a lavish place where the pretty people can come out and play. 402 Main, 713-222-1022.

McElroy's Pub Owned by an Irishman and staffed by several of his compatriots, McElroy's is more authentic than most of Houston's pubs, too many of which feel like Irishized versions of Chili's. McElroy's strives not for the twee thatch-roofed country feel; instead it hopes to capture the vibe of a central Dublin bar, and it mainly succeeds. Live acoustic Irish music concerts are held here on St. Patrick's Day and other red- (or should it be green-) letter days, and the jukebox is stuffed with Clancy Brothers, Chieftains and Christy Moore. A great place for conversation and a spot of black beer. 3607 S. Sandman, 713-524-2444.

McGonigel's Mucky Duck National and regional folk, country, Irish and blues artists hold sway from the stage at this venerable pub/listening room and favorite of the NPR set. The decor has a tweedy, distinguished feel, while the kitchen serves up workingman's pub grub: fish 'n' chips and bangers and mash. Come here to listen and not yak -- although if a couple of pints have you feeling loquacious, there's ample space on the deck out back to blab away to your heart's content. 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.

Mercury Room How can you possibly hate on a club that has so many seats for you to put your tired self down after a night hitting the downtown pavement? That's just what you notice the most when you slide down the main stairs of this ritzy joint and enter its underground labyrinth of plush comfort. But if you're not too pooped to pop, the Mercury offers live bands playing Latin, R&B, soul, jazz and funk; and if you're in the mood for something even more opulent, you can slide out the side door into the adjoining Boaka Bar. 1008 Prairie, 713-225-MERC.

The Meridian Housed in an old Chinese-food warehouse, complete with cheesy Far Eastern touches on the exterior, Houston's newest midsize arena/club offers up panoramic views of the downtown skyline and Old Chinatown in the main room, which has terrific sound. The back room has something of a Middle Eastern harem feel, with curtained divans complete with pillows lining one wall. 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717.

Miller Outdoor Theatre Nestled at the foot of Hippie Hill, one of Houstons only elevations and a man-made one at that this 1,600-seat proscenium-style amphitheater has fallen on hard times since its bigger, flashier look-alike, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, opened up in The Woodlands. You cant tell by its appearance, though the 36-year-old facility has never looked better, and the concessions are lately much improved. Through the spring, summer and fall, the venue hosts an eclectic assortment of free plays, ethnic music events, dance exhibitions and classical concerts. The view of the city from the top of Hippie Hill is hard to beat, and elevation-starved local kids love to gambol on its slopes, making this perhaps the finest family music venue in town. 100 Concert Dr., 713-520-3290 or 713-284-8350.

Millers Cave 2236 FM 1960 E., 281-443-6623.

Mint What has apparently become a downtown hot spot for the young Asian crowd is also known for its tight VIP status, high cover and theme parties. The theme parties just might make the other two acceptable, though -- it's something different for downtown that challenges people. The best-looking facade in downtown, a green and white canopy with Mint's art-deco logo featured prominently, brings you into a room decorated with minimal lighting, baby palm trees throughout and shallow booths built into the walls. Very exquisite, very exciting, very exclusive. 511 Main, 713-224-8855.

Mr. Calvins 6007 Hwy. 6, Hitchcock, 409-986-9358.

Mr. A's Club Located just beyond the northern edge of the Fifth Ward, this spacious lounge often plays host to H-town's hippest authentic zydeco bands. There's also steady booking of various soul-funk-jazz combos featuring veteran local R&B crooners. Either way, the place stays true to the neighborhood's rich musical legacy. 3409 Cavalcade, 713-675-2319.

Mr. Gino's Lounge Since the closing of C. Davis Bar-B-Q, this roomy southside roadhouse has been home base for former Duke-Peacock guitarist I.J. Gosey, one of the classiest blues pickers in town. He holds court there every Sunday (4-7 p.m.). Meanwhile, Gino irregularly books a funky mix of zydeco and old-school R&B on other nights. 7318 Cullen Blvd., 713-738-0555.  

Mixed Nuts 420 Hwy. 3 S., League City, 281-557-4555.

Mos Place 21940 Kingsland Blvd., Katy, 713-392-3499

Mollys Pub 29803 Loop 494, Kingwood, 281-358-1990.

Mollys Pub 400 Texas Ave., Kemah, 281 334-2777.

Moms Place 13014 Beaumont Hwy., 281-458-0561.

Muddie Waters Coffeehouse Tasty hot drinks and pastries are in easy reach and pleasantly compliment the unobtrusive but skilled jazz, funk, R&B and rock acts that play here on weekends. The walls are festooned with snazzy original art, and the overall vibe is tame but constantly percolating, perfect for music-and-coffee-lovers of all age groups. Silverlake Plaza, 9330 Broadway, suite 212, Pearland, 832-736-9000.

Muddys Ice House 4710 Katy Fwy., 713-426-1122.

Mugsys Formerly Muldoons, this River Oaks-area spot looks of a piece with the downtown set. Outfitted with those French signs in which monkeys advertise absinthe, and a clientele composed in the main of ridiculously beautiful people, Mugsys still manages to maintain a veneer of intimacy. Candles adorn every table, but its rare that the cute couple in the corner came here together. Its popular with the post-wedding crowd, so dont be surprised to find the place teeming with penguin suits. 3200 Kirby, 713-526-5595.

Mustang Sallys 1917 Garth Rd., Baytown, 281-428-1249.

The Next Door This cozy chill-out room offers a great contrast to Rudyards, with which it shares a building. Comfy sofas, candlelit tables and excellent art all vie to gratify your senses, and a foosball table is there to goose your competitive juices, but the real sensory overload here comes from the jukebox, which was named the winner in this years Best of Houston stakes. Its rap, funk, soul, blues and all manner of rock keep the place positively thumping. Too bad they dont broadcast this jukes transmissions; it sure beats the hell out of local commercial radio. 2020 Waugh Dr., 713-520-1712.

Nicks Sports Bar 1448 Wilcrest, 713-785-9900.

The 19th Hole 202 Sawdust Rd., The Woodlands, 281-363-2574.

