June 27, 2022

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Are these Houston speakeasies legit?

7 min read

Whether it’s the allure of exploring a hidden oasis in the city, or simply the desire to escape from the masses, discreet cocktail bars and lounges are all the rage at the moment.

Houstonians have long been intrigued by speakeasy-style bars, bringing home stories from visiting sexy New York City lounge PDT by way of the unassuming telephone booth in a hot dog shop, or experiencing a meal at Beauty & Essex after passing through the pawn shop entrance. Now, Houston has a hefty crop of tucked away, under-the-radar venues.

As the formal definition of a speakeasy is a place where alcohol is illegally sold, none of the following make the cut. But for the sake of argument, we’re grading Houston’s most exclusive haunts as Real Deal, Real-ish or Fake. With their concealed signage, mock entryways and dimly lit nooks, here’s how the speakeasy-inspired bars you’ve heard whispers about measure up.

Bandista: REAL DEAL

Like something out of a movie, this high-end cocktail bar within the Four Seasons Hotel downtown can be accessed only by passing through a mock bookcase, located on the hotel’s second level. Once a secret code is entered, the bookshelf can be pushed open, revealing a dazzling 20-seat lounge where cocktails can set you back upwards of $45 each and spirits up to $8,000 per pour.

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Find it: 1300 Lamar St, Houston, TX 77010; 713-297-1340
Hours: Thursday-Friday 5 p.m.-midnight

Find one of downtown's buzziest bars, Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge, behind these doors.

Find one of downtown’s buzziest bars, Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge, behind these doors.

Yelp/Sandra M.

Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge: REAL DEAL

If there were a bar that pioneered the speakeasy scene in Houston, it would be this downtown gem. Access from street level may lead you to believe you are entering a law office, but up the narrow staircase and through a door lies a charming cocktail bar with an open-air terrace overlooking Main Street.

Find it: 308 Main St, Houston, TX 77002
Hours: Monday-Sunday 5 p.m.-2 a.m.

At first glance, Hidden Omakase appears to be a comic book store.

At first glance, Hidden Omakase appears to be a comic book store.

Yelp/Mark G.

Hidden Omakase: REAL-ISH

Under the guise of an Uptown comic book store, Hidden Omakase is actually one of the most exclusive destinations to score sushi in town, and as the name suggests, it’s offered omakase-style only. The restaurant has a strict reservation policy, so you couldn’t mosey in on a whim. There is a street entrance, but without the address and a careful search of the unmarked “comic book store,” you wouldn’t know it existed.

Find it: 5353 W Alabama St #102, Houston, TX 77056; 713-496-2633
Hours: Thursday-Saturday 6:30-9 p.m.; Sunday 5-7:30 p.m.

You'll find popcorn at Juliet, but no movie.

You’ll find popcorn at Juliet, but no movie.

Yelp/Stephanie M.

Juliet: FAKE

You may have noticed the dazzling lights of a cinema marquee in the retail strip at 5857 Westheimer Road, but don’t start searching for movie times just yet. The mock movie theater entrance—complete with a ticket window, movie posters and a stocked concession stand—actually leads to Juliet, a new restaurant with 200 seats across a dining room, a bar and a sprawling patio. While the movie theater façade is a playful touch, Juliet’s brightly lit signage does not a speakeasy make.
 
Find it: 5857 Westheimer Rd Suite P, Houston, TX 77057; 713-324-8831
Hours: Monday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10 p.m.

Find hidden bar Kanpai Club inside Hando in the Heights.

Find hidden bar Kanpai Club inside Hando in the Heights.

Kanpai Club

Kanpai Club: REAL-ISH

This tiny 400-square-foot bar is accessible only through a door located inside Heights hand roll restaurant Hando. While the door itself is unmarked, a Kanpai Club sign can be seen glimmering through glass from the other side. No more than 10 stools line the bar counter, making it difficult—but not impossible—to snag a seat at peak boozing hours.

Find it: 518 W 11th St Suite 500, Houston, TX 77008; 713-393-7425
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 4 p.m.-12 a.m.; Friday-Saturday 4 p.m.-2 a.m.

A secret entrance on Dunstan Road leads straight to Lee's Den.

A secret entrance on Dunstan Road leads straight to Lee’s Den.

JENN DUNCAN

Lee’s Den: FAKE

Benjy Levitt’s new Rice Village wine bar boasts a speakeasy-style entrance on Dunstan Road, but it’s also easily accessible from within the Local Foods Market. More familiar than it is mysterious, the space was formerly the upstairs lounge of long-time hot spot Benjy’s, which Houstonians accessed from the very same staircase for more than 25 years.

Find it: 2424 Dunstan Rd Suite 125, Houston, TX 77005 
Hours: Thursday-Saturday 4-10 p.m.

Marfreless' blue door is unmarked, but accessible from the street.

Marfreless’ blue door is unmarked, but accessible from the street.

