The Best New Bars in Houston of 2022 — and a 2021 Retrospective — Updated
For as many outstanding bars as have opened in Houston over the years, it’s good to remember there’s still plenty of room for growth. Great places for cocktails are still rarities outside of the 610 Loop, and when it comes to specialty bars that focus on specific areas, such as wine, tiki and individual spirits, you’d be challenged to name more than a handful.
Fortunately, the past two years have brought a new, quirky crop ranging from casual hangouts to elegant speakeasies in areas that include not just downtown and the Heights, but also Spring Branch and Spring, Texas.
In 2021, we didn’t publish a Best New Bars list. The industry was still grappling with the effects of the pandemic, which had closed some establishments for months the year before (and lest we forget, even the beginning of 2022 was marred by a prevalent new COVID variant). The future for any bar whose owner dared open in 2021 was uncomfortably murky. Now that the dust has settled, and there’s again a semblance of normalcy, we look back now at 2021 to give these excellent bars proper recognition. — Phaedra Cook, editor & publisher
The Best New Bars of 2022
Betelgeuse Betelgeuse, 2101 Washington: Born from the (figurative) ashes of Liberty Station, this quirky Washington bar, decorated like it’s Halloween every day, has something for everyone. Whether you’re stepping in for a beer and a shot, or for a barrel-select Old Fashioned, drinks range from fun and easy-to-drink, to adventurous and complex. The Black Lemon Drop is a visually dark and moody take on the bright and refreshing bar standard, while the Red Star is built with a base of Ilegal Mezcal and dark rum, loaded with herbal and bitter components such as Carpano Antica, Aperol, Campari, and given a kick with Hellfire Shrub.
The food is even more of a draw, thanks to a menu mostly of pizzas developed by Anthony Calleo (formerly of Pi Pizza and now at Rudyard’s) and expertly executed by Maryssa “Mars” Maize of the Mars Bakery. The pies are layered with housemade sauce and Wisconsin brick cheese, and baked in a cast iron skillet. There’s also A Burger in a Pizza Oven, an excellent burger that’s – yes you guessed it – baked in a pizza oven, and the wings are absolutely stellar with a crisp skin and juicy interior, which almost feel like a hidden gem on the menu when the pizzas are the star of the show. Don’t forget to check out the psychedelic hallway leading to the bathroom that really leans into the galactic vibes. — Cindy Wang, food and beverage writer
Bandista, 1300 Lamar: Completely over-the-top concepts often lead to lackluster drinks that damage the overall experience. Bandista, hidden in the Four Seasons Houston hotel, goes all-in with its neo-speakeasy. Complete with a secret entrance, period decor and cocktails organized by decade, the bar is a fully immersive speakeasy.
In addition to the setting, Bandista bartenders and servers are helpful and friendly. They expertly guide guests through the menu. As noted in our Best Cocktail Bars in Houston article from earlier this year, the drinks at Bandista come with a higher-than-average price tag. However, unlike most places with similar pricing, you usually get your money’s worth. Many of the drinks come with legitimate, upscale spirits (glares menacingly at lackluster bars charging $25 for spirits found at any corner liquor store), or come in multiple servings, such as the Sazerac flight. Additionally, the cocktail creations have a level of presentation that few bars in Houston match. — Ryan Kasey Baker, food and beverage writer
Blind Finch, 5210 Farm to Market 2920: Very few bars knock it out of the park on Day One, but this one, located in the Spring/Woodlands area, has been serving up high-quality cocktails and excellent service since its soft opening.
The Blind Finch is situated next to its sister concept, Thistle, a popular beer bar with great food. Thematically, Blind Finch is decorated in homage to Prohibition-era speakeasies. The entrance is on the rear side of the building, but is marked with an obvious sign, and the hallway leading into the service area is covered in photos from the era. The playful dedication to the theme and overall gorgeous aesthetic keep the bar from feeling cheesy.
