It's early Monday evening. Omar Afra, of Fitzgerald's and Free Press Summer Fest, is standing in the half-completed interior of Lowbrow. That's the bar he and business partner Johnny So are set to open soon in the former Sophia/Cafe Artiste space in Montrose.
"We're just trying to create a cool space and environment," Afra tells CultureMap as he surveys the walls that have been painted but not yet fully papered. There are a few tables scattered around, but all of the chairs and benches are being redone.
Afra says the goal is to work with "cool people who know shit from shinola" in all aspects of the bar's construction and operation, including design, art, food and drinks.
Lowbrow looks set to be Montrose's next comfortable neighborhood bar.
"We want to allow good people to have their way with the space," he says. "The great thing is you get people to do great things, but the bad thing is there's trial and error."
It's a compromise Afra's willing to live with. For design, the group tapped Dutch Small, who designed the cool, comfortable, fun VIP tents at Summer Fest.
In terms of artists, Afra wants Lowbrow, which is named after an art movement, to be a "permissive environment." Towards that end, there are lots of familiar names from other Free Press projects. Blake Jones and Dual have partnered to create a wallpaper that incorporates iconic Houston images such as the Astrodome and the Houston Oilers derrick logo. Yes, there's the obligatory foil variant.
Shelby Hohl has created a series of posters featuring famous dead Houstonians including Anna Nicole Smith and Patrick Swayze, and Jermaine Rogers will display work in the space as well. Michael Rodriguez gets first crack at the front fascia, and videographer Mark Arms will develop content for the bar's projectors.
Eatsie Boys chef Matt Marcus is developing a menu that Afra says is based on "recipes that have been proven through millenia . . . dishes that grandmothers cook." Afra cites biscuits and gravy as one classic recipe that will find its way onto Lowbrow's menu, but he also promises to deviate from the theme with both daily specials and guest chef pop-ups. Afra says that they partnered with Marcus because of his "cool, let's try it" approach to cooking.
Afra and Fitzgerald's bar manager Travis Tobey have partnered up on a short cocktail menu that he describes as "four to six hits . . . We want to be a place for day drinkers," particularly when the weather is nice and people flock to lounge on The Menil Collection's expansive lawns. In addition, there will be about a dozen taps of local craft beer.
Finally, there won't be an Internet jukebox pumping out the latest hits at Lowbrow. Instead, they're installing a turntable that will have a large, well-curated record collection. Patrons are invited to choose an album to listen to or to bring something from their own collections.
If they don't? "I'll be in here dominating shit," Afra says.
With a well-regarded creative team behind it and lots of high profile collaborators, Lowbrow looks set to be Montrose's next comfortable neighborhood bar. Afra cites Rudyard's as the sort of place he'd like to emulate, and there's nothing wrong with having another place like that.