Eric Kayne, Eric Kayne / For the Chronicle

Marfreless: REAL-ISH

This decades-old haunt may no longer be much of a secret among seasoned Houstonians, but for newbies, it may take some circling around the River Oaks block before finding it. The two-story cocktail bar does have its own street entrance, but bears no distinguishable markings or signage—and has zero curb appeal altogether. Upon entry, a moderately lit bar is the central focus and a dark staircase leads to a “private” second level lounge.

Find it: 2006 Peden St, Houston, TX 77019
Hours: Monday-Saturday 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday 7 p.m.-2 a.m.

Mijos Mezcal Bar at Cantina Barba: FAKE

You may not immediately encounter it when walking into Cantina Barba, but the Heights late-night spot’s makeshift bar, Mijos Mezcal, is a quick find from the back patio, located inside a shipping container onsite with a clearly marked door.

Find it: 3701 N Main St, Houston, TX 77009 
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 9-2 a.m.; Friday-Saturday 9 p.m.-3 a.m.

Find cases of aged fish among the clothing racks at Glass Cypress in Montrose where Neo also takes residence.

Find cases of aged fish among the clothing racks at Glass Cypress in Montrose where Neo also takes residence.

Yelp/Karen D.

Neo: FAKE

A sushi counter inside the Glass Cypress boutique in Montrose, Neo isn’t so much a speakeasy as it is a limited tasting menu experience within a clothing store. There are only eight seats available during omakase seatings, and available dining dates are announced on social media, so IYKYK.

Find it: 1711 Indiana St, Houston, TX 77006 

Intense and moody, Patton's is a true steakhouse escape.

Intense and moody, Patton’s is a true steakhouse escape.

Barrett Doke

Patton’s: REAL DEAL

In Houston, steakhouses are often front and center, but Patton’s is one of the Heights’ best-kept secrets, quietly location inside its sister restaurant Savoir on Yale. To gain access, guests are guided by a host from Savoir’s entrance to a stock room behind the bar, where a glass door leading to the other concept lies. With mood lighting, a chandelier-bedecked dining room and an intimate six-seat bar, Patton’s is a stark difference from Savoir, and highly reminiscent of an old-world speakeasy.

Find it: 1344 Yale St, Houston, TX 77008 
Hours: Thursday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.

Access to the Parlour Hideaway is reserved for private events only.

Access to the Parlour Hideaway is reserved for private events only.

Will Pryce

Parlour Hideaway at C. Baldwin: FAKE

This hush-hush bar can be accessed from a hidden door on the lobby level of downtown’s C. Baldwin Hotel—unfortunately, it’s only open for private gatherings, to be booked in advance. The Parlour Hideaway is a lavish space for an event, with its custom-made 8-foot crystal chandelier, pink bar and marble fireplace lounge space. Private and exclusive, yes. A speakeasy, not so much.

Find it: 400 Dallas St, Houston, TX 77002; 713-759-0202

The bar at Secret Garden is located in a transformed green house.

The bar at Secret Garden is located in a transformed green house.

Yelp/Pris T.

Secret Garden at Bravery Chef Hall: FAKE

It may have “secret” in the name, but Secret Garden is anything but. The mostly outdoor space is an extension of Bravery Chef Hall in downtown Houston, and completely visible by pedestrians on Main Street. The picturesque setting boasts a bar in a transformed greenhouse and ample courtyard seating.

Find it: 411 Travis St, Houston, TX 77002 
Hours: Monday-Thursday 4-10 p.m.; Friday 4-10 p.m.; Saturday 3 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday 2-11 p.m.

This upscale lounge lies beyond the Washington Avenue bakery, Sugar Room.

This upscale lounge lies beyond the Washington Avenue bakery, Sugar Room.

Sugar Room

Sugar Room: REAL DEAL

What appears to be a Washington Avenue bakery coined Sugar Room is actually an upscale nightclub, which can be accessed through a door located in the shop’s stock room. The bar is known for its craft cocktails, live DJ and string light-bedecked patio—all of which you would never know was there from the storefront.

Find it: 5120 Washington Ave, Houston, TX 77007; 832-388-3288
Hours: Tuesday 9 p.m.-2 a.m.; Wednesday-Sunday 7 p.m.-2 a.m.

A hidden bar devoted to Tom Selleck, because why not.

A hidden bar devoted to Tom Selleck, because why not.

Yelp/Brianna J.

Tom Selleck Room at HandleBar: REAL DEAL


Plenty of fun can be had at the lively Washington Avenue hangout HandleBar, but for something weirdly unique, visit the bar’s hidden Tom Selleck-themed room. A bar within a bar, the tight space is wholly devoted to the ’80s mustache-clad heartthrob.

Find it: 5219 Washington Ave, Houston, TX 77007; 832-831-1630
Hours: Monday-Friday 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday noon-2 a.m.



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