No trip to Houston is complete without a visit to Rose Marie.
To call Houston’s Rose Garden a dive bar does a bit of a disservice to a space that is, yes, a bar, but is really just a house where owner Rose Marie welcomes friends and neighbors for a drink. Located on the edges of Houston’s Heights district near Loop 610, Rose Garden is notoriously difficult to find for first-timers, less of a problem for the loyal set of regulars and nearby residents that have long patronized the humble, white structure on the corner.
Though maybe not overtly apparent, Rose Garden is part of Houston’s rich Polish heritage, a city legacy that began when Polish Texans emigrated to the city from rural Texas in the years leading up to and after World War II. Traces of Rose Garden’s nod at its background can be found within the space, the red and white color scheme used in a number of Rose Garden visual elements drawn from the Polish flag.
Owner Rose Marie lives across the street, making her pilgrimage most days to open the doors of what is little more than a one-room schoolhouse of a dive bar. A pair of benches flank the front door that sits behind a red screen, looking a bit intimidating for new visitors (they’re open, don’t worry). Aside from a small bit of neon in the lone window that peeks out from the bar’s front wall, the only distinct visual draw here is the Rose Garden sign, hand-painted with, you guessed it, roses surrounding the name of the Houston dive bar.
The Rose Garden confines are snug, even by dive bar standards, the entire space visible from really any interior angle. Pillars and the bar counter itself break up the space, but Rose Garden’s floorplan is decidedly open, centered around the short bar counter that sits in the middle of the bar’s main room. A beautiful, aged, backlit sign sit above the bar proclaiming “Welcome To The Rose Garden” over a painted pair of lips. Rose Marie is often found here, just under the sign, dispensing drinks from the bar’s modest beer and wine selection.
In addition to the handful of stools the line the bar counter, a handful of low tables can be found distributed throughout the rest of the space, table’s reminiscent of something a grandparent might have as a side table in a kitchen. A few gaming machines can be found near the front door and the bar’s lone pool table sits squarely in the middle of the main room. Wood paneling lines the walls here, providing a warmth to the space accentuated by the dive bar-standard beer signs that can be found in bursts throughout Rose Garden.
Rose Marie’s love of Elvis does not go unnoticed here, framed photos of the singer found throughout Rose Garden creating less of a shrine and more of pervasive show of appreciation. Hank Williams is not left out, a framed concert poster another key visual element, its inclusion fitting with the old-school jukebox loaded with country classics at an extremely affordable rate (multiple plays for a dollar). The jukebox also features a few Rose Garden-exclusive disks, mixing acts like Bob Seger, Charlie Robinson and Dwight Yoakam into single collections.
The physical tour of Rose Garden is a brief one thanks to its small stature, but it is difficult to envision a purer expression of a dive bar’s allure. Cozy, aged, largely-windowless surroundings provide the perfect backdrop to a no-frills drinking experience populated by regulars, country music and Rose Marie.