Few if any neighborhoods in Houston have undergone a transformation quite like that of the Heights. Once home to small cottages and bungalows and a few local shops, the area is now a haven of condos and townhomes, shopping centers, restaurants and, of course, nightlife. The Heights is still home to a number of dive bars that made their name serving cheap drinks to locals, but those joints now cohabitate with upscale bistros, patio bars and any other number of watering holes. These are the ten best the neighborhood has to offer.
The spot on Studewood that Ritual now inhabits has experienced a curse of sorts. While fellow White Oak-area places like Little Woodrow’s, Christian’s Tailgate, Onion Creek, Fitzgerald’s and Jimmy’s Ice House (pour one out for Jimmy’s) have flourished over the years, the plot where Ritual resides can safely be described as a revolving door. Fortunately, prospects appear high for Ritual, which opened last year and is unique enough to differentiate itself from its neighbors, yet laid-back enough to blend right in. Ritual serves up some of the best food in the Heights – particularly dishes like Beer Can Chicken and the Black Hill Pork Pie – and offers one of the more expansive wine menus in the area. A full bar – one of the more aesthetically pleasing you’ll find in Houston – serves up quality cocktails and an array of local and national craft beers. 602 Studewood, ritualhouston.com
9. HAROLD’S TAP ROOM
This quaint spot, former home of the Heights General Store, serves up specialty cocktails and beer and wine on tap. The 1,300-square-foot converted taproom shares its space with the popular Harold’s restaurant. It's a great place to grab a drink before or after dinner in the Heights’s famed historic district. The cocktails focus on seasonal ingredients, and those feeling adventurous can get down on offerings from local breweries Eureka Heights and Town in City. Pair a pint with any number of bar-like treats, such as pretzel sticks, pizza, sliders or cheese plates, and experience the Heights at its finest. 350 West 19th, haroldsheights.com
A new kid on the block (no pun intended), Presidio officially opened for business in February after the original founders settled a legal dispute. Situated in a nice pocket of the Heights right on 11th Street, and featuring a really nice patio, Presidio is really going to bump during the gorgeous spring days and nights for which Houston is known. In addition to a full wine list and one hell of a craft beer menu, Presidio is quickly becoming known for its original cocktails. Drinks like the Bright & Sunny (rum/syrup/grapefruit juice/ginger beer/orange peel) and Pearly Legal (pear/lemon juice/lime juice/syrup) are but two of the many craft cocktails served up at one of the area’s hottest new spots. 911 West 11th, presidiohtx.com
7. THE BARKING PIG
Like Ritual, The Barking Pig opened last year. Like Ritual, The Barking Pig resides where so many bars once did (El Big Bad is great, but I still miss El Gran Malo). You can’t miss this place, which resides on the corner of 23rd and Ella and features a large inanimate pig out front. The Barking Pig has a number of local craft beers on rotating taps, which can be paired with a number of bar bites like burgers and chicken tenders. The establishment is also aware that many Heights residents are on a budget, which is why it offers up daily specials. That includes Mexican beer specials on Mondays and free pizza with the purchase of a bottle of wine on Sunday nights. Tuesday nights have become a draw as well, as the Barking Pig has partnered with Geeks Who Drink for weekly trivia. Winner gets a $50 bar tab, and a $25 tab goes to second place. Plus, the regular quizmaster is both handsome and takes his job seriously – yes, he donned a kilt the week of St. Patrick’s Day and a dapper black-and-red suit combo on Valentine’s Day. 2307 Ella, tbpheights.com
6. LEI LOW
The Heights has become known as a place for patio bars that serve up craft beer and American-style bar fare. This is certainly a good thing; more businesses equals more local jobs, and there’s nothing wrong with knocking down a burger and a local IPA. However, Lei Low caters to those who want something a little bit different. Located in a small, nondescript building on Main Street, Lei Low serves up a number of tropical drinks, which are sure to be in demand as the Houston weather warms up in the coming months. Be warned, however, that Lei Low bartenders are not known to go light on the booze, so either stick to one or two or be prepared to find a ride home. 6412 North Main, leilowhtx.com
