At a loss for what to do with an old empty space? Don't waste it; throw a bar in it.
Save a building, become part of the preservationist movement, help facilitate economic growth and create a cool place to hang out with your friends all at the same time. Several long-standing structures around town have been converted into watering holes.
Originally established in 1847 as a bakery, La Carafe is thought to be the oldest bar and commercial building in Houston (which you may have known), but here are a few other notable hot spots whose history is worthy of recognizing.
* The original home of the Junior League, the building now housing Brennan’s Restaurant and Courtyard Bar opened its doors in the 1920s. It was designed by famed architect John F. Staub and modeled after the Don Jose Faurie House in New Orleans, where the unaffiliated Brennan’s New Orleans now stands.
The Junior League moved to a new building in the late 1960s, which is precisely when the Brennan family was looking for a location to open their business. Newly restored after a second-floor fire during Hurricane Ike in 2008, the Courtyard Bar at Brennan’s has been moved from beneath the stairs on the first floor to a slightly larger enclosed space in the courtyard area overlooking the back fountain. The majority of the patio space has stayed intact.
* From the same company that brought us Hearsay Gastro Lounge (located in the second-oldest commercial building downtown, formerly the W.L. Foley Building, built in 1889), the White House in Midtown is scheduled to open later this year in a neoclassical mansion built in 1913 as a private residence. The new high-end venue will feature a champagne bar upstairs with a traditional bar and restaurant on the first floor.
* Today you will find Scott Tycer's Gravitas Restaurant at 807 Taft, but for over half a century this building was home to Antone's Famous Po' Boys. The space was renovated in 2005 to include a long, minimalist SideBar Lounge that presents a diverse cocktail menu and an impressive selection of microbrews.
* Formerly the historic Warwick Hotel, built in 1920, the Hotel ZaZa is perhaps one of Houston’s best examples of commercial preservation. The ZaZa is home to Monarch Restaurant and Lounge, with live entertainment and all-night happy hour every Thursday.
* When Pete Mitchell took over ownership of Leon’s Lounge in Midtown, he decided to keep most of the place the same, with a few enhancements. The building dates back to 1947 and become Leon’s Lounge in 1949. While you will see a new tile top on the bar as well as some much-needed new furniture, the rest will look more or less familiar.
Leon’s will play music off of old LP’s, recycle bottles and paper and offer up plenty of draft beer stored in recyclable kegs.
Are you listening, Weingarten?