In years past, a dive bar was a term reserved for places that were a threat to civil society: disreputable, dangerous, oftentimes criminal places where fights would break out after angry words were spoken, resulting in spilled liquor and blood on floors.
In modern times, our society has redefined dive bars in more desirable terms. Today they are no-frills, simple, yet welcoming neighborhood bars that are not corporate-owned, offering cheap, strong drinks and authentic atmospheres. In modern dive bars you find people from all backgrounds who just want to hang out in a public place where all pretenses have been thrown out the window, where people can be real for just a little while. We feel the bars on this list meet these requirements and then some.
10. C&F DRIVE INN For many, one of the forgotten about or never-known dive bars in Houston, C&F nevertheless has a steady clientele of regulars who call the place home; Former UT Heisman winner and Houston Oilers legend Earl Campbell even stopped in for a beer once, according to one of the bartenders we spoke to about this football-loving place.
Open since 1987, although the building might be older than that, the C&F stands for Cortez and Family, and this Heights neighborhood ice house has indeed been run by the Cortez family since its beginning. A neighborhood dive with cheap drinks and a laid-back, friendly atmosphere, at C&F a game of pool costs only 50 cents, but if you knock the ball off the table you are required to put a dollar into the Internet jukebox; classic rock, Selena and Tom Jones are among the favorites usually played.
6714 N. Main, facebook.com/C-F-Drive-Inn
9. THE NEXT DOOR BAR Located in the same building as Rudyard's, this Montrose bar is on the small side and is populated by tattooed punks and metalheads who enjoy their stiff drinks while lounging on the beat-up yet comfortable couches inside. On the walls hang works from local artists that are for sale and ever-changing; other attractions include Next Door's excellent jukebox, a pool table, video games, and a TV on which the bar staff often shows old B-movies. A nice place to drop in before or after a show at Rudyard's, the patio out front is popular with the chain smoking regulars as well.
2020 Waugh, facebook.com/The-Next-Door
This seminal Heights-area ice house is a nice spot to visit before going to see a live show at Fitzgerald's across and down the street; it is also a nice destination spot on its own where you are likely to have a pretty good time. Jimmy's is a laid-back icehouse where you can knock back ridiculously cheap Lone Stars or Natural Lights while chatting up friendly regulars and checking out the scene going on out front on White Oak Drive.
An Internet jukebox is available for your entertainment, and luckily the regulars have good taste; the tiny men's room can be an adventure, especially if you are claustrophobic. This legendary dive bar was formerly known as Jimmie's Ice House and/or Jimmie's Place.
2803 White Oak, facebook.com/Jimmys-Ice-House
7. THE COZY CORNER Looking more like an old house built back in the '70s or early '80s from the outside than a bar, this Westbury Square neighborhood dive has become famous (or is that infamous?) for its weekend karaoke nights, where regulars insist on performing whether they can sing or not; it is all in good fun and usually a blast.
Westbury Square has been called "Little Montrose," and Cozy Corner is indeed LGBT-friendly; you are more than likely to see a few drag queens performing on karaoke night as well. Other main attractions are the cheap drinks, shuffleboard, pool table and the camaraderie and friendliness among the regulars; newcomers are warmly welcomed as well.
11530 Burdine, facebook.com/Cozy-Corner-Houston-Texas
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6. BLUE LAGOON Not to be confused with the 1980 Brooke Shields coming-of-age film set on a tropical island paradise, the Blue Lagoon in Spring Branch is a drinking establishment that is considered a dive-bar paradise by many of the regulars and newcomers alike. Power drinkers and barflies are not an endangered species in this place, and there is space to move about and even dance if the mood strikes during Friday night karaoke; sometimes the bar provides free food for the customers, like pizza or hot dogs. (At least they did the last few times we dropped in.)
Blue Lagoon has one of the great patios in Houston; it is not huge but has a nice big oak tree along with some covered picnic tables. This is the kind of place where you meet some fascinating characters, though not always the kind you want to sit and chat with all night long.
