5. WITCHCRAFT TAVERN Formerly Dragon Bowl (and still under the same management), the brand-new Witchcraft Tavern has quite the selection of beer, and if you're feeling adventurous, try the Devil's Backbone. You might want to give your keys to a friend first.
To be completely honest, we do miss the Chinese food, but having another quaint, unassuming dive with great beer selection in the Heights seems like a fair trade. The new menu has a few bites, sandwiches and burgers for patrons to nibble on, and more food items are being added. In the meantime, try the flatbread. See Eating Our Words' recent look at Witchcraft as well.
1221 W. 11th, 832-649-3601, Facebook page
4. BIG STAR BAR As you walk into Big Star for the first time, passing the regulars' motorcycles and classic cars parked just outside the door, you'll likely be a bit overwhelmed. To your right, a bustling bar with only one or two people tending to it; to your left, a television set and, occasionally, an animal or two accompanying its owner; and straight ahead, just before the vending machine, a couch and karaoke machine where pride is tossed aside in favor of fun.
Grab a drink, make your way outside and enjoy the lively company while you pet a few animals (with their owners' permission, of course). And don't worry, the giant net in the back is not going to fall on you. It's been there for a while now.
1005 W. 19th St., 281-501-9560, www.bigstarbar.com
3. ROSE GARDEN Everyone knows everyone else at the Rose Garden, but fear not. If you're new in town, to the neighborhood or are just looking for a new place to have a drink with a friend, the regulars here are both welcoming and engaging. Most of them have pretty interesting stories, too.
A big ol' pool table and a vintage juke box are the only amenities you'll find inside this Polish bar, but you still might have a little trouble getting around inside since it doesn't take much to pack this Heights-based, cash-only beer and wine dive. No worries, though; if you accidently bump shoulders with someone, chances are they'll turn around and introduce themselves. Get yourself (and your new friend) a cheap cold one and a hot dog.
2621 Link, 713-863-8027
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2. LEON'S LOUNGE Two or three years ago, Leon's became one of my favorite spots in downtown. Whether you're looking to chat with a small but lively crowd or take a load off after a show around the corner at Warehouse Live or House of Blues, Leon's is always a good call. A number of local DJs, including some of the Press' own staff, is oft known to spin some vinyl throughout the week, so stop in, try a new cocktail or beer and listen to some good tunes.
1006 McGowen, 713-659-5366, www.leonslounge.net
1. BIG TOP LOUNGE Best of Houston winner, 2012 The Big Top's circus-themed decor always makes it seem a little like a Fellini movie. First of all, it's dark enough that you almost need to strike a match to see your drink, like every great lounge should be. There's also something a little surreal about nursing a cold one or cocktail surrounded by multiple Elvis portraits, Christmas lights, tabletop video games, an ancient beer-can collection, an old shoeshine stand (once used by the late Shoeshine Charley himself) and all kinds of other kitschy memorabilia.
But besides the decor -- yes, and the drinks -- the Big Top is also home to some of the coolest recurring musical events in town, from the Reverberation and Fistful of Soul DJ nights to Gulf Coast soul quartet Umbrella Man's Thursday-night residency.
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3700 Main, 713-529-9899, www.bigtoplounge.com