Numbers One of the oldest dance clubs/live venues in Houston, Numbers caters to the anti-sunlight crowd without alienating those who just want a cheap beer and a good time. Bands as eclectic as the Roots, Quiet Riot and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult have all played there in the past year, but on a regular night, expect industrial beats and everything from goths to mods to rockabilly types enjoying the low-key atmosphere and tripped-out video screens. 300 Westheimer, 713-526-6551.

The Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe Owner Wrecks Bell, immortalized in the Townes Van Zandt song "Rex's Blues," says his folkish honky-tonk is one place "where the lyrics still count." From behind the ornate, sheet-music-encrusted bar, Bell serves up draft beer, bass guitar licks and one-liners with equal aplomb to a mixed crowd of shrimpers, ne'er-do-wells and hippies, and the club -- with it's Van Zandt shrine on one wall, trippy '60s style canvases on all the others and Texas flag behind the stage -- is the antidote to the cheesy tourist gunk that plagues G-town. 413 20th St., Galveston, 409-762-9199.

Onion Creek Finally, a place in the Heights where you can bring the kids and enjoy a beer or two. Somewhat reminiscent of a ski lodge, Onion Creek functions much like a coffeehouse during the daylight hours but seamlessly transforms into an equally mellow bar at night. Dozens of beers in bottles and on tap along with an adequate selection of wine have helped make this the place to meet up, whether your poison's caffeine (they brew great coffee and maybe the best chai latte in town) or alcohol. 3106 White Oak Dr., 713-880-0706.

Opus Night Club 412 Main, 713-222-OPUS.

The Orange Show Once an unprepossessing bungalow, this only-in-Houston labor of love/shrine to citrus fruit was cobbled together over several decades by postal worker Jeff McKissack, an eccentric fellow who believed that oranges were the key to longevity. McKissack transformed the house utterly theres a small amphitheater outside, folk-art maxims testifying to orange power on the walls, mannequins scattered about in pro-orange propaganda tableaux. Its really hard to explain youll just have to see it for yourself. The foundation that runs the place books some really cool indie rock, neo-folk, avant-garde hip-hop and roots rock shows, which should give you even more incentive to see this totally unique art space. 2401 Munger, 713-926-6368.

Outback Pub 3100 Fountain View, 713-780-2323.

Outpost Tavern 18113 Kings Lynn, 281-333-1235.

Ovations 2536 Times Blvd., 713-522-9801.

Oz Bar 9558 FM 1960 W., 832-237-6969.

Paesanos Lounge There's a certain old saw about the weather that is apt when you're talking about Paesanos. If you don't like what it's doing now, just wait 15 minutes and it'll be doing something else. The entertainment on offer here doesn't change that fast, but you get the picture. Wanna catch an evening of poetry? Paesanos has that. Wanna see a battle of the bands? Paesanos can hook you up with that, too. You wanna just get your drink on and meet beautiful, WB-looking women in the process? You know what the answer is. Paesanos makes sure it always has something for all its, well, paesanos. 213 Milam, 713-221-5483.  

Papas Ice House 24703 I-45 N., Spring, 281-364-8140.

Papas on the Lake 9400 Hwy. 105, Conroe, 936-447-2500.

The Pecan Club 3333 FM 359, Richmond, 281-633-2005.

Pecks 2395-B S. Hwy. 6, 281-497-4202.

The Peg-Leg Pelican 4106 NASA Rd. 1, 281-326-3545.

Pelican Junction 1307 S. Hwy. 146, Baytown, 281-837-7122.

Pelicans 2810 E. Bayshore Dr., San Leon, 281-559-3500.

Pennisons Sports Bar No. 1 2446 Settlers Way Blvd., Sugar Land, 281-265-4840.

Pennisons Sports Bar No. 2 7610 Cherry Park, 281-859-8100.

Pennisons Sports Bar No. 3 2395 S. Hwy. 6, 281-497-4202.

Pe-Te's Cajun BBQ House Weekdays find this authentic Cajun roadhouse packed with astronauts and air force personnel lunching on gumbo, jambalaya and the specialty of the house -- beef brisket, Louisiana-style -- amid the owner's 10,000 license plates and huge collection of golf memorabilia. It's on Saturday afternoons, though, that the place really comes to life. To the strains of the area's top zydeco and chank-a-chank bands, dancers of every race and age fill the large darkened dance floor and waltz, two-step and boogaloo to their hearts' content. There are three things to do at Pe-Te's on Saturday afternoon: Grab a Dixie, a cup of gumbo and a mound of 'cue, and as they say in Opelousas, don't drop the potato! 11902 Galveston Rd., 281-481-8736.

Piggy Bank Pub 16602 El Camino, 281-286-1191.

P.J.'s Sports Bar This Montrose version of a sports bar has a decidedly urban cast. How many of the suburban strip mall variety are housed in old converted mini-mansions? Sure, there are a few TVs around, but watching them is optional -- not practically mandatory, and no one will get too miffed if you slide a dollar into the juke for a little Supertramp. Up the rickety staircase is a tiny band area where rookies in the music game can get their first action. Thursday is the ever-popular steak night, where 20 bucks gets you two steaks, two potatoes and a pitcher of cold beer. 614 W. Gray, 713-520-1748.

Poison Girl Lower Westheimer has long needed a bar like this one: a long and narrow no-frills dive with cheap drinks, a few pinball machines, a killer jukebox and a lush rear patio and a foursome of Rudyards employees and regulars have finally done it. While the hot pink exterior and superurban ambience might lead you to believe you were in San Franciscos Mission District or Brooklyns Williamsburg, the jukebox brings you right back here, as all the music comes from Texas. And if you think the Lone Star State is all about country, this jukebox will enlighten you. Sure, Bob Wills, Horseshoe and Townes Van Zandt bring the twang, but theres also plenty of punk, garage rock, blues, indie rock and hip-hop. Its the perfect spot to unwind after a hard afternoons antiquing, or to prepare for a hard night under the tattoo needle. 1641-B Westheimer, 713-527-9929.

Ponderosa Club 4650 Knoxville, 713-734-0640.