Blind Finch’s cocktail program has evolved since opening in June. Originally, the drink list was comprised of twists on pre-Prohibition classics, but the talented and friendly bartenders now also make their own original creations. In our recent list featuring the Best Cocktail Bars in Houston, I commented on how the spirit selection was small due to only recently opening; the number of spirits in every category has since multiplied. Be sure to bug the bartenders for their take on the Preakness with a Chartreuse rinse. Blind Finch also offers a few small bites such as deviled eggs and a charcuterie board. If there is one issue, the owners have a habit of taking several seats, even during the bar’s busiest hours. — Ryan Kasey Baker, food and beverage writer
EZ’s Liquor Lounge, 3302 White Oak: Agricole Hospitality’s newest Heights bar pays homage to classic Houston dives past and present, including Shiloh, Big Star Bar and Alice’s Tall Texan, fusing a down-to-earth atmosphere with thoughtful beverages. Potentially, EZ’s Liquor Lounge is a cocktail enthusiast’s escape from the constantly recurring themes of, “modern speakeasy,” or “New Orleans in Houston”, that saturate Houston’s bar scene.
EZ’s opening caught a lot of attention thanks in part to it marking co-owner and Anvil alumni Matt Tanner’s return to the Houston bar scene. Initially, it may have been too much for the staff, as my first visit, which happened to be on a slower day, ended with me walking out after waiting 15 minutes to place an order. However, the second visit revealed substantial service improvements, and the Nitro Cold Brew Irish Coffee eased any additional apprehension. The main ingredient in cocktails such as Irish coffee or espresso martinis — coffee — typically falls somewhere between bland and bad, but the bartenders make quality cold brew and don’t drown the flavor with other components. Perhaps better than any other bar on this list, EZ’s Liquor Lounge’s cocktails bridge the gap between familiar and elevated. Many are widely-known drinks, and the bartenders add specialty spins, making EZ’s Liquor Lounge an ideal starting point for people looking to venture outside their comfort zones and try more complex cocktails. — Ryan Kasey Baker, food and beverage writer
Heights & Co., 1343 Yale: 2022 was a busy year for owner Brian Doke. In May, on the heels of opening speakeasy-style steakhouse Patton’s inside Savoir, he opened festive bar Heights & Co. The neighborhood spot’s centerpiece is an expansive, lit-up, pergola-covered patio that looks out onto Yale Street. Inside is a small intimate bar area with cozy booths, an ideal setting for brunch or a low-key weeknight.
Doke’s bar team includes Jessica Wells and Ricky Ramirez, alumni of much-missed bars Tongue Cut Sparrow and The Pastry War, respectively, His team has put together a signature cocktail list that has something to appease every palate. Choose from its version of a ranch water, the Heights H20 (tequila, lime, grapefruit and Topo Chico), the Salted Watermelon (rum, salted watermelon, coconut and lime), or the Spritz (sparkling rose, Cappelletti Aperitivo, pineapple-guava juice and Topo Chico). The Texas Star (mezcal, St. Germain, lime, hibiscus) is a favorite for its perfect balance of smoky, citrus and floral notes.
Although Heights & Co. is Doke’s more casual concept, the food is elevated from just your typical bar food. You’ll find such dishes such as Steak Frites served with sage oil & herb fries and topped with au poivre sauce, and brisket grilled cheese with 12-hour smoked brisket and house cheese blend on toasted brioche. While the food is more upscale than you’ll find at most bars, the laid-back atmosphere at Heights & Co. proves you can have the best of both worlds. — Minh T. Truong, food and beverage writer
Loose Cannon, 8515 Long Point: This rum-centric bar in the heart of Spring Branch is the brainchild of Russell and Liz Thoede, the duo behind popular tiki bar Lei Low, and Brad Moore, who brought Houston Big Star Bar and Grand Prize Bar. In this iteration, Russ keeps rum front-and-center, with drinks such as the bright, boozy Rhum Punch, made in the Martinique tradition with rhum agricole and laced with guava, lime and orange juices, and just a hint of nutmeg.. The bar’s signature cocktail, Loose Cannon, is a rummy twist on the French 75, blending Jamaican rum and Spanish brandy with lemon juice, sugar and Cava. The result is a refreshing sparkler with a bit more heft than the original, which is made with gin. There are also classic go-tos such as the Sazarac, Hurricane and Paloma.
