As is usual for this time of year in Houston, it's hot outside. Sometimes when you're in the mood for a drink during the summer, you just want to go someplace where everybody knows your name and the air conditioner is cranked up to a low temperature setting. Now, just about every bar in Houston has a/c these days and we didn’t go visit each one with a temperature gauge, but this list will send you off to some of the best where you can chill out, both figuratively and literally.
Note: This list is in alphabetical order.
ALICE'S TALL TEXAN DRIVE INN
Sure, it's just got one of those window-unit air conditioners, but that seems to keep the small interior of Alice’s Tall Texan nice and cold whenever we drop by. The Tall Texan is well known by many for the cheap, 18-ounce Shiner and Lone Star beers they serve in giant fishbowl-shaped goblets; don't be surprised if some of the friendly regulars come over and hand you a chip they purchased from the owner, Alice herself, that's good for one free beer. They don’t serve any food here, but sometimes people bring in things to share with the whole bar and you can do the same if you like; the cool thing is that when you come in here for the first time, the patrons who've been coming in for decades immediately make you feel like you're part of the gang. (4904 North Main, facebook.com/pages/Alices-Tall-Texan)
BIG TOP LOUNGE
The full name of this circus-themed bar located next door to the Continental Club is Shoeshine Charley's Big Top Lounge; everyone just calls it the Big Top, though. In addition to the kitschy circus-themed knick-knacks on display such as an elephant lamp, mice mannequins and a red velvet throne, the Elvis wall and Christmas lights add to the Big Top’s unique dive-bar ambience. Like the Continental next door, Big Top features live music as well as DJs. The dark interior of Big Top and the chill inside make for a nice respite in the evening from the day’s heat outside. (3714 Main, bigtoplounge.com)
BOSTA WINE & COFFEE
It can get hot walking from museum to museum or around the Houston Zoo, so drop in at Bosta Wine & Coffee when you're in the Museum District to cool off a bit; they offer a nice selection of craft beers and food in addition to their extensive list of coffees and wines from all over the world. If you're an early riser, a full breakfast menu is served, as are salads, sandwiches, paninis, sides and meat-and-cheese plates for lunch or dinner; for dessert try an affogato, which consists of vanilla bean or chocolate ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso. (1801 Binz, bostahouston.com)
It can get hot walking around downtown Houston, what with all that concrete and steel around, so why not take refuge in Dean’s Downtown after you get off work and relax with a craft cocktail or beer? You can also celebrate Houston’s history while you're there, since black-and-white photos of the city's downtown dating as far back as 1928 adorn the walls and outside front patio area; the bar itself is located in a historic building more than 100 years old, the former home of Dean's Credit Clothing, to which the old neon sign outside can attest. Relics from Dean's are on display, like pairs of old shoes from the '70s still in their original boxes, and even a ledger book from the '40s that Dean used to keep track of his customers' accounts. (316 Main, deansdowntown.com)
LEI LOW BAR
It's usually hot and humid in the South Pacific during the summer, but not so at the Lei Low Tiki Bar in the Heights, which provides a cool, calm atmosphere with tropical decor and elaborate rum-based mixed drinks that will make you feel as if you're on vacation. Created by the staff, these drinks look like works of art and taste good, too, with colorful names to match such as Polynesian Rainbow and Shipwrecked on Tiki Island. The owner says he has been fascinated with tiki bars since childhood, so he created a fantasy world of his own here. A small patio out back keeps the escapism going, bit if it's too hot out there for you now, take shelter inside and enjoy the music played at Lei Low, which includes exotica, Hawaiian and reggae. On some nights, a local musician plays Hawaiian lap-steel guitar for your listening pleasure. (6412 North Main, leilowhtx.com)
MAX'S WINE DIVE
Max’s Wine Dive’s company's mantra, “Fried Chicken and Champagne?...Why the Hell Not?!” pretty much sums up the place; the food selection consists of year-round favorites like “Famous Southern Fried Chicken” and “Shrimp & Grits,” as well as a changing seasonal menu that provides regular foodie patrons with great variety throughout the year. Like the original Max's Wine Dive on Washington Avenue and the seven other locations throughout the country, this is the place to go when you want high-end wine along with “gourmet comfort food” in a casual, rock-and-roll environment. The staff will help you make a wine selection if you're a novice; Texas beers are on draft for those who want to change things up or just refuse to do vino. A cool spot in Montrose, again both figuratively and literally, in a neighborhood that's full of cool places. (214 Fairview, maxswin edive.com/houston)
Winner of the Houston Press "Best Bar Atmosphere" in 2014, Poison Girl is always a nice place to see and meet interesting people in our city; the spacious patio out back with the giant Kool-Aid Man might be a little too warm this time of year for you. If so, stay inside and check out the R-rated velvet paintings and the row of pinball machines on the back wall. Poison Girl is always cool inside, even during the crowded weekend nights, or you can stop in during the week sometime when the place is slower and really look around and absorb the mood of the place. (1641 Westheimer, facebook.com/Poison-Girl-Cocktail-Lounge)
The liquid ice jets that can cool the dance floor down at South Beach by 20 degrees in a matter of seconds will certainly cool your body down as well; the place is generally comfortable temperature-wise anyway, even when the dance floor is packed. Inspired by the nightlife scene in Miami's South Beach, this large Montrose dance club brings in a young crowd that likes to dance all night to DJs spinning upbeat techno and EDM; a state-of-the-art sound system and a laser light show are among the other features. It's also known for its scantily clad male dancers, drag shows and foam parties, and you can show off a little skin here as well (within reason) if you’re comfortable with your body and need to cool down even further after dancing all night and working up a sweat. (810 Pacific, southbeachthenightclub.com)
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Stone’s Throw in Montrose features a 17-foot gothic back bar with a column of arches and a custom copper and brass tap made to look like an old giant espresso machine. Customers can sit downstairs on barstools, in booths or at a long table with fellow patrons, or can venture upstairs to sit and people-watch on the balcony. Elegant black velvet couches are also available upstairs. The tall windows provide a good view of Westheimer and nearby neighbors. Wherever you decide to sit, you'll be able to do so in air-conditioned comfort; the Stone's Throw Punch or Summer Seasonal Punch are recommended for thirsty groups and are served in two different-size punch bowls that serve either two to three or five to six people. You can also try the punch in an individual glass if you like. (1417 Westheimer, stonesthrowhouston.com)
Sure, Voodoo Queen has a painting on the side of the building of Marie Laveau, a.k.a. the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, holding a rooster while in a swamp, looking as if she's about to practice some magic, but the temperature inside is cool and anything but swamp-like. Brought to you by the team behind Moon Tower Inn, Voodoo Queen has a combination tiki bar/New Orleans theme and the look and feel of a dive bar, but the quality and creativity of its food and drinks far exceed what you might find in most dives. Some of the drink names here are comical, like the Penus Coladus, Wench's Titty Punch and the Whale's Vagina a.k.a. the San Diego; if you arrive hungry, try the “3 Big Ass Chicken Strips” or “The Dead Elvis,” which consists of lots of peanut butter, six bacon strips and two bananas, all griddled on Texas Toast and smothered in rum-raisin maple syrup. (322 Milby, facebook.com/Voodoo-Queen)