Pops Ice House 22721 Loop 494, Kingwood.

President Sams Bar & Grill 16205 Westheimer, 281-759-2887.

Priv The heads of a young, T-shirt- and flip-flop-sporting crowd nod to insistent techno rhythms while sipping from a diverse menu of specialty martinis with provocative names like the Pussy Galore, the Pearl Necklace and the Love U Longtime in this laid-back but ultrahip Montrose nightspot. The provocative decor creates an overriding salacious mood perhaps best brought to fruition on one of the vast panoply of comfy couches spread throughout Privs upstairs lounge, which opens onto a spacious patio with an amazing panoramic view of Westheimer, perfect for viewing the Pride Parade or just the everyday procession of Houstons finest exhibitionists. 916 Westheimer, 713-522-2542.

Project Row Houses 2500 Holman, 713-526-7662.

The Proletariat Vintage threads, youth and attitude are the triumvirate of dictators at this Montrose Proletariat, which regularly hosts some of the city's top DJs and indie rock bands. When the stage is quiet, the primo juke blasts out everything from the Geto Boys, Prince and the Pretenders to the Flaming Lips, Spoon and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the bar game area houses a couple of pool tables and a vintage Galaga machine. Cheap beer's on tap at the three-sided bar, but for those who don't want to see or be seen, couches tucked away in nooks and crannies offer up more of a cozy living-room feel. 903 Richmond, 713-523-1199.  

Puffabelly's With its woody aesthetic and walls festooned with vintage gas station and beer signs, Puffabelly's tries to evoke a railroad nightclub from the days of yore, albeit a highly sanitized one that happens to be located in the middle of a high-spending tourist mecca. All those peanut shells on the floor aren't an example of sloppiness: You're encouraged to shuck 'em and chuck 'em, but goobers aren't the only thing on offer here. In addition to serving a full menu and basic bottled beer, Puff's also has a small performance stage, featuring regular country and folk singer-songwriter nights during the week (with both local and regional artists) and the occasional touring band on the weekends. But don't expect to see Boxcar Willie jumping off the train from the track near the door. 100 Main St., Old Town Spring. 281-350-DEPO.

R Bar This onetime biker/stripper bar has undergone a recent face-lift with the new management, so dont let the inflatable bikini-chick facing the front door give you the wrong impression the transition is not yet complete. Crawfish boils on weekends and an increasing focus on presenting original music help make this a unique destination for H-towns way-out-westers. 16205 Westheimer, 281-556-9707.

Red Cat Jazz Cafe Houston's most laid-back jazz venue, the Red Cat offers up jazz in many colors under its high ceiling. Mondays and Tuesdays are given over to jam sessions, while Thursdays are hosted by the Wave, Houston's smooth jazz station. Wednesdays and Sundays see more international fare take the stage -- Latin jazz group Batacha anchors the midweek, while D.R.U.M. hosts a Caribbean/reggae night to ease you back into the workweek. On Fridays and Saturdays, Dean James's house band rules the bare brick-walled roost. Hungry cats can also get a bite from the club's full menu. 924 Congress, 713-226-7870.

Red Lion English ownership ensures that this River Oaks-area pub's ambience is as British as steak-and-kidney pie. It's one of the few area pubs that evokes a feeling of being in Blighty rather than visiting a Brit-themed amusement park. In an attempt to stimulate a conversation-friendly atmosphere, the owners keep the TV locked in a cabinet, though they'll bust it out on special occasions, such as Astros, Rockets or Texans games, or big soccer matches from across the pond. There's a full menu of English fare, not to mention dozens of draft and bottled brews, and darts for the sportier set. 2316 S. Shepherd, 713-782-3030.

Red Star Its like perestroika never happened at this downtown hot spot, where the vodka flows like...well, you know. The DJs are ultramodern, but otherwise Bad Mutha Russia is evoked around every corner without much regard for historical veracity. Relax under the steely gaze of the bust of Lenin in the martini lounge, or head to the Siberia room to chill out with your memories of the cold-war era, fondly remembering a time when commie-paranoia was as bad as it got. 2606 Fannin, 713-655-7827.

Rehab The ghost of this club's previous incarnation -- the seminal, gone-but-never-forgotten Power Tools -- still hangs over this BYOB after-hours lair, which is so labyrinthine and cavernous you keep expecting Osama to breeze past you every time you walk down those black-lit entrance steps. But Rehab has managed to hold its own as one of the few spots in Houston to keep the party going way after 2 a.m. Freaky, but in a good, titillating way, Rehab is Houston's original underground lounge. 709 Franklin, 713-22-REHAB.

Remington Bar A swanky hotel bar with delusions of grandeur and/or a split personality, the Remington posits itself simultaneously as the local answer to New Yorks ultra-classy Oak Room and Houstons premier dance venue. High-toned appetizers include boiled prawns and yucca fries, while martini favorites include the Heather, the hugely popular Twister and the accurately named, super-sweet Wedding Cake Martini. Borderline-unctuous service sits in uneasy contrast to the party-up dance floor. Latin and R&B cover bands perform regularly on weekends. St. Regis Hotel, 1919 Briar Oaks Ln., 713-840-7600.

Rickshaws Bambu Lounge This prim and proper sushi restaurant undergoes a radical sea change every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m., when the lights suddenly go blue, the DJ starts spinning, and the lounge fills with the most elegantly dressed, racially diverse crowd of youthful professionals one could possibly imagine. A monumentally solicitous staff makes sure you get everything you came for, up to and including their award-winning Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Martini and a full sushi menu available all the way until midnight. The beats from the booth are heavy but never overbearing, which, happily, makes conversation an option. 2810 Westheimer, 713-942-7272.

Rhythm Room Eclectic as the city it's in, a typical long weekend at this low-ceilinged, no-frills former Mexican dance hall finds the club serving up everything from traditional honky-tonk to underground hip-hop and attracting a diverse clientele to match. 1815 Washington Ave., 713-863-0943.  

Red Rooster Lounge Martin Luther King Blvd., 713-644-9733.

Richmond Arms 5920 Richmond, 713-784-7722.

