Houston 2020: Today’s Best Cocktail Bars

Photo courtesy of Johnny's Gold Brick

It’s 2020, y’all. As we all embark on this new decade, take a look at some of Houston’s “bests” today. Enter Houston 2020, a new series highlighting 20 local things and places that are at the top of their “A” game, helping to define the city at this very moment. The listings aren’t ranked, and in some cases, will be broken down by category.

In the year 2020, Houston’s cocktail scene is booming. From whiskey watering holes and classic joints that put Houston on the map to Downtown’s best bar crawl spots and neophytes that redefine the drinking scene in Houston, here are today’s best and brightest cocktaileries.

Look out for future listings, from Today’s Best Breweries and Brunches to the Best Parks & Outdoor Destinations.

Houston 2020: Today’s Best Cocktail Bars

Best Classic Cocktail Bars

  • Anvil Bar & Refuge in Montrose – Opened in 2009, cocktail barons Bobby Heugel and Steve Flippo’s old school bar is highly responsible for putting Houston’s cocktail scene on the map (it’s been nominated for a James Beard Award, and was named one of the 100 Best Bars in the World). Sip through its list of 100 favorite classics—from the perfect Gimlet and Sidecar to the spirituous Widow’s Kiss—or go for seasonals kissed with things like port and sage, cherry, lemon, and sundried tomato-infused Oaxacan rum.
  • Johnny’s Gold Brick in the Heights – You’ll find a dozen cocktail classics on the menu at this cool and relaxed Heights haunt, stirred, shaken, and served at just $8 a pop. Try the white rum, lime, and cola-kissed Cuba Libre; a spot-on Manhattan; or the Boiler Maker, a house specialty featuring a housemade Old Fashioned shot and Lone Star beer.
  • Julep in the Washington Corridor – Every cocktail tells a story at this Southern charmer from bourbon queen Alba Huerta. Go for the classic Mint Julep (and the Spiced or peachy Georgia variety); or veer off the beaten path with lesser-known Southern traditions and house creations like the chili-infused Creole Crusta and the Pappy’s Pipe, made with whiskey, burnt scotch honey, and pepper tincture.

Best New-School Cocktaileries

  • Better Luck Tomorrow in the Heights – Bobby Heugel and Steve Flippo teamed up with culinary mastermind Justin Yu to create this cool kid’s hangout—a place to gather, drink, and eat from a menu of elevated pub grub (think burrata pancakes, chilled Devil’s shrimp, and crunchy, salty, sweet, sour, and spicy lamb belly). Head here to hang over expertly fashioned cocktails, like the gin and grapefruit-kissed Salty Cat; mezcal and mole-infused Rocket Man; and killer Irish Coffee (served with a cookie for an extra $3).
  • Miss Carousel in EaDo – The Agricole Hospitality team’s first cocktail bar is a 5,000-square-foot stunner, offering a lineup of 25 to 30 creative cocktails without the intimidation. Here, beverage director Morgan Weber breaks down the list into categories like Collins, Swizzles, and Highballs; Juleps, Cobblers, and Fixes; Bitter and Spirituous; and, his favorite, Extremely Interesting, Non-Conforming (there’s a zero-proof cocktail list). Pair your booze with snacks from wild Gulf barbecue shrimp to smoked sausage and cheese plates.
  • Monkey’s Tail in Northside Village – This fresh-faced Mexican-American concept combines specialty craft cocktails and crave-worthy finger foods with cool, mid-century modern vintage vibes. Pair smashed burgers, Mexican hot wings, and chips and guac with unique creations from beverage director Greg Perez, who showcases his heritage through drinks like the 3 Milks (rum, tres leches, pineapple, strawberry, cherry, and nutmeg), the Mama Coco (Charanda, coconut, passionfruit, cilantro and poppy seeds) and the on-draft El Del Jarrito (Banhez, Altos Blanco, tamarind, ginger, cloves, panela, and lime). The neighborhood joint is welcoming to all, with an indoor lounge area and dog-friendly patio.

Best Whiskey Bars

  • Goodnight Charlie’s in Montrose – The honky-tonk spirit is alive and well at this modern watering hole and two-steppin’ dancehall—and so are the whiskey and bourbon spirits. Look out for a lineup of live music from country and bluegrass to mariachi while you sip the good stuff—from WhistlePig Boss Hog and Basil Hayden’s Two by Two Rye to Wild Turkey Rare Breed and Balcones Baby Blue. You’ll also find cocktails, shots on tap, shot and beer specials, and eats from cochinita pibil tacos to hot chicken queso.
  • Public Services Wine & Whiskey in Downtown – Located in the historic Houston Cotton Exchange Building on Travis Street, this classy drinkery specializes in an international selection of hard-to-find wines and whiskeys. Cozy up onto a velvet couch and sip some while you nosh on cheeses, charcuterie, and bar snacks curated from Theodore Rex.
  • Reserve 101 in Downtown – This longtime favorite ain’t your daddy’s whiskey bar. Opened by whiskey aficionados Mike Raymond and Steve Long way back in 2008, it features a thoughtfully curated collection of more than 340+ whiskeys from 14 different countries, including rare selections, Texas whiskeys, and cherry-picked private barrels. Today, it remains one of the city’s finest, with a seasonal cocktail menu that can’t be beaten.

