It’s easy to stumble upon Houston’s commercialized watering holes, but chat with some seasoned locals, and they can direct you to some of the city’s best-disguised drinkeries.
Ask any bar-hopping Houstonian where to find the sneakiest pub in town, and those in the know will point you directly toward Marfreless. A little blue door under an unassuming staircase is the only clue that you have found this dark and romantic River Oaks lounge. With a mysterious vibe and low lighting, Marfreless will make you feel a tad bit scandalous, like you’re visiting a speakeasy during prohibition. Known as one of the best joints in Houston to take your date after dinner, it won’t take you long to learn why so many locals have fallen head over heels in love with this lounge. Have a Perfect Margarita or one of the bar’s signature martinis.
Hidden away in the basement of the renowned Omni Hotel, the entrance to the illustrious Black Swan is a challenge to find. Do not fret, though — the staff at the Omni are aware of its poor signage and are more than happy to assist you. The Swan is warm and inviting with ultra-comfy sofas surrounded by peek-a-boo curtains, and a decent selection of beer, wine and spirits. If you visit the bar during the week, you’ll find it to be relaxed and calm, but on the weekends things get slightly crazy. The Swan turns into a bustling nightclub with Houston’s best DJs, stellar people-watching and a dance floor where you can break it down into the wee hours of the morning. A word to the wise: Valet your vehicle. It’s worth the extra expense.
With no discernible sign from the street, patrons often use nearby landmarks to find their way into the Absinthe parking lot. With its raw brick walls and bohemian feel, this place is as close to an authentic Absinthe bar as you’ll find in these parts. It has an extensive absinthe menu, so you’ll have plenty of different ways to chill with the Green Fairy. The Hemingway’s Revenge (absinthe, cassis, champagne) will make you feel like you are sitting a speakeasy in Paris. And even if the licorice-flavored potion isn’t your bag, the drinkery offers delicious hand-crafted cocktails and scrumptious gourmet pizzas such as the Gaudi with amazing salami, prosciutto, olives and mushrooms, and the Renoir with the unlikely combination of herb grilled chicken, pineapple, cilantro, smoked Gouda and BBQ sauce.
Unless you’re a guest at the Hotel Icon, you may be completely unaware of the elegant restaurant bar on the main floor. Formerly known as “Voice,” Line & Lariat is housed in the grand lobby of the Icon, with large pillars and a mix of dramatic interior design infused with Texas flair. Its hand-crafted cocktails run the gamut from vintage icons such as its five different Manhattan formulas, or more contemporary concoctions including the Yellow Rose with Grand Marnier, vermouth, grenadine, egg white and my personal favorite, rose infused gin.
Another carefully sequestered hotel bar is the spacious-yet-cozy Lounge at the Magnolia Hotel. Yet another swanky perk of this sophisticated boutique hotel, the Lounge has an atmosphere similar to the rest of the boutique hotel —contemporary, trendy, dimly lit and with a sleek, oval sweeping bar that covers an entire wall of the sizable space and lots of cozy places to lounge, or a billiards room for those who prefer to play. Plus, if you have more than your fair share to drink, the Magnolia is so charming you may just decide to stay the night. Added bonus: If you’re a guest at the hotel, you can visit The Lounge for a complimentary happy hour drink each evening.
Photo Courtesy of Hotel Icon