Rickshaws Bambu Lounge This prim and proper sushi restaurant undergoes a radical sea change every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m., when the lights suddenly go blue, the DJ starts spinning, and the lounge fills with the most elegantly dressed, racially diverse crowd of youthful professionals one could possibly imagine. A monumentally solicitous staff makes sure you get everything you came for, up to and including their award-winning Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Martini and a full sushi menu available all the way until midnight. The beats from the booth are heavy but never overbearing, which, happily, makes conversation an option. 2810 Westheimer, 713-942-7272.

Ringside at Sullivans 4608 Westheimer, 713-961-0333.

Riverside Inn 17433 River Rd., 281-452-0609.

Rock Neutneys Spoonerism notwithstanding, this might just be the sports bars sports bar. The place could overwhelm the competition on sheer tubal acreage alone. Check it out, there are three 60-inch flat high-density TV screens on display at all times, not to mention the borderline-obscene 70-square-foot projected HD display. And thats only four of em! This is also just about the only place in the Clear Lake/NASA area that can boast a full kitchen operating straight through to 2 a.m. daily. Now lets go out there and gin one for the whipper. Marina Gate Center, second floor, 18307 Egret Bay Blvd., Webster, 281-333-1785.

Roeder's Pub For those who think wood is good, Roeder's Pub salutes you. The floors? Bare wood. The bar? Wood. The tables and chairs? Wood and wood. Even the shutters are wood. In the desert of sizzling concrete that is the corner of Shepherd and Alabama, Roeder's offers a sylvan refuge, a dark and cool spot to chill with a single malt or pint of black beer. There's also a small parking lot patio, real darts, Golden Tee and a Britpop/alt-country juke for those who like their liquid retreats loud and/or active. 3116 S. Shepherd, 713-524-4994.

Rookies 305 W. Sawdust, 281-362-9610.

Roxy Nothing can prepare you for the evening of R-rated randiness that regularly goes on at Roxy. Oh, you may think you're ready if you've been to other southwest clubs before. But once you take in one of the spacious spot's nightly events, such as foxy boxing, men's amateur stripping or the random thong contest, you'll soon realize that while Roxy may not have invented the raunchy southwest Houston nightclub, it sure as hell has tried its best to perfect it. 5851 W. Alabama, 713-850-ROXY.

Rowdys 900 FM 1960 W., 281-893-6499.

R&R Sports Bar 3388 FM 528, Friendswood, 281-996-8300.

Rudyard's This reputed English pub has probably got more native Texans than Brits hanging out inside, but no matter. It makes up for its lack of street cred with an impressive selection of beers, a fine menu (the burgers...droooool) and a relaxed, homey feel. Dart tournaments, a killer jukebox, pinball and a staff that's very supportive of the Houston music scene (alt-country, indie rock and just plain weird bands play upstairs) round out the perfect neighborhood bar. 2010 Waugh Dr., 713-521-0521.

Russian Bear Following a choice dinner of Russian cuisine in this gorgeously decorated Brighton Beach-style Slavic eatery, you can either adjourn to the bar or stay at your table for the nightly show. After a brief interlude set by the house singer -- an assortment of hits from the past four decades -- the dance floor is turned over to a bevy of dancing gypsies and a belly dancer that swings her bottom around like a tethered cat. Everyone participates, whether they're in the middle of dinner or just out for a drink, and the place keeps up the intensity all night long. 1801 Dairy Ashford, 281-496-4018.

Ruthie's Don't let the bling-bling transformation of the exterior fool you -- Ruthie's is still a dive beer joint on the inside, a good indoor-style companion to the nearby West Alabama Ice House. There's a pool table and a great jukebox of soul, alt-country and rock. Don't miss the men's room walls -- a veritable cornucopia of scantily clad Maxim pinup girls awaits you there. Or at least pictures of same. 1829 Richmond, 713-522-7240.

Saddle Creek Sports Bar & Grill 16140 Kuykendahl.

Saint Arnold Brewery 2522 Fairway Park Dr., 713-686-9494.

St. Pete's Dancing Marlin Catering mostly to a white-collar rock and country crowd, St. Pete's is a breath of fresh air amid the overpriced dance clubs that populate Main Street. A fairly low-key bar/seafood restaurant that somewhat resembles a very fancy Red Lobster on the inside, this venue offers a wide selection of beers, strong drinks and a relaxed atmosphere. 300 Main, 713-227-1511.  

Sam & Daves 1612 Underwood, 281-470-9000, La Porte.

Sam Houston Raceway Park 7575 N. Parkway W., 281-807-8760.

Sams Boat 5720 Richmond, 713-781-2628.

Sams Boat 7637 FM 1960 W., 832-912-7700.

Sams Irish-American Pub & Grill A spacious, friendly atmosphere replete with two giant free-standing bars, multiple pool tables and (gasp!) even air hockey, Sams is intent on providing a wide variety of amusement options for the discerning partyhound. Live bands, DJs and Darkside Karaoke all have their turn providing the musical excitement during any given week. And if thats somehow not enough, the 25-cent wings offered in perpetuity should win over any fence-sitters. 5636 Richmond, 713-785-7267.

Sandbar 716 Clear Lake Rd., 281-334-5169, Clear Lake Shores.

Sansones 14144 Westheimer, 281-558-4545.

Scooters Ice House 1134 N. Main, Pearland, 281-485-6124.

Scott Gertner's Skybar Valet parking and the nattily attired elevator operator are your first clues of what to expect at this bar atop a Montrose high-rise. A few nights a week, the dressed-to-impress hordes cavort to the crowd-pleasing middle-of-the-road fare offered by the club's namesake and owner, while other local jazz luminaries and occasional national acts round out the bill. The music, however, is strictly background at this smooth jazz venue, where the view of the skyline is the most impressive decor. 3400 Montrose, 713-520-9688.

Scout Bar A much-needed rock and roll oasis deep in the marshy wilds of Clear Lake, this is the place to go for a healthy serving of both local and national proponents of the rocking arts. The walls are covered with autographed guitars and framed posters of demigods like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay and Finger Eleven (none of whom have actually played the Scout Bar, but what the heck). The stage, lighting and sound system here are all pretty imposing without taking away from the clubs general vibe, which is bright, clean and laid-back. Marina Gate Center, ground floor, 18307 Egret Bay Blvd., Webster, 281-335-0002.

