Be kind on your pupils upon exit and open those eyelids gradually.
Despite the connotations that come with the term ‘dive bar’ that might include a windowless, rundown shack with no sign in a bad part of town, most dive bars are easy to find. These are small businesses after all, and attracting customers with a sign at the very least is typically a sensible business decision. D&W Lounge, on the other end, offers what is probably Houston’s best dive bar experience with almost no indication that a functioning business of any kind inhabits its space, down to the design-free white paint that covers what looks like a slowly deteriorating structure.
The east side of Houston’s downtown core may be one of the most authentic remaining districts of the city and Second Ward staple D&W Lounge serves as one of the area’s signature enclaves. After stints as a convenience store and ice house dating back to the 1940s, the space settled as D&D Lounge before current owner Keith Weyel purchased the dive bar and added his last initial to the name. Supported for many years by third-shifters at the now closed Maxwell Roast plant nearby, D&W Lounge opens daily at 7 AM, enabling early morning drinkers and everyone else.
First-time visitors will be forgiven for requiring a pass or two to find the building for the first time, D&W Lounge located in a part of town not densely developed and dotted with structures that look suspiciously like they could be underground dive bars in their own right. Finding the white building with blue trim is the key, the stickers covering the front door another telltale sign of the dive bar to be found within. Bits of red can be seen on the edges of the roof and awning over the front door, but make no mistake, this is as rustic a dive bar exterior as one can encounter.
The decor inside is dense, the area behind the bar especially packed with some kind of visual feature affixed to every vertical and horizontal surface available. Hats and Mardi Gras-style beads hang from the ceiling, flags drape from a small ledge over the bar counter and lamps perched on the bar itself gently illuminate this front space. Lava lamps, Himalayan salt rocks, chandeliers, spotlights, the lighting sources here are plentiful and yet somehow manage to produce only a faint glow, adding to the ambiance.
No effort to describe the thousands of bits and pieces found inside D&W Lounge would sufficiently capture the sheer variety of stimuli inside. Taxidermy, Halloween decorations, framed photos, signatures applied directly to the walls, dollar bills, the Texas flag stapled to the ceiling, there is no end to potential exploration here, all of it combining to create one of the most unique drinking atmospheres in the country, let alone in Houston.
Moving away from the bar area, D&W Lounge is fairly cavernous, booths lining one wall of a wide seating area that includes a handful of mismatched tables and chairs. A handful of pillars break up the space, but this is more or less an open floorplan, the area toward the back of the bar given a bit of visual separation to serve as a stage that hosts a stream of live music acts and karaoke nights. There are areas inside that can be best described as “miscellaneous” nooks and crannies, a covered pool table here, a statue there.
As an example of one of the out-of-eyesight treasures found in D&W Lounge, the path to the bathroom travels under an arch into a small foyer area illuminated by a massive lamp ornately decorated and flanked by similarly ornate antlers prodding it from all angles. Not to be forgotten, the bathrooms themselves of course do not disappoint, graffiti mixed with torn art pieces and bold colors to create yet another scene worth seeing. The sum total of D&W Lounge’s seemingly countless parts is Houston’s finest dive bar, fitting for the windowless, sign-less, El Segundo structure that it inhabits.