Keeping the development of a new bar under the radar can be tricky; after all, people in the restaurant industry love to gossip about who's opening, who's closing and what's next. Yet, two veteran operators have quietly joined forces to open a bar at the currently vacant property at 408 Westheimer in Montrose with barely a whisper that they're even working together.
While knowing who's involved doesn't guarantee success, the project will definitely have people's attention because of the names behind it: Omar Afra and Brandon Young.
When Afra revealed he was adding the hospitality industry to his portfolio of publishing Free Press Houston and concert promotions via Free Press Summer Fest, some reacted skeptically; yet, Lowbrow, his bar in the former Sophia/Cafe Artiste space, has emerged as a fun neighborhood bar with a solid food menu under the direction of chef Jason Kerr. Young is one half of the duo which has brought Moon Tower Inn and Voodoo Queen to the Second Ward; both are solid neighborhood spots that are known for tasty food and reasonable prices.
Why this project? Why now?
"It's always fun to say, 'I don't need to do this. I want to do this,'" Afra tells CultureMap.
"It's a bar and a restaurant," Afra explains. "It's going to be a super cool hang."
The name is still under discussion and the partners are still tinkering with the concept, but Afra decided to announce the project ahead of the TABC notice that's being posted in the building's window later this week.
"It's a bar and a restaurant," Afra explains. "It's going to be a super cool hang. We're excited. We feel like, in a good way, it's going to stick out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood."
Afra isn't ready to divulge details on the menu, other than to add that "it's going to be a place for cocktails where there will be a small but very focused food menu . . . I’m going to sit there and have drinks with friends for several hours and the food will be great, the feather in the cap of the experience."
Working with Young came together very organically. "I’ve been buddies with Brandon for years now," Afra says. "We’ve got so many mutual friends and mutual employees. Every time we get together to bullshit and talk about what’s happening we always found ourselves on the same page."
Young says the feeling is mutual. "Omar and his camp are really good friends of mine. He and I have been kicking around the idea of doing something together for a while."
It's Young's first project outside of the Second Ward, and he thinks the time is right to look beyond his neighborhood. "I simply just fell in love with the space when we first met up to see it. I feel the East Side needs to build a bit more before I go opening up places all over the neighborhood and shoot myself in the foot. We're still a small community over here, but it's growing."
"The creative process is what’s going to make people talk about you, not just for your opening."
Afra says he's learned an important lesson about Houstonians since opening Lowbrow. "They’re beginning to be of the mindset where you’ve got to kind of keep things new and fresh. Much like within music it’s not a craft in which you can just sit on your laurels and not keep the creative process going. The creative process is what’s going to make people talk about you, not just for your opening."
When will it open? Afra is hoping for the end of the year, but it will take some luck. The building lacks a commercial kitchen, which means a time-consuming build-out. Afra calls the structure, which includes the adjacent property at 412 Westheimer, "a labyrinth of 12 rooms."
Still, whatever it becomes and whenever it opens, it'll be a must visit. Even with the plethora of bars on Westheimer, a new concept, properly executed, will always be worth checking out.