Where to Drink Now

Where to drink right now: 6 Houston bartenders reveal their favorite haunts

Where to drink now: 6 Houston bartenders reveal their favorite haunts

13 Celsius courtyard
Chill in the courtyard at 13 Celsius. Photo by VJ Arizpe/The Photo Shop
Lei Low interior photo
Lei Low earns props for its friendly staff. Courtesy photo
Goodnight Charlie's exterior
Head to Goodnight Charlie's for whiskey and melted cheese snacks. Photo by Ralph Smith Studios
13 Celsius courtyard
Lei Low interior photo
Goodnight Charlie's exterior

Buzzy new bars are always fun to try, but sometimes a low-key spot can be nice, too. After all, a comfortable establishment with a friendly staff and a good selection beats fighting a crowd standing three-deep at some new hot spot.

When it comes to reliable standbys, bartenders know where to go. When someone spends eight hours on their feet shaking drinks, the last thing anyone wants is a pretentious spot where the attitude exceeds the execution.

With that in mind, CultureMap contacted a few of our favorite bartenders to ask three simple questions: Where do you go when you’re off shift? Why do you like it? What do you order?

The results are hardly surprising, but they do serve as a good reminder to visit an old favorite or two.

Judith Piotrowski, Bayou & Bottle
My favorite bar to hit up after a long shift is Lei Low. The drinks are always on point, and the service is so friendly. I have had the pleasure of working with over half of their staff at different establishments in this city, and I would hire them all again in a heartbeat.

Bottom line, when I am seeking a good bar, the product comes second to the hospitality of the staff. The great thing about Lei Low is that I don't have to sacrifice either of those things. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly. Their cocktail selection is amazing and true to its theme. 

I have toned down my cocktail drinking, so almost everywhere I go I am drinking something on the rocks. My favorite thing to do is let the bartender choose. I have been introduced to so many amazing things there, but my current favorites is their Clement Rum barrel pick and, of course, Rum Fire. If I am going to drink a cocktail, their mai tai and port light are both amazing choices.

Sarah Troxell, Nobie’s
Lately, my post-work meals are split between Cantina Barba and Goodnight Charlie's.

Cantina Barba is definitely an industry favorite right now. I love that it is mostly on my way home from Nobie's. I have an equal chance of running into a friend there, or being able to stare at my phone and engage with no one — usually welcome after a long night of serving people.

Barba is great on weekends for those of us who don't escape the restaurant until almost 2 am. If I am lucky I make it just in time for last call, and my drink order is always the same: a shot of house mezcal (rotating, always delicious, always $5) and a michelada with Negra Modelo. They make one of my most favorite micheladas in town — perfectly salty/spicy/limey and no Bloody Mary mix in sight. Plus their food is amazing/crave-able/perfect after a long dinner service.

I also love Goodnight Charlie’s. Even on a crowded weekend night, I can squeeze my way into the bar for a Shacksbury cider/whiskey in a cup/melted cheese snacks. A neat pour of rye whiskey is usually my go-to after making cocktails all night; they have a great selection to choose from. The hospitality from David, Matt, and the GNC team is unparalleled. I always feel like I am at home here even when it is packed out. Live music makes me feel like a real person.

Jessica Johnson, Wooster’s Garden
I like to go to 13 Celsius when I'm off. I go for date night or with a group of friends. We enjoy the dim ambiance, and that there are wine, cheese, and charcuterie selections that the whole group can agree on. Our most recent visit on Natural Wine Night ended with a really cool bottle of Vino Pipeño. Room for board games on the couch area is a definite plus!

Chris Frankel, Holman Draft Hall
I like Bad News Bar because the bartenders are all good friends of mine, the liquor selection is diverse and always high quality, and the long bar setup means it's never difficult to get a seat at the bar. I'll rotate my orders here, either something neat (as in a spirit being served neat) or whatever cocktail the staff recommends that day.

I also like Komodo Pub in Midtown, because it's a low key neighborhood spot, has a fun crowd with lots of industry people, and is always busy late night after all the other bars die down. I just get a shot of Campari and maybe a cheap beer.

Michelle Cimafranca, Peli Peli
I love going to High & Dry Rum Bar in downtown. High & Dry’s bartenders stand out because they are constantly testing new drinks with an ever-evolving rum list. They’re meticulous about their craft and truly care about guests’ feedback. Their house made pistachio orgeat in the Coco Loo with Banana Rum is so well executed that I have to order one every time I go.

Linda Salinas, Julep
My after work spot is Shoeshine Charley’s Big Top Lounge. They almost always are hosting local bands and DJ’s. It’s not pretentious and if I just want a more chill environment, I sit on their patio with Elvis twinkling lights out back. I drink an Espolon tequila and soda, because it’s always $6.50 and not fussy.