Valhalla. It is an esteemed and legendary place. It has been called a great gathering hall, where those assembled eat and drink and are replenished. And in Houston, unlike Norse mythology, people don’t have to die in battle to arrive there.
Founded more than 40 years ago, the local Valhalla is a fixture of campus life at Rice University. Originally helmed with the mission of providing a place for graduate students to relax, unwind and socialize after a trying day of school or work, the grand vision has changed little over time. The bar is still staffed with volunteers — both graduate students and alumni — and, because of that, the beer is still the most affordable cup in town. True, it’s not the 25 cents a cup it once was, but a 95 cent Lone Star is as thrifty as it gets.
Tucked into the basement of Keck Hall, this small bar full of intellectual warriors features five taps, each offering a brew at dirt-cheap prices. The selection rotates frequently, and the cooler houses another 30 or so beer options. Local breweries make regular appearances — both Saint Arnold and Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. employ Rice alums — and other brews from around the state are often available. There are some beer-savvy folks on staff that keep the stock constantly updated, bringing in ales and lagers from far and wide.
In addition to the fermented offerings, there’s a selection of cheap snacks, and visitors can sometimes score unsold sandwiches from the lunch hour. While patrons needn’t be current graduate students or even alumni, they will need cash — Valhalla doesn’t take credit cards.
The interior isn’t large — a space about the size of a pair of living rooms, and it fills up on busy evenings. That puts drinkers in close proximity with some brilliant minds, and it’s safe to say that the collective brainpower inside at any moment probably is of greater wattage than the clientele of many other local pubs. This provides the potential to engage in — or at the least eavesdrop on — some interesting discussion.
When the inside becomes too stuffy, drinkers can escape outside, where plenty of tables and chairs are nestled beneath the sprawling branches of Rice’s live oaks. This idyllic spot is a perfect place to down a cold one and chat with a friend, especially as the summer heat dies off and the more tolerable fall weather returns.
Valhalla: 6100 Main, 713-348-3258, valhalla.rice.edu
Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays; 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday; closed Saturdays.
Marc Brubaker is a freelance writer.