Those looking for drinks that aren’t craft cocktails will be rewarded with Loose Cannon’s multitude of spirits, along with beer and wine selections. The overall feel here is casual and welcoming, with a nod to pirate ships along the high seas. The nautical theme is carried out in the bar’s decor: dark woods, brass-accented lighting, an antique dive helmet and signal flags. The space carries the escapism theme the Thoedes brought to life with Lei Low, this time giving guests the feel of wandering into a dockside bar on some faraway bay. — Holly Beretto, food and beverage writer
Refuge, 1424 Westheimer: Tongue-Cut Sparrow was arguably one of the best bars in the Houston, if not the country, (both in its original downtown hideaway and after its relocation to Montrose), and the void left by its closing was not an easy one to fill. The drink list offered both complex and delicate cocktails, customer service was top-notch and it was an enjoyable atmosphere on a nearly unmatched level.
Owner Bobby Heugel and his team replaced Tongue-Cut Sparrow with Refuge, keeping the dark lighting (except for a prized, light-up Floridita sign Heugel saved for just such an occasion) and elegant drinks. However, the atmosphere is entirely different. There’s now more seating to accommodate larger groups and energetic music — which, initially, boomed too loudly to be able to speak to the person next to you, much less the server or bartender. A more recent visit suggested that the situation has improved, and the atmosphere is quieter.
The cocktails are complex and may be unfamiliar to less-experienced imbibers, but the bartenders go through rigorous training and tests, giving them all of the necessary knowledge to guide guests through the drink list. Cocktails are divided between riffs on classics and original creations, with the Mezcal-forward Borsalino being a personal favorite. Other notable creations include Andalusian, a savory drink with Andalusian highland blanco tequila, Granny Smith apple, fino sherry, lemon, olive oil and Spanish spices, and the seasonally appropriate Crystal Egg Nog with cognac, Jamaican and Barbadian rum, Pimento Dram (a Jamaican allspice liqueur), ruby port, Pedro Ximenez sherry, cream and a whole egg — Ryan Kasey Baker, food and beverage writer
A Look Back at the Best New Bars of 2021
Angel Share, 924 Congress: Continuing the tradition begun by The Original OKRA Charity Saloon in the same space, this downtown bar donates most of its proceeds each month to a Houston-based 501(c)3 non-profit based on votes submitted by patrons. Visitors can play shuffleboard while enjoying a well-made house cocktail or a local beer, or splurge on a Drink Yo Face, a cheeky drink where a bartender can print anything (yes, anything) onto a layer of egg foam on the cocktail using a drink printer. House cocktails are focused on riffs on classics, such as the Finally Famous, shaken with mezcal, lime, chartreuse and hibiscus to produce a slightly more tart and earthy take on a Naked and Famous. If you don’t find a house cocktail that you’re interested in, the skilled bar staff can also make just about any classic cocktail you ask for, leaving endless possibilities for a drink to enjoy while contributing to a good cause. A portrait of Dolly Parton overlooks the pool table in the back, a fitting figure to be an example for a bar focused on kindness and charity. — Cindy Wang, food and beverage writer
Kanpai Club, 518 West 11th Street: Hidden behind an unmarked door inside of Hando, one will find an intimate space with a robust cocktail menu and an excellent spread of bar snacks. The drinks are well-balanced, and most feature a Japanese-inspired twist. The Tokyo Layover is a riff on a Paper Plane, shaken with Bruxo mezcal, Aperol, Vecchio, lemon and yuzu kosho, while the Green Tea Smoked Old Fashioned lends earthiness to the timeless classic. Night owls will be in for a treat, because on Sundays through Wednesdays, house cocktails are half off starting at 10 p.m. Also, the “Late Night Bites” portion of the menu becomes available Sundays through Thursdays starting at 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 11 p.m. Those who are around late enough are rewarded with the ability to order intensely flavorful curry fries or pork belly katsu skewers, perfect for snacking alongside a cocktail. — Cindy Wang, food and beverage writer
The Lounge at March, 1624 Westheimer: The minute you’re escorted up the stairs to your seat, you already know you’re in for a first-class experience. The sleek but relaxed setting welcomes you, as each guest begins their visit with a splash of March’s housemade seasonal vermouth, infused with herbs and fruits that will give you a small taste of the region that will be featured on the restaurant’s seasonal menu. The cocktails are thoughtful and executed to perfection, and also function as liquid explorations around the featured region.
The current Islands of the Mediterranean menu features drinks that each represent a different island. The Arinella, named after Arinella Beach on the island of Corsica, is a bright and tropical cocktail made with brandy, passionfruit, bergamot and fortified wine, while the Formentor, named after Platja de Formentor is a bold, stirred, bourbon cocktail featuring walnut liqueur, thyme, carob, and bitters.
