Houston’s Midtown district has not always had the best reputation for nightlife, and the recent allegations of discriminatory practices by the nightclub Gaslamp and the subsequent video statement from its lawyer have angered many and turned them off further from the scene; there are, however, some cool bars and clubs in the area still worth checking out. Mainly we mean the places on this list, which we have found to be virtually douchebag-free based on our experiences.
(Note:This list is in alphabetical order)
ALLEY KAT BAR & LOUNGE
This two-story bar hosts diverse crowds as well as diverse musical acts; indie-rock bands, Spanish rock, hip-hop and DJs spinning vinyl can all be found here. On many nights several different acts are performing simultaneously in the rooms that make up the lounge, including the main bar, back room, middle room and upstairs room; there is often a lot of variety to choose from when you walk in. Weekly events include karaoke on Tuesdays, progressive DJ Flash Gordon Parks on Wednesdays, and The Waxaholics all-vinyl party on Thursdays; groove is in the heart, and at Alley Kat. (3718 Main, facebook.com/TheAlleyKatHouston)
BIG TOP LOUNGE
The full name of this circus-themed bar next door to The Continental Club is Shoeshine Charley's Big Top Lounge; everyone just calls it the Big Top, though. In addition to the kitschy, circus-themed knick-knacks on display like an elephant lamp, mice mannequins, and a red velvet throne, an Elvis wall and Christmas lights add to the Big Top’s unique dive-bar ambience. Big Top features live music as well as DJs; most notably the collective known as A Fistful of Soul, who play old soul and R&B 45s on the third Friday of every month. The event has gotten so popular that it actually has been moved to the Continental Club's huge backyard patio, which the Big Top's back door opens up onto as well.
(3714 Main, bigtoplounge.com)
This dimly lit dive bar serves up tasty, typical bar fare like cheeseburgers and nachos as well as some unusual items like pot stickers, spring rolls, and goat-cheese egg rolls. Tuesday is steak night featuring a grilled ribeye with sides of mashed potatoes, cream corn, Merlot mushrooms and pineapples. The bartenders and patrons are friendly here and there is a patio if you want to enjoy the current nice weather we are having; this place is casual and definitely not the type of place that has any silly dress code or cover charge. (2703 Smith, facebook.com/CommunityBar)
Opened in 2000, Houston’s Continental Club is an accurate recreation of the original Continental that opened in Austin back in 1957; both clubs continue on the tradition of showcasing great musicians who play roots, rockabilly, blues, country, swing and more on a weekly basis. Be sure to check out Glover Gill playing Tango on the piano on Mondays and Beatles tribute band Beetle on Thursdays along with all the other phenomenal bands who drop by here. The large backyard is home to the Pachinko Hut bar and is one of the best patios in Houston; go out there and relax a bit in between the sets of the bands playing inside. (3700 Main, continentalclub.com/Houston)
The colorful decor at GAGE Lounge is inspired by fashion trends and interior design from the '60s through late '80s, and music and videos from these periods are played here as well; the food served here is restaurant-quality, with some of the current favorites being the Texas Brisket Panini and the Smoked Salmon Plate. Cocktails like the “Funicello Crusher,” a mixed-berry cocktail named in honor of beach-party movie star Annette Funicello, and the “Raspberry Beret,” a variation on the kamikaze named after the classic Prince song and made with fresh-pressed raspberries, deliver a sense of nostalgic fun to patrons. GAGE has a nice patio out front in addition to its cool interior space, which is good for people-watching. (2600 Travis, gagelounge.com)
KHON'S WINE DARTS COFFEE ART
Khon’s is a good place to play some darts, as the name implies, and in addition to the wine, coffee, and tea selections, you can also get a variety of craft beers from Texas or Louisiana here. The owners are very friendly and support local artists, so check out the work on display when you drop in; the bar also hosts art openings and live music throughout the year, including jazz on Sunday evenings. All kinds of fun cultural events happen at Khon’s all the time; the best way to stay on top of it all is by liking their Facebook page. People from all backgrounds are warmly welcomed here. (2808 Milam, facebook.com/KHONS)
There are no actual reptiles that hang out at Komodo Pub (that we know of), but stop by one evening anyway. The pub is located in an old quaint house so when you drop in it will feel like you are attending a private party at a friend’s place; the bar is located in the old living-room space and there are other little rooms and a backyard patio where you can visit with your pals or fellow pub patrons. The bartenders always make us feel welcome here and the place is just an attitude-free, laid-back spot that is good to chill out at. (2004 Baldwin, facebook.com/Komodos-Pub)
THE MAPLE LEAF PUB
The Maple Leaf Pub is the only place in Houston that shows all NHL hockey games all of the time; Husband-and-wife team Sean and Olivia Blair opened the place in 2006 after getting frustrated at not being able to find a cool place in town to watch their favorite hockey team, the Calgary Flames. In addition to a small penalty box just like you’d find at a hockey rink, hockey jerseys and signed memorabilia are on display; if hockey is not your thing, Maple Leaf is still a cool neighborhood bar with special events like Texas Hold Em’ Poker, a steak night, and “gonzo” karaoke to keep you coming back. Friendly Canadian vibe, eh? (514 Elgin, themapleleafpub.com)
NOUVEAU ANTIQUE ART BAR
Nouveau Antique Art Bar has been around for a while now as trendy clubs have come and gone nearby and the fact that it actually has a large parking lot is unique itself in Midtown. The big draw here is the large collection of reproduction Tiffany lamps and Art Nouveau (French for "new art") antique furniture that gives the place a distinct look and feel. This combination, as well as the low lighting, cozy couches and low-volume music that lends itself to conversation, helps create a romantic atmosphere; drop in on Lounge Night Wednesdays to hear the music of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, which can further enhance your romantic mood more than a night of listening to, say, indie-rock or metal at your usual dive. (2913 Main, art-bar.net)
Wooster's Garden is big on craft beer, with more than 49 brews on tap as well as an impressive menu of handcrafted specialty cocktails that always seems to be getting updated lately. The crowd here is often made up of young professionals who stop by after work as well as people who live nearby who walk over; it can be a destination spot as well and everyone is made to feel welcome. One thing that really stands out about Wooster’s is its big parking lot with 33 spaces; this big lot is utilized on Sundays when several food trucks drop by at 11 a.m. and stay until 10 p.m. Wooster's also serves well above-average bar food seven days a week, and hosts live music every Monday.
(3315 Milam, woostersgarden.com)