Patio bars are certainly having a moment in Houston. Even in summer, sun-soaked imbibers flood onto outdoor spaces to sip frozen cocktails or pints of locally-brewed craft beer.
But what is a patio bar? Like obscenity, people mostly know one when they see it. Still, for the purposes of this article, let’s stipulate a few criteria. Most importantly, patio bars have much more outdoor seating than indoor seating. Second, patio bars are a relatively recent phenomenon. Cottonwood probably kicked off the trend when it opened in 2012; in Midtown, The Dogwood’s arrival in 2013 marked a new phase in the style of bars that opened after it. Third, they cater to a broad audience with a mix of cocktails, wine, and beer.
That means that the West Alabama Ice House is not a patio bar. Just like the people who stubbornly insist on calling a hot dog a sandwich when it definitely is not, the Montrose institution is a separate style of drinking establishment. For one, it doesn’t serve hard alcohol, and it isn’t open as late as proper patio bars. From a historical perspective, the Ice House is, at worst, a top five all-time Houston drinking destination; it just isn’t eligible for this list.
Patio bar also typically try to distinguish themselves with some sort of feature. For example, Axelrad has hammocks, McIntyre’s has swings, and Truck Yard has a freaking Ferris wheel. Calling them “gimmicks” is probably too dismissive to the creativity shown in creating them, but it’s also the first word that comes to mind. Since they’re so important to the owners of these establishments, it only makes sense to give them some consideration in these rankings.
Finally, it’s important to note that these bars are extremely popular and generate major sales, even during the summer heat. While no one should ever confuse popularity with quality, it is worth considering. Using data compiled by OnTapReport.com, I averaged each bar’s last three months of reported liquor sales revenue (February through April). The bar aren’t strictly ranked by sales, but it did bump up (or bump down) some of the contenders.
Honorable Mention: The New Potato
Realistically, this low-key Second Ward spot doesn’t generate the revenue of the other spots on this list — OnTapReport didn’t have any data for it — but the friendly staff, epic view of the downtown skyline, and sprawling backyard all make it a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon or evening. The small kitchen serves as a home for a steady stream of culinary pop-ups. Consider it the kinder, gentler patio bar. 3519 Clinton Dr.
10. Eight Row Flint
The number of bars either in or near the Heights seems to increase all the time, but Agricole Hospitality’s property that’s dedicated to whiskey, beer, and tacos remains a popular spot, averaging approximately $139,000 in monthly liquor sales. Co-owner Morgan Weber’s one-off whiskey barrel selections give obsessives plenty of things to try, but it’s the signature frozen cocktails (frosé and gin and tonic) that make the summer heat bearable. Finally, Eight Row’s Tuesday night pop-up series gives Agricole’s behind-the-scenes culinary talent a chance to show off their skills. 1039 Yale St.
9. King’s BierHaus
Admittedly, King’s is as much a restaurant as a bar, but the fully landscaped beer garden, complete with a water feature, makes it one of Houston’s most charming patios. Also, it generates an impressive amount of revenue, approximately $163,000 in liquor sales per month. Trivia nights, special events, and the annual Oktoberfest party all keep fans coming back again and again. 2044 E. T.C. Jester Blvd.
8. The Dogwood
Five years into its life, the Midtown staple remains popular, averaging $211,000 in monthly sales. With two stories of space (including a skyline view), a full food menu, and Deep Eddy on tap, it offers lots of ways to entertain. Given the continued success, it’s no wonder that The Dogwood’s owners have an ambitious plan to open a new concept as a part of a four-bar complex that’s replacing the Midtown Drinkery and Stoked Tequila and Tacos. 2403 Bagby St.
7. Holman Draft Hall
The Kirby Group’s new property has been this year’s hottest new arrival in Midtown. Fully covering the outdoor seating area provides some relief from the sun, and the 100 taps offer a diverse array of beer and wine. Add in chef Brandon Silva’s creative menu, and it’s no wonder Holman rings up a hefty $279,000 average sales per month. 820 Holman St.
6. Heights Bier Garten/Worcester’s Annex
Speaking of The Kirby Group, this dual concept property with a massive, fully-landscaped courtyard has been a smash hit from day one ($302,000 average monthly sales). Worcester’s extensive spirit selection and creative cocktails pair well with HBG’s extensive selection of beer and wine. If the bucolic setting isn’t enough of a draw, patrons can lounge in swings and rockers while chowing down on housemade sausages. 1433 N. Shepherd Dr.
5. Truck Yard
Despite only minimal marketing or media attention, this Dallas import has been packed since it opened in May. Credit the funky decor — a mix of shipping containers, repurposed truck beds, and other bric-a-brac — along with the potent draft, frozen, and canned cocktails. Although it’s too new to have publicly available sales data, a manager confirmed they’ve had $50,000 Fridays (Saturdays are even higher). Also, as gimmicks go, it doesn’t get much better than a freaking Ferris wheel. 2118 Lamar St.
4. Better Luck Tomorrow
Anvil-quality cocktails and Justin Yu’s innovative take on bar food and brunch catapult BLT towards the top of this list, despite a relatively modest monthly average sales of $145,000. Regular promotions — everything from Pasta Tuesday to the pre-Valentine’s “Better Fuck Tomorrow” menu and the recently-introduced cocktail pitchers — keep things fresh. Still, it’s the comfortable atmosphere and always-friendly service that really help BLT stand out. 544 Yale St.
This glitzy sports bar has been a seriously popular addition to Shade Acres — just look at its average monthly sales of $373,000. The swings are certainly popular (and an occasional source of high comedy), but it’s the upscale sports bar atmosphere, complete with 49 TVs, that really sets it apart. Cocktails served in 96-ounce copper mugs also help ensure every night feels like a party. 1230 W. 20th St.
2. Kirby Ice House
At almost full acre, this sprawling patio bar takes a Texas-sized approach to serving its customers. The bar’s sheer size is part of the draw, but so is the vintage furniture and games that decorate the backyard. With 50 taps of beer and cocktails plus a rotating roster of food trucks, Kirby Ice House leads the way in sales — averaging $491,000 per month. 3333 Eastside St.
1. Axelrad Beer Garden
No surprise here. Since it opened at the end of 2015, Axelrad has redefined patio bars with a great atmosphere in its landscaped garden and first-rate gimmicks; everything from the signature hammocks to the Airstream auxiliary bar and even details like the carved wooden tap handles demonstrate a level of thoughtfulness that’s virtually unmatched anywhere else. All of those details translate into strong sales — averaging $382,000 per month. 1517 Alabama St.