Seabrook Beach Club Shades of ancient Roman decadence are in the vibe if not the decor at this sprawling indoor/outdoor club on Clear Lake. A positively bacchanalian barrage of activities whirls seven days a week until the wee hours. There are classic rock bands, a pool with swim-up bar, mud wrestling, bikini contests and a full menu on offer. All of this excess is also accessible by powerboat or sailing ship as well as more traditional means, and there's nothing in the dress code that says togas aren't allowed. 3345 NASA Rd. 1, Seabrook, 281-326-5819.

Shakespeare Pub When he founded the club back in 1990, former college English professor Eddie Black named it after the beloved bard. But from the start, this casual strip-center lounge has been a haven for Houston blues, zydeco and blues-rock. The family-run enterprise has succeeded by bringing a taste of the inner-city wards to the far-west burbs, featuring live music at least four nights per week. 14129 Memorial Dr., 281-497-4625.

Shame After Hours 1502 St. Emanuel, 713-222-0500.

Shay McElroy's The downtown branch of the classic Shepherd Square Irish pub, Shay's offers much of the same authenticity. The Guinness is always spot-on, the jukebox is heavy on all things Emerald Isle, and the Irish ownership and staff see to it that a trip here's the next best thing to a night out in Dublin. 909 Texas, 713-222-2444.

Sherlock's Baker Street Pub Former frat lads and sorority lasses congregate in packs at each of these four vaguely British-themed pubs, and it doesn't take the genius who cracked the case of the Hound of the Baskervilles to know what draws them in: lots of dartboards, pool tables and big-screen TVs. Each of the pubs also has a stage, where (usually) the strains of a local cover band can be heard. Four locations: 1997 W. Gray, 713-521-1881; 288 W. First, Humble, 281-446-0407; 10001 Westheimer, 713-977-1857; 2416 Bay Area Blvd., 281-461-4702.

Shiloh Club 1321 Studewood, 713-869-8354.

Shoeshine Charlie's Big Top Lounge As the name implies, a circus atmosphere prevails here. Housed in what was once, long ago, a toy store, 60-year-old murals of Dumbo-like elephants and other critters look down on the red-lit carnival scene below. Behind the bar, vintage beer signs for old-fashioned American brews beckon, and you can get Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can. Since the place is owned by the same people who own the adjacent Continental Club, you're safe to assume that music -- both live and recorded -- is emphasized. El Orbit Pete Gordon tickles the ivories on the bar's piano whenever he takes a notion, while others play scheduled acoustic or small-combo gigs. 3700 Main, no phone.

Sidecar Pub Housed in a strip mall on the northwest edge of town, this party-hearty club has European pretensions evidenced by a large selection of across-the-pond brews and foreign banknotes inlaid in the bar. Every Thursday through Saturday, three or four young alt-rock or metal bands share bills, though occasionally roots rockers and Texas country acts also appear. A pool table dominates the game room off to the side of the stage. 11202 Huffmeister, 281-807-4040.  

Silver Eagle Club 4302 Reed Rd., 713-738-7573.

Silver Slipper This venerable establishment in Fifth Ward's old Frenchtown neighborhood has served up a spicy blend of zydeco and blues for more than 40 years, dating back to when the Cormier family patriarch simply called it Alfred's Place (a favorite hangout for Clifton Chenier and Lightnin' Hopkins in the '60s). Today his son Curley features real-deal zydeco every Friday and Sunday, plus a fusion of blues, classic R&B and jazz (usually performed by own his band, the Gladiators) on Saturdays. 3717 Crane, 713-673-9004.

Six Degrees Though its long, narrow layout helps it capture the feel of a New York or Chicago (read: big-city) bar, Six Degrees doesn't stop there. No name is posted above the door of the former Dusk Bar, and upon entering, you are greeted on the right by a towering wall full of concert posters, ranging from early Wire gigs to R.E.M. stadium tours. On the left is the lengthy bar, the wall behind it stocked full with a selection of great wines, all dressed in a weathered contemporary design and bathed with the same subdued lighting that prevails throughout. The foosball table in the back serves those with weak attention spans, and the drinks will surely do the rest. 911 Franklin, 713-228-2990.

Slainte The folks at Slainte want you to feel like you're in a "real" Irish public house. While the warmth of the woodsy and slate decor does set it apart from its downtown brethren, the crowd is pretty much what you're gonna find up and down Main Street, and you're much more likely to hear the Pet Shop Boys than the Pogues. One thing Slainte has going for it is its New Orleans-style upstairs balcony, from which you can watch the beautiful and the not-so-beautiful in the nonstop Main Street parade. There's a decent selection of beers and whiskeys as well. 509 Main, 713-222-1033.

The Social Lushly decorated though it may be, the interior of this Washington Avenue hangout is secondary to its expansive patio. A great modern decor and minimalist furniture pepper the gated-in area, which comes complete with its own bar and a giant Absolut bottle courtesy of the Art Guys. Music depends on whatever the rotating DJs see fit to spin; house predominates, but since dancing is not a priority here, other styles are also occasionally on offer. Very chic, very laid-back and on some nights very long lines. 3730 Washington Ave., 713-426-5585.

Sound Exchange It's a record store by day, but the employees lose their High Fidelity music-snob attitudes and reveal themselves as the scene boosters they really are by night, when they open up the old house to live music after retail hours. From death metal to free jazz, Sound Exchange hosts performances that are always mind-expanding, far beyond the mainstream and that can't be found anywhere else in the city. Or, as they put it in their own words, "Presenting unlistenable music to an uncaring public for 25 years. Does your band make people run from the room? Book a show with us." (BYOB) 1846 Richmond, 713-666-5555.

