There was a time when the thought of revitalization in downtown Houston was pure lunacy. What a difference a few years makes. Once a place to simply work and leave, Downtown has not only added a number of lofts and apartments, it has catered to its new residents with a number of new bars and restaurants.
Of course, the new has blended in with establishments that were already in place, making downtown one of the hotter nightlife spots in the city for a while. In fact, for those who live downtown – or those simply looking to check out what all the noise is about – the area doesn’t lack for options.
10. WARREN’S INN
Downtown Houston has certainly experienced an influx of new bars and restaurants, but through it all, the historic Warren’s has remained. The bar, once populated with regulars, still caters to those regulars, but now also plays host to local hipsters looking to check out one of Houston’s most historic bars. This is a place where nearby judges and lawyers unwind after a long day at the courthouse, and many do so by knocking back one of Warren’s famed – and potent – martinis. 307 Travis, 713-247-9207
9. RESERVE 101
Reserve 101 bills itself as Houston’s top whiskey bar, and they’re certainly on to something there. The bar is small, which sorta works for a place that specializes in whiskey and scotch offerings. Located adjacent to the House of Blues, Reserve 101 is the perfect place to grab a drink before a show or to unwind after a rousing show with a laid-back glass of whiskey or two. 1201 Caroline, reserve101.com
8. LA CARAFE
Downtown has certainly upped its game in recent years, but La Carafe has withstood the progress and maintained its spot as one of the go-to bars in the city. Housed in the city’s oldest commercial building, La Carafe simply screams “history.” The walls are covered with historical Houston photos, and the jukebox is loaded with classics. When the weather cools down a bit (it’ll happen at some point) and you’re looking to take a walking tour of downtown, La Carafe is the place to start. 813 Congress, 713-229-9399
7. THE PASTRY WAR
The Pastry War has gone from hot downtown newcomer to established local bar since opening four years ago. Shortly after it opened, Zagat named The Pastry War one of the hottest bars in America. Summer is a time for tequila, and no other bar in Downtown does that better. In fact, the bar’s Mezcal Margarita may just be the perfect drink for another sweltering summer in the Bayou City. 310 Main, thepastrywar.com
6. TONGUE-CUT SPARROW
Speaking of the Pastry War, owner Bobby Heugel recently opened a quaint bar just above his first-floor Pastry War in downtown. It's called Tongue-Cut Sparrow, and has generated plenty of buzz since opening earlier this year. Tongue-Cut Sparrow can only seat 25 people at a time, which only adds to its cachet. Those lucky enough to get in can sip on an array of craft cocktails, from juleps to highballs to martinis. Tongue-Cut Sparrow is short on space and long on cocktails; best to make a reservation. 310 Main, tonguecutsparrow.com
Notsuoh (it’s Houston spelled in reverse) has been described by some as an electric art dive, and that seems about right. In addition to serving as one of downtown’s most noteworthy bars, Notsuoh is also one of the city’s finest music and performance-art venues. The bar plays host to live music, poetry readings and comedy shows, making it one of the more unique bars not just in downtown, but in all of Houston. 314 Main, notsuoh.com
4. THE DIRT BAR
No pun intended, but this is the place to get down and dirty before or after a show at House of Blues, which sits right across the street. Hell, it’s really a place to get down and dirty on any occasion, concert or no. The Dirt Bar serves up everything from beer to cocktails, but when it comes to Dirt Bar, it’s best to keep it simple. Order a Jack and Coke; you won’t regret it. 1209 Caroline, dirtbar.com
3. THE NIGHTINGALE ROOM
One of the most understated music venues in the city, Nightingale Room offers free live music almost every night of the week, making it a fine place to meet up with friends, grab a drink and check out some local tunes. While downtown has experienced a resurgence in terms of nightlife, its live-music scene remains somewhat underserved. Fortunately, Nightingale Room is there to help fill that void. 308 Main, nightingaleroom.com
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It's hot and humid in Houston for much of the year, so the folks at Conservatory were onto something when they opened the food hall/beer garden last year. Simply put, they put the thing indoors and underground, making it one of downtown’s finest – and most climate-controlled – spots to grab a bite to eat and have a few drinks. Various local vendors serve up an array of dishes, and the craft-beer menu includes favorites from local brewers like Saint Arnold’s and 8th Wonder. 1010 Prairie, conservatoryhtx.com
1. THE ORIGINAL OKRA CHARITY SALOON
OKRA really has it all. For starters, upon walking inside, patrons are greeted with one of the most picturesque scenes of any Houston area bar – seriously, the bar residing in the middle of the building, the ceilings, it’s all there. You might have to wait for a drink, but I’ll be worth it. Not only that, you’ll be doing something good while having a few drinks; 100 percent of OKRA’s proceeds are donated to a different Houston-based nonprofit or social cause each month. 924 Congress, friedokra.org