Many people have noted that 2017 produced a lot of exciting new restaurants in Houston, but it offered some great new places to get a drink, too. For example, take this year’s list of Bar of the Year nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, which includes four establishments that opened last year.
More than just being new, our panel of former winners and hospitality industry veterans selected these establishments because they stand out from their peers. After all, the best bars are greater than the sum of their back bars, tap walls, or wine coolers. They offer good service, a welcoming atmosphere, and a sense of place.
Who won? Find out at the Tastemaker Awards party on April 4 at Silver Street Studios. We’ll reveal the winners, sip cocktails, and dine on bites provided by the nominees. Tickets are on sale now.
With its stylish look and welcoming atmosphere, it’s no wonder this Midtown spot remains a charming place to sip a glass of wine (or two). Led by general manager Adele Corrigan, the staff will just as happily guide the perplexed towards something they’ll love as well as go deep with devoted oenophiles. No wonder the charming interior and secluded patio remain such a popular date night destination. 3000 Caroline St.
Anvil Bar & Refuge
Even after a series of staff shuffles that saw a couple of popular personalities take new roles at Bobby Heugel’s other projects, Houston’s highest-profile cocktail bar also remains one of its most-satisfying places to have a drink. Credit the rigorous training program for creating bartenders who balance technical skills with thorough knowledge of their craft. Maturity has also brought a bit of a sense of humor; the bar — which famously didn’t serve have a vodka cocktail on its list when it first opened — added Grey Goose vodka to its inventory when the company agreed to contribute to Harvey relief efforts. The break even bottle remains one of the most customer-friendly ways for people to sample rare and/or expensive spirits; who can say no to a $7 ounce of Johnny Blue? 1424 Westheimer Rd.
Axelrad Beer Garden
With its spacious outdoor seating area — more backyard than patio — laid back vibe, well-chosen selection of craft beers on draft, and solid cocktails, Axelrad offers a little something for everybody. On sunny days, the garden fills up with groups of people sipping beers and lounging in the signature hammocks. At night, the bar becomes a true Third Place hosting movie nights, chef pop-ups, concerts, and more. 1517 Alabama St.
Better Luck Tomorrow
Given the reputations of its two owners, Bobby Heugel (Anvil) and Justin Yu (Theodore Rex), Houstonians had high expectations for this Heights bar. Despite that, or maybe because of it, BLT has quickly emerged as one of the city’s most satisfying bars. Credit its casual environment, first-rate staff, and diverse offerings — a mix of Anvil-quality cocktails, a well-priced wine list, and an approachable, snacky version of Yu’s cooking that still features carefully-prepared dishes made with rigorously-sourced ingredients. Besides, any bar that puts a spaghetti sandwich on its brunch menu has to be doing something right. 544 Yale St.
Camerata at Paulie's
Once the ultimate place for wine geeks, Camerata has mellowed a bit under the direction of general manager Chris Poldoian. The list still offers lots of interesting choices, but the atmosphere has changed a bit: less focused on obscure varietals and more focused on hidden gems from familiar regions. Top-notch service and the stylish design will always be staples, which is why this bar remains a perennial Tastemakers nominee. 1834 Westheimer Rd.
Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge
Five years into its history, an idea that once seemed quixotic — create a nightlife district in the heart of downtown — has become so successful that it seems inevitable. On Friday and Saturday nights, people still line up at Bad News Bar’s unmarked door to climb the steps for some of the city’s most consistently delicious cocktails. Weekends can be frantic, but the real joy is coming in on a weekday and chatting with the bartenders about the hidden gems of its extensive back bar. Even the most experienced imbibers will likely find something new to love. 308 Main St., second floor
Although it has only been open for two months, this Montrose honky tonk already feels like an essential part of the neighborhood. The first concept from Goodnight Hospitality — which unites partners Master Sommelier David Keck, chef Felipe Riccio, and local businessman Peter McCarthy — the bar and dance hall features a well-priced selection of American whiskeys and craft beer, creative tacos on housemade corn tortillas, and service with the same attention to detail that Keck brought to his time at Camerata. Houstonians have embraced it so enthusiastically that it had to add a third night of live music (no cover!) to its weekly programming. 2531 Kuester St.
Heights Bier Garten/Worcester's Annex
If Axelrad kicked off a new style of patio bar, then Heights Bier Garten refined it with a mix of indoor and outdoor seating options that include a luxurious landscaped courtyard. Serving almost 100 taps of beer and wine — with kegs housed in a three-zone cooler that keeps each offering at its ideal serving temperature — along with a diverse menu that includes housemade sausages gives the bar a something-for-everybody appeal. Prefer cocktails? Walk across the courtyard to Worcester’s Annex to choose from the dozens of options. On either side, expect first rate service from the friendly, knowledgeable staff. 1433 N. Shepherd Dr.
Poison Girl Cocktail Lounge
This Montrose institution works equally well for those who want to suck down a Lone Star while playing pinball as it does for bourbon connoisseurs who appreciate the deep selection and affordable prices on vintages that are long gone from just about anywhere else. The bar even printed a full list of spirits and their prices — no one more squinting at the back bar to find hidden gems. Yes, some of the artifacts in the backyard will always give it a “hipster dive” label, but the friendly, unpretentious service and strong drinks also make it an essential spot for Houston’s bar and restaurant community. 1641 Westheimer Rd.
Located above The Pastry War, this Japanese-style cocktail bar aims to elevate every aspect of a patron’s experience by, among other things, accepting reservations (mandatory on the weekends), greeting people with a hot towel, limiting occupancy, and serving its drinks in elegant glassware. That it feels elegant, rather than pretentious, is a testament to both the staff’s sincere enthusiasm and the quality of the cocktails that have been painstakingly crafted to offer subtle improvements on familiar classics. With its leather couches and jazz soundtrack, the slightly hidden location feels miles away from Main Street’s hustle and bustle, which is exactly the point. 310 Main St., second floor