The time has come to profile the nominees for Bar of the Year in the 2023 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. Our panel of local restaurant industry experts selected these establishments for a range of reasons.
Some have been on the scene for more than a decade. Others opened in 2022. Of course, they’re united by serving excellent drinks, but lots of bars meet the minimum standard of using recognizable spirits, fresh juices, and other components of modern cocktail culture.
Standing out requires consistently excellent hospitality that makes customers feel welcome. These bars also demonstrate creativity through menu updates and seasonal specials. When they’re really locked in, a customer may taste something they’ve never experienced before.
Who will win? Find out April 13 at our Tastemaker Awards ceremony. Dine on bites from this year’s nominees, sip cocktails from our sponsors, and witness as our emcee Bun B reveals the winners. Buy your tickets before they sell out.
This pioneering Houston cocktail bar remains one of the city’s most satisfying places to get a drink. The extensive back bar rewards those looking to try spirits from around the world, including the “break even bottle” that offers a pricey sip at cost. While the extensively trained bartenders can make any classic a patron might request, the seasonal menu allows the staff to showcase its creativity. While specific bartenders come and go, longtime general manager Tommy Ho helps provide consistency from year to year.
Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge
As it prepares to celebrate its 11th anniversary, give Bad News Bar credit for its longevity. All of the other establishments that opened around the same time it did have faded away, but Bad News endures. Part of the credit probably goes to the thrill of discovery that comes from the unmarked location, but it’s more about the impressive spirit selection, consistently well executed cocktails, and extremely knowledgeable staff. Just don’t touch the lamps.
Since it opened at the very end of 2021, this bar near Allen Parkway has been one of Houston’s premier party spots. On any given night, the dimly lit room might host an appearance by the likes of Eva Longoria or Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston to promote their spirits brands. While customers come back for the bar’s signature espresso martini, regulars know that owners Mason Clark and Army Sadeghi devote just as much attention to the well-curated wine list. With a new patio expected to open soon, Clarkwood will be even more popular in the months to come.
This Midtown staple has new energy courtesy of a recent remodel by Houston’s Gin Design Group. While the look may be new, the bar remains devoted to serving both top-notch coffee and expertly crafted drinks — some of which incorporate coffee, of course. More than the drinks, the bar prides itself on the hospitality shown to regulars and newcomers alike. Keep in mind that Double Trouble signatures like the frozen Suffering Bastard and Captain’s Orders (a Manhattan riff) are available beginning at 11 am daily, making it the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon.
EZ's Liquor Lounge
Agricole Hospitality’s newest bar takes its inspiration from the sort of casual, neighborhood hangouts that thrived in the era when it was still legal to smoke indoors. Partner Matt Tanner scoured Texas and beyond for the right vintage neon, advertisements, and taxidermy to capture the retro look.
Just don’t call it a “dive bar.” First, the concept of a “new dive bar” is absurd. More importantly, the expertly prepared drinks are made with an attention to detail that far exceeds the places that inspired EZ’s decor.
This restaurant industry favorite keeps going as it always has, serving tasty cocktails — don’t skip the rotating frozen special — at reasonable prices. The come-as-you-are attitude makes it welcoming for people of all ages and stations in life, whether that’s students catching up over Lone Stars or well-dressed society types grabbing a nightcap after a gala. While consistency is a Grand Prize hallmark, the creativity of the Trophy Case Kitchen and the return of the backyard patio have given it a bit of new life. Special events upstairs keep things fresh.
Johnny's Gold Brick
When this bar opened in 2015, it seemed destined to be known for its menu of $8 house cocktails that are painted on the wall. Instead, Johnny’s has emerged as the home to a wildly talented staff that creates a new cocktail menu every month. That relentless creativity draws a talented staff who then take the skills they acquire at Johnny’s to other projects around town. Then again, no one will argue with the patron who just wants to enjoy a delicious, $8 Old Fashioned.
Hidden inside The Toasted Coconut, this intimate, dimly lit bar offers a very different atmosphere than the tropical environment that surrounds itself. As loud rock ‘n roll booms over the vintage stereo, customers sip thoughtfully prepared drinks made with a variety of Mexican spirits. They’re paired with a tidy menu of hot and cold dishes that utilize Mexican techniques and ingredients. Quiote’s overall experience is so thoughtfully presented that it’s recognized in two other Tastemaker Awards categories — Bartender of the Year and Rising Star Chef of the Year.
When Anvil owner Bobby Heugel called Refuge his “best bar yet,” cocktail-obsessed Houstonians immediately took notice. Essentially, it blends the lessons of operating establishments such as Anvil, Tongue-cut Sparrow, and the Pastry War with Heugel’s visits to bars all over the world. The result is a bar that’s dark, loud, and energetic with cocktails that incorporate premium spirits and service that balances friendliness and formality. In other words, it’s a whole lot of fun.