Ed. Note: This article was first published in the February 2016 issue of Houstonia, and has since been updated to reflect closings and new additions.
Best Bar for an Artisanal Honey Pairing: Beckrew Wine House
Also a winner in the Best Bar That Looks Like a Crate & Barrel Catalog category, this elegant spot offers a respite from the crazed singles scene that can take over other wine bars. (Really need to pick up a date? Head to the Whole Foods across the street.) It offers an interesting menu, too. Try the artisanal honeys, served with fruit and bread for dipping, with one of the smartly curated wine flights or something from the extensive by-the-glass selection. Our favorite? The wild lavender honey with a beautiful Bandol from Provence.
Best Bar for Potentially Drinking Next to the Bush Family: Armando’s
When you’re neighbors with the Kinders, McNairs and Sarofims, where do you go for a drink? To this upscale Mexican restaurant/bar, which since 1978 has been the go-to for the River Oaks set, who belly up to the bar on Thursday nights for the type of ritzy, El Millonario Margarita–fueled evening that feels like it should be invite-only, but never is—because, above all, this is Houston.
Best Bar for Bringing the Dogs Along: Kirby Ice House
Sure, there's plenty of seating inside the '60s-themed, 6,500-square-foot ice house itself, but it's the one-acre backyard that's the big attraction for pet-owners. Food trucks park out here as well, offering sustenance to power you through a few solid rounds of corn hole or horseshoes. You'll need to bring a leash for your dogs, but Kirby Ice House will provide the water bowls.
Best Bar for a Beer Cocktail: Hops Meet Barley
The playground outside the former Mission Burrito on West Alabama has been replaced with wooden picnic tables, the better to enjoy Hops Meet Barley's interesting craft beer line-up under the oak-shaded patio. And speaking of interesting, you'll especially want to experiment with the beer cocktails; the summery La Flor Luchador pairs Deep Ellum's Mexican Lager with mezcal, ginger beer and hibiscus tea.
Best Bar for Dinner and a Show: McGonigel's Mucky Duck
Whether you fondly refer to this classic Houston haunt as "McGonigel's" or just "the Duck," one thing is certain: This hideaway has been one of Houston's most consistently fabulous live music venues since it opened in 1990, with concerts nearly every single night of the week. Monday brings its famous open mic night, while more well-known acts from across the country head here on the weekends.
Best Bar for a Lamar High School Reunion: Lizzard’s Pub
You didn’t go to Lamar? Congrats, you’re now a virtual alum, just by virtue of entering this old house and its many rooms (fireplace room, Skee-Ball room, darts room). The pleasantly divey place has managed to maintain an air of a just-cleaned frat house despite years of gentrification in the surrounding area.
Best Bar for a St. John’s School Reunion: The Owl
Do you prefer the smell of fresh paint to that of old beer? Your call, buddy. This is the newer, shinier alternative to Lizzard’s, which is to say that what it lacks in soul it makes up for by allowing patrons to host out-of-town friends and well-heeled fiancées without having to explain how to jiggle the toilet handle just right. The well-stocked jukebox here is appropriately old-school, by the way, putting the wall-mounted Internet unit at Lizzard’s to shame.
Best Bar for a Curry and a Pint: The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen
The food menu here can be a little pricey outside of happy hour and weekly specials, and rightfully so: chef Shiva Patel emphasizes fresh, local ingredients in her Texas wild boar sausage and mash or Goan fisherman's curry with Gulf shrimp. That's why we love the Monday curry-and-a-pint night that nets you a full meal—a bowl of curry plus rice, naan and raita, along with beer—for just $18.
Best Bar for Pretending We Live Somewhere Cold: Sonoma Wine Bar
Even on those days when it seems like summer may never end, you can duck into the cozy confines of Sonoma and pretend you just stamped in with snow on your boots. Grab a seat near the fireplace and choose from the menu's deep bench of Old World wines; with over 30 wines by the glass and more than 20 bottles priced at $12, it won't be long before the only temperature you care about is the one of the Pinot Noir you ordered.
Best Bar for People-Watching: The V Lounge at Eddie V’s
Post up to the oval-shaped bar at this swanky West Ave seafood palace, and enjoy a live show just as entertaining as the swinging sounds from nightly bands like the Blue Monks or the Mark Goodwin Trio. Sit back, order champagne and oysters, and watch the parade of over-the-top outfits, fancy footwear, carefully coiffed hair, fabulous furs and May-December romances go by.