Houston. H-town. The third coast. The dirty South. Screwston. Tha H.
My city is known by so many names, but I just call it home. I have a love/hate relationship with this place, though. I wasn't born here, but anyone would agree that if you've lived somewhere for more than 30 years - it's where you're from. I wanted for so long to live somewhere else. Anywhere but here. I did it once. I moved to Atlanta for a few years back in the nineties. Ahhhh the nineties. Just the thought takes me to a happy place. Raise your hand if you remember Cross Colors? Gangsta Nikes? Girbaud? Starter jerseys? Filas with the Velcro strap across the top? The House Party movies? Where were you the first time you heard Dr. Dre's The Chronic album? You're welcome for that trip down memory lane...if you're over 35 years old, I know you took one.
Now, back to my city. Houston is the most diverse city in the country...like, seriously. Click here if you don't believe me. We have folks from a little some of everywhere here, so when you visit - you don't get that uncomfortable "we're not in Kansas anymore" feeling in your bones. It's one of those places that feels familiar. It looks like any other metropolitan area, complete with skyscrapers and cement-paved roads. Yeah, we're not all horses, tractors, and cowboy hats down here, although you can certainly find a lot of that too. But you knew that. Houston has been making a name for itself for some time now, so I doubt anyone still has the misguided belief that we're all rednecks. If you do, start by visiting every place on this list and then let's revisit this conversation.
I've found a love for this place, that didn't exist in me before, because I never took the time to get to know it. There are so many things to do and see around here if you use your resources and open those big, beautiful browns (or blues, or greens, or whatever you're workin' with). I've compiled a list - in no particular order - of a few places that you need to try if you haven't already. I wanted to give you a mini review of each one, so bear with me. If for no other reason than to look like a guru about town in front of your friends...you need this list!
Davenport (Shepherd) - THE. Best. Martinis. In the city. Or at least the best I've tried so far. And over 70 of them! I'm willing to take your suggestions and drink my way to another winner if you wanna dare me. Any takers? This place is one of my faves. If anyone visits from out of town, this is on my top 5 list of places to take them. I will say that it has changed quite a bit from the time I first fell in love with it. It's attracting a younger crowd, but then again, it attracted me when I was young. The fact that I use the word "crowd" and Davenport in the same thought is almost blasphemous. Those who remember it when it was still a hideaway should know what I mean when I say there's a couple of sweet spots at certain hours. You have to go before the crowd arrives (get in and out before 9 p.m.) or after they leave (you're safe around 11:30 p.m.) and go on to whatever ratchetness they originally intended. And oh yes, the big D does a double pour on all of their drinks - WOO! For the win. I recommend the Cucumbertini if you like refreshing drinks or the Caramel Apple if you prefer something sweet, but you really can't go wrong no matter what you get. For all you cigar aficionados, brothers and sisters of the leaf are welcome.
Marfreless (River Oaks) - Affectionately known as "The Blue Door." You know it. I know it. This is the make-out bar. It's a place where lovers go. Or perhaps friends with lover benefits. BUT - it's also a cool place to go on a first date if you're feelin' some sexy energy between the two of you (notice I didn't say go have sex, but do you...this is a no judgment zone). I wouldn't make this your first stop on a first date, because it could become awkward being enveloped by the plush couches upstairs in the red-light-special semi-dark room and you haven't even gotten to "How many kids do you have?" By the way, insert kid here. This place and a little Jodeci in the car...aaaaaand that's how I met your mother. You've been warned. If you sit downstairs by the bar, you can meet a few friends for a good conversation. The thing I love the most about this place is that it's hardly ever crowded (which is relative, I know), but it always feels busy. It must be the energy.
Alley Kat (Midtown) - This place is part-owned by the guy who owns The Breakfast Klub and Reggae Hut, Marcus Davis. If you know Houston, you know Marcus. He's good people, so I support his visions. We should do more of that by the way...support our hometown peeps. It's a cute little duck-away spot that I discovered on my 36th birthday as I looked for something low-key to get into. You can catch live music, DJs, and even karaoke. It's also within walking distance from a couple of other bars in case you wanna hop around. Ask for the drink with the muddled strawberries.
Anvil (Montrose) - Two words: Suffering Bastard. No, that's not what we call all of the guys who hang at this bar, although there are probably a few in the mix. It's a drink, and one of my favorites at this place. There's not too much for me to say about it, because you just need to go. This is one of the few places in Houston that believe in true mixology. You will taste the expertise in every pour and reading the menu is half of the fun. The crowd looks a bit "hoity-toity" when you first walk in, but that feeling quickly fades once you settle in. The whole place reminds me of a Mumford and Sons video, but with bartenders instead of guitars and banjos.
Capone's (Upper Kirby) - Live music and people who aren't afraid to hit the dance floor...with a little liquid courage, I presume. Coolest thing about the place - the bookshelf bathroom doors. Then, there's the pizza. Sweet baby Jesus, the pizza. It's pizza for foodies and the drinks are a bonus. Go with a friend, do a half/half pizza of the Steakhouse & the Capone's, and order a flirtini (if you're into that kind of thing) - or a beer. Doesn't even matter. Mind. Blown. I once drove to this place in torrential rain at 1 a.m. to get a pie. I'll just drop the mic right here.
Absinthe Brasserie (Montrose) - I don't drink its namesake, because I don't like black licorice, but this place is synonymous with laid-back. It's tucked away in a parking lot, but you'll know it by the large wooden door at the entrance. It's very unassuming and you might pass it a few times before you see it, but once you do - it's worth the trouble. They've got some tasty munchies while you partake and it's the kind of place you can go alone after work for a drink. The bartenders are usually excellent conversationalists.
Stone's Throw (Montrose) - They do this progressive happy hour (HH) thing where the drinks are $4 at 4 p.m. and $5 at 5, all the way through the $7 at 7, and I'm ALL about it. It gives folks, who can't fight Houston traffic fast enough to get anywhere by the dreaded 6 p.m. cut-off that most HH specials boast, a chance to enjoy at least a couple of bucks off. Who made that rule anyway? Not real working class people, that's for sure. Reverse HHs try to make it up to us, but they're no better because you have to stay out past 10 p.m. to catch those. If I have to be at work tomorrow, I'm not starting anything that late except my snore pattern. But this place makes their own ginger beer for cryin' out loud. Yes, yes, a million times YES. Be sure to try the Bacon Bourbon Caramel Corn and the Humperdinck cocktail! The Violette Femme also deserves honorable mention. I've never tasted anything like it.
The Spot (Third Ward) - Although I don't really recommend this place on weekends...unless you like the whole fight-to-get-a-drink, elbow-to-elbow, so-close-I-can't-breathe kind of crowd. However, during the week, this is the spot (you see what I did there) to get a damn good drink. I recommend the Panty Dropper or the Skittles a.k.a. Ciroc Punch, but I also recommend a vacation day afterward! I can get my grownup, hip-hop fix here on any night of the week.
Voodoo Queen (East Downtown) - Although it kinda smells like hot burnt syrup and urine if you stand downwind outside, it's a cool bar. I think there's some kind of factory close by (coffee maybe?) and the smells from that place...well, let's just say I wouldn't stand outside and eat. The bar is eclectic and low-key, just the way I like it. It was voted one of Houston's best dive bars. I can't quite put my finger on the crowd because I get something different every time I go, but perhaps that's the beauty of it. Full of regulars and weirdos all at the same time, but one thing that IS consistent...the drinks. They're always strong even when they don't taste like it. Order the thing with the lime and the sugar cube and the flame...they'll know what you mean!