For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
There's something about the kind of place that specializes in a good martini -- a true martini, I might add, and not one made with vodka -- that typically lends itself to a certain clientele.
Customers ordering legit martinis are not the same people you'll find ordering appletinis at Midtown clubs or vodka martinis at River Oaks hot spots. Martini drinkers are, on the whole, a more mature set -- not necessarily in age, but in attitude -- and therefore more appreciative of liquor's taste, choosing not to mask it with sugary syrups or juices.
Many bars that specialize in the classic cocktail also have a darker side to them, too. Marfreless is a good example of the dirtier side of martini bars, and there's a reason that people have nicknamed the bar on Sandman "The Davensnort."
Keep your nose clean, though, and a true martini bar can be a thing of beauty.
You can get benjy's popular martinis for only $6 apiece at its equally popular weekly happy hours -- at either the original Rice Village location or the new space on Washington -- and that's not all. You'll want to eat something with benjy's super-strength martinis, and the happy hour menu is filled with delicious $5 tidbits to make sure you don't leave too tipsy.
4. Flora & Muse
As with benjy's, the weekday happy hour at Flora & Muse is very generous: Your martini is half-off Mondays through Fridays. The stunning, European-inspired bar is exactly the kind of richly toned place where you can happily while away the hours over one of its solidly constructed cocktails. Flora & Muse has silly, fruity martinis for those who are into that sort of thing, but its standard gin martinis are simple, unfussy and well-built -- the best of both worlds.
State Bar doesn't seem to belong in the 21st century at all. The official-looking seals outside may lead you to believe you're walking past some government agency, and upstairs you could be forgiven for expecting to run into Sam Rayburn or even Sam Houston at any moment. The sizable wooden bartop and vintage chairs, tables and leather sofas give the impression of a swanky old hotel lounge -- like The Shining's Overlook minus the dance floor. Once inside, you'll be rewarded with a stiff martini that mirrors the classic look of the place in both feel and flavor.
The Davenport is a dinosaur in the ever-changing nightlife world. And there's a reason for its longevity -- the killer martini. Beyond the purist's gin martini, there are around 30 other varieties, many considered martinis only because of the glass in which they're served. The Davenport's gin martini is sheer perfection: crisp, a little bitter and potent. For a nice deviation, try the Bloody and Bruised, a "martini" Bloody Mary that is very spicy while still being drinkable. Bonus: The helpful bartenders here have a reputation for being swift on their feet. Bottoms up!
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1. Warren's Inn
The walls of Warren's Inn are already covered in plaques commemorating the bar's previous Best of Houston® wins for everything from Best Jukebox to Best Bar. But until we find a better place to relax with an after-work cocktail or two, or lube up for a show at Jones Hall or Verizon Wireless Theater, we'll keep throwing the awards Warren's way. Besides the ritzy decor, jukebox that squeezes in college-rock heroes R.E.M. and Morrissey among generous helpings of jazz, blues and soul, and liberal pours -- watch those martinis -- Warren's fosters an atmosphere that's much more down-home than those fancy chandeliers might lead you to believe; the off-duty bartenders can often be found carrying on animated conversations with the dependable crew of regulars on the other side of the bar. And if you do find yourself a little tipsy after a couple of those martinis, we recommend the tasty egg salad or tuna sandwiches with a side of deliciously salty potato chips.