5. JOHNNY’S GOLD BRICK
Yes, the trials and travails of Treadsack – which owns Johnny’s and a number of other local bars and restaurants – are well-documented. But we come here today to judge a bar, not its behind-the-scenes business practices. And as Heights bars go, they don’t get much better than Johnny’s. Since opening in March 2015, Johnny’s has become a hot spot of sorts for those in the mood for a laid-back, speakeasy-type of vibe. It’s hard to quantify, but the feel at Johnny’s is just a little bit different from that at its fellow Heights bars in the best way possible. The indoor bar is quaint but lively, and the cocktails are second to none. Seriously, these guys make the best old fashioned in Houston. 2518 Yale, treadsack.com/johnnys
4. BIG STAR BAR
Drinking at Big Star Bar is like growing old with your soul mate. Yeah, that person may not be as attractive as he or she once was, but dammit, you love ’em just the same. With the rise of new, sleek patio bars in and around the Heights, Big Star remains the area’s consummate dive bar. The beer is cheap and cold, the inside can safely be described as haggard and the outdoor patio remains a mish-mash of cigarette smoke and creaky chairs. If you’re looking to tie one on with some of the coolest, realest folks in the Heights, Big Star is the place to be. 1005 West 19th, bigstarbar.com
3. THE CREEKS
Both Cedar Creek and Onion Creek were designed to offer a little Austin/Hill Country vibe to the Bayou City. In reality, only one of them does so, but this is a good thing. After all, if the two bars are to be in such close proximity to one another (about three miles), it’s best they offer up a little something different. Cedar Creek, the younger of the two establishments, best fits the Hill Country vibe. From the building design to the massive patio to the actual creek that runs by the joint, Cedar Creek feels like Central Texas in the best way possible. Onion Creek, meanwhile, features a small patio and indoor space. If it feels a bit more like a coffee shop than a bar, well, it technically is a coffee shop. What both have in common is good food – including crawfish on the weekends – and plenty of local craft beers on tap. Plus, considering the influx of young families moving into the Heights, both joints are kid-friendly. 3106 White Oak, onioncreekcafe.com; 1034 West 20th, cedarcreekcafe.com
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2. EIGHT ROW FLINT
Without question the friendliest bar staff in Houston, and it’s not even close. The bartenders and servers remember their regulars and treat them accordingly. Of course, that alone is not enough to make a “best of” list, but it helps that Eight Row – which opened in late 2015 – serves up some of the best food and drinks the Heights has to offer. Eight Row features its own on-site food truck, which has a smattering of tasty tacos (personal preference is the brussels sprouts taco). The bar also serves up plenty of craft beer and original cocktails, including a fine margarita. However, Eight Row is first and foremost a whiskey bar, and it doesn’t disappoint in that regard. You want it? They got it, including whiskey flights for those in the mood for some variety. The outdoor patio is spacious and the indoor bar is lively, making Eight Row one of the best bars in Houston. 1039 Yale, agricolehospitality.com/eight-row-flint
To make a Houston sports analogy, McIntyre’s is the Carlos Correa of Heights-area bars, in that it doesn’t really have a discernible weakness. Both are also young, in that Correa is 22 and McIntyre’s opened in late 2016, but I digress. The service is relatively quick, the drinks are reasonably priced, the outdoor deck is massive and dog-friendly (and features swings), and a food truck is always on site to serve hungry patrons (plus, the credit card system at the food truck syncs up with the bar, so once your tab is open at the bar, you’re all set at the food truck). Most important, McIntyre’s offers something that the Heights lacks for the most part, and that is a late-night party scene. It also pretty much offers a television set at every turn; this place is gonna absolutely bump come football season, as it recently did for the NCAA tournament. 1230 West 20th, mcintyreshouston.com
Note: this article has been updated to remove a reference to the Double Feature at Harold's Tap Room, which is no longer being offered at the bar.