The Speakeasy This downtown hole-in-the-wall, housed in what was long the Beer Cellar, doesnt have a sign outside, but it doesnt need one to attract a late-night crowd. For those who want some downtime from the pulsing techno beats that rule Main, the Speakeasy lives up to its name by offering a quiet atmosphere and relaxed exposed-brick surroundings. The ample drinks provide alcoholic solace to a haggard-looking, albeit well-dressed (read Montrose-like), clientele. An unobtrusive jukebox and pool table upstairs provide additional distraction. Dont miss the back patio chilling with a drink under the skyscrapers, youll swear you were in Manhattan. 110 Main, 713-547-0566.

Spinnakers 310 Texas Ave., Kemah, 281-538-0051.

Spokes Ice House 9802 Old Galveston Hwy., 713-910-3844.

SRO Champions 6982 FM 1960, 281-537-0697.

SRO Woodlake 2517 S. Gessner, 713-952-1999.

Stafford Icehouse 3230 S. Main, 281-261-9633.

The Stag's Head The tiny, quaint English pub made famous by numerous PBS murder mysteries is becoming a thing of the past in its native land, and that fact makes this big Houston Brit-pub more authentic than you might think. Booths and tables surround a central bar in the wood-paneled room where twentysomethings congregate for their pints. Karaoke is a big drawing card here, as are the occasional alt-country live shows and the weekend "fry-ups" -- for the non-limeys among us, that's a hearty English breakfast of Canadian-style bacon, sausage and eggs -- that are served until afternoon. 2128 Portsmouth, 713-533-1199.  

The Standard Lounge Martinis are the name of the game at this upscale San Francisco-style club. The clientele hovers around the comfortable suede furniture inside to the outdoor patio, where were it not for the Texan twangs and loud but unobtrusive techno you might think you just rolled up on a Princeton mixer. The crowd, however, is unpretentious, albeit rather cliquish. Theres not a whole lot of cross-crowd pollination, but a novel environment and a refreshingly remarkable drink menu make it all seem worth it. 2707 Fountain View, 832-252-1400.

Sullivan's Steakhouse While the decor is 1920-something at this Galleria-area entertainment complex, the clientele is definitely thirtysomething and on the prowl. Taking its name from John L. Sullivan, the 19th-century bare-knuckle heavyweight boxer, the dignified dining room and mahogany bar set amid jazz-age murals and the sounds of small jazz combos each have a certain understated tastefulness. Wednesday through Saturday most of the action is Ringside, the third room in the complex. There, a razor-sharp show band plays everything from disco to merengue to the latest pop hits for the jitterbugging enjoyment of a crowd of stogie-chomping, martini-swilling would-be F. Scotts and Zeldas. 4608 Westheimer, 713-961-0333.

Sundowner 28382 Southwest Fwy., Rosenberg, 281-342-6000.

Sundowner Club 1419 Gordon, Alvin, 281-331-1358.

Sunset Club 9953 Longpoint, 713-468-0096.

Super Happy Fun Land Even more cheerfully perverse (or is that perversely cheerful?) than its name might suggest, this performance space in the Heights has the feel of an art-damaged house party that never quite calls it quits. As SHFL specializes in musical acts too edgy, abstract or just plain freaky to make comfortable background music (i.e., lots of experimentation, electronics and improvisation), its chipper quasi-mellowness can become oppressive, but what do you expect? The cafe offers snacks and soft beverages, and theres a spacious patio, replete with a hammock. Plus they sell their own custom-made sock monkeys! Yeeep! 2610 Ashland, 713-880-2100.

The Surf Shack, 6111 Richmond, 713-782-1800.

Tall Texan Drive Inn An East Texas beer joint slap-bang in the middle of the inner city, the Tall Texan is as country as corn bread. Ray Price, Charlie Pride and Toby Keith vie for space on the bar's jukebox, and the parking lot is always packed with Ford pickups. The main attraction here is the beer -- Shiner and Lone Star served up ice-cold in enormous fish-bowl-shaped goblets. A night in here will convince you it's 1962 again, and so will the low prices and the vintage Patsy Cline blasting out of the box. 4904 N. Main, 713-862-0141.

T-Bone Toms 707 Hwy. 146, 281-334-2133.

Texas Horney Toad Headbangers, shit kickers, oldsters, youngsters, everyone but a nerdy liberal journalist is welcome at this Baytown watering hole. A veritable rainbow coalition of Texas types congregate in the smoky air to enjoy such delights as free pool on Tuesday, karaoke on Tuesday and Wednesday, and live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. And if youre really lucky, one of the loquacious regulars might just grace you with an unsolicited sermon proving categorically that Michael Moore is the devil. 1917 Garth Rd., Baytown 281-428-1249.

Texas Nights House Concerts 703 Ferndale, Friendswood, 281-992-5817.

Texas Saloon 7337 Spencer Hwy., 281-479-2679.

Tiki Tiki Bar & Grill/Bamboo Lounge Any and all of your Polynesian and Polynesian-inspired tendencies are catered to and then some at this affable retro-chic club out on Highway 6. The carved faces on the front-door handles set the mood right off, and once inside theres little choice but to get in touch with your inner hula maiden. Serious anachronists will want to head straight for the TV-less Bamboo Lounge, where youll swear its 1957, Don Hos hair is still real, and all is right with the world. The modern era encroaches more in the main room, with pool tables, darts and televisions fanning out from the sweeping, magnificently kitschy bar. Fridays brings the Luau Happy Hour, featuring complimentary snacks and a genuine Hawaiian fortune teller on hand to read your genuine Hawaiian fortune. 626 S. Hwy. 6, 281-497-9200.

Thermal Red walls, TVs, cocktail waitresses, pool tables and one of those eternal-flame-looking things thats actually just a shimmering piece of lighted cloth being fanned perpetually upward: If youre into any of that stuff, this newish downtown bar has what youre looking for. Did we mention the red walls? Waitresses? Okay, that covers it. 1601 Commerce, 713-228-2800.

Tom Bass Park 1 Arts Pavilion (Fellows Rd. at Beltway 8), 713-629-3700.

Toyota Center The home of the Houston Rockets, Comets and Aeros also hosts concerts from the likes of such big names as Prince, Fleetwood Mac and Vicente Fernandez. The acoustics are great in a straight line from the stage to the back of the house, but beware echo when you buy a seat off to the sides. 1510 Polk, 1-866-4HOUTIX.

