The patio bar trend is coming to Rice Military. A veteran entrepreneur and a group of investors have big plans for the historic Juergen building at 6202 Washington Ave.
Memorial Trail Ice House will occupy the first floor of the building and an adjacent half-acre lot that will serve as its deck and patio. Co-founder John Shaeffer tells CultureMap that he's a neighborhood resident and Memorial Park regular who wants to bring something different to an area with nightlife options that are mostly dominated by high-energy clubs like Clutch, Kung Fu, and the recently-opened Axis & Alibi.
"This neighborhood has a lot of first-time homebuyers, people in their mid-30s and 40s, which I define as the ice house demographic," Shaeffer says. "As well as all the runners — every afternoon I’m one of them — we put on our shoes and go back to the park then walk home. What better place to stop and have a drink, meet some friends, that’s the idea."
Slated to open in February — in time for next spring's Houston Open at Memorial Park — Memorial Trail Ice House will feature many of the features that have made other patio bars like Kirby Ice House and Axelrad so successful. That starts with the spacious backyard, which will feature an outdoor deck that runs the length of Washington Avenue along with games like corn hole and a mix of seating options such as picnic tables and Adirondack chairs.
Roll-up doors will lead to the interior. Inside, patrons will find a massive, U-shaped bar with more than 50 seats. Photographs will pay homage to the building's history as home to various businesses such as a cafe, a butcher, and a barber shop.
Shaeffer and co-founders Ashley McKenney and Cape Bell recruited the Ladies of Libation to serve as consultants on the project. Co-owner Laurie Harvey tells CultureMap that patrons can expect about 20 taps, a "thoughtful but simple" wine list, and a rotating menu of four to six frozen cocktails.
Shaeffer adds that Harvey and her business partner Kris Sowell will be involved in all aspects of the bar's design and construction to ensure it runs as efficiently as possible.
"I don’t have experience in the hospitality business," Shaeffer says. "I’m going to be working with them side-by-side to learn as much as I can. After about a six-month period, they can hand me the ropes and say 'you’ve got it.'"
Indeed, Shaeffer's path from technology entrepreneur to bar owner has been a lengthy one. As a fourth-generation Houstonian (and third-generation Lamar High School graduate), Shaeffer describes himself as having an interest in Houston's history. Driving down Washington Avenue, he couldn't help but notice the yellow brick building that's located just north of the traffic circle at Washington and Westcott Street.
Securing the 10-year lease on the property didn't come easily. To convince the owners to grant it, Shaeffer and his co-founders demonstrated their commitment to the project by raising money through the Executive Association of Houston. Impressed by his presentation, the family not only signed the lease — they also invested in the business, Shaeffer says.
"I have a fascination with historic Houston. Not a lot of it still remains," he says. "This building caught my eye. We’re not doing anything to the exterior, just restoring it to its original beauty. The interior, we’re just retrofitting it into a cool bar."