Undoubtedly, the task of sorting through Houston’s hundreds of bars to arrive at the nine finalists for the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Bar of the Year involved hundreds of hours of painstaking research. Thankfully, our panel of industry experts is more than up to the task.
One thing worth noting is that all of this year’s nominees have been nominated at least once previously. Which suggests that our panel prefers a certain amount of consistency in their drinking choices.
Perhaps one of this year’s recent openings like Bayou & Bottle or Tongue-Cut Sparrow or the upcoming project from Justin Yu and Bobby Heugel will break through and capture the voters’ attention next year. Until then, these reliable establishments offer drinks everything from a divey whiskey bar to a tiki bar that feels as though it emerged from another era.
This Midtown spot remains not just a charming place to sip a glass of wine (or two) on the secluded patio but also a place where serious oenophiles can go deep in any number of categories. Led by general manager Adele Corrigan, the staff will just as happily discuss the merits of the bar’s latest arrivals as serve up one of the signature S'mores desserts. With its stylish look and welcoming atmosphere, it’s no wonder Food & Wine recently recognized it as one of the country's top wine bars. 3000 Caroline
Anvil Bar & Refuge
After a series of renovations both to its seating (all-new booths complete with plugs for charging phones) and to its structure (a recently installed solid brass bar top bar hides structural improvements that make the bartenders more efficient), it seems that Houston’s highest-profile cocktail bar is better than ever. The bar continues to make other changes, too; for example, it updated its spirits menu to note which staff members had visiting each spirit’s distillery. Customer-friendly initiatives like the break even bottle — where a rare spirit is sold at cost — serve to reward both regulars and educated tourists alike. 1424 Westheimer
Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge
After sitting out for two years, our 2014 Bar of the Year returns to the nominee ranks. What seemed like an ambitious experiment four years ago — opening an unmarked bar in a second story space on a quiet block of downtown Houston — has emerged as one of the city’s most satisfying drinking experiences. While most people go for the always-interesting selection of cocktails, true spirit geeks can count on finding something to try on the extensive back bar. When the elegant room fills up on the weekends and the staff is shaking drinks as fast as they can, it feels like a pretty special place. 308 Main, second floor
Camerata at Paulie's
The faces may be different — opening general manager/sommelier David Keck’s departure was followed by other members of the staff — but Camerata remains one of Houston’s very best places to drink wine. Chris Poldoian brings an unabashed enthusiasm for wine to his role as the bar’s new general manager. New food items developed by chef Erin Smith (Plonk, Main Kitchen) maintain the bar’s reputation for serving well-crafted bites. While the bar remains a place people go to learn more about wine, it’s primary purpose of being a comfortable place to gather with friends remains intact. 1834 Westheimer
Eight Row Flint
From a gas station to a sprawling patio bar, this establishment that serves as an outlet for co-owner Morgan Weber’s self-described “obsession” with bourbon has emerged as one of the most popular drinking venues in The Heights. The bar serves both whiskey obsessive who are there to dive deep into tasting the barrels Weber proudly displays on the back bar as well as casual fans who simply want to enjoy a frozen cocktail and some sunshine. Well-executed tacos, made with the same ethos and quality ingredients that are found at its sister concepts Revival Market and Coltivare, only enhance the experience. 1039 Yale
Johnny's Gold Brick
Although the Treadsack Group’s “bar ass bar” remains defined by its menu of 10 classic cocktails that are painted on the wall, the bar has grown substantially during its second year of operations. Physically, a new backyard area gives the space some of the patio bar vibe that’s so trendy right now. Spiritually, the monthly chalkboard cocktail menu always offers inventive drinks that provide the staff with an important creative outlet. Together, they make Johnny’s one of the city’s most satisfying places to grab a drink. 2518 Yale
To walking through the threshold at this tiki bar in The Heights is to be transported to another world — one where Don Ho gently wafts over the speakers and the decor is straight out of 1963. Thankfully, the drinks blend tiki flavors with a modern sensibility (the bar goes through a staggering amount of fresh pineapple). Splitting a bunch powl with friends will turn any night into a celebration, especially since they almost always come with a component on fire. 6412 N Main
This downtown cocktail bar sets itself apart by not taking itself too seriously. After all, last fall’s cocktail menu came presented as an album, complete with vintage-looking photographs and liner notes. Thankfully, the staff does work to hone its craft, which means the menu always offers plenty of intriguing options. Co-owner Alex Gregg’s crystal clear, hand cut ice serves as a testament to the lengths they’ll go to for deliciousness. 306 Main
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 carefully scouts its back bar for vintages that are long gone from just about anywhere else. 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