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Restaurant Boom Times

As the good times roll again, over-the-top restaurant evokes memories of Houston's boomtown years

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Mr. Peeples Houston interior July 2013
Mr. Peeples interior is anything but understated. Photo by Gary Wise
16 Houston Restaurant Weeks kickoff July 2013 Lucky Chopra, Leisa Holland-Nelson
Lucky Chopra and Leisa Holland-Nelson at Houston Restaurant Weeks kickoff at Mr. Peeples. Photo by © Roswitha Vogler/Photosbyrovo.com
Mr. Peeples Houston interior July 2013
The main dining room at Mr. Peeples features purple chairs, graffiti art and an open kitchen. Photo by Gary Wise
News_Orange Show_30 years_Mayor Kathy Whitmire_Ida Kingsbury
Mayor Kathy Whitmire at The Orange Show, circa 1980s. Courtesy of Orange Show Center for Visionary Arts
Mr. Peeples Houston interior July 2013
The entryway to Mr. Peeples features a check-in stand in the shape of a gold leaf mask. Photo by Gary Wise
Mr. Peeples Houston interior July 2013
Red velvet curtains lead to a VIP area at Mr. Peeples. Photo by Gary Wise
Mr. Peeples Houston interior July 2013
16 Houston Restaurant Weeks kickoff July 2013 Lucky Chopra, Leisa Holland-Nelson
Mr. Peeples Houston interior July 2013
News_Orange Show_30 years_Mayor Kathy Whitmire_Ida Kingsbury
Mr. Peeples Houston interior July 2013
Mr. Peeples Houston interior July 2013
Clifford Pugh newest column mug head shot

Houston has a feisty female mayor, plans for a rail system are in flux, building cranes are sprouting up everywhere and restaurants with over-the-top decor are catering to a hip, big bucks crowd.

Forgive me for thinking I'm in a time warp.

Looking around Houston right now, I get the feeling I'm back in the '80s. With apologies to Yogi Berra, it really is deja vu all over again in the Bayou City.

In my formative decade, Kathy Whitmire served in the highest city office (from 1982-1991) when it looked like Houston would embark on constructing a heavy rail system until voters nixed the idea in 1983. After the loss, METRO general manager Alan Kiepper left to run the mammoth New York subway system and Houstonians have been fighting over mass transit ever since.

 "This is an invitation to our colleagues in the industry. Let's go on the edge." 

In the early '80s, buildings were sprouting up everywhere in Houston as the price of a barrel of oil soared to a then-unheard of $33 a barrel. But it just as quickly plunged to $10 a barrel in January 1986 and development came to a halt as newly built skyscrapers became known as "sunshine shacks" because they were so empty that sunlight could flood through them.

(Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself in that respect.)

In 1983 apartment developer Harold Farb opened a $6.5 million restaurant-nightclub west of The Galleria called The Carlyle, a white marble temple named after his favorite New York hotel, where he crooned '40s favorites as patrons dined on steak au poivre, outrageously priced at $19. (It's now the HESS Club.) 

I was thinking about Farb, the Carlyle and how history repeats itself while dining recently at Mr. Peeples, a lavish new restaurant in Midtown that is the brainchild of Dr. Lucky Chopra. Chopra has a bit more restaurant experience than Farb, as his Landmark Hospitality Group owns Hearsay near Market Square in downtown Houston and 51Fifteen, adjacent to Saks Fifth Avenue in The Galleria. But in spirit, he has lot in common with the apartment king: Both think big.

There is certainly a "wow" factor about Mr. Peeples, although some patrons might instead wonder, "Ohmygod, what were they thinking?" The three-story building, constructed in 1975 for the Boy Scouts of America headquarters, has been revamped as a den of international mystery. In a press release, designer Carlos Castroparedes calls it "Houston meets New York meets Vegas meets Los Angeles meets Dubai, with a little European flair for good measure. The idea was to make something spectacular."

 "The idea was to make something spectacular." 

Though there are windows that let in the daytime sun, the space works better at night, when the swirl of burgundy and purple shades evoke a "let's party" attitude. In the entryway six chandeliers dripping with Swarovski crystals trace the city's outline (if you look at it upside down) and a large pool table dominates the room amid gold leaf tables and tufted chairs. Off to the side, red velvet curtains lead to a VIP hideaway.

The main dining room features touches of graffiti by James Perez, a large open kitchen, purple chairs and a swirling neon wine rack that reaches two stories into the sky.

A big outdoor patio with custom-made tulip umbrellas and glass-enclosed flame pots promises to attract the Midtown party crowd once the weather gets a little cooler. The second floor has state-of-the-art rooms for meetings or wedding receptions and an upscale lounge is planned for the 10,000-square-foot basement.

Chopra says that when he and his investors got behind Mr. Peeples, they wanted to create something different — a restaurant/lounge that would make people stand up and take notice. 

"I get tired of people bragging about Los Angeles and New York.  We're proud of Houston," Chopra told me as he greeted guests to the restaurant at a party to celebrate the kickoff of Houston Restaurant Weeks. "This is an invitation to our colleagues in the industry. Let's go on the edge."

Hey, it feels good that Houston has its swagger back again.

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