The final days of Blanco’s Bar & Grill were crazy good and they reminded me of why I will miss this place.
I didn’t go at night for the bands and I didn’t really go for the food. It was always about the ambiance and the friends. Over the years as we got to know the staff and the regular lunch crowd, people we would say hi to and buy beers for and vice versa.
For more than 30 years Blanco’s was a mainstay of the River Oaks area, the dusty little wood frame honky tonk known for boot scootin’ and burgers in the shadow of high rises and million-dollar properties. The one-story blue building began life more than four decades ago as a day care center before morphing into a bar called Hondo’s. Then Barry E. DeBakey, son of the late, great heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, bought the business and changed the name to Blanco’s.
Blanco’s was a mainstay of the River Oaks area, the dusty little wood frame honky tonk known for boot scootin’ and burgers in the shadow of high rises and million-dollar properties.
When he died in 2007 he left the business to manager Karin Barnes and her son who continued serving up daily specials like the meatloaf and mashed potatoes on Tuesday and booking country acts like Gary P. Nunn, Cory Morrow, Jake Hooker, Chris Wall and Bobby Flores.
Decorated with stuffed wildlife, including a giant shaggy bison and deer heads that often were festooned with beer can tabs and little hats or wax lips, Blanco’s was unlike any other establishment in Houston. It harkens back to the old days in Texas when you could find honky tonks and rustic ice houses along farm-to-market roads where neighbors hung out drinking beer during the day and bands played at night.
It was also a popular hangout for rodeo committees who often celebrated there when new chairs were named. They would cut the brims off their western hats and nail the crowns to the walls.
But the land the building sits on was sold by the owners last January to the nearby St. John's school and both Blanco’s and the River Oaks Plant House, with its iconic topiaries, had to go. For Blanco’s the last day of regular service was Friday.
For about two weeks before that date the place had been packed, as in if you didn’t get there when the kitchen opened at 11 a.m. good luck getting a table. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving there was a line out the door of people waiting for a spot so they could get their final Blanco burgers and beer. The daytime staff — Barnes, bartender Jerri Huston and flamboyantly funny Raul Anaya — were too busy running their feet off to be too depressed.
As we left there were people taking photos off the walls, trying to salvage a little bit of Houston history.
Barnes quipped that she didn’t know what she would do after the place closed because she was too busy to think about it.
On the final day, it wasn’t packed at lunch. Just a couple of tables of regulars. We sat and drank and ordered burgers, except for the one person in our group who wanted the Friday fried seafood platter. Only they had already run out of oysters and shrimp so it was just fried catfish.
Then the KPRC Ch. 2 crew showed up and Jennifer Olin, a former co-worker of mine at KMOL-TV in San Antonio, quipped, “You know it’s over when the news media shows up.”
And so it was.
As we left there were people taking photos off the walls, trying to salvage a little bit of Houston history. On this Saturday, there will be a final blowout with a cash bar and potluck meals that folks bring in as well as an auction of the remaining stuff.
I wonder if anyone will get the stuffed bison.