Night Life

Houston's 10 Best Bars For Aspiring Authors

Dear reader, lest you write this one off by observing that practically any activity of life can be happily set in a bar, thereby opening the doors to "Best Houston Bar to Do Yoga In" or "Best Local Saloon That Doubles as a Daycare," please know those aren't forthcoming entries here (I don't think so, anyhow). But the age-old art of storytelling in written form has long benefited from the local tavern or favorite pub. Because booze is a muse, some of the finest literature ever churned out has occurred where glasses clink, people drink and authors think. Ernest Hemingway had Sloppy Joe's in Key West. The poet Dylan Thomas raged against the dying of a night's drinking at New York's White Horse Tavern. Raymond Chandler frequented L.A.'s King Eddy Saloon, where he reportedly drank up to two bottles of scotch a day dreaming up enduring detective stories. No one's saying you have to imbibe to pen the next New York Times bestseller. But, there are some advantages to setting up shop in a bar, especially one suited to your writing needs, like these:

Bovine & Barley is one of Houston's newest bars. And, like a fresh, new romance, there's something exciting and sexy about its possibilities. I stopped by one Friday during its soft opening and people-watched, an essential exercise to writing believable characters. If your characters are the types to find or lose love, or both, this might be a good place to visit. For one, it seemed very likely to have been the site of at least a few first dates the night I was there. Lots of couples chatting cautiously and/or flirting shamelessly. Everyone in the place, from impossibly nice bartenders like Jillian and Michael — shout-out and thanks for keeping the cold beers coming! — to patrons were young and attractive. This is who we want to read about when you write your romantically comic novel, scribes, not those olds from The Notebook. Come get a good look at them and eavesdrop on the very conversations you could spin into fictional gold. Bonus: there's a large, neon-lit quote attributed to Edgar Allen Poe in the building. If the excellent craft beers or beef-oriented nomnoms get you off track, one glance at the quote will remind you that you came here to write. (416 Main,

Is there a genre more dependent upon the right type of bar than the mystery genre? The very cliché, "She walked into the bar,..." brings to mind fedora-wearing gumshoes dodging bullets and chasing femme fatales. I've never dodged a bullet there, or chased a femme fatale, come to think of it, but Catbirds has the sort of noir charm tailor-made for your whodunit. Dim lighting, strong drinks, eccentric clientele, smack dab in the center of Montrose, a neighborhood more storied than Polanski's Chinatown. The steady stream of '30s and '40s jazz and blues played here will give your dick some swagger. Trust me, this is the place to bring your version of Sam Spade to life. (1336 Westheimer,

If your literary career goals boil down to drinking and supplanting John Grisham, the Houston bar for you is Char Bar. Intoning SNL's Stefan, Char Bar has it all: people getting fitted for suits while drinking Old Fashioneds, a bat trapped beneath a box by owner Mike Shapiro, Omega Delta Phi brothers singing "El Rey" in its entirety, hordes of New England Patriots fans calling it "Chah Bah," impromptu Cupid Shuffles breaking out in front of the shoeshine decks — and that's only a few nights' worth of personal observations. What it may have more than anything else, though, is a steady stream of legal eagles who come to talk shop and slough off the stress of a day at the courts, which are only blocks away. Hopefully, you know your voir dire from your ad litem well enough to eavesdrop and find the plot of your first (next?) legal thriller. At the least, the Shapiros will make you feel at home while you try to dream up the next Atticus Finch. (305 Travis,

Is your written tour de force about the Tour de France? Are you swinging for the fences with your Field of Dreams-like baseball novel? Do you hope to knock out publishers with your tale of a lovable pugilistic loser? Americans appreciate sports stories, and Home Plate Bar & Grill is the right place to situate yourself as you toil lovingly at your account of sporting greatness. A sports bar without the loud, garrulous crowds that seem to inhabit such spots, you'll be able to work here in relative peace. Located directly across the street from Minute Maid Park — currently the site of baseball's most exciting team — you'll be inspired by the bar's memorabilia and good brews. If your resilience gets low, there's pub fare to restore your energy for your next turn at bat, in the ring or on the tee box. (1800 Texas,

