“Open bar” might be one of the English language's sweetest phrases, but outside of weddings and work parties, it's all too rare to hear. In fact, drinking for free is disappointingly hard to do – sure, you might be able to score free samples at liquor and grocery stores, but standing around drinking in an aisle doesn't exactly make for the most enjoyable experience ever.
So we went looking for places in Houston that not only offer free drinks, but also give you a comfortable environment to actually enjoy them in. Check them out below. You're welcome.
We can personally confirm that Manready Mercantile employees know how to make a good Old Fashioned. The cocktail is the store's signature drink for a very simple reason: “We like them ourselves,” said founder Travis Weaver, adding that it's an easy-to-make, classic drink. However, the store will occasionally switch it up with other cocktails, depending on employees' mood. “Someone on staff will say, 'Hey, I found this Bloody Mary recipe,' and they'll just like serve Bloody Marys that day,” Weaver said. Customers are encouraged to hang out on the store's couches and chat with the employees. “People feel like they've walked back in time, like 100 years into this old general store, where hospitality's the most important thing.” This store, located in the Heights, is typically geared toward men, but sells everything from furniture to clothing to whiskey-soaked toothpicks.
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The Upper Kirby men's wear store has a full-on “wall of liquor” behind the cash register, according to sales associate Jared Tietjens. That's probably not surprising, considering the store itself is named after liquor and brands itself as a “textile distillery” on its website. Of all the shops we surveyed, Rye 51 offers the widest range of beverages, as customers can regularly sip whiskey, tequila, vodka and wine. “Then we have just regular boring stuff, like coffee,” added Tietjens. When asked if the alcohol might influence whether or not a customer decides to buy one of the store's wares – which are on the pricier side, at least by our penniless reporter standards – Tietjens admitted that, well, maybe it does. “This eases their bones, you know.”
For this designer store, which sells high-end clothing for both men and women, serving alcohol is just part of making the shop as home-like as possible. “You can put your feet up and also have a nice drink, and enjoy the art and the music and the vibe of our store,” said store director Hailey Bunnell. The Upper Kirby store serves a variety of beers, as well as bourbon, which is fashion designer and owner Billy Reid's drink of choice, Bunnell said. While Reid prefers W.L. Weller, the shop sometimes serves Bulleit Bourbon too. Customers are even welcome to head to the store's kitchen and serve themselves, as if they were in their own houses.
The Class Room
Clearly, men's wear stores are the best places to go in Houston if you're looking for free booze, because The Class Room is the third men's clothing shop on this list. According to co-owner Jon “Cabby” Caballero, the decision to offer whiskey to customers at the Rice Village store was easy: “It felt manly, it was kind of cool, we like whiskey,” he said. Starting this year, The Class Room also serves beer from the 8th Wonder Brewery. The store also periodically hosts Whiskey Wednesdays, when customers are invited to come chill at the store after hours and sip some spirits. Plus, if customers bring their own bottles to Whiskey Wednesdays, Caballero said, they can receive a gift card to the store for the value of that bottle.
If you don't happen to have a hundred dollars lying around to spend on clothing, don't worry – you can still drink for free at music store Cactus Music, located on the border of Montrose. Cactus, which bills itself as Houston's oldest independent music store, has served its customers Saint Arnold Brewing Company craft beer for years, said owner Quinn Bishop. Unlike at the other stores on this list, however, the beer is available only at special events: Usually, it's served whenever an artist is in the store for a scheduled event, from a concert to a signing. (Luckily, artists are in-store a lot, according to Cactus's events calendar.) But before you get too excited, drinks are limited to two per customer. “We're not in the business of getting people drunk. We're in the business of creating an atmosphere,” explained Bishop, calling the store's frequent weekday events “happy hour with a soundtrack.”