As Houstonians, we consider it a God-given right to live within five minutes of a gas station, a Mattress Firm, a place that makes good breakfast tacos, and a bar so seedy and unassuming, we feel overdressed in our laundry-day outfit. Where else but a dive bar does one learn to curse colorfully, play pool and enjoy $2 beers?
And yet over the past few years, Inner Loop dive bars have become a downright endangered species, pushed aside by rising real estate prices, trendy bars and the never-ending march of gentrification. We’ll particularly miss the most recent victim, Kay’s. So let’s pour out a Lone Star for the dive bars we’ve lost, and order a round at the ones still standing—for now.
Kay’s Lounge, Rice Village
Opened: The building dates to 1944, and Kay’s started serving beer and wine in 1962.
Closed: Sept. 2016
Known For: The giant Texas-shaped table; former regulars like Dr. Red Duke
Ruined By: The pressing need for more patio homes
Where to Go Instead: Rudyard’s on a quiet night; The Big Easy if you don’t mind exchanging country for the blues; Alice’s Tall Texan
Ruthie's Place, Montrose
Closed: Jan. 2016
Known For: Ruthie, who remained a fixture behind the bar on Sundays through her nineties
Ruined By: The cruel and unyielding passage of time; the death of Ruthie
Where to Go Instead: TK Bitterman's
Closed: June 2014
Known For: Delightfully unpolished drag shows
Ruined By: Greater gay acceptance in mainstream bars; Grindr
Where to Go Instead: Tony’s Corner Pocket; TC’s; Michael’s Outpost
Blanco's, River Oaks
Closed: Nov. 2013
Known For: Regular performers like Gary P. Nunn; $4.95 Blanco’s burgers; being the last and most beloved honky tonk in Houston
Ruined By: Annexation by neighbors St. John’s School
Where to Go Instead: Gruene Hall, maybe, or Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Bar in Bandera—yes, you have to head all the way to the Hill Country to replicate the experience.
Roll-N Saloon, River Oaks
Opened: 1969, called the Roll-N since 1972
Closed: Jan. 2010
Known For: $1 shots every time a train rolled by blowing its whistle
Ruined By: A landlord that opened a nicer bar in the spot (The Railyard) rather than renew the lease
Where to Go Instead: Lone Star Saloon—same crowd, just downtown