Actually, for our purposes, the term "hidden" might be a bit incorrect, at least technically. Perhaps more appropriate would be "undiscovered" or, better still, "underappreciated." Either way, Houston has A TON of great bars that are not immediately known. Here are the best six, ranging from East Downtown neighborhood hangouts surprisingly thorough lounges in the middle of the city.
Naturally, only two of them have a Web site, so you'll have to visit them to see what they're like. The nerve.
6. Club Sugarhill: The name Sugarhill is obviously rooted in hip-hop history, and that's because its owner, Tony iLL, is rooted in hip-hop history too. After attempts at a rapping career didn't flourish (he was a renowned battle rapper but could never force himself to create the vaunted "radio single"), and after attempts at starting a record label didn't pan out, iLL eventually figured out his way to contribute to the hip-hop culture he so clearly loves: By opening a bar/nightclub that was meant to do nothing else but champion it.
Located in farfarFAR north Houston, Sugarhill has slowly built up an adamant fan base. And with regular shows featuring some of rap's all-time greats (Kool Moe Dee, for example), it (hopefully) won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
3337-A F.M. 1960, 77068, Web site
5. Nomad Tavern: This'll be the one bar on the list that will fill the "hidden" quota, as it's in Spring Branch and nobody's voluntarily gone to Spring Branch for anything since 1988. There isn't anything obviously special about Nomad Tavern, and that might be what makes it special. It is a wine and beer bar in Spring Branch and that's it.
Don't expect much more than that. Sometimes, that's all that you need, you know. Oh, also, there are no shortage of bikers, and they let you bring your own liquor, so act accordingly.
2133 Bingle, 77055
4. Prohibition: It sounds weird that anything inside of one of the largest shopping centers in North America could ever be considered undiscovered, but that's what's going on here. Prohibition is a decidedly upscale, thoroughly impressive lounge masquerading as a "speakeasy."
Among other things, it features romantic lighting, brushed suede seats, multicolored hardwood floors and vintage artwork. What's more, Prohibition regularly features password-only events, much in the spirit in the original speakeasies, which help the "hidden" factor considerably. It is enjoyable slice of an iconic era of American history, except without the rampant racism and whatnot.
5175 Westheimer, 77056, Web site
3. Lola's Depot:There are dive bars and then there are DIVE BARS and then there is Lola's Depot. Tucked off Montrose Blvd., it has existed as an end-all stopping point for an untold number of hard working, life-living folks for years upon years.
People might argue that as the surrounding neighborhood has become noticeably tamer, the bar has become less visceral, and I suppose that's an okay (if not obnoxious) assessment to make, but still. It functions properly as the counterpoint to the high-end, high-dollar nightclubs that dot Houston's landscape, and that will always have a place. Lola's Depot: Cheap drinks, rich experiences.
2327 Grant, 77006
2. D&W Lounge:An analogy: Remember that movie Twins from the 80s? Okay, if, say, Prohibition -big and hulking and attractive--is Arnold Schwarzenegger, then D&W Lounge -smaller and dirtier and traditionally unattractive--is Danny DeVito. That might seem like a knock, but it's meant as a compliment.
D&W Lounge relies on nothing but familiarity and salt-of-the-Earth charisma to get by, and does so in extraordinary fashion. The building has been around since the '40s, with little more having been changed than the light bulbs. One of the things that helps this particular space rise above the hangout flotsam though is its crowd.
With the surrounding area inching towards gentrification, its clientele has become noticeably mixed-bag; lifers now rub elbows with young family dads and the like. Go, diversity.
911 Milby, 77023
1. Rose Garden: For more than 20 years, Rose, a delicate-voiced, entirely personable character, has run Rose Garden, one of the very finest neighborhood bars in Houston. Actually, to give it a proper scope, the building Rose Garden is in has been, in some form or fashion, a bar for more than seven decades. It is no bigger than most studio apartments, and appropriately vintage (cash only, playa), but most importantly, it is enjoyably kept-to-itself.
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I remember going there last March to write about it, talking to several of the people inside, most of them reiterating the same point. To paraphrase: This place is great because the people that come here love it, so don't go writing how great it is because we don't want a bunch of weekenders wandering in. Love that. (Best of Houston winner, 2011)
2621 Link Rd, 77009