Established in 1911, Montrose became the bohemian home of Houston counterculture in the '60s and '70s; the neighborhood became the home of Houston’s gay and lesbian community in the '70s as well, and remains the center of the Houston LGBT community today. There has been concern in recent years that Montrose is losing some of its unique culture because of gentrification, as old homes are torn down by developers to build fancy new townhomes and some small businesses are forced to leave because of skyrocketing increases in rent; fortunately, many of the bars and clubs on this list have been around for decades and are keeping the Montrose free spirit alive, hopefully for years to come.
(Note: This list is in alphabetical order.)
AvantGarden is located in a converted turn-of-the-20th-century house where Howard Hughes reportedly played as a child; this bar and community venue is where a lot of creative and artistic people throughout the city like to gather for poetry readings, live music, theatrical productions, independent film premieres, art exhibits, improv comedy, cabaret and much more. The spacious backyard patio/courtyard is illuminated overhead with sparkling lights when the sun goes down, putting out a festival vibe; AvantGarden has also become a popular place for weddings, and is now hosting one just about every weekend these days. (411 Westheimer, avantgardenhouston.com)
Boondock’s can be a laid-back, neighborhood dive bar on a quiet night; on other nights, DJs spin hip-hop, house music, EDM, techno, disco and more upstairs, where the dance floor gets jumping. The bar also hosts live music and open-mike comedy nights; the drinks are cheap and strong here, and the crowd can get a little rowdy sometimes. Boons has a jukebox with good selections, and the floors and bathrooms can look a bit dirty, but it is a dive bar, after all; don’t come out expecting a River Oaks Country Club environment, and you’ll be just fine. (1417 Westheimer, facebook.com/boondockshtx)
Catbirds is a hipster dive bar where many of the regular neighborhood patrons are covered with tats and the guys sport long, thick beards; oddly enough, a sign out front advises that no sleeveless shirts are allowed. Catbirds sets itself apart from other dive bars in that only jazz music is played, along with the occasional slow swing; Catbirds also distinguishes itself by being a full-time trivia bar. The space is small but rarely crowded; a narrow, long patio is available for people-watching. If you stick around long enough and drink a few craft beers here, the bartender on duty will give you some free popcorn. (1336 Westheimer, catbirds.com)
Etro Lounge is an '80s bar, but it's not over the top and never feels like a gimmick or tourist trap. The main attraction for '80s fans here is the music from that decade, mainly stuff like The Cure, Depeche Mode and Erasure; the club hasn't played anything too obscure the times we have visited, and you are sure to hear Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” sometime during the night. The upstairs lounge has a very '80s vibe, like something you would see on an old episode of Miami Vice; music videos from the heyday of MTV are played along with the music via wall projector. It’s almost impossible not to be dragged out onto the dance floor here since everyone is in such a good mood; if you really hate to dance, then play a few games on the vintage Atari video game system instead. (1424 Westheimer, etrolounge.com)
THE HAY MERCHANT
One of the newer bars in the neighborhood, The Hay Merchant is the place to visit for beer lovers in Montrose; after gazing upon the long wall of taps behind the bar and perusing the huge selection of craft brews on the menu, you'll be astounded and feel as if you've died and gone to Beer Heaven. Just don’t ask for some generic domestic beer, because they don't sell it and might not be shy of informing you why they consider it to be "watered-down crap." But no need to worry, the staff here is very friendly and informative and will help anyone pick out the right beer, regardless of their level of beer expertise or lack thereof. The food at the Merchant is impressive as well, and some of the items are unusual; the sweet, spicy pig ears are surprisingly quite tasty. (1100 Westheimer, haymerchant.com)
JR'S BAR & GRILL
JR’s Bar & Grill is probably Houston’s most famous gay bar, and this longtime Montrose establishment has been at the forefront of gay nightlife in our fair city for many years now. JR’s recently made some renovations to its courtyard and patio and added some new landscaping out front as well, all in time for its 33rd Anniversary Party on September 13. JR’s is known for its impressive karaoke night, as well as drag shows and amateur male strip contests throughout the week; there is no dance floor here since it's a bar, but the dance and pop music is loud and scantily clad male dancers sway back and forth to it while standing upon elevated platforms on both sides of the bar awaiting dollar-bill tips. JR's is located in the heart of Houston’s “gayborhood,” so many other popular gay bars are within walking distance as well. (808 Pacific, jrsbarandgrill.com)
It looks like an old beat-up purple house and there is no sign out front, but Lola’s is Houston's ultimate indie dive bar, known for its cheap, stiff drinks and free-spirited, unpretentious regular patrons; the interior and patio area both have a lot of interesting stuff going on visually, if you catch our drift. Groovy artwork has been painted on the walls and parts of the ceiling throughout the years; stickers with band names and funny slogans cover up several mirrors; and stimulating knick-knacks behind and above the bar are all fun to explore when you have the time. Lola's has an authenticity about it that simply can't be duplicated, and both the bartenders and the patrons are about as real as it gets; checking out the “Home of Reality” is a must for any dive-bar aficionado. (2327 Grant, facebook.com/Lolas-Depot-Houston-Texas)
A Houston institution for 36-plus years now, Numbers has hosted an impressive list of alternative, industrial and punk acts throughout the years (and many more genres too numerous to mention) and soldiers on with Houston’s longest-running weekly dance event, Classic Numbers; DJ Wes Wallace spins music and videos from the '80s with some modern goth, techno, electronica and more mixed in. The large-capacity dance floor is packed weekly with the usual mix of scenesters from various subcultures dressed in some interesting fashion choices; you will also most likely run into a few fortysomething folks reliving the '80s (some never left), curious suburbanites, fabulous drag queens and gregarious inebriated people. Numbers' 37th Anniversary Party will be held on September 12. (300 Westheimer, numbersnightclub.com)
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SHOW ME HOW
Hard to believe it, but Poison Girl is celebrating its 11th anniversary this Sunday; local bands Young Mammals, Hearts of Animals, Rose Ette and more will be performing, with all the fun beginning at 4 p.m. This place was the winner of the Houston Press Best Bar Atmosphere in 2014, and a big part of the unique Poison Girl atmosphere, in addition to the spacious patio out back with the giant Kool-Aid Man and the R-rated velvet paintings inside, is the row of pinball machines on the back wall. Poison Girl can get crowded on weekend nights; that can be fun, but do yourself a favor and stop in during the week sometime when the place is slower and you can really look around and absorb the mood of the place.
(1641 Westheimer, facebook.com/Poison-Girl-Cocktail-Lounge)
Rudyard's calls itself "Montrose's living room since 1978," and relaxing in this living room with craft beers and a delicious cheeseburger is a favorite pastime of ours. Venture upstairs just about any night of the week for live music, comedy shows and other entertainment; coming up on September 19, Rudyards celebrates its 37th anniversary with a live music show featuring Poor Dumb Bastards, Flamin’ Hellcats and other local bands. You can also play a few games of pool while enjoying a show here, or some darts; luckily, authentic steel-tipped darts with old-school dartboards are found here and not the plastic-tipped kind used with electronic dartboards preferred by many bars today. (2010 Waugh, rudyardspub.com)