The Heights

This two-story concert venue has a 25-year history of presenting live music from local and national groups in an intimate setting, up-close and personal. Whether upstairs or in the downstairs lounge, you're guaranteed to hear loud, live rock and see an eclectic mix of locals, students, punks, and perhaps a few who defy categorization. Two full bars and two pool tables help make downtime fun.

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Boasting maybe the town's best combination of live music and tap beers, McGonigel's has long been considered one of Houston's top watering holes. Irish in theme, the pub sports rustic-looking tables and booths, cranberry-colored walls, and a cornucopia of Irish and Guinness-themed collectibles. Well-known local and regional acts have appeared from time to time, including such Longhorn notables as Lyle Lovett, Alejandro Escovedo, Toni Price, and Guy Clark. A pleasant patio offers patrons a chance to catch some fresh air, and the kitchen sates late-night appetites with standard pub grub. (A word to the wise: Fish-n-chips always goes better with a pint of Guinness.)

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This incredibly casual pub offers a terrific setting for sharing a few brews and catching up on old times. Punctuated by wooden posts and beams, the interior has a cozy, much-loved feel. Downstairs, a small stage presents a regular repertoire of local bands, along with Tuesday night's rowdy karaoke party. Upstairs is a prime place to sit back, relax, and feel at home. An abundance of pool tables and dart boards ensures that no one is ever bored.

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In the heart of downtown Houston is this cozy touch of Dublin. A beautiful wooden facade and a lofty balcony initially greet visitors; inside, exquisite woodwork, hand-carved furniture, old portraits, armoires, and a handcrafted bar distinguish the space. A favorite weekend meeting place, Slainte offers a friendly setting for regulars and newcomers to mingle like old friends. Aside from standard American pub grub, traditional dishes like Irish lamb stew, Ballycotton shepherd's pie, and fish and chips are available. And, of course, Guinness, Harp, and Killian's are always on tap.

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One thing this sport bar doesn't lack is televisions – big screens, small screens, and a few in-between screens – all 200-plus of them strategically positioned for prime viewing, no matter where you happen to find yourself. Typical sports bar-themed decor abounds – of course, here, the Texans, Rockets, 'Stros, and area colleges get ample wall space. On Friday nights, the place gets jumping with live Texas tunes. It also boasts the popular COD Oyster Bar, where fresh-boiled crawfish are an art form.

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Thanks to a relaxed setting at this family-run bar and grill, folks are put immediately at ease. It doesn't hurt that they're treated to everything from chicken-fried steak to catfish and burgers, courtesy of a well-considered menu. A full bar makes liquid refreshment easily accessible, and a dozen TVs deliver all the sports action you can handle. If that's not your style, there's live rock on Thursdays and Fridays, not to mention karaoke, pool, darts, video games, and even impromptu dancing. Great, affordable fun.

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River Oaks

For an authentic Houston experience, head to Blanco's and see what a real Texas honky-tonk is made of. The place isn't large, but it's packed with character, and you'll find some of the area's best bands playing country tunes to appreciative audiences. If your skills are up to par, show off your two-stepping on the dance floor; otherwise, you might just want to knock off a Lone Star on the patio or sample barbecue and chicken-fried chicken. Lots of regulars hang out here – a sure sign there's something good to be had.

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Take a British pub and cross it with an eclectic neighborhood bar, and you've got quirky Rudyard's. Adorned with tons of memorabilia and simple wooden tables and chairs, it's a casual place to grab a pint and tell tales with friends. Upstairs, pool tables invite self-proclaimed sharks, and a stage hosts alternative rock bands of varying degrees of fame. A crew of regulars (including a dog) often stake out territory at the bar, and tasty pub grub is great for helping soak up alcohol. Plus, the bathrooms have gained quite a reputation for their comical grafitti.

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A legend in these parts for live music, The Big Easy has earned its reputation on terrific blues with a generous helping of zydeco for good measure. Musicians are customarily local, and regulars can't get enough of them or of the nationally-known folks who occasionally make an appearance. Blue-collar patrons sit side-by-side with professionals, and all are welcome. Best of all, there's rarely a cover charge, and drinks are reasonably priced – a boon all the way around.

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Spun off from the Austin original, Houston's Continental Club has a similar sensibility regarding music – it prefers it independent, a little quirky, and with a slightly unpolished edge. That's not to say that performers are unpracticed; rather, they're at the top of their game, whether they specialize in blues, alternative rock, or country. Sometimes, acoustics aren't perfect in the former general store – metal ceilings and all – but the incredible talents and the pleasure of first-hand experience offset the slight imperfections. An outdoor patio and pool tables offer distraction during breaks in the music lineup.

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