Some people are made uncomfortable by dive bars; some are made uncomfortable by sports bars. Members of the latter category shudder at the thought of frat boys, buckets of light beer, outbreaks of completely non-ironic high-fives and lots of bro-tastic behavior. If that all sounds like a good time, then more power to you. For everyone else, here are a few spots that consistently strike a fine balance between "sports" and "bar."
T.K. Bitterman's (2010 West Alabama)
A veritable sanctuary for Chicago expats (or those who have other reasons for wishing they were in Chi-town), Bitterman's embodies all that is great about the idea of a sports bar: It's a place where grown-ups who love sports go and, as fate would have it, many of those grown-ups also enjoy drinking. Fortunately, Bitterman's is far more than just a big television with booze, it is a legitimate bar built around sports.
Ernie's on Banks (1010 Banks)
Aside from being the top dive in the Museum District, Ernie's also is a great spot to catch an early or mid-week game while staying close to Downtown. The bar may lack some variety, but it leaves no bases uncovered, and the staff is more than happy to help you achieve your desired level of intoxication.
Bubba's Sports Bar and Grill (6223 Washington)
Bubba's helps bridge the gap between blue-collar Heights and upscale Rice Military, in addition to offering enough space to keep everyone out of one another's way. You'll see more college-age folks here than at most other bars on this list, but good service and an overall lack of attitude makes up for any chest-bumping or Golden Tee fights you may witness.
Marquis II (2361 Bissonnet)
Marquis is more or less the official dive bar of West U, and for good reason: The drinks are strong, the crowd is consistent and there are always sports playing somewhere in the room. Like Bubba's, you'll find quite a few college-agers working at pitchers, but by and large, everyone keeps to themselves.
Jimmie's Ice House (2903 White Oak)
For a lot of people, Jimmie's is the living, breathing embodiment of the Ice House archetype. Indeed, the place has a hard and fast identity, and if those walls could talk, they'd tell you a whole lot of beer and cigarette-soaked tall tales. There may not be a wealth of TV sets at Jimmie's, but in a perfect world, a spot at the bar would be a coveted commodity.
Dark Horse Tavern (2207 Washington)
The flat-screen overlooking the bar at Dark Horse peers down on the only legitimate tavern on Washington. From happy hour to last call, people who want to drink good whisky or draft beer populate Dark Horse, and many of those people check the scores on ESPN during breaks in the seemingly perpetual conversation. If a Houston team is in the playoffs and you don't have tickets, this may well be the least-assuming place to watch the proceedings.
Catbirds (1336 Westheimer)
Though well-known as one of the longer-tenured dives in Montrose, Catbirds is one of the last places to come up during a "where can we catch the game" conversation. That is precisely what makes it a great place to catch the game.
PJ's Sports Bar (614 West Gray)
PJ's early open hours is a bigger draw than it's status as a "sports bar," and anytime people are more concerned with drinks than television size, you're probably safe. It's highly unlikely anyone here will challenge you to a battle of wits over stats. If they do, buy them a shot.
King Biscuit (1606 White Oak)
The bar area fills quickly, especially around happy hour, but King Biscuit is a vastly underappreciated venue for escaping from the day and catching an afternoon baseball game. Should you decide to turn an afternoon session into an all-day event, the patio awaits, as does a very solid selection of hamburgers, salad and sandwiches.
Lone Star Saloon (1900 Travis)
Proximity to the bus station and Metro's Downtown transit center -- not to mention the regular clientele -- ensure that Lone Star Saloon maintains a certain caliber of people watching. Beyond that, the drinks are good and cheap, the jukebox leaves little room for complaint and, if anyone is going to pick a fight, it'll probably be about something a bit more serious than a bad call.