Houston is a city that loves its dive bars. And though everyone seems to have their own top 10 dives list, some are perennial favorites because of location, history and general atmosphere.
The Hobby Area has several contenders. But because it is on one of the most traveled thoroughfares on the way to Hobby Airport, the most noticeable one may be the Cockpit Bar & Grill, a narrow, no-frills bar offering craft beers and cocktails, plus a jukebox.
Anyone who has passed it recently, in a strip mall at 8101 Airport Blvd., has probably chuckled at the customizable marquee that reads: “Just like a cell phone lot, but with booze.”
The first thing you see when you enter the blue hue of the Cockpit is a bank of authentic airplane seats. As you walk in, the walls are covered with vintage airport signs. There’s a long bar on the right and two pool tables in a room to the left.
“The bar’s been open since 1984 and we’ve had it for eight or nine years now,” said Theodore Lewis, who operates it with co-owner Charlie Wells Castellano. Lewis is a former airport employee who grew up in Florida and Castellano is a career bartender once featured by the Houston Chronicle as a “Bar Star.”
In a 2017 feature article, Castellano said his specialty drink is a Sapphire Kamikaze on the rocks. He also talked about getting mixed reviews online about his temperament as bartender.
“My personality is somewhat of an acquired taste, not unlike fine French caviar or hepatitis C,” he told the Chronicle. “But I guess I would have to say I’m a lot more fragile than what my crabby, geriatric, no-BS attitude and exterior might say.”
He once got a $250 tip on a $7.50 tab, so someone must have appreciated his humor.
As a bartender for the past 40 years, Castellano said he has seen all sorts of things, including a lot he would prefer to forget, like tattoos on body parts that should stay covered up.
Lewis, his partner, settled in Houston after working at Hobby and got into the bar business.
Their bar is open 4:00 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day except Sunday.
To get through the pandemic, the bar expanded the grill from frozen pizzas to include Frito pie, burgers, all-beef Bavarian franks and Sloppy Joes.
Even expanded, it is still a short menu. Castellano said some customers complain about the limited amount of food, but he was not fazed.
“Food gets in the way of a real good booze buzz,” Castellano was quoted as saying in the Houston Chronicle.
Yes, with cheap cocktails, a great juke box and gruff but friendly bartenders, the Cockpit Bar & Grill has everything to qualify as one of the must-see dive bars in Houston.
— by Brian Rogers