As our sister blog Eating... Our Words does, from time to time Rocks Off will be giving your our picks for the top taverns in various Houston-area neighborhoods. Of course, the lines can be porous, but here anything with a TABC license that cannot reasonably be considered either a restaurant, coffeehouse or live-music venue is fair game.
10. YARD HOUSE I know, I know. It's not places like these that normally top our lists, but just give Yard House a chance. There's a reason why the bar stools are always full, despite the massive size of that beer-heavy bar. It's because this place is actually pretty rad.
Yes, it's uber-corporate and somewhat unnecessarily upscale for a place that sells some pretty awesome beers by the yard (hence the name), but the place has anywhere from 130 to 250 beers on tap at a time, ranging from crafts and imports to specialty ales and lagers, so it's okay to sell out to the man on this one.
There's also a full bar and a huge range of ciders and beer alternatives, which is way sweet for the folks who can't (or won't) tolerate that whole -- beer has gluten -- thing. Not only that, but they've got a pretty sweet soundtrack to down that beer to, playing mainly classic rock throughout the huge bar area and dining room. Throw in the fact there are truffle fries on the super-extensive menu, and it's virtually beertopia.
800 Sorella Court, 713-461-9273, yardhouse.com
9. BIG JOHN'S ICE HOUSE Bars in strip centers are usually awesome, and Big John's is no exception. Sitting on the corner of Dairy Ashford and Briar Forest, this place is right in the heart of the energy corridor. Don't let that stop you, though. It's not all suits and spillover from the man.
Pull up a sweet wooden bench, order yourself a Kitty's Bloody Mary, and situate yourself next to whomever you like. There are Harley types, the after-work folks, and the regulars, all hangin' in unpretentious harmony. They might even play The Doors if ya ask nicely.
12640 Briar Forest, 281-497-3499, bigjohnsicehouse.com
8. ASHFORD PUB It's a legit Irish pub with legit Irish owners, in a very non-Irish part of the world. What could be better than that? Not much, unless you throw in some free food. Oh wait, they have that too.
It's a total hole in the wall, with dirt-cheap drinks, rad bartenders, and a better selection of beers than you'll find most places on the west side. Like, there's some 20 flippin' beers on tap, which for a neighborhood bar, dare I say, is awesome shit.
13308 Westheimer, 281-679-6112, ashfordpub.com
7. MONNALISA BAR Yes, it's a hotel bar located in Hotel Sorella at CityCentre, but it's a hotel bar with fire pits and cabanas, people. Fire pits. If those aren't enough to sell you, they have Stella, in a can...or what I like to call adult juice boxes. It's basically perfect. It's the atmosphere that has landed Monnalisa anywhere near this list, nothing more.
The place is always packed for a reason: the decor is pretty hip, but there's tons of seating and enough people-watching to satiate even the creepiest of creepers. On the nights the band plays, if you don't get there early, prepare to stand around in a circle with your buddies, staring awkwardly at the mix of energy corridor spillover and cougars mingling around you while you sip your wine in a can. Even so, it's worth it.
800 Sorella Court, 281-497-3499, hotelsorella-citycentre.com
6. THE DAM ICE HOUSE Ladies, make sure you wear a bra to this place. I'm not suggesting you do so for any reason other than to add it to the collection of under-wares left behind by the previous visitors, all of which you'll see flying above your head like a lacy flag across the bar. It's customary at this point, really.
Nothing about this place is traditional at all, and that's what makes it so damn rad. It's a converted old Quick Lube location that is lined with some of the coolest bikes you'll ever see, since most of the patrons and even the owners are avid riders. It's cold beer and biker babes, a traditional biker bar in all senses, but don't let your lack of leather stop you from venturing over. They'll still let your nerdy ass in. Just park the minivan in the back, will ya?
1718 Hwy. 6 S., 281-496-1603, thedamicehouse.com
5. STRAITS Yes, it's a restaurant the majority of the time, but when the lights go down, Straits puts on its dancin' shoes, turns that whole food-service thing up a notch to pump out the alcoholic beverages, and morphs into a pretty rad lounge, complete with cushy cabanas on the back patio, and plenty of room to prance around in the bar without disturbing restaurant patrons. The Singaporean-Asian fusion cocktails are divine, really, and although it's not at all a low-key place to be, it's quite lovely just the same.
The sangria is amazing, and there are bottomless mimosas on Sundays if you're into that kinda thing, but what will really kinda blow your mind are the drinks based around lychee and ginger. Trust us, you'll like 'em. A lot. And if you happen to be there while the kitchen is still hard at work, try the samosas, because yes.
800 Sorella Court, Ste. 940, 713-365-9922, straitsrestaurants.com
4. WATSON'S HOUSE OF ALES This place gets major points thanks to the huge patio and extensive beer menu. Yes, it's part of the Sherlocks chain, and no, that doesn't make it any less worthy of the list.
There's live music most nights, trivia others, and again, the huge patio and beer list. If the patio is sweltering -- and this is Houston, so it is often -- the interior ain't half bad. There are plenty of lively characters; this place draws from the big oil that surrounds it, so there are lots of pissed (i.e. hammered) UK transplants hangin' out, having a laugh. And as a bonus, if you drink enough, those British accents become even easier to understand.
14656 Grisby, 281-920-2929, sherlockspubco.com
3. SHAKESPEARE PUB This place is divey, dark as hell, and way too awesome. It's the epitome of what a proper blues bar should be; there are plenty of locals and plenty of blues fans crowding the tiny bar most nights, and the vibe is always super welcoming, no matter who you are.
The furniture is hodge-podge and slapped together, but it's fitting of a place nestled behind a kolache place just off of Memorial Drive. The little dance floor situated by the stage gets plenty of action; with nightly music acts, this place is less pick-up bar, more live-music venue, only with tons of import beers and no Ticketmaster fees.
14129 Memorial Dr., 281-497-4625, shakespearepub.net
2. BURLAP BARREL PUB The shiny lights of CityCentre may be a draw most nights, but tucked out of the way of the hustle and bustle is this little dive bar with more personality than most of those scrubbed-clean bars that are its new neighbors.
There's old-school video games, shuffleboard, and plenty of darts, and they're all being shared by the craziest mix of people you'll see in that area. Think Cecil's of the west side, if you will. You might not see any Straits spillover, there is still plenty of people watching -- and beer -- to go around. Oh, and don't forget the heavy pours that rival those overpriced CityCentre drinks in alcohol content for half the price, and the fact that this place is too cool to even think about having a website.
909 Town & Country Blvd., 713-465-4977
1. NEXT DOOR BAR & LOUNGE Jumping on that whole converted Jiffy Lube to bar bandwagon, the folks in charge of Hungry's Cafe bought up their neighbor and whipped it into bar shape, creating what is now known as Next Door Bar & Lounge, a swanky yet way welcoming place that is part sports bar, part acoustic cafe, and they offer up some really decent late-night food to boot.
Man, this place is sweet. There's light-up flooring, an extensive drink menu, and the indoor/outdoor vibe is less industrial, more upscale -- a healthy combo of bar and lounge -- but without the uncomfortable exclusiveness of bars on the Washington corridor.
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14714 Memorial Dr, 281-493-0307, nextdoorbarandlounge.com