Drinking and driving is definitely not cool, so if you don’t feel like paying for a ride home after a night out on the town via a cab or Uber, always assign a designated driver who will remain sober and get you home safe. But designated drivers want to have a good time, too, of course, so here's a list of the best bars for them to enjoy along with you.
(Note: This list is in reverse alphabetical order.)
SLICK WILLIE'S FAMILY POOL HALL
Knocking pool balls around with a stick is always good clean fun; you don’t even have to be good at the game to go play and take your mind off your troubles for a bit. Mondays at Slick Willie's, the pool games are free with equal purchase; Wednesdays are $5 for all-day play. The Montrose location also has air hockey, a basketball shooting game, darts and foosball for all your competitive needs. It's okay to show up here hungry if you like eating fried appetizers all night; they seem to go together well with beer-drinking and pool-shooting, though your designated driver will have an equally good time without the brews. (1200 Westheimer, slickw.com)
PALACE BOWLING LANES
Palace Bowling is probably the only place in Houston to live out any Big Lebowski fantasies you may have; the place is decades old and luckily does not have any glow-in-the-dark lanes that make you bowl with the lights turned off. Speaking of The Big Lebowski, although the guys in that film liked to drink beer while bowling, your designated driver will have a good time without any since throwing bowling balls around is actually pretty damn fun in itself. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, indoor smoking is now a thing of the past here, but the classic bar food and ample parking out front remain. (4191 Bellaire, facebook.com/palacebowlinglanes)
THE PAINT PUB
At the Paint Pub, you and your friends can get a lesson from one of the staff artists on how to paint while drinking beer and wine — except for your designated driver, of course. Being sober might actually make for a more focused learning experience anyway, and you might actually remember what you were taught for future use. Paint Pub also provides live music on Brushes and Bands night, and shopping is available at the small on-site boutique that sells women’s clothing, jewelry, barware and other items. (1840 NASA Parkway, thepaintpub.com)
It’s actually kind of a novel experience to be sober at Numbers, so your designated driver will probably be one of the very few non-indulgent people in the place on any given night. Nevertheless, he or she can still have a great time people-watching and dancing on a Friday night during Houston’s longest-running weekly dance event, Classic Numbers, with DJ Wes Wallace spinning music and videos from the '80s along with some modern goth, techno, electronica and more mixed in. Numbers always has a lot of interesting events and live music that can be enjoyed sober as well: Napalm Death and the Melvins are scheduled to play a show there in April, and it might be a good idea to stay alert and aware of your surroundings if you want to get into the middle of the mosh pit at that show. (300 Westheimer, numbersnightclub.com)
THE NIGHTINGALE ROOM
For many, music provides the ultimate high, so your designated driver will have a good time at the Nightingale Room provided he feels the same way. The place is a small, intimate space with a good sound system that offers patrons the fun experience of choosing vinyl records from the bar’s large collection of around 2,000 for the bartender on duty to play for them; you can also bring in your own albums from home, and the bartender will play those as well. On other nights, house music is cranked up to get the good times rolling; Nightingale also presents a unique live-music experience as the bands who visit play upstairs on a loft above the bar that's normally a customer lounge. The bar even has a call elevator to send up its classic cocktails, house drinks, beer and wine, for those in your party who will be indulging. (308 Main, nightingaleroom.com)
Neil's Bahr is the place to go when you want to get your geek on; in addition to the racks of free comic books to read and classic sci-fi movies and Simpsons reruns on the TV, the bar has vintage arcade consoles, a classic Nintendo system, coffee table/foosball table, and tables for playing the bar’s card or board games, or you can bring your own in to play. So when you go to Neil’s, bring along one of your pals who's into this stuff as your designated driver, and he or she will be sure to have a great time even without booze. Monday nights, patrons have the added bonus of participating in the "Geeks Who Drink" trivia starting at 8 p.m., which is a blast. (2006 Walker, neilsbahr.com)
If you and your designated driver like to dance, head on over to The Flat, which programs a variety of music such as hip-hop, house, reggae, Latin and more throughout the week; dancing can be a fun way to exercise, and doing so causes your body to release endorphins that make you feel good and reduce your stress level when they interact with receptors in your brain. This is a good way for your designated driver and any other sober friends to get a natural high without alcohol; The Flat also has a cool patio to chill out on, and the Sunday brunch out there is a nice, relaxing way to end your weekend. (1701 Commonwealth, theflathouston.com)
EIGHTEEN TWENTY LOUNGE/JOYSTIX CLASSIC GAMES & PINBALLS
On the first and last Friday each month, stop by Eighteen Twenty Lounge, grab a few drinks, then pay a $15 cover for "Pacman Fever Fridays," which gains you admittance into Joystix Classic Games and Pinballs next door in the same building, where you can play more than 200 video games all night for no additional fee. We have taken our non-drinking gaming friends here several times and they had a great time; your designated driver will as well, provided he or she doesn't hate video games, of course. Joystix also has some air hockey, foosball, basketball shooting, shuffleboard and punching-bag games for your amusement. (1820 Franklin, 1820lounge.com)
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BROOKLYN ATHLETIC CLUB
The Brooklyn Athletic Club has an interesting mix of gourmet and comfort food that your sober friend can enjoy along with you; the huge outside patio includes other diversions like bocce-ball courts and areas for playing croquet, table tennis, badminton and pétanque (a French game similar to horseshoes). Your designated driver can enjoy the added benefit of beating you decisively in any of these games when you’re too drunk to play at a competitive level, and maybe even talk some trash about it afterwards. All in good fun, of course. (601 Richmond, thebrooklynathleticclub.com)
THE BIG EASY SOCIAL & PLEASURE CLUB
Although blues musicians often sing about their troubles and misery, the music has the power to turn life’s lemons into lemonade and make both the performers and the audience feel good; there are also a lot of blues songs with humorous and sexy lyrics as well. You can have a very good time here without drinking while listening to the blues, and the dance floor is always jumping, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. Stop by on Sundays for zydeco, and play a few games of pool with friends or strangers while you’re out at the Big Easy anytime. (5731 Kirby, thebigeasyblues.com)