Best Tiki Bars

  • Lei Low in the Heights – Leave it to Houston to have one of its best cocktail bars located in a strip mall next to a convenient store. Make your way through the unassuming exterior and you’ll be treated to a kitschy, tropical paradise with some serious tiki spirit. With more than 60 rums to choose from, you can make your way through cheeky libations adorned with hula girls, umbrellas, and tropical twists, from familiar takes on Mai Tais, Zombies, and Painkillers to contemporary tiki creations like the Chai Diver. 
  • The Toasted Coconut in Montrose – Get toasted at this sibling concept to popular date night spot Nobie’s, where bar director and tiki enthusiast, Sarah Troxell, puts her spin on an impressive list of libations using rum, vodka, tequila, gin, whiskey, brandy and other spirits bases alongside fresh juices, shrubs and homemade liqueurs (each of which served in vintage tiki mugs, coconuts, and specialty glassware). Bring friends to share “big & boozy” large-format cocktails like the The Seaward, with rhum, coconut water, lime, mint and falernum; and tack on eats from ginger pork dumplings to coconut shrimp.

Best Outdoor Cocktail Gardens

  • Eight Row Flint in the Heights – Named after a variety of corn used to make the first American whiskeys, this modern icehouse is known for its extensive selection of whiskeys and proprietary barrels, plus stellar lineup of boozy cocktails and housemade tacos. Grab a seat on the patio and devour cocktails from the Appalachian Peach Brandy Old Fashioned to the Eight Row Frosé and nosh on eats like Berkshire pork and 44 Farms beef cheek tacos, Sonora dogs, and street corn hushpuppies.
  • Present Company in Montrose – You’ll be transported straight to Palm Springs at this bright and funky bar on Westheimer, which rocks a sprawling patio complete with bright, neon-lit signage, lush garden walls, and a laidback vibe. Take a staycation with stellar signature cocktails, including the “Principal Kisses Alligator,” kissed with gin, lime juice, agave, fresh blackberries, and served out of a blackberry-cucumber La Croix can.
  • Wooster’s Garden in Midtown – Part-beer garden, part-cocktail den, you’ll find an impressive list of more than 40 house cocktails packing things like bitters, syrups, and flames at this open indoor and outdoor spot. Go for the refreshing and spicy Chupacabra, made with tequila, lime, and jalapeño tincture; try the spirit-forward Cherry Cask, with bourbon, Italian cherry, and celery bitters; or quench your thirst with the frothy, well-balanced Wooster Sour. You can also grab its on-tap cocktails at sister concept Holman Draft Hall or head to the Heights to check out sibling establishment Worcester’s Annex (next to Heights Bier Garten).

Best Cocktail Dives

  • Under the Volcano in Rice Village – First opened in 1989, this Latin American-inspired dive is a Houston institution. Locals are still just as thirsty for the fixture’s eccentric vibes and Day of the Dead-themed fun, which comes in the form of drinks like the refreshing strawberry basil margaritas, frozen screwdrivers, bold añejo old fashioneds, and classic caipirinhas. Stop in for steak & vinyl nights, live music lineups, happy hours, and boozy brunch.
  • Grand Prize Bar in the Museum District – Don’t be fooled by this cult-favorite dive’s laidback atmosphere; the two-story bar is known to make some pretty serious craft cocktails. That’s thanks to a perfectly stocked bar and über talented bar staff that knows how to wow both the everyman and the aficionado. Perhaps that’s while you’ll find industry vets sipping drinks, shooting games of pool, and jamming to the jukebox on off nights.

Downtown’s Best Cocktail Bars

  • Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirits LodgeYou’ll find the doorway of this second-story haunt off Main Street; just climb the creaky staircase that leads to the vintage speakeasy and enjoy stiff, expertly crafted drinks and elevated views of the city on its patio.
  • The Pastry War One of Downtown’s coolest spots is this Main Street mezcaleria from bar master Bobby Heugel, where you’ll find agave spirits from family-owned distilleries in Mexico. Sip your way through the list and try out cocktails from a Mexican-spiced Pimm’s Cup variation to a strawberry-balsamic margarita.
  • Secret Garden Bravery Chef Hall rocks a 2,000-square-foot patio garden bar dubbed “The Secret Garden.” But it’s not so secret after all, as the lush beaut opens onto Main Street. Stop in for craft drinks and frosé, carbonated and bottled cocktails, and good times. 
  • Tongue-Cut SparrowAccessible through a “secret” door and stairwell inside The Pastry War, this low-key, high-class drinkery offers one of the premier formal cocktail bar experiences in the city. Reservations can be made for half the bar, with the other half reserved for walk-ins.