Our Big Tex Road Trip guide to Texas dive bars doesn’t abide by some sort of strict and arbitrary definition of what constitutes a “true” dive bar. (Tiny, often deserted, with attitudinal bartenders and an overpowering waft of urine is always preferred, but it’s not required.) Instead, whether it’s drinking on a short bus, alongside ghosts, or at a Texas dance hall while listening to shredding country music, these are some of the state’s most fun, bizarre and potentially scary places to drink.
Though the bar has tried to get “fancy” by offering printed T-shirts and a new TV, Lone Star Saloon (1900 Travis, 713-757-1616) remains a Houston Press favorite, thanks partially to the shady characters from the nearby Greyhound bus station and METRO central terminal who creep their way into the bleak space. notsuoH (314 Main, 713-321-0824) is still weird as ever because you don’t know if you’ve walked into a bar, a soft-core brothel, a Kafka novel or the 19th century. The two-storied and supposedly haunted La Carafe (813 Congress, 713-229-9399), housed inside H-Town’s oldest commercial building, and Warren’s Inn (307 Travis, 713-247-9207), with its killer and cheap-ish martinis and indoor gazebo, are cattywampus from each other by Market Square Park.
In East Texas, if you arrive early enough to the blandest strip mall ever, you’ll get free food at the relaxed and cheap-o Thirsty’s in Beaumont (229 Dowlen, 409-866-6066).
In the DFW area, The Abbey Underground in Denton (100 W. Walnut, 940-566-5483) offers drinking inside of steel cages, indoor smoking and disgusting beer-shot combos that might end up costing $6 for two people. Lee Harvey’s (1807 Gould, 214-428-1555) isn’t a ramshackle waste, but, c’mon. That name! The place is a typical Dallas-primped “dive” that’s a bit like an icehouse, but only if an icehouse also served hard liquor and a portobello panini. Located in an unsettling, 1960s-looking strip mall, Keys Lounge (5677 Westcreek, Fort Worth, 817-292-8627), which bills itself as a premier blues club — it hosts acts with names like Me and My Monkey — is more like a latrine-show, if you know what we mean.
The Panhandle, as one might imagine, contains dive-bar gold. Lone Star Oyster Bar (5116 58th Street, Lubbock, 806-797-3773) serves good pub eats like fish and chips in a no-BS environment that’s only a little pissy to outsiders. Woody’s Lounge (2704 North Dixie, Odessa, 432-362-6092), which offers four pool tables and cold respites from the area heat, is pretty much locals-only all the time. The logo for the creatively named The Bar (606 West Missouri, Midland, 432-685-1757) is a stressed-out cartoon bear who’s sloshing a beer with his finger on the trigger of a pistol. The big ol’ sports bar in downtown includes about a dozen flat-screen TVs, a full kitchen with grilled quail and frog legs on the menu, and the nearly-knock-you-over odor of petrified cigs.
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El Paso’s offerings include the kind-of-divey, kind-of-not Pershing Inn (2909 Pershing, 915-566-1331), one of the oldest in town, and the wrecked Brass Asp Bar (6201 Airport, 915-779-9844), where, if you’re an annoying jerkface, you’ll probably get tossed out onto the sidewalk. Further south in West Texas, Planet Marfa (200 South Abbot, 432-386-5099) is basically an outdoor commune that offers drinkers and nacho-eaters free rein over the ping-pong table, short bus and teepee.
In the Rio Grande Valley, a yellow-shirted wooden cowboy tells you to “come on in” to Sofie’s “SS” Saloon in McAllen (6801 South 10th, 956-624-0888), a four-decade-old shack and biker bar that only serves beer and wine. The outdoor-geared space includes picnic tables and BBQ pits.
The Hill Country includes the 11th Street Cowboy Bar (307 11th, Bandera, 830-796-4849), a dance hall/cowboy bar that allows folks to bring their own liquor and, on certain nights, meat to cook on the grill. While you’re in Austin, Donn’s Depot (1600 West 5th Street, 512-478-0336), constructed from an old train depot and rail cars, is an adorable throwback to O.G. Austin and the Texas Hill Country, with people ages 22 to 90 dancing on a spacious floor to lower-volume country bands. Later, park on the west side of the Texas State Capitol, look for the lights wrapped around a rod-iron fence, and then walk down the shallow steps to the dimly lit Cloak Room (1300 Colorado, 512-472-9808). If it’s after 7 p.m. on a weekday, you’ll likely have the place to yourself alongside a bad-attitude (but warms up quickly) bartender who might ask you to answer the phone while she takes a smoke break.
OTHER TEXAS DIVE BARS
Jimmy’s Ice House (2803 White Oak, Houston, 713-862-7001)
Shiloh Club (1321 Studewood, Houston, 713-880-2401)
Lukenbach Texas (412 Lukenbach Town Loop, Fredericksburg, 830-997-3224)
Big T’s Ice House (11779 FM 1346, Saint Hedwig, 210-667-2332)
Schroeder Hall (12516 FM 622, Goliad, 361-573-7002)
Shooters Saloon (2318 South Market, Brenham, 979-277-8480)
Chat Room Pub (1263 W. Magnolia, Fort Worth, 817-922-8319)
Velvet Elvis (3720 Walnut Hill, Dallas, 214-358-0897)
The Texan (3625 South Staples, Corpus Christi, 361-854-1571)