The best thing about Owl Bar is that it doesn't feel like it belongs.
A couple of years ago, when Mugsy's occupied the same space, it would have been a little more at home in its neighborhood. Upper Kirby has since come up in the world, though. Standing on Owl Bar's narrow patio on a Tuesday, you can hear Hendricks down the block. Then a party bus rolls by, passing up Owl. And we think, "We are glad there is a place around here where we won't be surrounded by the former Washington crowd, or see a single party photographer." And maybe then we start wondering who decided to name a gaudy club Roak, and we think we'd probably pay the cover at that place just for a chance to pee in their swimming pool.
Ignore the area's recent nightlife developments, though, and you the place does feel like a subdued local dropped between Greenway and Montrose. The interior might remind you of that other island of sanity, Dark Horse, but Owl Bar feels a little newer than that. The console trivia game and free popcorn - if you can't name what Montrose bar that reminds you of, you probably haven't been drinking publicly in Houston for long. But Owl Bar isn't a dive. And there's no jazz, before or after the rumble.
There is plenty of other music, though. Owl Bar claims their jukebox is the best in the city, and although we can think of a few bars in a ten-mile radius that prove otherwise, the selection isn't bad. Standard stuff for the post-college crowd - Coldplay, Sublime, greatest-hits Bob Marley, Weezer, Kanye West - is offset by more interesting selections. They've got some Waylon Jennings, the Stones' Let it Bleed (we'd have taken Exile or Sticky Fingers but that's all right), Black Joe Lewis, Steve Earle, Tom Petty.
The best part is the jukebox is set to free play. We approached a strange woman, as we often do when we're mixing liquor and strong Belgian beer (more on the latter in a minute), and asked her if, given the free-play thing, she thought the selections she was making would actually get played. "A girl can dream, right?" she said, smiling. Later, a guy who looked like her boyfriend came and met her, as they often do no matter what kind of drinks we're mixing.
We asked the bartender - can't remember his name, but he was really hospitable - and he told us the machine plays all selections at random to prevent anyone from loading the box up with, say, eight-minute-long Dire Straits songs, which probably would have happened otherwise.
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About that Belgium beer - the bar has a few daily specials, but we stumbled into the Tuesday one, which lets patrons have any beer in the cooler for $2.50. That's a good deal for a Saint Arnold or Bass or Boddingtons. It's an absurd deal for Duvel Moortgat's malty Maredsous Brune, which would run you the better part of ten bucks at any other bar. (A 25-ounce bottle, a little more than twice the size of the bar's offering, costs $10.31 at Spec's online.) And it's 8 percent ABV.
Just don't drink so much that you wander away from the bar and out into Upper Kirby. You might fall into a swimming pool.