If you cover the Houston bar scene like we do, you come to realize that the sheer number of bars in and around Houston that are always opening and closing is pretty staggering; the good ones stick around, of course, and help create some beautiful memories for their loyal patrons. Here is a list of the best new bars that opened in Houston in 2015 (in our humble opinions); a couple of these actually opened in late 2014, but we’re not going to split hairs about that. Give these places a try if you have not already.
(Note: Special thanks to Phaedra Cook for the tips. This list is in alphabetical order.)
BARRINGER BAR & LOUNGE
Barringer Bar is an upscale speakeasy-like lounge located in a historic building that dates back to 1873, the former home of the Houston Dry Goods and Notion warehouse. Barringer Bar’s old location down the block was the old Barringer Norton Tailors building, from which the bar took its name. Continuing the historical theme, Barringer’s new location is furnished with antique furniture and old photos; the bar serves classic cocktails as well, along with some new craft cocktails like the Barringer signature cocktail of whiskey, Dry Curacao liqueur, simple syrup and lemon. Get one of the lounge's boilermakers — a Lone Star beer and a shot of Slow & Low rye whiskey. Barringer Bar is a classy place that's dimly lit, and has a large second-floor room that is available for private parties; the bar hosts live music and DJs often. (108 Main, barringerhouston.com)
This Miami-inspired, upscale Latin nightclub has a trio of house DJs who spin a mix of salsa, merengue and bachata music, as well as hip-hop, Top 40 and Spanish rock. Fuego has an impressive audio and lighting system that was installed by the same company that handled the lights and sound at popular nightclubs Liv in Miami Beach and Rain at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, among others. The light fixtures set up above the always-busy dance floor look kind of like the spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind; with the aid of a computer, each individual pixel color can be changed at will. In addition, the various laser lights up on the ceiling can be changed to any color desired, and a number of different patterns can be projected out of them onto the dance floor below. It’s a cool thing to see, whether you dance under them or just observe from afar with an adult beverage in hand. (11555 Fuqua, facebook.com/fuegohouston)
THE HILL ICE HOUSE
Okay, The Hill Ice House is actually located out in Rosenberg, not Houston proper, but this new place (formerly known as Jessy's Ice House) has been renovated by owner Terry Bryden and is worth a trip out there to see; Bryden also owns the popular Bohemian Hill Tavern, located just a little over a mile away. The Hill is especially popular with bikers and rockers; it has live music, karaoke night and DJs throughout the week, as well as an Internet jukebox. When we visited during the grand opening party, folks played some Van Morrison, Bob Seger, Willie Nelson, CCR and Afroman's “Because I Got High.” The Hill Ice House features six beers on tap, and often someone cooks something out on the pit to share; as with most icehouses in Texas, you can bring in your own bottle of liquor and purchase setups. The big patio with picnic tables located out front under a beautiful large oak tree is popular during warmer months. (1315 Avenue I, Rosenberg, facebook.com/thehillbar)
HOUSTON WATCH CO.
Located in the old historic downtown Southern Pacific Railroad building on Franklin, the present home of Bayou Lofts, Houston Watch Co. the bar resides in the spot where Houston jeweler V.A. Corrigan opened his Houston Watch Co. in 1912 — which, you guessed it, sold watches. Some safes from the old business are on display in the bar: two upstairs in the balcony seating area and one in the women’s restroom, which is used to store paper towels and other bathroom supplies. Houston Watch Co. is an elegant, low-key place that serves a small menu of classic cocktails and offers an extensive selection of liquors, particularly whiskies, bourbons and Scotches. The historic nature of the space here can almost make one feel transported back in time, no pun intended; this is a nice spot for pre- or post-dinner-date drinks. (913 Franklin, houstonwatchcompany.com)
In Japan, izakayas are small, informal bars that also serve food; Izakaya here in Houston pretty much follows the same formula, though it also serves global cuisine in addition to Japanese food. Izakaya has a lunch, dinner and dessert menu, which all have some interesting items on them including an octupus salad and a meatball sandwich served with four Texas antelope meatballs; for your drink choices, Izakaya serves highballs and craft cocktails with fun names like A Trip to Bird Island and The FUKU Bounce. You can enjoy your food and drinks outside on the bar’s patio or get a table inside near the Japanese pop art on the walls; check out Izakaya’s website for its extensive full menu and our slideshow here for a look at the impressive interior design of the place. (318 Gray, houstonizakaya.com)
JOHNNY'S GOLD BRICK
Johnny’s Gold Brick is from the team behind D & T Drive Inn, Downhouse and other hip spots around town; Johnny’s is a Heights-area bar located in the former home of the old Boom Boom Room that serves up classic cocktails like a Tom Collins or Old Fashioned as well as craft cocktails and beer on tap and in cans. The bartenders here are real mixologists, and they even make a frozen margarita with Big Red in it, which many consider to be the true preferred soda of Texans, not Dr Pepper; other cool features include a patio with outdoor seating where dogs are allowed and the visiting food trucks out front, including Pi Pizza. (2518 Yale, facebook.com/JohnnysGB)
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This laid-back, family-owned neighborhood bar in the Heights features a nice little patio out front that local food trucks come and visit so you can get some grub; venture a few steps inside and get craft beers or excellent signature cocktails to wash your food selections down with. There's a bit of an upscale icehouse feel here, with the bar’s windows being opened when the weather is nice; check out the owner-curated CD jukebox which offers great selections of classic rock, country, soul and pop. This is a good spot to come out and just drink and chat with friends, or if you want to engage in some activities, entertainment includes occasional live music, foosball and pool tables, a couple of video games, a photo booth and a bean-bag toss outside. The location, next to some railroad tracks, reminds one of a lazy, small Texas town; you can hear, feel and smell the train when it comes roaring through. (5519 Allen, ladybirdsbar.com)
Longtime Houstonians might be surprised to see Leon’s Lounge on this list, since it's Houston’s oldest bar, having opened back in 1947; it did shut down back in late January, however, after the previous operator had a dispute with the owner of the building. Duane Bradley, owner of The Davenport Lounge locations on Richmond and in Clear Lake, is now running Leon’s Lounge, which had its grand opening back on November 28. Bradley has returned Leon’s back to its roots as a lounge that serves old-school classic cocktails, along with local craft beers and whiskies from around the world. The focus here is on drinks and conversation, since there are no TVs and food is not served; old photos from the early days of Leon’s Lounge have been hung up on the walls. As the adage goes, what’s old is new again at Leon’s Lounge. (1006 McGowen, facebook.com/LeonsLounge)
Spare Key is kind of a secret place; it's located on the second floor of the building that houses Cook & Collins, an American comfort food restaurant in Midtown. The bar is a small, intimate lounge that specializes in serving classic cocktails, wines by the glass, and craft bottled and canned beers like Karbach Weisse Versa Wheat and Smuttynose Finestkind IPA; Spare Key also encourages guests to chat with the bartenders on duty as the bartenders will create custom cocktails based on a discussion of customers' likes and dislikes and personal tastes. This is another place that could have been added to our least douchey bars in Midtown list; the place is darkly lit and plays '80s music, which is another plus. (2416 Brazos, facebook.com/SpareKeyHouston)
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 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; the iron and glass front wall and ceiling here provide a really nice atmosphere. (3315 Milam, woostersgarden.com)