Well, Houston is about to be the epicenter of the sports universe. In advance of the upcoming big game, thousands upon thousands of out-of-towners are going to descend upon the Bayou City for a week of parties, concerts, fan events and, of course, the biggest sporting event in America. They will pack hotels and local restaurants and try to make some use of the light rail, which was kinda built for this game when it first took place at NRG Stadium 13 years ago.
In addition to coming to town to support their favorite team, or even just to be a part of sports history, many of these folks will also use their visit as an opportunity to get to know a new city. And because Super Bowl week is meant for revelry, these out-of-towners will likely be looking to do so by checking out some of our city’s favorite icehouses, watering holes, nightclubs and any other place where spirits are served and good times can be had.
So, welcome and howdy to you non-Houstonians. These are the ten bars that best personify our city.
Downtown Houston is basically going to be Super Bowl central, which is nice, considering its bar scene has really exploded in recent years. The best way to describe Notsuoh (Houston spelled backwards) is as a weird, hip little dive bar. Some dive bars in and around our city are just that, run-down joints that cater to regulars and do it well. Notsuoh, meanwhile, has an artier vibe and certainly offers a wide array of clientele. But the live music (often free) is on point and the drinks are cheap; Notsuoh embodies all that’s right with Houston, and it’s not just in the name. (314 Main, notsuoh.com)
9. OKRA CHARITY SALOON
Speaking of downtown, architecture buffs and charitable types will enjoy their time at OKRA. For starters, the building – open, airy, spacious and soaked with natural light – is the crown jewel of downtown Houston bars. Second, all of the proceeds generated from drink sales go to any number of local charities and nonprofits. Organizations that have benefited from OKRA’s generosity include Rescued Pets Movement, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Project Autism. (924 Congress, friedokra.org)
8. 3RD FLOOR/IRISH COWBOY/PUB FICTION
If you came to Houston to cut loose and party, you’d best find your way to Midtown. This part of town is reserved for weekend revelry, and no bars better personify this notion than the trio of 3rd Floor, Irish Cowboy and Pub Fiction. Irish Cowboy (the former Celtic Gardens) has undergone a major patio expansion, as has Pub Fiction, both of which make for ideal spaces to round up a large crew, hit the town, knock down some drinks and stay out until last call (which, for you non-Texas types, is 2 a.m.) (2303 Smith, 3rdfloorhouston.com/irishcowboy.com/pubfiction.com)
7. FIREHOUSE SALOON
No, most Houstonians don’t wear cowboy hats or ride their horses to work. That said, some stereotypical Texas qualities do exist here. Namely, Houston has a lot of really good honky-tonks and dance halls. Owned by firemen (hence the name), Firehouse Saloon has been serving up cold beer and country music for more than 20 years. (5930 Southwest Freeway, firehousesaloon.com)
Montrose is one of Houston’s oldest and most revered neighborhoods, and Rudyard’s is basically (as it bills itself) “Montrose’s living room.” The food specials rank among the most diverse in the city — one night is steak night, another is curry night, and don’t forget chicken burrito night — and the craft beer selection is vast. Plus, every night of the week features either live music, stand-up comedy or spoken-word performances, so Rudz is definitely a place to kick back and let someone else do the talking. (2010 Waugh, rudyardspub.com)
5. POISON GIRL
Another Montrose favorite, Poison Girl is the place to visit if you want to meet and talk with native Houstonians and those who call our city home. The bar caters to an array of clientele, young and old alike, and the whiskey selection is something special. Plus, the patio is legit, the pinball machines are fun and Poison Girl – located in the heart of Montrose – is within walking distance of various other local haunts. (1641 Westheimer Suite B, facebook.com/Poison-Girl-Cocktail-Lounge)
4. UNDER THE VOLCANO
This West University bar is the place to go for those who want to sample a piece of Houston but to do so in a low-key way. The bar is dimly lit and somewhat nondescript, but the drinks – which are handmade with fresh ingredients – will quickly liven up the festivities. Live music is routinely featured, and the bar’s Monday steak night ranks among the best in the city. (2349 Bissonnet, twitter.com/volcanohouston)
3. GOODE CO. ARMADILLO PALACE
The Armadillo Palace was always a nice place to grab a burger — or something more adventurous, like venison chili — knock down a few cold ones and dance to some country music. But since undergoing a major overhaul and expansion this past summer, it rightfully ranks as a celebration of all things Texas. The menu is hearty (try the chicken-fried steak; you’re in Texas, after all), the beer is cold and the music is rocking in a country sort of way, especially after the renovation that added a much larger music space. The Armadillo Palace bills itself as a “bona fide dance hall, backyard, kitchen, and community space,” which seems about right. (5015 Kirby, thearmadillopalace.com)
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2. WEST ALABAMA ICE HOUSE
If you’re looking to gain a true sense of Texas hospitality, look no further than Houston’s most famous icehouse. West Alabama, open since the 1920s, has a sort of neighborhood bar/backyard-barbecue hybrid feel, from the friendly staff to the picnic tables to the basketball hoop that resides on the back patio. Kids and dogs are welcome, and visitors can bring their own food, order delivery or walk across the street to the cash-only taco truck. For a full Houston experience, the latter is the way to go. (1919 West Alabama, facebook.com/WALABAMA/)
1. LA CARAFE
Want a piece of Houston history? The building that houses La Carafe is listed on the National Register for Historic Places and not only houses the oldest bar in Houston, but is the oldest commercial building still in use in our city. Built in 1847 but chartered as a bar some time afterward, this downtown tavern offers up cheap drinks, an old-school jukebox and a certain irresistible hole-in-the-wall ambience. (813 Congress, facebook.com/La-Carafe)