You live in a fast-moving metropolis, which is why your imagined worlds are slower-paced and filled with wide open spaces and drawling Larry McMurtry-style characters. How are you expected to channel this setting in a bar where you can clearly see Metro buses from your seat? Fortunately, there are plenty of bars in the further stretches of Houston to practice your style of writing; one I enjoy is Farm Drinkery, way out in the relative quiet of Spring. Its excellent craft beers have made it a favored spot, but it's tucked away in a corner, which is key to the locals who want to keep it a cherished secret. The bar owner and his wife are genial people who opened the doors almost a year ago and could have tried their thing in town, but chose to bring a down home-themed bar to a truly down-home environment. (16646 Champions Forest Dr., The Farm Drinkery on Facebook)

Hopefully, your novel of terror won't prove as cliché as choosing La Carafe as best bar from which to write horror fiction. It might be trite, but it's oh-so-creepily right. Its French Quarter reminiscent confines and dim lighting might have you seeing Marie Laveau in the shadows of your MacBook. The brick walls downstairs, set only feet apart, make its lower level a place fit for Fortunato. In other words, don't accept any invites to try the amontillado. True story: the place is so eerie that once, during a long night's drinking there, I was compelled to lock myself in its tiny downstairs restroom and recite the Bloody Mary chant into its mirror, precisely at midnight. Nothing horrible happened until later, when I realized how much money I'd spent drinking there. The place has long been touted as haunted, mostly because the building is one of the city's oldest and boasts melted wax candles that form spectral shapes. If you can't write your horror masterpiece here, just give up and start working on a children's book. (813 Congress Ave., La Carafe on Facebook)

The first time I visited Lone Star Saloon, I stayed an hour, drinking inexpensive beers and listening to Frank Zappa, Johnnie Taylor and Alan Jackson on the juke. By the time I left, I'd learned lots about the current downtown construction from one of the regulars and discussed hairstyles I could (but never will) try with one of the stylists from the nearby barber shop. They were friends and talked rapidly, so all I could do was listen to their give-and-take. Had I not had to leave after an hour, I could have listened to them all night. What famous barfly novelist Charles Bukowski put on the page were characters who were real as they come. He didn't polish them to make them more likable or oozing with Christian Grey mysterious sexiness. Imperfections and all, he just put them there into the reader's existence, the same way we come to know someone we strike a conversation with at our favorite bar. In short, if your characters are stilted, cardboard-dimensional bores with nothing interesting to say, come order something at Lone Star Saloon and wait for its patrons to show you what real characters look and talk like. You'll be on your way to the bestseller list within hours. (1900 Travis, Lone Star Saloon on Facebook)

I'm sure Sunny's management wouldn't appreciate their bar being associated with brevity. They'd prefer you come and sit a spell. But, there's something inherently transitory about Sunny's. For me, it's always been that essential stop between stops on nomadic, drinking journeys. For one, it's only steps away from Metro's Main Street rail. And, their famous koozies practically encourage a quick getaway. As any Raymond Carver fan could tell you, a great short story needs compelling characters and spirited dialogue, and those commodities are in abundance at this nook on Capitol. Bring your best idea and let the dive's loyal patrons influence the narrative. (902 Capitol, Sunny's on Facebook)

Nothing about Under the Volcano screams Jack Ryan, but the bar is practically in the shadow of Rice University and its hallowed think tank, the Baker Institute for Public Policy. The institute boasts experts on foreign policy and politics, among other subjects, and c'mon — if you're considering heady subjects like those for a living, you're going to need to blow off some steam at a nearby bar on occasion, right? Come here not only to eavesdrop on the big brains, but to enjoy excellent craft brews, occasional live music and to do your writing in a spacious, accommodating environment. (2349 Bissonnet, Under the Volcano on Facebook)

Yes, Whole Foods Market on San Felipe has a stellar bar space with excellent, brewed- on-site beers. High recommendations go to Ivan's Revenge, a coffee stout, and their saison offering, Daily Grind. The bar is frequently packed, so you'll want to head upstairs to a mezzanine area, which affords not only more room, but a view of the store's shoppers. You can bet at least a few of them are there not just to pick up some butter or cake sprinkles. They're looking for a willing someone to smear with butter and cover in cake sprinkles. Supermarkets are so good for singles looking to connect that they occasionally stage singles events, and eHarmony devotes a section of its site to pick up lines to use in the grocery store. If your book's about an Ana Steele-type who is into literally lashing her partner with wet noodles (noodles are on Aisle 7 here, btw) then this is the place for you to do your dirty work. (1700 Post Oak Blvd.,

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.