With Comicpalooza starting today at the George R. Brown Convention Center, we thought it would be a good time to recommend some downtown bars to those attending, many of whom are from out of town, visiting Houston for the first time. Unless you are part of the 1 percent, you probably can’t afford to pay for an autograph and photo op with all of your favorite celebrity guests in attendance, so save a little cash for a few drinks at these fine establishments while you’re downtown instead.
Of course it should go without saying, these bars are great to visit year-round, whether you plan on attending Comicpalooza or not.
(Note: This list is in alphabetical order.)
Located in a historic downtown building more than 100 years old, Dean’s Downtown started out as Liam's Department store and later became Dean's Credit Clothing, to which the old neon sign outside can attest. A ledger book from the '40s that Dean used to keep track of his customers' accounts is on display, as well as pairs of old shoes from the '70s still in their original boxes. What was Houston's first electric elevator in Houston is now a tiny lounge inside the bar; black-and-white photos of downtown dating as far back as 1928 adorn the walls and outside front patio area. Keeping with the historic theme, some of the bar's new craft cocktails, such as the Woolworth and Penny's Nichol, recall other long-closed downtown Houston businesses. (316 Main, deansdowntown.com)
Located in Houston's oldest commercial building, which dates back to 1847, La Carafe is a nice bar to visit if you are looking to experience a bit of the city’s history; check out the old Houston photos, newspaper clippings and paintings from bygone years hanging on the walls. La Carafe can also be a nice place to hang out with your significant other, as the dim lighting and candles on the tables, not to mention the wine selection, can put you in a romantic mood. One of the Houston bars with an increasingly rare eclectic jukebox, Carafe offers up Nat King Cole, Etta James, Peggy Lee, Bob Marley and many more for your listening pleasure.
(813 Congress, facebook.com/pages/La-Carafe)
Little Dipper is from the people behind Poison Girl in Montrose, so you know it has to be cool. You can actually see a representation of the real Little Dipper on the ceiling here; it is painted blue with gold stars forming the northern sky constellation. Little Dipper is a laid-back and cool place and going against what seems to be a current trend in Houston: there's no specialty craft cocktail list, just order yourself a rum and coke or screwdriver and you’ll be just fine, you hear? Like Poison Girl, it has perhaps a little bit of a hipster dive-bar vibe but not to the point of being annoying or obnoxious, if you know what we mean. (304 Main, facebook.com/pages/Little-Dipper)
LONE STAR SALOON
Looking to visit a downtown bar that is a bit edgier than most? The Lone Star Saloon is one of Houston's legendary dive bars, and can perhaps be a little intimidating for newcomers. Partly due to its location across the street from a large Metro bus terminal and in close proximity to the city's Greyhound station, the Lone Star attracts some interesting characters with equally interesting stories to tell if you are open to listening. The interior design 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 expect a large craft-beer selection or inventive martinis; stick to domestic beers and well whiskey and you'll do just fine. (1900 Travis, plus.google.com)
Moving Sidewalk serves a selection of wine and beer, but the main attraction is the specialty handcrafted cocktails; one of their drinks that really stands out in our minds is the Ana Nicole Smith, aka the White Lady that finishes as a Corpse Reviver (yes, they went there). This drink is two cocktails in one, as the name implies, with the Corpse Reviver frozen into the bottom of the glass with liquid nitrogen, and the White Lady made on top of it so that the White Lady indeed revives the corpse below as you drink it. Dark humor aside, this is a really tasty cocktail, among many others made here. The ambiance at Moving Sidewalk is dark, with dimly lit chandeliers, candles on tables, and a black wall and booths, with a brick wall behind the bar and a section of blue wall with a cool skeleton astronaut painting hanging on it. (306 Main, facebook.com/pages/Moving-Sidewalk)
If you are headed to Comicpalooza it would be a sin to not stop by Neil’s Bahr; it is the bar to go to when you want to get your geek on in Houston. In addition to the racks of free comic books to read and classic sci-fi movies and Simpsons re-runs on the TVs, 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 bring your own in to play. Neil’s is kind of the place to party for Comicpalooza attendees and big crowds are expected throughout the weekend; Neil’s will have a VIP room available on Friday and Saturday night. (2006 Walker, neilsbahr.com)
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THE NIGHTINGALE ROOM
The Nightingale serves up classic cocktails, house drinks, beer and wine; for music lovers, patrons can choose a vinyl LP from the bar's collection of some 2,000 (list provided), or bring in their own from home and the bartender on duty will play it. the venue also has started hosting live music, where the bands play upstairs on a loft above the bar that is normally a customer lounge; the bar even has a call elevator to send drinks up on. Unfortunately there is no live music scheduled during Comicpalooza weekend; it is, however, the perfect time to bring in your vintage Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk disco album from 1977 for a spin on the bar’s turntable we think. (308 Main, facebook.com/NightingaleRoom)
Robert Pattinson, of the Twilight sparkling-vampire movies fame, reportedly stopped by Notsuoh once and played a few songs on guitar and hung out; he was so impressed with the place that he named Houston as his favorite city in America during a 2011 MTV interview. Regardless of what you may think of Pattinson, he has good taste in bars and Notsuoh has long been famous for its quirkiness and weirdness. No two visits here are ever the same: eclectic and indie live music, poetry readings and comedy shows unlike anything else in town happen on a regular basis. And who knows? With Comicpalooza in town, perhaps you will run into some other famous actor in town for the event at Notsuoh. Cross your fingers. (314 Main, notsuoh.com)
THE ORIGINAL OKRA CHARITY SALOON
If you are planning on dropping a few bucks on vintage comic books and celebrity autographs at Comicpalooza, why not stop by The Original OKRA Charity Saloon and buy a few drinks as well, as the money will go to a good cause? OKRA gives all of its profits to a different charity each month; patrons help decide who the money goes to by voting for one of four different charities, guests get to cast one vote for each drink they purchase. Besides being a place where you can drink some beer, wine or cocktails that benefit a good cause, OKRA Charity Saloon is housed in a stunning looking historic location that opened back in 1882 as the Original Casino Saloon and features a central, oval-shaped bar and brick walls with gas light fixtures. (924 Congress, friedokra.org/okra-charity-saloon)
Warren's is a Houston institution, with a cozy, welcoming atmosphere that makes it a surefire bet for a good time with friends. Be sure and check out the bar's eclectic jukebox and let some of the old tunes available take you on a journey back in time. Located in a historical building, Warren’s features include chandeliers, large mirrors, a catbird-seat gazebo and low lighting with a few Christmas lights strewn about for good measure. It's just a cool, casual place to hang out and it has an authenticity about it; the martinis served here have a reputation as being quite potent. You have been warned. (307 Travis, warrensinn.biz)