Drinking outside in Texas can't go wrong.
The term ‘ice house’ in Texas comes with very specific connotations not always adhered to by the trendy bars and restaurants that sometimes slap the phrase onto a new business. Such is not the case for Houston’s West Alabama ice House, the city’s legit ice house institution first opened in 1928. While changes have certainly swirled around the Montrose staple over the decades, the Houston dive bar’s appeal is very much anchored in the rich history embodied by its hard-earned ice house status.
For those few real ice houses still operating throughout Texas, the story is similar, opening up either before or during Prohibition before using its repeal as impetus to start offering alcoholic beverages alongside the very real ice blocks sold out of frequently small city outposts. The West Alabama Ice House story is similar, founded during the heart of Prohibition so that nearby residents could refill their iceboxes, the now dive bar’s offerings expanded over time.
This modern incarnation of the Houston dive bar has been owned by the Markantonis family since 1986, first by patriarch Jerry before passing ownership to son Petros. A self-taught master carpenter, Petros is responsible for the ever-evolving set of outdoor features introduced to the sprawling West Alabama Ice House patio over the years, including impressive bar, fencing and landscape upgrades that continue to liven up the outdoor space (not that it needed much help).
The structure at the center of the ice house complex is deceptively small as a standalone building, the square footage here distributed more liberally across outdoor drinking areas. The street-adjacent front patio is the center of activity most days, picnic table-style seating nestled under a roof that critically blocks out the Texas sun. Fans and misters keep things cool during the summer months, plastic sheeting and space heaters deployed during winter to continue the use of West Alabama Ice House’s outdoor footprint.
In back, a wide, open space filled with yet more picnic tables and typical bar games like giant Jenga feels a bit more lawless, ample nooks and crannies available to sequester groups even on busy days. A back door connected to the main West Alabama Ice House structure opens out onto this back area, serving as a portal to a tiny room part of the main structure itself that houses the Houston dive bar’s pool table. A few dive bar-style framed photos can be found in this forgotten corner of West Alabama Ice House, including a photo of patriarch Jerry Markantonis, signed by a number of regulars at the time.
The beer selection has certainly evolved over the years, expanded now to include an impressively wide array of domestic standards and rotating craft options. Though the bar counter wraps around to the interior of the main West Alabama Ice House structure, a small designated spot toward the front of the building serves as the de facto service area, nestled in between the fixed stools that run along the small bar area.
One of the best attributes of West Alabama Ice House sits off premise in the form of Tacos Tierra Caliente, a taco truck parked across the street. Offerings are fairly standard as far as classic Houston taco truck options, but the quality is outstanding and as a one-two punch, the combination of one of the better street taco outposts in the area and West Alabama Ice House is hard to beat. Local tamale purveyors have been known to wind through the dive bar’s picnic table seating areas as well.