David Keck’s next move will be has been a hot topic of conversation in culinary circles since he departed Camerata last year. As one of only three Master Sommeliers in Houston, Keck demonstrated focus, commitment, and sheer will to conquer the famously difficult exam.
Needless to say, it came as something of a surprise on Friday when a man with such a unique set of skills announced that his next project would be a “Houston honky-tonk” called Goodnight Charlie’s, but Keck tells CultureMap that providing a venue for beer, shots, live music (a mix of country, bluegrass, Zydeco, and Americana), and dancing is just an extension of his hospitality career.
“I don’t see that any one project is any better or worse or more sophisticated or less sophisticated than another,” Keck says. “I think the focus here is obviously different than what I’ve done, but there will be more of that in the future. To me, it’s a really interesting and fun departure from a lot of what I’ve done. It provides me with a totally different outlet. I’m excited. I don’t see it as a step back.”
As might be surmised from its location at 2531 Kuester Street (just off Westheimer near La Grange), Goodnight Charlie’s evolved out of the relationship Keck established with local businessman Peter McCarthy when the two men were working with former Tony’s chef Grant Gordon to open a restaurant called The Edmont that was slated to be located on the same site. After Gordon’s untimely death scuttled those plans, McCarthy initially contemplated opening a hotel on the property, but Keck explains they opted to move in a different direction.
“(He said), do you want to do a honky-tonk? Which had been an idea I’d had kind of on a whim even before The Edmont was a conversation,” Keck says. “It was just, I love this as a concept. It’s fun. It’s a nice balance to everything I do normally, which is all wine related and a little more cerebral. I love drinking cheap beer and two stepping and having fun.”
Although the term “honky-tonk” conjures images of an older builder like Gruene Hall or trips to Luckenbach, Goodnight Charlie’s will be new construction. Keck and McCarthy are working with Content Architecture and designer Gin Braverman of gindesignsgroup (Camerata, Oxheart, Public Services) to construct a building that, in Keck’s words, is “classic in its architecture and is going to age well.” The building will feature vaulted ceilings, with a long bar along one wall and a table both inside and on the patio.
In terms of its atmosphere, Keck thinks the closure of Blanco’s in 2013 has left a gap of music-friendly dance halls inside the Loop. He hopes to mimic the success of The White Horse in Austin, which draws a diverse crowd of younger folks who are enjoying the place somewhat ironically and older people with a sincere appreciation for country music.
“For totally unironic reasons, I think it’s totally fun, and I get pleasure out of that,” Keck says. “I see it having a pretty good cross-section of audience for all the reasons that it’s not about anything too serious. I think it’s a place where you can find a really healthy cross-section of the demographic all enjoying each other’s company.”
On the beverage side, Keck is planning to keep things local. The venue will serve a selection of Texas craft beer, Texas wines on tap, and cocktails made with Texas spirits. Currently, the plan calls for not having shaken cocktails. Asked whether that includes margaritas, Keck concedes he’s contemplating having a frozen one available, but Goodnight Charlie’s isn’t trying to compete with its neighbors when it comes to either its beer or spirits selection.
“This is not going to be a Hay Merchant craft beer bar. It’s not going to be Poison Girl or Anvil with a whiskey selection out the wazoo,” Keck says. “I think the goal is to have really high quality products that are as local as we can go without standing on any sort of soap box about what they are.”
Pop-up chef Alvin Schultz is consulting on the food menu, which will include freshly made tortillas and try to offer some lighter alternatives to traditional bar food.
When it opens this fall, Goodnight Charlie’s will be Keck and McCarthy’s first project together, but it won’t be their last. The duo have formed Goodnight Hospitality and have plans for a long partnership. Could that include a restaurant?
“We’re still discussing the possibility of a restaurant,” Keck says. “I’ll let that be as vague as necessary. That has never left the table.”