Let the good times roll! After a 17-month hiatus following a fire that broke out during Hurricane Ike, Brennan's of Houston is back and better than ever. The grand re-opening is Feb. 16—yep, just in time for Fat Tuesday — but here's a sneak peek that starts at the front door. After the two-alarm fire destroyed much of the structure, Brennan's was able to conserve 75 percent of the original brick building. Built by renowned local architect John L. Staub in 1930, it was originally the home of Staub's architecture office and housed Houston's Junior League chapter upstairs.
Owner Alex Brennan-Martin says that opening night reservations have been limited to loyal customers and friends, and beyond that reservations are available but limited in number as the kitchen adjusts to full capacity. Be prepared to use your connections or wait.
The new John Staub Room, named after the building's famous architect, sits in the front corner of the restaurant near the entrance. "Our goal was always to preserve the historic structure but we also wanted bring it 'back to the future,' as it were," says Brennan-Martin.
The bar has been moved closer to the courtyard and enlarged. "The architects at Studio RED had the vision that while we were restoring a romantic ruin, we didn’t have to put it back exactly as it was. We restored some Staub features that we had earlier covered up, but then we enhanced the design as well to make it work better. It’s a way to hold on to an old piece of Houston," says Brennan-Martin.
As viewed from the bar, a new twin set of shade-giving oaks replaces the 40-year-old oak in the courtyard that was damaged in the hurricane.
Arched windows in the stairwell had been covered with masonry and shutters in the 1966 renovation at the original opening of Brennan's. Now uncovered, they let in plenty of natural light—but that doesn't mean the gorgeous chandeliers are going anywhere.
The original tile work near the ceiling remains, but the biggest kitchen change is the arrival of new executive chef Danny Trace, a 10-year vet with the Brennan-Martin-led Commander's Palace family of restaurants. "Guests will still be able to enjoy their longtime favorites but I hope they'll try some of our new things, too," says Chef Trace, whose experience with modern Creole cuisine in New Orleans and Caribbean flavors will be integrated with the signature Brennan's Texas Creole flavors.
The building's façade—including the magnificent brick courtyard, pictured here—was intended to evoke an image of New Orleans' French Quarter. It's a near-complete replica of the Don José Faurie mansion in New Orleans, which houses an unaffiliated Brennan's, run by another branch of the culinarily inclined family. The fountain can be viewed from the new Courtyard Bar.
Touches of flair, like this floral carpet detail in the main dining room, help to balance the more contemporary furnishings with the stately Southern manse aesthetic.
While all the previous art was ruined in the fire, new work has filled the void, albeit with a more modern, subtle palette. The white-paneled fireplace is an addition in the new John Staub room.
The interiors are composed of a new roof, floors, and windows, but some things never change. The "Terms of Endearment Room," along with the restaurant's columns, vaulted ceilings and chef's table and dining room have been restored.