I know you.
You wake up in strange places, with strange people and unidentifiable bruises. You go out for happy hour and end up doing double-shots of disgusting pipe-cleaner shit at last call, then fall asleep on your couch fully-clothed with a triple-bacon-cheeseburger in your lap and porn looping on the computer. When you walk into your regular spot, the bartenders howl with a mixture of joy and pain while well-adjusted patrons close their tabs.
Yeah, you're That Guy (or Gal).
But what happens when your family comes to town?
Then That Guy needs a place that's saltpeter to his hard-on to party. That Guy should consider taking his family to these more laid-back watering holes. These are places you can still get a drink. Hell, you can even get drunk, but you are much less likely to unleash That Guy.
So here it is: A guide to Houston bars that don't nurture degenerates
Cedar Creek Cafe
Filled with a strange mix of trendy young scene-makers and Heights neighbors, Cedar Creek is best likened to a Boondocks for grown-ups. The innocuous atmosphere should keep your jittery aunt comfortable. And the booze flows freely enough that know one will notice you doing vodka shots as your future father-in-law grumbles on about the five years he has left until retirement. (Just suppress the urge to run around the corner to Big Star for a heavier pour and a quick conversation about something besides Grandpa’s gout.)
Under the Volcano
Volcano can be a great place to take dilettantes, providing you roll them out on a slow night. They’ll be so rapt by the Day of the Dead decor and general theme that most won’t even realize they’re in one of the most hardcore cocktail bars in Houston. Just make sure to get a table inside and stay far, far away from the back patio, where regulars can be found whooping it up even on school nights.
The loungy decor and presence of "upwardly mobile" medical professionals (and the young and beautiful who stalk them) should help distract your uncle from the fact that you’ve been putting shots of $12 scotch on his tab. If you're lucky, the vault lounge will make your uncle feel like he's one of Ocean’s Eleven and he'll do a number of those shots himself.
Beaver's Ice House
Another serious cocktail bar – this one masquerading as a laid-back restaurant . You can do some legit drinking while everyone else at the table haw-haws at the “really funny” menu items like Beaver Balls.
West Alabama Icehouse
If you’re going to take a group of uninitiated out-of-towners to a Houston ice house, this is probably your safest bet. There are enough Upper Kirby yuppies to keep things relatively tame and enough bikers and youngsters to project a real ice house experience. An added bonus is its proximity to TK Bitterman's – another good spot for visitors – and more than a few good restaurants.
Big Top Lounge
Approach with caution: Solid rock 'n roll debauchery can take place at Big Top. But on a slow night, you’ll be hard-pressed to have more fun taking the family to a bar. That is, if you don’t mind your mom showing an excessive interest in the vintage toys that line the wall behind the bar.
The Tasting Room
A devoted River Oaks clientele, regular gigs by acoustic musicians and a notable lack of rowdiness put this spot on the list. Take them to Fleming’s first, then hit TTR and hope the bartenders don’t out you as the guy who has been kicked out three times for drinking straight out of the bottle and demanding someone play some “muggahfuggin Doobie Brothers.”
Sonoma Wine Bar
It’s like a living room. A really, really clean living room with no cool magazines in sight. Your family will love it. For maximum safety, you probably should meet them there before hitting the Velvet Melvin-Cellar Bar-Diamond Club trifecta.
Pure class, my friend ... unless you happen to be there when a bunch of amped-up Greeks are screaming at whatever sport is playing on TV, and even that can be spun in a positive light (you are, after all, a cultured individual who understands expatriates love of sport and would never bellow at a television or participate in a recreational slap-fight or go out to the parking lot and snort crushed pills out of a belly-dancer’s cleavage then go back inside and accept a $5 bet that has something to do with you eating an empty Newcastle bottle). Bonus if you know anything at all about wine; mega-bonus if the people you bring along know less about wine than you do. Group seating can be difficult, so Agora is best utilized by groups that max around four or five.
If your visiting relatives have any interest in beer, take them to Ginger Man. Flying Saucer is another great choice, but seating at G-Man is no challenge, even on a moderately busy evening. And once you lose the gang for the evening, you’re right in the middle of the Village, where there are any number of bars/clubs just waiting for the chance to throw you out on your ass.