The Best Craft Cocktail Bars in Houston

Take one look at the Texas Tux, and it becomes abundantly clear that Texans have a very particular attitude about getting gussied up. We want to wear our boots to the bar, and we might not look too kindly on being told what to drink or how to drink it. So when Houston’s first wave of serious cocktail bars opened, there was a bit of a clash with the idea of foreign ingredients and a scholarly air that lent itself—some felt—to pretension. Over the years, cocktail bartenders have relaxed into their roles, focusing on quality of craft and quality of experience. Likewise, the drinking public has become better educated, and your average patron is now as comfortable ordering a Milk Punch as he is a Michelada. —Nick Hall

  • 1

    Anvil Bar & Refuge

    This is, more or less, where it all started in Houston. Opened in 2009 by a young Bobby Heugel who, by his own account, didn’t really know what he was doing. Its opening menu included a now storied “100 List” of classic cocktails, and Anvil's first customers keep their pocket versions like achievement awards, the proverbial t-shirt that proves they were there. Anvil has a new 100 list these days, along with the quiet assurance of a program that has earned its reputation as one of the country's best.  

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
    • lots of tequila / mezcal
  • 2

    Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar and Spirit Lodge

    Don’t let the somewhat secretive entrance, baroque name, dark wood and chandeliers fool you, Bad News Bar is about as comfortable as it gets. There’s a basement-bar nonchalance to the place, as if head-man Justin Burrow is just having a few friends over for drinks. (He may even ask you to flip the record if he’s busy with something.)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • historic
    • outdoor / patio
  • 3

    Double Trouble

    A laid back, soft-tiki hideaway offering both of the world’s best intoxicants, Double Trouble can wind you up and wind you back down. Brewing coffee from Houston’s own Greenway Coffee Co. and serving up drinks seemingly purpose-built to evoke a smile, Double Trouble is a the place to settle, mid-morning, into a mod-luxe seats with a cup of coffee and wait until it becomes socially acceptable to replace the coffee with a serious tiki drink.  

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • tiki
  • 4

    Grand Prize Bar

    Grand Prize Bar is pretty much Cheers, but only if you replace Norm and Cliff with every off-duty chef and barman in the city of Houston. Equal parts serious cocktail haunt and zero-shits-given dive bar, Grand Prize is the place to be exactly who you are, and likely earn some new friends doing it. Make sure to bring some dollars for the jukebox, which is one of the best in town.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
    • games
    • jukebox
  • 5

    Julep

    Stepping into Julep is like stepping out onto a back porch. The place feels made of lace and sunshine, practically oozing Southern charm. The latest in Bobby Heugel’s Clumsy Butcher group, it's run by the effervescent Alba Huerta who is the brain behind this temple of whiskey, Juleps (natch) and all things Southern.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • lots of whiskey
    • oysters / raw bar
  • 6

    Lei Low

    Houston’s first total immersion tiki bar of the modern era, Lei Low is a beautiful example of how something so silly can be treated so seriously, to such delightful effect. The rooms are decorated as themes within the tiki genre, swinging from "tacky tiki" to "jungle" to the fevered escapism of mid-century Middle America. Virtually every drink is garnished more wildly than the one before. So if you like your cocktails accompanied by a five-foot flame and enjoy drinking out of hollowed-out fruit vessels, this is the place for you.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • tiki
    • lots of rum
  • 7

    Moving Sidewalk

    Watching bartender Alex Gregg’s evolution over his time behind Houston bars has been akin to watching the evolution of Houston itself. He’s moved through the flush of a newfound love affair with drinks to a cheeky disregard for the “rules" and finally to a mature stance allowing room for everything worthwhile and delicious. At Moving Sidewalk (a ZZ Top reference and nod to the neighborhood's bar-hopping tendencies), you can order an avant-garde cocktail with marigold shrub or sherry, but also have a cheap beer with no judgments passed.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
  • 8

    The Pastry War

    Think of The Pastry War as a PR firm for traditionally made agave spirits. If the spirit's agave piñas aren’t roasted in a stone oven and ground under the stone wheel of a tahona, chances are it isn't on offer here. Owner Bobby Heugel has personally visited most of the distilleries that provide the bar’s small-batch bottles, and is passionate about helping to preserve not only those singular beverages, but the singular way of life that surrounds them. That means you’ll be drinking your mezcal out of clay copitas alongside sal de gusano y naranjas—toasted worm salt with orange slices—a traditional Oaxacan accompaniment.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
    • lots of tequila / mezcal
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