The Greater Northside Management District classifies "The Northside" as the "24 square miles north of Downtown Houston" between Interstate-10/Katy Freeway on the south, Studewood/Yale on the West, Little York to the north, and Interstate-59 Eastex Freeway to the East (although for this article, we set the boundary at Hardy Street). This is the real heart of the city, the real Northside... as opposed to Spring or The Woodlands. Scattered within the working-class barrios of Northside Village, Lindale and Northline Park are several hidden gems in the form of ice houses and drive inns that are arguably Houston's best.
10. D&T Drive Inn This quaint neighborhood spot near I-45 and Cavalcade has been around for over 50 years. After being closed recently for an extensive renovation, it just reopened earlier last week. A giant oak that was nestled between this bar and the house next door was causing foundation problems and had to be removed. It was recycled and was used to create the beautiful new bar that welcomes you when you walk in. You can choose from over 50 beer selections on tap, and because they have a retail license, you can even take a sixer to go.
1307 Enid St, 713-868-5717, DandTDriveInn.com
9. Ike's Place A rotund gentleman named Vic drops us some knowledge as he hands us a Budweiser from his bucket. "This is a chill spot, bro, the of type of place where you pre-game before getting into trouble someplace else". We watch the Astros as we sit at the long, granite bar in a pleasantly frigid room that sits next to the new MetroRail line in Lindale Park.
The couple to my right are enjoying a few Cervezas Modelos after a long day at the office. The rest of the bar is drinking Bud Light, as the majority of the Tejanos in El Northside do. Except Vic... he drinks Coors Light. "I'm part of a BBQ Cooking Team that is sponsored by Coors. I can't be caught drinking nothing else!" Whatever you're drinking, Ike's is definitely the place to do it.
5802 Fulton, 713-691-7373
8. Cedar Lounge Life moves slow at this former "pressure cooker" bar, where married couples (who weren't married to each other) used to drink and be merrily promiscuous back in the '70s and '80s. This small lounge is one of the few (if not only) establishments on the list that carries a liquor license. In fact, as the lovely Sherry tells me (she's the bartender and the owner's wife), Cedar was the very first bar in Houston to receive a liquor license. As we walk into the small, cavernous bar, we are amazed by the extreme contrast between the light and the dark. The place is quiet enough to ponder life and all its mistakes as you sit on a barstool, or you can join a pool league, rack 'em, and refine your billiards skills.
7237 Airline Dr, 713-694-7683
7. Ray Ray's Sports Bar This sports bar is Tejano to the bone. Just blocks away from the popular Northside institutions Fiesta Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant, Memo's Record Shop, Refresqueria Flamingo Chill, and Moody Park, this is the spot to play some pool, drink a bucket, and reminisce as you listen to Gary Hobbs or David Lee Garza.
1101 Collingsworth, 713-228-1050
6. Norstar Bar A lifelong Northside resident recently told us we couldn't claim to be from the Northside if we've never had a beer at Norstar. "Challenge accepted," we replied. A sweet but fiery bartender named Michelle replied "just one?" as we ordered. We looked around the bar, and observed a mixture of young and old, drinking buckets and singing along the "Neon Moon" by Brooks & Dunn. "Oh, but I'll be alright as long as there's light, from the neon moon..."
10425 Bauman Rd, 713-697-4708
5. Rick's Den This used to be Oscar's Place for a very long time, but a young man named Rick has converted it into a very nice Tejano dancing venue. Strict dress code is enforced, so take your time getting ready. Inside, the dark room is highlighted with just the right amount of color, not too loud or too blinding, but comfortable. The DJ plays a mix of Tejano, cumbia, and even some tropical.
1203 Cavalcade 713-691-8273, RicksDen.com
4. Alice's Tall Texan There are many places in town that serve cheap Shiner and Lone Star, but Alice serves it to you freezing cold, on tap, and in a fishbowl, and still for only $2. The pool table is as old as the jukebox, and that's just fine.
4904 N. Main, 713-862-0141
3. Nick's Drive In Nick's attracts an older crowd, and opens early in the morning for the third-shifters. On the night we visited, the bar was packed with mechanics and HVAC workers still in their work shirts, happily sipping on a cold one as they listened and sang to Vicente Fernandez playing on the jukebox.
55 Berry Rd, 713-691-9204
2. Rose Garden Rose has been growing her roses and selling beer out of this house for over twenty years. We are joined at the bar by a lovely trio of ladies who offer me a beer. "Why thank you, ma'am" we reply, as a couple dances to Elvis and Hank Williams next to the pool table. The former Polish bar has been open continuously since World War II, according to Rose. As we tell stories and laugh, we quickly feel at home, as the place is more like a living room than a bar. "Stop in anytime" says Rose as we leave. Yes ma'am, we most certainly will.
2621 Link, 713-863-8027
1. Vara's Sports Bar The quintessential Northside bar, where Tejanos come to watch Texans games, listen to live music, eat BBQ, and generally have the time of their lives, one Bud at a time. Sitting in the shadow of the beautiful downtown skyline, Vara's the kind of place that pulls you in, treats you nice, and pats you on the back. Sylvia and Ruby, the owner's wife and daughter, respectively, fill us in with the history of the bar as a photo of a flooded Vara's after Hurricane Ike hands in the background. Stop by sometime and hear it for yourself. Trust us, its worth the trip.
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2727 North Fwy., 713-863-1220