Once called Boomtown for the overnight oil boom in 1901, Houston is now experiencing a new—and delicious—kind of boom. Every few blocks, you can find award-winning restaurants and cocktail bars, but Houston is also a gritty underdog of a city that does just fine without all the frills. Sometimes you just need some good company, an old-fashioned juke box, and a frosty beer in a mug the size of your head. True to its roots, Houston’s dive bars are the glittering, neon-tinged underbelly of a city that doesn’t need to put on airs.
Speaking of beer mugs the size of your head, Alice’s Tall Texan in The Heights is the kind of place everyone should visit on their first trip to Houston. Right out of a tall tale, this classic dive serves two beers, both made in Texas. Just $1.50 gets you about 20 frosty ounces of Lone Star or Shiner Bock. With a reputation so infamous, this local legend does no marketing and doesn’t even have a website. It’s pure Texas, distilled into a giant mug of beer.
Across town on the East End, a dark, tiki-themed cave lit only by neon lights and exotic aquariums is vibrating with the sound of several blenders full of frozen booze going full speed. Modeled after all the best parts of our Gulf Coast sister city, New Orleans, Voodoo Queen serves up unpretentious frozen treats with Cajun comfort foods that hit the spot. We love a bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously—so try the Banana Hammock cocktail, complete with a whole banana. You won’t be disappointed.
Down the street is another bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and one that might have the most creative name in town. Lil’ Danny Speedo’s Go Fly a Kite Lounge is managed by Houston dive bar royalty, one of the newer endeavors with familiar faces. Rotating frozen specials and Houston’s best food trucks get this place packed to the gills, but it never feels claustrophobic, especially with its dog-friendly patio and an interior spacious enough to boot-scootin' boogie to punk classics while you wait for your food.
The same team behind Lil’ Danny’s brought us Grand Prize Bar, a staple in Montrose’s sacred dive trifecta. Good for a whiskey smash or a classic beer, Grand Prize has patios, pinball, and a jukebox to see you through the night, but a hop down the street will give you the complete Montrose experience. Next stop is Catbird’s, a humble dive on Westheimer with cheap house specials and real saloon doors leading to their patio where anything goes. The last and most crucial stop has to be Poison Girl, Houston’s long-reigning dive crown-jewel. A massive Kool-Aid man statue on the back patio painted purple with a grill like our Patron Saint, DJ Screw, this place is dive-y, timeless, and perfect. Houston’s best bartenders have all “done time” at Poison Girl at some point, churning out the industry mega-stars that end up winning awards that put Houston on the map.