“Has it really been that long since I’ve been here?” Eastwood resident Claudia Perez, 39, was marveling at the people in Discovery Green on a recent Saturday. “I don’t remember seeing this many people here before,” she murmured. “All the landscaping …” She trailed off.
The park was a hub of activity: kids cooling off in fountains, kayakers on Kinder Lake, Pokémon catchers catching Pokémon … there was even a couple of girls taking a selfie on a dedicated selfie kiosk. Perez, in her drive to and from her Downtown office, had missed the evolution that has been taking place in the northeast sector of Downtown around the convention center, EaDo and the ballpark – dubbed NeaDo (pronounced “neato”).
I got to experience NeaDo for a weekend when I stayed in the guest suite at 500 Crawford, one of the eight new residential mid- and high-rises going up in the area. Across the street from Minute Maid Park, 500 Crawford is a spanking-new spot with two soon-to-be-completed restaurants by Chef Bryan Caswell. It also boasts available 24-hour service from The Westin, located just across Texas Avenue.
Mixed use and adaptability has become the name of the game in Downtown, and as I saw while I spent a blistering August weekend scoping the up-and-coming scene around such major landmarks as the George R. Brown Convention Center, Warehouse Live and Discovery Green, folks who are getting in early are ready to wear many hats.
The convention center will soon include a row of restaurants and public art installations; it will be connected via skybridge to the 1,200-room Marriott Marquis, which will include a rooftop lazy-river pool in the shape of Texas. (The pet-friendly JW Marriott on Main is a few blocks away for visitors who don't want to leave their puppy behind.) Hotel Alessandra, which will be managed by the group that brought you Hotel Sorella at CityCentre and Hotel Valencia on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, is opening in the midst of the shops at GreenStreet.
NeaDo is chock-a-block with destinations, from the Toyota Center to the BBVA soccer stadium to the ball park, and is peppered with restaurants and bars. With new residential options becoming available, and even a new school – the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts is opening a location on Austin Street between Capitol and Rusk, visiting, stay-cationing, even living in Downtown Houston is looking more appealing.
But what of that constant Houston drag: traffic and parking? Well, there’s good news and there’s better news. The good news is that the office of Houston Parking Management is investing millions in improving parking, including putting up electronic signs in key areas of Downtown that will direct drivers to garages that have open spaces remaining. The signs will be able to be updated in real time. The goal is to keep traffic flowing through the city and improve air quality.
The better news is: YOU DON’T NEED A CAR! Ditch your wheels and don’t worry about a designated driver; when you’re in NeaDo, you can do Downtown on foot, bike, or rail easily. Here’s a sample of how I did a weekend in this bustling and ever-evolving area as a pedestrian. Try it, you'll like it.
Friday, 5:30 pm — Drop my bag and change at the 500 Crawford guest suite; from my window I see people converging on the stadium early for the 7:10 ballgame at Minute Maid Park. I have an hour to kill, so I opt to walk to Discovery Green, a couple blocks south, have a bite at The Lake House and a drink at the bar in The Grove. By then, it’s time to head to the game.
8:45 pm — I'm off the train at NRGin time to catch the headlining act. After the show, it's back Downtown via the train.
1:30 am —Stop off at Reserve 101 or The Dirt Bar (or both) for last call. Make friends who were either at the ballgame or at the concert. Reminisce, stumble, sing the last song of the night. Time to head home. I walk (or you can Uber, depending on your ability to walk at 2 am), back home to hit the biscuit.
Saturday, noon — Holy hangover, Batman. It’s okay. Irma’s Southwest Grill and Irma's Original are nearby, as are Jackson Street BBQ and Tout Suite. Take your pick. Get some fluids, and maybe some queso (isn’t queso a liquid?). Survey the dining room at any one of these spots and you see a sea of Astros orange. The ‘stros are playing again today, and people are already lining up at Minute Maid Park for the 1 pm game.
3 pm — After cruising around I realize that skinny jeans aren’t the best attire for 99-degree heat. I make a beeline to the B-Cycle station outside the shops at GreenStreet, where I pick up some shorts, a bathing suit, and engage in some restrained shopping before going back home for a midday break.
6 pm — I don the new bathing suit and go to the pool, which, at 500 Crawford, is cradled by the high walls of the complex, and the skyscrapers beyond that. It’s almost cavernous, but airy. And after walking and biking around the city, deliciously cool and relaxing. Swimming in the city is underrated.
8 pm — Get dressed, walk or bike to Warehouse Live, where a show is going on; I stop at Huynh for dinner, first though, and wonder why I don’t eat there every day. (Seriously, it’s some of the best Vietnamese food in the city, maybe the world.)
10:30 pm — Warehouse Live is busy but not packed; the Houston International Jazz Festival is on, and Lonnie Liston Smith is playing keyboards with his band while the beautiful Tabitha Pearson croons into the microphone. Fed, relaxed and properly exercised, I stroll back home to make it an early night. Checking my pedometer before hitting the hay, I find that I’ve walked more than five miles that day. Fitness win.
Sunday, 9 am — Church bells are ringing, and I wake up, get dressed and step out to see the faithful going into service at Annunciation Catholic Church across the street. I grab a bike from Discovery Green and ride east on Navigation to the East End Street Market, which is just getting underway.
10 am — Pralines, popcorn, frozen popsicles for pups – I'm stopped by a man who plies me with samples of homemade curry and tikka masala. I buy a packet of samosas, and because this is Texas, I stop by Dona Maria and pick up some breakfast tacos to take back for later. (There are many Latin-American restaurant options in the area, including The Original Ninfa's and Chef David Guerrero's Andes.)
11 am — Quick dip in the pool again. Seriously, swimming in the city is so underrated.
Noon — It’s Sunday, and that means brunch. Quattro at The Four Seasons has a ridiculous spread that’s borderline regal. They have a caviar station – a caviar station, for goodness sake -- not to mention oodles of other goodies and bottomless mimosas, bloody marys and/or bellinis. Try to restrain yourself, because you'll be in a bathing suit again soon.
2 pm — I go to the fourth floor spa and fitness center, which underwent a recent remodel to add treatment rooms and update the style, for a massage. By the time I had been rubbed into a pile of happy mush, I glided into the gleaming new spa locker room and put my bathing suit on for – you guessed it –
3:30 pm — A stop by the pool at The Four Seasons, where the prim and friendly staff bring you frozen mojitos while you thumb through magazines. (Anyone booking an appointment at the spa -- whether it's for a manicure or the Biorhythms Jet Lag Recovery Treatment -- is able to have access to the pool.)
6 pm — I shower, dress, and hop on the MetroRail to catch a ride to Hermann Park, where Shakespeare in the Park is playing at Miller Outdoor Theater. I wonder why I didn’t pay attention in English class more.
10 pm— Home after a quality weekend, and sporting a sweet tan and renewed stamina, I wrap up the night by pounding whisky at House of Blues, where a band is playing. Just kidding; you know want to I go to bed early. It’s okay. I’ve earned it.