The Washington Avenue corridor is fascinating if not for the simple fact that its very existence for the last few years has ignited a firestorm of opinions about its worthiness as Houston's king of party scenes. Last year, Houston Press writers Craig Hlavaty, Shea Serrano and Mike Gigilio did an incredible job of capturing the mixbag of experiences and perspectives of the Washington corridor. There's little argument that Washington will one day follow Midtown, Downtown and Richmond Avenue into Houston nightlife's hall of fame.
But it's not there yet.
What you'll find today is still a bustling strip of bar and club establishments that cater to hard partying early and mid-20s folk and early-30s hip professionals who live it up to the fullest on the weekend, but don't mind squeezing in a club version of bingo on a Tuesday at Sawyer Park. The crowds are fit, attractive and social and they know how to have a good time.
Liberty Station took Best Washington Avenue Bar in 2011. Here's the Best of the Rest.
6. Benjy's: Benjy's upstairs bar is a classy establishment and takes on a very different personality than its counterparts down the street. This nicely lit room, by almost church-like light fixtures, gives off a retro feel with its loud 1970s color-scheme wallpaper.
Tables for two line the walls with couples feeding off the downstairs restaurant. It's big enough to breathe, but small enough for a very intimate feel. The atmosphere offers more of a professional setting and caters to a more mature crowd.
Loosened ties, Tommy Bahama shirts and pink Polo's sprinkle the place representing a slightly older crowd than what you'll find in other parts of Washington. With music like Bag Raider's "Sunlight" and Shit Robot's "Take 'Em Up" playing at just a high enough volume to still have a conversation, any stuffiness is evaporated out of the room. Benjy's strikes a great balance of coolness, style and sophistication. 5922 Washington, 713-868-1131Web site
5. Porch Swing Pub: This neighborhood bar carved out of the tree trunk of good ole Americana has all the spirit of a Sunday afternoon backyard crawfish boil. It exudes unpretentious.
Bartenders David and Joel, with their "boy next door" looks, are shadowed by photos of hunting and deep-sea fishing trips and you'll even find a few wedding photos next to the random wall art. A diversity of music from the ultra cool, spacey and futuristic juke box shoots out anything from UGK's "I Choose You" to Vampire Weekend's "Giving Up The Gun," which is proof that the crowd knows how to choose its music.
Blondes mouth the lyrics to Drake cuts and no complaints were apparent when a few screwed-down tracks made the playlist. Houston was recently rated the most diverse city in America and Porch Swing Pub during a Thursday happy hour reflects that claim.
You'll have to fight for porch space but air conditioning and fast acting bartenders inside aren't a bad Plan B. Work the pool sticks, throw some darts, and watch out, or be thankful, for the very friendly bar back as he'll point out to you where all the pretty ladies are congregating. Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest. 69 Heights Blvd., 713-880-8700, Web site
4. Roosevelt: If you interpret hiked-up skirts and glittered shirts as douchebaggery, this isn't for you. If you're in your element amongst dragon-infused clothing and lots of exposed skin, this is home.
Roosevelt is extremely nice on the eyes. This elegantly and beautifully constructed bar/club hybrid, with its impressive variety of recipes for martinis, cosmopolitans, twisted lemonades and mojitos, boasts one of the best dance DJs in the city. Its low ceilings, darkly lit atmosphere and cubbyhole VIP areas, complemented by a hard-hitting sound system, gives way to an anything-goes atmosphere.
Women can heavily outnumber men, and that's always a perfect formula for the one who likes to hunt and the one who likes to be hunted. Let the hunger games begin. Roosevelt is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 5219 Washington, 713-869-8779 Web site
3. Sawyer Park: Hands down, the best food of all the Washington Avenue bars and the best view of downtown. Don't mind the housing construction across the street that bit off a nice chunk of that view. Sawyer is still a Washington favorite for those who frequent the strip. Tuesday bingo -- not your grandmother's bingo -- is hype and crunk as the DJ spins really great cuts from various genres of music throughout the games.
Dodgeball during Sunday Fun Day is a nice touch. Sawyer radiates a great party atmosphere. The upstairs bar over looking the city nets the breeze nicely and refreshes its patrons as they catch sports off the plasma screens and soak in the beautiful downtown skyline. Running groups meet every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Burger and nachos do not disappoint, but don't forget about the live crawfish every Saturday and Sunday. Don't take the dress code lightly, though. 2412 Washington, 713-863-9350, Web site
2. Kung Fu Saloon: Walking into Kung Fu, expect the unexpected, like a woman in a tank top and jeans demonstrating to her male and female friends how to do proper push-ups, and after a few adult beverages, engaging in a push-up contest with her male counterpart. Expect fun.
Kung Fu is a lot of things. It's a vintage arcade, sports bar; when room allows, dance club; and when luck allows, hookup plaza. Drinks are stiff and a close-up look at bartender Savannah (at least that's the name she gave Rocks Off) is worth the trip into the bar alone. It can be argued Kung Foo has some of the best music, especially if you like hip-hop from the boom-bap era of the early 1990s.
Regulars will point out it's not a fancy DJ, but just Pandora. So they're efficient, too. It also boasts a really good-looking crowd. Vintage motorcycles can sometime line the front sidewalk, adding to the bar's coolness. Bomsai trees, nunchucks and martial arts masters paint the place taking you back to Kung Fu Sunday-morning television and Karate Kid.
Nostalgia, a key element of this bar's charm, will further entice you with arcade games like NFL Blitz 2000, Big Buck Hunter and yes, Track and Field. No one will judge if you wear your old K-Swiss, Fila or Adidas. 5317 Washington, 713-864-0642, Web site
1. Hughes Hangar: An homage to 1940s post-depression architecture, Hughes Hangar lives up to its name. This bar aims to build an atmosphere of openness and breeze, and some of Houston's most attractive people come to fly high and be seen at this establishment, which is tucked away on the area of Washington where Drake once ruled supreme.
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Its luscious, dark leather furniture, grand piano, and antique cars, horses, and wooden planes give it character and a hint of old-time atmosphere. It's a blend of a gentle-"man" cave and a nighttime Miami bar and because of that, winters can be a bummer, but nonetheless, Hughes Hangar is a fantastic display of sophistication, masculinity and class.
Music-wise, the sound system is stellar. There's a cleanness and crispness that doesn't leave you deaf. To quench the thirst, ask for the Libations menu. Attire? Come very correct. 2811 Washington Avenue, 281-501-2028, Web site