January 7th, 2010
2009 Bestus Prospectus: Libation Bearers of the Year
We do our fair share of drinking. We’re not alcoholics or anything (at least we’re not in the position to admit it), but we have a decent grasp of what’s going on around the city. Unfortunately, we’re not much into the club scene – if you’re up for contributing let us know – so you won’t find a swanktastic mention below. Without further ado, here are our ten favorite bars of 2009. If you got a problem with them, you know what to do [hint: it rhymes with "berate us in the comments"].
10] Porch Swing Pub (Marc)
I’m not your typical frequenter of Washington Avenue, but since I live two seconds away, I’ve spent a few nights at the establishments on the strip. Since I don’t have a perma-tan, I prefer my t-shirts loose rather than obscenely tight, and I spend more time drinking than I do at the gym, I tend to stay away from the trendier hotspots in favor of more laid back places. More often than not, I find myself, with a group of friends, sitting outside at Porch Swing. The large tables easily accommodate big groups without a hassle, and you can always find a place to sit. They have enough beer on tap that you won’t be forced to drink Bud lite, but they don’t have the extensive drink options of some of the other places on this list. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not the place to go if you drink frozen green apple martinis. The thing that pushes Porch Swing to the front of my list is that they are dog friendly. And I mean friendly. When my dog, Rex, and I head over to Porch Swing, he gets better treatment than I do, which means Rex doesnt mind if our “walks” are just an excuse to get out of the house and have a cold brew, which works for me.
9] Pearl Bar (Marc)
One of the first bars on the Washington Avenue scene, Pearl Bar is still going strong. Why is Pearl Bar so successful, while other bars fall short? Simplicity. With its industrial feel and decor, it has a cooler vibe than many of the other bars on the strip. Taking advantage of the original building and a vintage sign, Pearl Bar has more character than any of the newly constructed bars nearby. While other bars may be the happening bar of the moment, Pearl Bar has a staying power that appeals to skinny jean wearing hipsters and blazer sporting preps alike. It does get crowded on the weekends, but for me, Pearl Bar is great destination for a drink, whether it’s Friday night or Tuesday afternoon. Look for Pearl Bar to be joined on this list next year by it’s sister bar, opening right next door, Salt.
8] Cedar Creek (Aaron)
Houston is just not the kind of place that you can feature outside seating year round and get away with it, but somehow, Cedar Creek makes this work. Some of my best memories here, with one notable exception, occurred in the summer, my legs sticking to my seat, drinking a bucket of Lone Stars with friends. The one exception is the hilarity of watching drunk people stoke the fire pit in the fall and winter. I have no idea how this hasn’t become a sport. Neither the beer selection or food will win any awards, but like the other two “Creeks” it has a good bit of manufactured character that meets the “willful suspension of disbelief” authenticity test. I know I’m not floating the river in the hill country, but a cold beer and a dry stream at Cedar Creek will do in a pinch.
7] The Harp (Paul)
Try to look past the fact that I lived less than an eight-minute walk away from this Irish Pub. The Harp has been one of my favorites for a very long time, from the first time that I stumbled upon it, after a long day studying at the now defunct Cafe Artiste. The Harp is one of those places that provides a refuge for all, from lawyers taking a load off to industry folk coming in for a late night brew and a round of darts. The daily specials are not tremendous by any means and they don’t carry a beer junkie’s plethora of choices in the cooler, but they make up for it by having cozy sofa seating, darts, and an expansive covered deck for the secret smoker in all of us. Add to all of that The Harp’s pub trivia night on Tuesdays and you may have just found a new favorite “go-to” bar.
6] Under the Volcano (Paul)
Behind tall unkempt foliage rests one of Rice Village’s treasures. Hidden, but well known, Under the Volcano bears down on you immediately after you pass through the small, covered front patio into the cramped inside. The ceilings are low and on the walls hang ominous, if not grotesquely beautiful masks taking on the Day of the Dead setting of Lowery’s novel. Try one of their special mojitos, cuba libres, or the famed frozen screwdrivers to mix things up a little bit. Once you have your drink, be ready to stand, the seating is scarce, though the front and back patios provide a little extra. Volcano also goes the extra mile, offering frequent nights of live music from some great Houston bands with the occasional national acts sprinkled in. Truth be told, I’ve never read Malcolm Lowery’s novel of the same name, but I wonder if the proprietors of Volcano would let me borrow the copy they have standing in the glass case just inside the front door of the bar.
5] The Flat (Paul)
Back when The Loop Scoop was but a glimmer in our eye, we had it on a private server with a couple of fake experiences as place holders. One of those was “The Flat: A Lounge That’s Anything But.” It’s a shame that we haven’t gone back to write up something about it.When we do, rest assured that we’ll be keeping that outstanding title. The Flat is definitely one of those places that deserves your attention. On one night it’s a cozy date spot, a place to find a couch to sink into and forget about your worries as the bartender plays songs off an iPod. The next time you go, it will be a raging, shoulder-to-shoulder party, DJ spinning in the corner, and nearly impossible to make your way through the throng to get a drink. Hell, I’ve even been there when the break-dancing circuit has taken over the joint. Check out the back patio which has slowly evolved over the years, but try not to feel too bad for the people living in the apartments just above the wooden-slatted wall. They knew what they were getting themselves into.
