Bayou City

Houston's 10 Best Icehouses

The historical icehouses in Houston lived up to their name; these were places that sold primarily ice in the days before every household got its own “icebox,” as refrigerators were known back then. Today most of the icehouses in our city still sell ice, though beer sales are now often their primary source of revenue and the major draw for their customers. Icehouses usually have mostly outdoor seating, or seating inside a building with open sliding garage doors; don’t let the summer heat scare you away from visiting the places on our list, though. These places are cooler than you might expect, even during the middle of the day as they provide shade and fans; day drinking on a lazy summer afternoon in a Houston icehouse is something everyone should experience. Do it.
This Energy Corridor spot is big on sports; the bar and its patrons support Houston teams as well as Texas college teams and LSU. As at many other icehouses, the customers at Big John’s tend to be working-class people who drink domestic beers by the bucketful; the food served here, like the guacamole burgers, is above average. Special events throughout the week include a steak night on Wednesdays, trivia on Thursdays and live bands on Fridays, and there's never a cover charge. Play some songs from the diverse jukebox selections and/or a game of ping pong with friends when you drop by.  (12640 Briar Forest,
Red River Ice House actually serves liquor in addition to beer and wine, so it's not an icehouse in the traditional sense of the word; another innovation here is the cup holders placed in the men’s room above the urinals and sink so customers have a place to put their drink while they're taking care of their personal business. Red River is a clean and friendly place whose owner likes to chat with customers and make them feel welcome. There is live music here occasionally; the rest of the time, there's an Internet jukebox to provide tunes. Red River has become a popular place for workers from the Medical Center who stop by after work for beer and pizza.  (10308 Main,
Buffalo Fred’s kind of has to make this list just because of its cool name, don’t you think? Located in the Heights just inside the Loop on North Shepherd, this no-frills, family-run neighborhood bar holds pool tournaments on Tuesday nights and karaoke on Wednesdays; domestic buckets of beers are the drinks of choice here. There's a huge smoking patio out back that's often filled up with the local bikers who call the place home; this is not the type of place that brings in a large hipster crowd. We will let you be the judge on whether that is good or bad.  (2708 North Shepherd,
Okay, Carlos's Beer Garden is actually out in Webster in the Clear Lake area, not in Houston proper, but it is a classic icehouse and deserves a mention on this list. It's an authentic place with friendly regulars and bartenders and very good cheeseburgers, and is a place to come when you want good conversation. The original Carlos no longer owns this place, which has been in business since 1978; he does still own the small barber shop just steps away, though. That’s right — here you can make one trip to get your haircut and drink some beers; it's very convenient. You can also play some pool and some songs on the jukebox sometime during your visit if you like; you can usually hear a good bit of classic country and '80s rock here.  (18018 Texas 3,
The C & F stands for Cortez and Family, and this Heights neighborhood icehouse has indeed been run by the Cortez family since opening in 1987. People from every conceivable walk of life from the neighborhood and beyond have discovered the place and drop in for the cheap drinks and laid-back, friendly atmosphere; 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 jukebox. A corner full of games resembling video-poker machines out of Las Vegas sits with a warning sign advising “for amusement only"; the large backyard allows for occasional barbecues and games of horseshoes and washers.   (6714 North Main,
Located in The Heights in the building that formerly housed Shady Tavern, The Boot puts a Louisiana spin on the traditional Texas icehouse by offering up Cajun food like po-boys, gumbo, étouffée, crawfish and even fried frog legs and gator bites. Owned by Louisiana natives, the bar also offers a nice selection of beers from their home state and provides a place for fans of the Saints and LSU Tigers to view games without alienating the locals from the neighborhood. The Boot has a spacious outdoor open seating area with umbrellas for shade, as well as a covered porch and a few seats inside; check out the washer courts if you're in a sporting mood.  (1206 West 20th,
Sheffield’s Ice House is an old-school place dating back to 1942 that sometimes gets overlooked; the place didn't even have one single Yelp review when we recently looked out of curiosity. The regulars probably prefer it that way; the place is home to people who have been coming for decades and who treat each other like family, celebrating birthdays with parties and mourning the deaths of longtime patrons with R.I.P. notices put up behind the bar. Sheffield’s also has special events like barbecue plates for sale to benefit patrons in need; the people here like to take care of the people they party hard with. Live music happens often; check Sheffield’s Facebook page for details. (5118 Telephone Road,
Located in Oak Forest, Catty-Corner has hosted some epic beer pong tournaments from time to time; check out its website for photographic evidence. The place is basically a dive bar combined with an icehouse, a winning combination. The beer selection is mostly domestics, and pool and darts are free, as well as horseshoes out in the large backyard area. Catty-Corner brings in a diverse, friendly crowd that is out to have a good time; like some of the other locations on our list, it's probably not well known by the general public, but the loyal regulars love the place and swear by it.  (895 Wakefield,
Jimmy’s Ice House has always been a spot that generations of Houstonians have visited before and after concerts at Fitzgerald’s just up the street; it’s also a nice destination spot all by itself, thank you very much. We have always regarded Jimmy’s as a place to buy cheap domestic beers like Lone Star, Natural Light, Pearl and Schlitz; on a recent Sunday afternoon visit, we discovered they now sell some varieties of Saint Arnold, Shiner, Karbach, Angry Orchard and a few other craft beers as well. Watching sports on the TVs, playing songs on the jukebox and chatting up fellow patrons are the main activities to engage in here; some nice person brought in food from Tacos A Go-Go to share with everyone on the mentioned recent visit.  (2803 White Oak,
Open since 1928, this place is truly a Houston institution and the ultimate example of Texas icehouse culture in our city. West Alabama is a big, backyard-party place where people come to grab some cold beers, sit on shaded picnic tables and enjoy good conversation with friendly and approachable patrons. Outside of scattered weekend live performances, music here comes from the Internet jukebox; fortunately, the customers have good taste. Employees or customers might be cooking out on the grill when you drop in; otherwise, try the food at Tacos Tierra Caliente food truck across the street. (Better yet, try the tacos whether anyone is cooking or not. They are that good.) When you're finished eating, challenge your friends or strangers to a game of basketball, ping-pong or bean-bag toss out back.  (1919 West Alabama,
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David Rozycki
Contact: David Rozycki