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Secret Make-Out Bar Returns

The big change: Houston's secret make-out bar is returning as a trendy River Oaks bottle-service haven

Marfreless, bar, closing
Marfreless's blue door remains, but customers will find lots of changes behind it Marfreless/Facebook
4 Marfreless remodel construction December 2014
"Yes, there will be chandeliers." Marfreless/Facebook
7 Marfreless remodel construction December 2014
The remodel shows that storage areas have been converted into private VIP rooms that will be designated for bottle service. Marfreless/Facebook
6 Marfreless remodel construction December 201
"The new, stepped, backlit bottle display" Marfreless/Facebook
2 Marfreless remodel construction December 2014
"The perimeter of the downstairs is a long wrap-around bench. Tables and more seating to be added." Marfreless/Facebook
Marfreless, bar, closing
4 Marfreless remodel construction December 2014
7 Marfreless remodel construction December 2014
6 Marfreless remodel construction December 201
2 Marfreless remodel construction December 2014

Beloved make-out bar Marfreless will reopen to the public this weekend. Although the unmarked blue door remains, regulars may not recognize what lies behind it.

The new owner has made significant changes that include valet parking, a doorman, unisex restrooms, a dress code and bottle service.

All of them seem antithetical to the spirit of the old Marfreless, which managed to combine a certain dignity (at least downstairs) with a come as you are atmosphere that made it a favorite of both neighborhood regulars and service industry professionals. Upstairs was a more, ahem, freewheeling atmosphere that helped the bar earn its unique reputation.

 "A lot has been spent, that much is obvious. There are a lot of small details that cost a fortune."  

In a series of email exchanges with Marfreless representative Dean Peckenpaugh, I tried to understand what it all means. 

First, I asked to interview the owner but was told that "he's not public" and would not be in contact with the media. Peckenpaugh promises that the owner has been guiding a new wine list and cocktail menu, although neither was available for review. 

Well, how much did it cost to bring the famously shabby bar up to code? Photos of the incomplete remodel on Facebook show an all new interior, and there's a promise of all new furniture. Peckenpaugh was vague about the expenditures.

"A lot has been spent, that much is obvious," he writes. There are a lot of small details that cost a fortune (and) could have easily been dialed back or omitted altogether, but they weren't. As for exactly how much, I can't share, but it's not like moving into a new apartment where someone has painted over everything and replaced the carpet.

"Everything is very new and very nice. I think people will be impressed and it will be a nice place to kick back."

Although "kicking back" doesn't seem compatible with the idea of bottle service and a doorman, Peckenpaugh isn't concerned about alienating former regulars.

"We would love to see the regulars return, but we know the changes won't be for everyone," he writes. "Some people loved the beat up walls, the worn out carpet, the furniture punctured by women's heels, the bare light bulbs, and the dated, Prohibition-like feel of the place.

"Others have sat back and thought, 'Man, I love this place but it could really use some updating . . . and maybe some different music.' It's impossible to please everyone, but we're going to keep the history and feel of the bar in mind and do our best to make people are happy to be back."

What if people miss the more low-key atmosphere of the old space? "If it doesn't work out, then it will be changed," Peckenpaugh promises.

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