Bayou City

Houston's 10 Best Bars to Bring Visiting Relatives

You’ve scrubbed toilets for them, washed linen for them and fed them enough tryptophan to put a baby elephant into a week-long coma. By now, you and your visiting relatives could all use something stronger than your Aunt Martha’s weak iced tea (get it right, Aunt Martha!) to refresh your palates and energy for the remainder of their Thanksgiving stay.

Mercifully, Houston’s bars offer diverse and interesting options. These ten allow you to give the out-of-towners some of the local flavor with the added bonus that they’ll be teeming with people who haven’t yet heard that heartwarming, oft-told tale of how Uncle Johnny once snorted cocaine with President Nixon at Camp David. Whatever, Uncle Johnny. No one believes you!

If you’re planning a trek for visitors from afar, they might want to see the bar Houston loves best. This year, Cottonwood Houston was named greatest of ‘em all, the people’s choice in the Houston Press’s “Best Of” edition. An extensive, quality beer list coupled with gourmet-level pub fare and a vast patio that will make relatives from snowbound locales green with envy make this Garden Oaks spot a favorite destination. Bring your bitchin’ cousins, nephews and nieces out on Saturday, where they’ll also enjoy Midnight River Choir for a free evening concert.   (3422 N Shepherd, 713-802-0410,

Every family has one — the closet karaoke queen or king who starts warbling Christmas carols right after the turkey’s wishbone has been snapped. Take him, her or them to Glitter to unleash their inner Pavarotti. It’s unlikely Glitter’s vast song list won’t include their “go-to” song (mine is Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone”) and the bar’s staff are some of the nicest folks in this Houston’s club industry.  (2621 Milam, 713-526-4900,

My cool cousin Mando and his super-cool girlfriend Irma recently traveled to Houston to visit from Chicago. If you’ve been to Chitown, you know it is bar-centric with many excellent choices. Hoping to give them a new bar experience, we penciled La Carafe into our bar-hopping agenda to show them some Houston history (oldest commercial building operating) and to regale them with ghost stories we totally made up on the spot (the one where the bar is haunted by the spirit of a 1930s bootlegger gunned down by coppers in the bar’s doorway. Never happened.) They loved the low-lit ambiance and the local brews. Feel free to use and expand on our fictional ghost story, or make up a creepy one that’ll give Cousin Hermione the willies for weeks. (813 Congress,

If you’re dragging Cousin Mrytle around to only the haute spots in town, your Gallerias and Uptowns and Upper Kirby districts, the best end of the evening option to shock her hifalutin-ass back into reality is Lola’s Depot. Seriously, if you’re not showing guests the best parts of the city, where real people guzzle down cheap drinks, talk shit and keep it 100, then why are you wasting their time? Are you ashamed of us, fellow Houstonian? Lola’s is fun, it’s not always clean, the restrooms are bayou-like, the barkeep alternates between super-sweet and down-to-business gruff. A microcosm of your city, in one amazing bar.   (2327 Grant, 713-528-8342,

If your relatives are the sorts just killing time between The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 2 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, take them to Neil’s Bahr: The Bar this holiday season. There, they’ll be able to squelch their anxious anticipation with kindred souls rummaging through the bar’s comic book offerings and vintage video games. The staff is attentive and ready to engage in conversation ranging from its on-tap brews (heavy on 8th Wonder) to The Walking Dead, which gets its own screening parties at the bar. There’s also a dog-eared set of Cards Against Humanity at the bar, because nothing says the holidays like your grandmother playing a card that reads, “Deez Nuts.” (2006 Walker, 281-352-7456,

It’s okay if you don’t live in or near Katy; the point of this particular entry is it might be difficult to corral your boozy relatives long enough for a trip downtown or to The Heights. If you have to stay close to home, there’s probably a very good and underappreciated option for you just minutes away. In our neck of the woods, that option is Public House, which has a new, oversized patio, darts, pool table and a TouchTunes juke box. Don’t sleep on TouchTunes, barhounds. You can have lots of fun dialing up crazy songs that don’t fit the mood of the bar, right from your smartphone. No one ever has to know it’s you mixing “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin ta F’ Wit” between “Open Arms” and “Free Bird.”   (22758 Westheimer Pkwy. #270, Katy, 281-395-3473,

If there’s one genre of music associated with the holidays – besides those sleigh bell, ho-ho-ho songs – it’s the blues. Your family is gathered together in a confined space, everyone’s fighting for the last of your sister-in-law’s pumpkin cookies and people you only see occasionally will be hoarding your personal space for days. Every day of the holidays, you’re all gonna have the blues. Shakespeare Pub is an excellent choice to hear professional musicians express your victimization in song. The bar has good beers, strong drinks and, this weekend, hosts Dave Nevling & The Blues Kats (Friday) and Little Terry & The Blues Birds (Saturday). Maybe they’ll even strum up Sylvester Cotton’s “Thanksgiving Blues” for you and your kinfolk.   (14129 Memorial, 281-497-4625,

Tio Nacho is coming to spend the holiday weekend with you. If he’s anything like my Tio Nacho, he’s going to be glued to the television watching football all weekend. While Tia Cuata and the Black Friday Brigade invade the stores, take Nacho and the rest of the family’s sports fans to Stadia Sports Grill. We frequent the one in Sugar Land’s Town Center, but there are others, all equipped with TVs set to different games and a menu that will thankfully feature more than dressing and cranberry. While Uncle Ignacio sweats out his four-team parlay, you can enjoy a cold brew and take in the Baylor-TCU game, which has become the best in-state rivalry in Texas college football.   (Multiple locations,

Cousin Fred actually believes in those two Texas cliches: that everyone here is a cowboy and that everything is bigger here. Why burst his bubble with ho-hum reality when you can play directly into his unbelievable naivete by herding him over to Stampede Houston? Here, he can fill up on Lone Star while gazing in awe at the cowgirls and ‘boys line-dancing in the wide open space of 35,000 square feet. If your Thanksgiving company is expecting this sort of authentic Texas experience, pile ‘em up in your covered wagon and mosey over to Stampede.    (11925 Eastex Fwy, 281-219-2006,

Houston has no bad reputation regarding congeniality that we know of, but there’s no reason to leave anything to chance when you can bring everyone to Sunny’s, which is one of the friendliest bars in town. When they report back to their hometown homies, they’ll be able to say Houstonians are affable, laid-back social creatures, all from their visit to this intimate watering hole on Capitol. The beer is good and cold, the small front patio allows for people watching and the vibe is pure Houston – relaxed and welcoming.   (902 Capitol, 713-224-3200, Facebook page)
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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.