Drag shows are a regular occurrence at Montrose leather bar RIPCORD. Image: Victor Contreras
Houston is home to a dynamic and storied queer history, which makes sense when you consider that the city is home to the largest LGBTQ+ population in Texas. Montrose is the unofficial “gayborhood” of Houston, and it has been at the nexus of queer culture in Houston, as well as the state at large, since the ’60s. Today, the neighborhood still retains its hallowed status as Houston’s premier LGBTQ+ stomping ground, and that’s in large part because of the assortment of both historic and new LGBTQ+ bars in the neighborhood and its surrounding areas.
Whether you’re looking for a great spot in which to celebrate the 44th annual Houston LGBTQ+ Pride Celebration this year, or you’re in the mood for a great happy hour for some afternoon drinks, this guide to Houston’s premier LGBTQ+ bars can help lead you to exactly what you’re looking for.
Pearl Bar Houston
At Pearl Bar, the dance floor is your oyster. As the only dedicated lesbian bar in Houston (and one of only two in the entire state of Texas), Pearl Bar takes catering to Houston’s female queer community seriously. Located along Washington Avenue, the bar features a friendly crowd, lively music, a sprawling back patio, and heaps of booze-fueled fun. When it comes to events, the bar features regular bingo nights, drag shows, steak nights, taco nights, and crawfish boils. Pearl Bar will be hosting two Pride parties this year, one on Friday, June 24, and one on Saturday, June 25. The parties, which both start at 6 p.m., will feature a top-shelf selection of female DJs.
JR's Bar & Grill
Everyone remembers their first gay-bar experience, and if you live in Houston, it was likely at JR’s. The Montrose-located bar, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, has been a staple in Houston’s queer community for decades. The expansive space sports multiple dance floors, an area to play pool, plenty of space for karaoke and go-go dancers, and a huge courtyard that comes complete with a fountain and plenty of seating. Since it has a stacked schedule of drag shows, it’s also a good idea to bring a bill or two with you on your visit.
If Tom of Finland is your desired gay-bar aesthetic, then look no further than RIPCORD. The Montrose-located leather bar, one of the oldest in Texas, has been open since 1982, and it has seen more bears enter its doors than you’ll see in any of the country’s national parks. RIPCORD is the reigning bar for kinksters in Houston’s LGBTQ+ community, which means by default that the bar is open and welcoming to all — especially if you come decked out in leather, sports gear, or something made of rubber. While there, consider playing some pool, getting your boots shined, watching a drag show, being a spectator at the occasional flogging (done with permission, of course), or simply pass your time in deep conversation on the spacious back deck. RIPCORD is going all in for Pride weekend: from Friday, June 24, through Sunday, June 26, the bar will be playing host to a series of drag shows, live kink demonstrations, music performances, and lively DJ sets.
In many ways, Eagle Houston serves as a living museum for the city’s queer history. More than just a bar, the Eagle sports a re-creation of the iconic mural that was once affixed to an exterior wall of the now-defunct Mary’s Naturally, as well as a salvaged door from that historic bar. Known for attracting a leather-loving crowd, the Eagle comes complete with a store in which to buy products and intimate wear. It also has some of the friendliest staff in Houston and is home to a diverse crowd and is welcoming of all. The Eagle hosts one of the largest Pride festivals in Houston, and from Friday, June 24, through Sunday, June 26, the bar will be playing host to DJ sets by folks like DJ Jimmy Skinner and a stacked series of drag shows hosted by Alexyus Paris.
Tony's Corner Pocket
Tony’s Corner Pocket is the Houston gay-bar equivalent of Lola’s Depot, an analogy that should make perfect sense to anyone who likes their bars on the dive-y side. The Fourth Ward hot spot, known for its generously poured drinks and a rowdy crowd, is home to great drag performances and a regular schedule of amateur strip competitions. If you have some loose bills burning a hole in your wallet, Tony’s Corner Pocket is a great place to put them to good use.
If you’re looking for the stiffest drink in town, Crocker Bar is the spot for you. The Montrose staple is known for its chill atmosphere, its wraparound patio, its dark and moodily lit interior, and its killer DJ music. It’s a great spot for those looking for a breezy happy hour experience or a space in which to let loose through some late-night dancing. Crocker Bar’s convenient location in the heart of the city’s gayborhood also provides patrons with easy access to several of the area’s other great LGBTQ+ bars. Come for the lively atmosphere, and stay for the aptly named shots, which come with handles like the Blue Ball and the Mexican Candy.
What was once Rich’s is now ReBar, and the new iteration of the queer nightlife staple is lively enough to give Babylon — for those who are fans of Queer as Folk — a run for its money. The bar still sports the iconic spiked disco ball from its past life, as well as a high-tech dance floor and bustling patio area. ReBar is the only full-service LGBTQ+ bar in Houston, and the venue serves up deliciously fried and gravy-bedecked Southern-inspired fare befitting its decadent atmosphere. When it comes to drag shows, it’s hard to compete with ReBar’s programming. The bar regularly hosts top drag performers from across the world, including from shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race. ReBar also has a lively drag brunch every Sunday that you absolutely need to experience.
If you’re looking for an LBGTQ+ bar experience that is a little more low-key, look no further than Michael’s Outpost, a charming piano bar that is brimming with charm — and show tunes! The unassuming bar, open since 1998, is known for its intimate nature, its live piano performances, and its strong cabaret vibes. Michael’s Outpost is home to regular drag shows as well as some of the best company you can find in Houston.
George Country Sports Bar
Every city needs a gay cowboy bar, and Houston is fortunate enough to have George Country Sports Bar. George’s, located in the heart of Montrose, sports major Urban Cowboy vibes as well as a crowd that skews on the older side. It’s a great spot in which to watch a game, down Jell-O shots, play some darts, shoot some pool, or throw some tunes on the jukebox. George’s rainbow flag-adorned covered patio is also one of the best places in the neighborhood to people-watch since it borders Fairview, which serves as the main pedestrian thoroughfare for the gayborhood.
BUDDY’s may be one of the newest LGBTQ+ bars in Houston, but it’s making quite a name for itself through its generous happy hour, drag shows, theme nights, trivia nights, and steak nights. But BUDDY’s is not simply a bar; it is also a hub for LGBTQ+ activism in the community. The bar is the first LGBTQ+ bar in the nation to be home to a presidential polling location. It has also hosted vaccination drives in the past, as well as fundraisers for Houston charitable groups. The karaoke is pretty great here as well, and the same can be said (perhaps surprisingly) for the pizza.