Traders Village 7979 N. Elridge Rd., 281-890-5500.  

The Tree House 901 E. NASA Rd. 1, 281-286-8956.

Tubbys Ice House 2214 Gulf Fwy., La Marque, 409-935-2000.

Tuts 711 Madeley, Conroe, 936-539-1500.

Twelve Spot Great saloon-type atmosphere and beautiful artwork and craftsmanship are on display at this Market Square-area bar, not to mention tasty dirty martinis, which really are something worth shouting about. So is the soaring ceiling, a full three stories (but seemingly a mile) above the upscale patrons below. The Twelve Spot is the product of five years of tireless work by a committee consisting of a master carpenter, an artist and a restaurateur, and the entire building has been rebuilt since a 1989 fire gutted the insides. A second-floor balcony awaits patrons inside, but the remainder of the three stories of brick and glass is still exposed. All of the materials in the building have been reclaimed, giving even more history to one of the oldest commercial addresses in Houston. 218 Travis, 713-222-1962.

2401 San Jacinto This huge 20-year-old dazzler formerly the gay dance palace Richs has been renicarnated as a more general-purpose boogie castle. While the exterior may be nondescript, the interior offers up a total of five bars, a patio, a dance floor and even an art lounge where local artists can exhibit their work. Hip-hop rules the roost on weekdays, while weekends often find the club pulsating to house beats courtesy of local, national and international DJs. 2401 San Jacinto, 713-759-9606.

UBar and Level One Lounge 2002 Bagby.

Under the Volcano One of the most intriguing jukeboxes in town is the main musical drawing card at this thatched-roof tiki hut of a bar on the fringes of the Rice Village. Zydeco, Latin, sacred steel, jazz, blues and vintage rock are among the diverse platters stored within by the music-loving owner. Very occasionally, the Volcano hosts live bands meeting one of the above descriptions, but mostly it's a place for well-off twentysomethings to meet, mingle and shoot pool. 2349 Bissonnet, 713-526-5282.

Union Bar How hip do you have to be to qualify as hipper-than-hip? This Montrose-area groove mecca all but rolls over and begs the question. Candles, head-nodding DJ beats, luxurious couches in the Red Room and doting service are the order of the day. Finally, a place where the beautiful people can go without having to feel so self-conscious. Poor beautiful people. Ya gotta love em. 202 Tuam, 713-529-5296.

Uropa 3302 Mercer, 713-627-1132.

Valhalla The periodic table painted on the wall should tip you off that this is a haven for grad students -- of both the perpetual and temporary varieties. Eggheads hunker down here in this dungeonlike basement pub beneath the old chemistry building at Rice, and what keeps them coming back is perhaps the cheapest beer in town. (Volunteer bar staff help keep prices low.) Then there's the conversation: You can scour the country far and wide, but you would be hard-pressed to find a bar with a brainier clientele. And don't let the warlike name fool you -- geeks are more likely to find paradise here than any deceased Viking warrior. Beer, cider and wine only; closed Saturdays. Snacks and sandwiches available. Rice University, 6100 S. Main. No phone.

The Vault Housed in what was most recently Club Azure, this swanky downtown dance club finds an eclectic clientele boogying on the split-level dance floor to everything from the blues of Muddy Waters to the crunk of Lil Jon. Dramatic red lighting bounces off bronze walls and psychedelic disco balls, and the VIP room to the left of the entryway is among the citys plushest. Unlike many of its competitors, the Vault creaks open early its a cool spot for a long afternoon happy hour. 723 Main, 713-224-6891.

Velvet Melvin Upwardly mobile twentysomethings love to slum it at this large laid-back purple pub near Greenway. Big-ass beers and big-ass steaks pack them in on Wednesdays, while the big-ass deck out front is a nightly draw, as are the pool tables inside. A denlike lounge area complete with coffee table, recliners and battered couches vies with standard barstools and tables in the seating-arrangement stakes. The strategically placed big-ass TV makes this a great pick for chilling with a pitcher while you watch the Astros underachieve yet again. Weekends offer occasional live country and rock performers. 3303 Richmond, 713-522-6798.

Verizon Wireless Theater Home for mid-level national touring acts, mostly rock and country artists either on the rise or past their commercial heyday, this versatile venue can accommodate a mosh pit one night and cabaret seating the next. With excellent sound, sight lines and -- most important -- easy-access restrooms, you can fill your bladder and empty it while missing only a couple of choruses. 520 Texas Ave., 713-230-1600.

Vitos Deck House With a distorted, James Gandolfini-esque tough guy staring you down from their logo and images from various mob-related flicks lining the walls, this brand-spanking-new Richmond Strip hangout might not be too popular with the American-Italian Defense Association, but less uptight types should have a great time. The titular deck is spacious and inviting, and the cozy wood-paneled interior is home to banks and banks of TV screens tuned to various sporting events. While basking in the cathode-ray glow, the local paisanos pound back pitchers of the pointedly named Obnoxious Frozen Screwdriver while they mangia on subs and delectably greasy pizza slices, available all the way up to 1 a.m. Now thats Italian. 5810 Beverly Hill, 713-334-VITO.  

Walter's on Washington The drinks are stiff but the covers aren't at this twangy, down-to-earth Washington Avenue newbie. Touring and local country, blues and roots-rock bands dominate late nights from the intimate stage, while early evenings are a good time to chat with the regulars or shoot pool to a honky-tonk jukebox soundtrack. Or you can just sip a cold one and listen to the freight trains rumble past a couple of blocks away. 4215 Washington, 713-864-2727.

The Warehouse Music Cafe 1801 Washington Ave., 713-864-9226.

Warren's Inn Like La Carafe, its neighbor catercorner across Market Square, Warren's has long been known for its top-notch jukebox full of American classics like Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins and George Jones. Unlike at La Carafe, here you can sip mixed drinks as well as beer and wine. Warren's is the slightly divier of the two, La Carafe the more romantic -- that is, unless you get goo-goo eyes over Chronicle reporters and lawyers on benders. 307 Travis, 713-247-9207.