The March Martini is always on the menu, but the build changes seasonally between blends of gins and vermouths. Regardless, it’s always an impeccably balanced rendition of the classic and accompanied with a single fried olive. As you sip your martini, the staff keeps a close eye on your glass, swooping in to replace it with a newly frozen one the second it appears that your martini has become anything warmer than ice-cold. It’s the kind of pampering service that makes the March Lounge not just a place for a well-made cocktail or a glass of wine, but for an entire experience that will sweep you away for an evening. — Cindy Wang, food and beverage writer
Trash Panda Drinking Club, 4203 Edison: Early experiences with Trash Panda in Lindale Park were not great, but Greg Perez and the team never stopped making adjustments. For example, The cocktail program has been refined and greatly expanded over time. The additions include the Oaxacan Old-Fashioned and an espresso martini made with coffee from Xela Coffee Roasters, which I mentioned as my favorite local roaster in our 2022 Best Coffee Shops list.
Trash Panda’s food selection, which is served until midnight, has also gone through a few evolutions by Jonathan Lindauer (now executive chef at Brix Wine Cellar), who reorganized the menu after chef Lyle Bento’s departure. The current food selection features an eclectic mix of bar bites such as Hot Cheeto Mozz Sticks, BBQ Baddie Melt and Pizza, such as pepperoni, cheese and birria.
Where Trash Panda has really come into its own is in its special events, regularly hosting bartenders from other businesses, both in and outside of Houston. The most notable events have been the homages to popular fast food restaurants, such as Trashy Bell (Taco Bell) and Whatatrash (Whataburger). All of these adaptations have created a fun and dependable bar settled slightly off the beaten path. — Ryan Baker, food and beverage writer. Added 1/8/2023, 10:40 a.m.
William Price Distilling, 970 Wakefield: When people think “bars,” they may not automatically think, “distillery tasting room,” but this is one to keep in mind. William Price Distilling, located in Oak Forest, had quite an uphill battle in the beginning. Owners Bryan Clary and Zachary Hiller were getting ready to open it in the late spring of 2020 — and you know what happened next, right? The COVID-19 pandemic hit, and before they’d even had a chance to make their first bottle of whiskey, Clary and Hiller instead started cranking out hand sanitizer to help alleviate the dramatic shortages.
In May 2021, William Price Distilling was able to finally open its spacious tasting room. Comfy lounge areas and sofas make it an ideal space for events (such as the one we had for Houston Food Finder readers last summer) and watching sports. Bar manager Taylor Morris (who is a featured bartender at our upcoming gala) and her team create cocktail menus that not only match the seasons but showcase the distillery’s latest spirits. Currently, there are two drinks featuring Rum Ryder, a blend of two Jamaican rums and the distilleries 100-proof rye. The Rai Tai is an amped version of a classic mai tai (served with a flaming garnish, of course), while Risky Business uses grapefruit, lime and lemon for a citrusy burst and cinnamon syrup to match the rye’s spice. The bar also serves an astute list of beloved classics, including an Old Fashioned, Bee’s Knees and Espresso Martini. — Phaedra Cook, editor and publisher
Winnie’s, 3622 Main: This laidback, Midtown bar has ample patio seating and a well-curated cocktail menu that includes classics for $10 ($5 before 5 p.m.), or hilariously over-the-top treasure chests for $25, which may include a Sazerac made with Dickel 15 year single barrel Tennessee Whiskey or a pair of French 75s with an entire bottle of Champagne. The seasonal cocktails are well thought out with a good range of base spirits and flavor profiles to choose from, including the robust Not a Love Story made with bourbon, Cynar, peated scotch and Heering cherry liqueur, and the sweeter Queen’s Bee, a mix of gin, Yellow Chartreuse, honey, cardamom, rose water and a touch of salt.
The food menu created by chefs/owners and Bernadine’s alums Graham Laborde and Chris Roy (a featured chef at our upcoming Perfect 10 Gala) is also crowd-pleasing. It includes sandwiches such as the Fried Chicken Crunch Wrap Supreme, Winnie’s take on the Taco Bell favorite loaded with fried chicken breast and Cool Ranch Doritos, and a selection of well-made po’boys, which Winnie’s owners started serving during pop-ups before opening their fun, casual bar.