4] Red Lion Pub (Paul)
If you’re looking for something that’s completely different from the rest of this list, you’re reading the right paragraph. Red Lion is one of those places that seems to be made for small groups to spend some time rather than go pick up single ladies/gentlemen. Especially if you’re hungry for some Fish and Chips or Beef Vindaloo you should be considering this Scottish Pub as the next stop. It’s dark inside, and the red leather booths are big enough for parties of six or so. There are only three or four TVs so if you’re trying to catch a game you may not find a great seat, and there is no guarantee that they’ll be playing the game you want to see. Exceptions are made of course. If you’re wandering in to catch a Champion’s League match you’ll be in the right place. I’ve watched the last two finals at Red Lion, and while it doesn’t attract quite the number of fans as Richmond Arms it’s still a perfect and authentic-feeling pub to catch the action.
3] Shoeshine Charlie’s Big Top Lounge (Paul)
Most bars in town can turn into a circus on any given night. With the right amount of alcohol and just a touch of the dramatic, some of the most ridiculous scenes can unfold right before your eyes. But there’s no place that is a circus on every night. Walking into Shoeshine Charlie’s Big Top you sense there is something different. Whether it be the inert bumper car sitting on the small outdoor patio or the bedazzled throne just inside, there is a strange notion that feels so right as you take it all in. Big Top is one of those places where it’s easy to disappear because everything around you deserves much more attention. It’s the corrugated steel awning over the bar already indoors, the peeling fresco high on the ceiling depicting scenes of three rings, and the random band you’ll find there on any given night.
2] Hans’ Bierhaus (Marc)
Hans’ is the last of a dying breed: a true neighborhood bar. With a come as you are attitude, they welcome everyone, whether you want to belly up to the bar or chill out back at one of the picnic tables. Don’t come looking for shots or mixed drinks, Hans’ is a beer connoisseur’s bastion, a place where you can not only get a great beer, but enjoy it in peace and quiet. With friendly bartenders and cool, easy going regulars, it’s a place where you can slide in and just relax, a far cry from most of the bars in Rice Village, just a stones throw away. And who doesn’t love the fact that it offers one of the only regulation size bocce courts in Houston. Is there anything better to do while drinking than playing bocce ball? I think not!
1B] Anvil Bar & Refuge (Aaron)
I first became acquainted with Anvil while sitting at Brown Bag Deli, brainstorming about The Loop Scoop with Paul. After checking it out, it quickly became a favorite destination of mine. I enjoy the simple antiquarian undertones of the decor and the feeling of the history and story behind each drink, which can be food for thought while you are waiting in the Saturday night lines. Inevitably, there will be something on the menu that you haven’t heard of or have wanted to try, and on a slower night the bartenders freely impart their knowledge of all things drink. You can learn anything from the effects of mass crops on the quality of the corn supply to ancient concoctions of the Carthusian Monks and the best part is the free lecture comes complete with samples. Not looking for a history lesson? Be adventurous and try one of the egg cocktail mixtures or, if you’re looking for oblivion, the absinthe drip. The concept is as simple and solid as the name. There are some things that are actually worth the wait. The handcrafted cocktails at Anvil Bar & Refuge are at the top of that list.
1A] Roll-N Saloon (Paul)
It feels fitting to have Anvil and Roll-N next to each other on this list. They provide just the amount of juxtaposition that’s necessary to keep a high level of intrigue. The two cannot be more different. One crafts top-shelf specialty drinks, the other served you tall-boys in a can. One resides on the always trendy Westheimer while the other rested on the train tracks on the long forgotten San Felipe. One appeals to the pre-dinner, post-dinner, and “I’m here to impress someone” crowd, the other was a local bar, gritty and grimy, a place you don’t touch the jukebox unless you’re given the go ahead by the bartender or one of the regulars. One is brand new, flashy, and thriving, the other is desolate, crumbling and now closed. And so, in memorial of Roll-N, a dive bar that all others should strive to duplicate, we posthumously name it one of our Top Bars of 2009. There was an atmosphere and community about Roll-N that is unparalleled. Where else could you go to find bikers, Mormons on mission, yuppies and a bachelor party, all partying and drinking PBR’s together.The regulars were willing to accept anyone, so long as you didn’t sit in their stool or mess with their music. Trust me, one time I pumped some money in the jukebox and was immediately met by someone saying “I hope you didn’t pick a bunch of shit.” I felt my healthy dose of Stevie Ray Vaughn would save me from anyone’s scorn, but I never put money in the jukebox again. Here’s to hoping a “new” Roll-N rises from the ashes and wows us with some derelict sensibilities. But for now, RIP Roll-N.