The debate is over. The movement of bars and restaurant openings downtown that kicked off with The Original OKRA Charity Saloon at the very end of 2012 and continued with high-profile spots like Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar and Spirit Lodge, The Pastry War and The Honeymoon Cafe has been an overwhelming success. Just look at the crowds that make up the "Moving Sidewalk" that moves up and down Main Street on the weekends and chuckle about all those old claims that "downtown is dying."
Recently, experienced operators, who see the potential in a market that will add hundreds of residential units and thousands of hotels room between now and the Super Bowl in 2017, have joined those early adopters. Already, spots like Bovine & Barley (from the operators of Midtown spots The Refinery and The Fish) and The Moonshiners (from the Salt N Pepper Group that's behind Crisp and Beer Market Co.) have added to downtown's mix with clever concepts and solid food. Now, a legitimate Houston burger institution has joined the mix.
Spreading the joy
Christian's Tailgate has been on a growth spurt since owner Steve Christian sold the White Oak and Midtown locations to a group of restaurant industry veterans that include Mazen Baltagi, Chris Alan and Zack Truesdell. The company added a fourth outpost in downtown's historic Pillot Building last week that joins last year's addition in the Energy Corridor.
"It's a no-brainer," Baltagi says of the decision to open downtown. "(The area) is first come, first serve, because it's about to happen. The guys on Main Street led the charge. We're just happy to be a part of it."
Located at the intersection of Congress and Fannin, Christian's is a block away from Main and two blocks from Market Square, but Baltagi notes that the restaurant is already seeing a busy lunch trade from the nearby courthouses. In addition, Salt N Pepper has acquired the former Nit Noi space next door for a new, yet-to-be-revealed concept.
Christian's gutted the 5,000 square foot space to install its signature elements like wood-paneled walls and a diamond plate back bar. A game room features pool, basketball and arcade games. Sports fans will enjoy the 40 TVs that seem to hang from nearly every corner of the room. The 2,000 square foot patio is still under construction, but it will soon rival Batanga's as a prime spot to lounge during fall's cooler temps. In fact, the only evidence of the space's former purpose as a law office are the granite counter tops in its restrooms.
More than just burgers
Despite the new ownership, every aspect of the signature Christian's burger remains the same as the Washington Ave original. However, the owners have considerably expanded the offerings. Master Chef of France Frederic Perrier, the force behind celebrated Sugar Land restaurant Aura Brasserie and popular fast casual spot Hoggs N' Chicks, worked with the restaurant to create non-burger menu items like tacos, salads and wraps. Those items are featured as weekly specials like 50-cent wings on Monday, $1 tacos on Thursday and 50 cent oysters on Friday (4 pm to close, two drink minimum).
If nothing else, Christian's arrival gives downtown another late night dinner option. The restaurant will be open until midnight during the week and 2 am on Friday and Saturday. Besides, as great as Hubcap Grill is, the downtown location is only open for lunch, and nothing soothes alcohol-fueled hunger quite as well as a big burger.