Bayou City

10 Houston Bars With the Best Background Music

Pull up a stool and cozy up to the jukebox at Ladybird's.
Pull up a stool and cozy up to the jukebox at Ladybird's. Photo by Jack Gorman
In an admittedly roundabout way, Satellite Bar’s recent decision to scale back its live-music calendar only highlights how important your neighborhood tavern’s background playlist can be. If it’s just okay, it may be as humdrum as the wallpaper; if it’s really good, it can build up a customer base almost overnight; if it’s awful, it’s hard to think of any other facet of the decor — even the lighting — that can send customers to another establishment quite so quickly. The following ten Houston bars represent the opposite end of that spectrum: some places trust the bartenders’ musical selections will be as agreeable as the drinks they serve, while others let their customers have a little more say, usually in the form of a jukebox (which, as luck would have it, haven’t become extinct quite yet). Either way, spend a night or two here and your ears will be thanking you long after it’s over. (Note: This list is in alphabetical order.)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Photo by Jack Gorman
1005 West 19th,
It’s not always easy to make out the music that emanates from Big Star’s satellite jukebox, but that’s kinda the point. This place bumps, particularly on weekends, with chatter from various groups of Heights hipsters and old-school types who prefer a “no frills” kinda bar. Various rock and country tunes blare throughout Big Star and make for a fine evening of background noise while you're shooting pool, smoking on the back patio or even just chilling on the couch that resides in the middle of the bar. Best not to think about those who have done so before you. CLINT HALE

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MATTHEW KEEVER
Photo by Matthew Keever
600 West Gray,
Arguably Montrose's most eclectic staple, Cecil's Pub boasts one of the city's most comprehensive jukeboxes. Its patrons — who range from seasoned gayborhood dwellers to out-of-town yuppies — make wide-ranging picks from the exemplary music box, which survived a fire that broke out in 2004. Iconic singers range from Johnny Cash, David Bowie and Elvis Costello to Tom Waits and Amy Winehouse. Essential rock artists include The White Stripes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead and Manchester Orchestra. Rap fans can choose from classic OutKast and Beastie Boys records or compilation albums, which feature hits from the likes of Vanilla Ice and Salt-N-Pepa. And punk lovers can treat their bar-mates to a dose of Dropkick Murphys, Iggy Pop or The Clash. Sprinkle in some Marilyn Manson and Tool for good measure, and the soundtrack at Cecil's Pub is as varied as its clientele. MATTHEW KEEVER

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MATTHEW KEEVER
Photo by Matthew Keever
5607 Morningside,
Across the street from Houston's hottest new burger joint, The Ginger Man has been a mainstay of the Village for more than 30 years. Most patrons visit for the expansive beer selection, but the pub's jukebox is quite impressive in its own right. Tucked in the middle of the bar, often out of sight on busy nights, sits an impressive selection of albums: Soundtracks to Boogie Nights, Crazy Heart and Pirate Radio nestle in next to Bob Marley, Rolling Stone and Beatles records, while Vampire Weekend's debut, multiple Arcade Fire albums, Matt & Kim's Grand and Dr. Dog's Be the Void tap into indie lovers' tastes. So many options could be a cause of anxiety for newcomers, but there isn't a bad song (or beer) on tap at The Ginger Man. When in doubt, just play some Trombone Shorty. MATTHEW KEEVER

Note: Jukebox subject to change. - PHOTO BY HP STAFF
Note: Jukebox subject to change.
Photo by HP Staff
1010 Banks, Facebook page
Since 2010, this hole-in-the-wall bar has been serving up a great selection of artisanal cocktails and craft beer — winning the hearts of many as it always keeps a great selection of music floating over the spirits. During happy hour and throughout the post-dinner eve, it’s common to hear the chatter of voices mixed into the punk, oldies, electronic or indie-pop tunes hand-selected by the bartender. Into the wee hours, you might find yourself among a modest group of friends and strangers grooving to the beats, well-oiled from the tasty drink selection. For those customers willing to take a crack at providing their own ambience to this Museum District haunt, the jukebox located on a back is stocked with everything from Black Sabbath to Beck to Ben Folds. Just be sure to bring some singles. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Photo by Jack Gorman
5519 Allen, ladybirds
If you’re looking for a night of drinking, foosball and pool and “cracking open a cold one with the boys,” Ladybird's is for you. Its jukebox is an amalgamation of indie rock, classic rock, soul and country, leaning a little more toward country than anything else. The bar is musician-owned, so although this may seem like a sports bar, you’ll be surprised as to what you can find on that jukebox in the corner. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, so pretty much anything you put on will be well-received. Its location in the Heights and the large patio make it a go-to for a laid-back night out away from the clubs of Midtown. For a date or just a hangout night, no place I’ve been settles the night like a few Lone Stars at Ladybirds. ADAM OHAYON

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