10 secret bars to know in Houston — Slipping into the Speakeasy world

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BBetween 1920 and 1933, the United States imposed a ban on the production, importation, transport and sale of alcoholic beverages: a period known as the era of prohibition. This ban has only prompted some American rebels and rule breakers to get creative. The secret bar or speakeasy was born – a bar, lounge, nightclub, or illicit liquor store usually run by a legal business.

Nearly a hundred years later, the trend is once again being embraced in Houston. In a whole new way.

Some of these speakeasies in Houston are hidden behind secret passages, unmarked doors, or some other business, requiring little ingenuity and know-how to access them. Others are exposed. No covert moves required. Still, the retro vibe and chic cocktails still flow.

Speakeasy and secret bars were once offered as illicit escapes from Prohibition. Now they’re just offering a fun, clandestine night to release your inhibitions.

Here are some of Houston’s best-kept secret bars, filled with the speakeasy vibe of the Roaring Twenties:

Lei Low Rum & Tiki Bar

6412 N Main Street

Lei Low Rum & Tiki Bar is a secret Houston bar.

Looking to lay low with a pina colada? Find the Aloha mural and the RUM neon sign above the darkened Main Street windows and step into Lei Low, a bustling Polynesian paradise. This mellow neighborhood tiki bar in The Heights specializes in all things rum, served and garnished with imaginative ornaments.

Feeling more in the mood for a staycation? Lei Low also offers tropical cocktails to go. A’ole pilikia.

Marfreless River Oaks Lounge

2006 Peden Street

Unbranded Blue Door
Infamous unmarked blue door of Houston’s iconic bar, Marfreless. (Courtesy of Marfreless)

Clandestine dreams are rumored to live on the second floor of Marfreless, the town’s historic and hidden meeting place. Behind a blue door marked only by a simple black sign that displays hours of operation, happy hours, and a “PROPER DRESS REQUIRED” edict, you’ll find cocktails, old-school music, and canapes by candlelight. All of this sets the tone for an intimate hidden living room.

Marfreless also hosts trivia nights on Mondays, calling all “mavericks, intellectuals and couples”.

Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge

308 Main Street

Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge Facebook Wallpaper
Bulletin of Bad News promotions and old school articles. (Courtesy of Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge)

As you head downtown, you might find yourself staring at the maps on your phone, wondering where Captain Foxheart is in Capital F. That’s until a man standing outside outside the door of Ira Aghai’s law firm sees your confusion and asks “Are you looking for bad news?” Say yes.

Through the Aghai Gate and up a steep red-carpeted staircase, two doors await. Enter the one on the left and you will arrive at your destination. Captain Foxheart is a cozy, old-fashioned, unpretentious space with authentic cocktails, knowledgeable bartenders, and a patio with downtown views.

Secret Garden at Bravery Chef Hall

409 Travis Street

Bravery Chef Hall secret garden coffee and cocktails
Bravery Chef Hall’s secret garden in full bloom. (Courtesy of @secretgardenhtx)

Through the back doors of downtown’s Bravery Chef Hall, you’ll find a courtyard with a glass greenhouse serving coffee and cocktails. This secret libation garden adorned with leafy trees and flowers is a lovely little outdoor space, squeezed in by the food hall, Aris Tower, and Main Street.

If you’re looking to sneak into the garden after hours, forgo Travis Street to find the gated rear entrance on the main street side of the block. Would a secret garden near another entrance smell this good?

Handlebar

5219 Washington Avenue

Magnum Room handlebar
A glimpse of the Magnum room decorated by Tom Selleck of HandleBar. (Courtesy of HandleBar)

HandleBar is a barely hidden bar on Washington Avenue, Houston’s most popular and vibrant nightlife district has a little secret of its own. Deep in the adult wonderland of old-school games, retro booth seating, and a dance floor — and beyond the bathrooms — you’ll find the entrance to the Magnum Room.

The 225 square foot escape is a place “to get weird.” You’ll find off-menu tropical cocktails, special shots, and a rather revealing shot of Tom Selleck in the Magnum Room. Who doesn’t love a little mustache with their grapefruit liqueur?

Juliet

5857 Westheimer Road

The entrance to Juliet's faux cinema, including ticket office, belies the fancy restaurant inside.  (Photo by In-House Social)
The entrance to Juliet’s faux cinema, including ticket office, belies the fancy restaurant inside.

They say hospitality is a performance art, which makes Juliet’s movie box office so fitting. It is inspired by restaurateur James McGhee’s affinity for cinema. Walk past the counter and a concessions area where you can actually buy popcorn and through a heavy stage curtain to find the restaurant.

It’s a setting worthy of a Los Angeles, New York, London or Las Vegas hotspot. The Hollywood theme continues throughout, including a Credits-titled dessert menu and a golden steak.

It’s lights, camera, 24k Gold Tomahawk Ribeye.

Sugar Room

5120 Washington Avenue

Indoor sugar room
The Sugar Room nightlife lounge awaits you in front of the patisserie. (Courtesy of Sugar Room)

If you’re craving a late-night hit of sugar or caffeine while on Washington Avenue, Sugar Room has you covered. And then some.

Do you suspect you had to flash your ID for a button? In true speakeasy style, walk past a patisserie and into a back room full of coffee beans and powdered sugar and you’ll find a vintage glam nightclub and outdoor lounge serving cocktails and wine.

tongue cutter sparrow

1424 Westheimer Road

Tongue cut sparrow bar interior
Side view of the stylish speakeasy’s bar, Tongue Cut Sparrow. (Courtesy of Tongue Cut Sparrow)

Look carefully behind Anvil Bar & Refuge and you’ll find Bobby Heugel’s Tongue Cut Sparrow. Moved from its former downtown hideout, Pastry Wars brings true speakeasy integrity.

Despite its formal vibe with bow-tie bartenders, jazz and a sense of romance, Tongue Cut caters to everyone from the most laid-back parties to perfectly dressed couples. Tongue Cut Sparrow’s cocktail techniques are inspired by Heugel’s travels to Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam. The décor is influenced by the meccas of hospitality in New York, London and Oaxaca, Mexico.

This secret Houston bar is worldly.

Permission Whiskey & Service Co.

2920 White Oak Drive

Permission Whiskey & Service Co. Interior
Permission brings a chic interior.

This boozy vintage bar in The Heights has an extensive collection of whiskeys, rums, gins and agave spirits. You can get classic and house cocktail creations at Permission. The real star, however, is the impressive assortment of fine and rare bourbons.

Even with antique chandeliers, green velvet seating, champagne, oysters, and complimentary hot wipes upon arrival, this place is anything but stuffy. Offering chic full service (and a secret cocktail menu) complemented by comforts that make you feel like a regular, Permission knows how to make it a party.

The rabbit has the gun

708 Hogan Street

Rabbit's Got the Gun Exterior
An unassuming exterior at the urban-chic neighborhood bar Rabbit’s Got the Gun. (Photo by Kyle Hoffman)

What looks like a simple outdoor picnic table for Lobos Tacos food truck and an abandoned body shop disguises the Northside neighborhood craft cocktail bar called Rabbit’s Got the Gun.

Beyond the screen doors adorned with the mural of a menacing rabbit, you will discover an urban-chic graffitied and arty bar with a live DJ lounge. You’ll find the otherwise unmarked door in the mechanic’s space in the deserted body shop. Tacos, craft cocktails, music and art await you.

It’s better when it’s a little secret.

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