West Alabama Ice House Less a bar than a perpetual backyard barbecue, the breezy, open-air Alabama Icehouse has been quenching the thirst of beer-starved Montrosians since 1927 -- the same year Lucky Lindy made his famous flight and Al Jolson warned America, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." And believe it or not, 75 years later, the vibe there remains the same. It's still a blue-collar place to knock back a social beer after work and discuss the great affairs of the day and the tawdry gossip of the neighborhood. Fridays in summer the icehouse offers free grilled hot dogs, and live country bands take to the small outdoor stage. In winter, they unfurl plastic walls and trot out the space heaters, and patrons repair indoors for pool and jukebox tunes. 1919 W. Alabama, 713-528-6874.

Westfields by the Railroad 21119 W. Hardy Rd., 281-821-2021.

Westfields on the Lake 1453 Point Aquarius Blvd., Conroe, 281-821-2021.

West University Community Center 6104 Auden, 281-347-3235 or 281-495-2923.

Whiskey Bar As if the impressive interiors of the Hotel Icon aren't enough on their own, Whiskey, the bar in the lobby's balcony, has a flavor and design all its own. With a secluded, incense-heavy room off to the side known as the Opium Den setting the tone, even its presence as a balcony bar can't prevent it from being covert. The seating at Whiskey is open, with chairs centered around small tables throughout the room, but with its dark, plush interior and dim lighting, the sections remain distant from one another, making Whiskey a perfect escape for kissin' couples. 220 Main, 713-224-4266.

Whiskey Blues Three or four nights a week, this upscale roadhouse features live music by Houston-area and touring Texas music acts ranging from alt-country to blues and rock. It simultaneously gives locals a chance to see acts normally booked in Houston right on the island, and offers Houston bands a chance to develop a wider following. It's actually two clubs in one: The bands play in the half of the building that doubles as a coffee bar by day; the adjacent room houses a cool stand-up bar and booths decorated with murals depicting Texas music legends. 502 25th St., Galveston, 409-766-1600.

Whiskey Dicks 4455 W. Beltway 8 N., 713-466-7777.

Whiskey River 2107 N. Houston Ave., Humble, 281-446-3500.

Willies Grill & Ice House 17492 Northwest Fwy., 713-937-0456.

Woodlake Pub 68 Woodlake Square, 713-787-0099.

Woodrows 3111 Chimney Rock, 713-784-2653.

Wortham Theater Center Breathtaking lobbies welcome you to this theater complex. The 2,367-seat Alice and George Brown Theater hosts Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera, while Da Camera and Society for the Performing Arts get down in the 1,100-seat Lillie and Roy Cullen Theater. 500 Texas, 713-237-1439.

Wunderbar "Wicked" Wednesday nights are more packed here than in most other clubs, with wall-to-wall people, all dressed nicely (dress code: no jeans or kicks). At this established neighborhood bar, the younger folk (early twenties and up) cruise the front, where new-school R&B plays with a touch of old-school and zydeco. Most of the older folk (up to late fifties) hang around the back room, where the reverse ratio of old-school-to-new prevails. Musicians play live on Fridays and Saturdays, and the Hayes Bar-B-Que truck waits outside for anyone hungry after a night of clubbing. 3124 Old Spanish Trail, 713-522-7009.  

Wunsche Bros. Cafe The Wild West lives on in this 100-year-old, immaculately preserved former railway hotel in Old Town Spring. Though the surroundings are twee -- a faux village of "shoppes" selling knock-off Shaker furniture, brooms with folksy slogans on them and jars of potpourri -- the vibe inside the swinging doors is pure Texas. During the week and before sundown, the saloon is famed for its delicious burgers and excellent chicken-fried steaks, but after dark singer-songwriters and Shiner Bock are more on the minds of the well-scrubbed and affluent north Houston clientele. 103 Midway, Spring, 281-350-1902.

Yaga's If Galveston is the place where Houston loves to party, then Yaga's is party central. Especially during Mardi Gras, weekend nights find Yaga's packed with locals and road-trippers alike jammed onto the small sunken dance floor or people-watching. In the spring and summer, the serious strutting is done at the outdoor bar/patio on the Strand. Though Yaga's is more associated with good times and its cool T-shirts, often forgotten is the fact that some damn good bands from Austin and Houston -- mainly reggae/ska, blues/R&B or alt-rock -- provide the tunes. 2314 Strand, Galveston, 409-762-6676.

Zimms, 4321 Montrose Blvd., 713-521-2002.

The Zone 2216 N. Alexander Dr., Baytown, 281-428-5754.


Brazos River Bottom A great place to bring out-of-towners since the sight of two cowboys two-stepping across the dance floor really seems to say "Texas -- the 21st century." The main room has multiple bars and can get pretty loud. The crowd is much more diverse than one would think given BRB's reputation as "The Cowboy Bar." Chances are you'll see an Armani Exchange T-shirt dancing with some pearl snap buttons and guess what -- the world didn't implode! The real find at BRB is the smaller, self-contained side bar. Here you can pump money into a jukebox, play George Jones and pine about "the one who got away." 2400 Brazos, 713-528-9192.

Chances, the G-Spot and the New Barn Saloon A 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 Its 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 Rainbows weekly Beer Blast, which translates to 50-cent drafts and free food, among other wonders. 1417-B Westheimer, 713-522-5166.

EJs Discreetly nestled a block off Westheimer deep in the heart of the Montrose, EJs 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 Grille This 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 Lamp Guava 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.'s The "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 Lounge This 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.

Meteor This 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 Company Aptly 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.

Ripcord Ripcord 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.

South Beach Its location in the heart of the Pacific Street district is appropriate, as South Beach has become the premier dance club for the gay crowd. It's also the most modern -- if not for the stone built into the walls you might think you were dancing in a spaceship. The main room boasts a massive circular dance floor surrounded by two bars and several dancing levels. The much smaller entryway room has its own bar and a quieter feel for those who want to avoid the party inside. South Beach offers great music and strong drinks and is very proud of both. 810 Pacific, 713-529-7623.

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