5. D&W LOUNGE The only bar in Houston that opens up at 7 a.m., D&W lounge on the East End does so to serve domestic beers to workers getting off of the late shift at a nearby coffee plant. This is a friendly place that brings in people from all conceivable walks of life and age groups.
Everyone who comes in seems to fall in love with the look of the place and the atmosphere, which includes lava lamps, a Marilyn Monroe painting, a big Buddha, a stuffed animal head on a wall, and other eclectic, kitschy knick-knacks that make up the décor. Lately the place has been popular among cyclists; D&W has a patio out front for smokers as well, and the cheap beers are a big draw for everyone.
911 Milby, facebook.com/d.wlounge Texas
4. NOTSUOH With all of the slick new drinking establishments opening up on Main Street downtown, it's nice to know Notsuoh is still there in the midst of it all letting their freak flag fly; it's fun to think about how many tourists or newbies wander in here with no preconceived notions of what the place is all about and how they react to it all. Owner Jim Pirtle describes the iconic downtown bar, music and art/performance venue as a marriage between a more than 100-year-old historical building and the collection of a thrift-store junkie.
Notsuoh (Houston spelled backwards) has by this time achieved a legendary, almost mythical reputation for weirdness and no two visits are ever the same; the place is certainly anything but predictable. Intelligent conversations can take place at Notsuoh between energy-company CEOs, visiting Hollywood actors, hipsters and curious newcomers alike; take in all of the interesting art created mainly from the remains of items found on-site when you drop in.
314 Main, notsuoh.com
3. ALICE'S TALL TEXAN Contrary to popular belief, Alice's Tall Texan sells more than just cheap 18-ounce Shiner and Lone Star beers in giant fishbowl-shaped goblets, although those two drinks are popular choices among many patrons, no doubt. The Tall Texan is a must-visit place in Houston for any dive bar aficionado or Texas beer joint fan; the old jukebox packed with classic country favorites for many years has been replaced with an Internet model, but have no fear, many of the regulars still play those old-time favorites.
This neighborhood dive bar is a very friendly, welcoming place no matter your background or age; don't be surprised if strangers offer to buy you beers all night. Alice still runs the place and is very nice; just don't upset her by putting your feet up on her tables or cursing loudly. And guys, she does not permit sleeveless shirts; it's not that kind of dive.
4904 N. Main, facebook.com/Alices-Tall-Texan
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2. LONE STAR SALOON One of Houston's legendary dive bars, Lone Star Saloon downtown is located across the street from a large Metro bus terminal and in close proximity to the city's Greyhound station; you meet some interesting characters in here, some who have just arrived in town and are either a little road-weary or who are genuinely infected with wanderlust and enjoy rambling across our nation.
Not exactly the type of place you want to take someone on a first date, it reminds us of the kind of gritty urban bars you might see in a Martin Scorsese movie set in New York City during the '70s, with a Texas twist. Don't visit here expecting a large craft beer selection or inventive martinis; stick to domestic beers and well whiskey and you'll do just fine.
1900 Travis, facebook.com/LONESTARSALOON
1. LOLA'S DEPOT Lola's is Houston's ultimate dive bar, and it can be kind of hard to find the first time; there is no sign, and it just looks like an old dilapidated purple house from the outside. Newcomers might feel a little intimidated at first, because the bar is as dark as a dungeon upon entrance, but after having a few of the super-strong, cheap drinks and meeting the friendly regulars they will lighten up very quickly.
Lola's has an interesting history and a loyal following among longtime patrons; it has also made quite a resurgence over the past few years and has become popular with a whole new generation of young people. Lola's has an authenticity about it that simply can't be duplicated, and both the bartenders and patrons are about as real as it gets. Checking out the "Home of Reality" and its back patio, with all of its shenanigans, is a must for all dive-bar enthusiasts.
2327 Grant, facebook.com/ Lolas-Depot-Houston-Texas
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