First look: Coastal Mexican cantina with two-story patio set to replace landmark Montrose gay bar
Just as Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, it also looks to be kicking off the summer restaurant and bar opening season. Several long-awaited projects look poised to open the doors in the coming weeks.
That starts Tuesday (May 26) when La Grange will join the already-announced B&B Butchers and Restaurant in making its public debut. As CultureMap first reported in March, La Grange is a coastal Mexican cantina from the same partners who own Cottonwood and Liberty Station that's taken over the space previously occupied by iconic gay bar E.J.'s.
"A lot of what’s in here is the existing building, just kind of stripped down. Slapped a few coats of paints on the walls," Rainey says.
Chief operating officer Jake Rainey tells CultureMap that partner Harres Exezidis has made relatively few structural changes as part of the remodeling process. "A lot of what’s in here is the existing building, just kind of stripped down. Slapped a few coats of paints on the walls," Rainey says.
Instead, partners Rob and Sara Cromie decorated the interior with items they discovered during trips to Mexico. Rainey cites tin lamps with burlap sacks as one of his favorite details.
"At night it’s going to have this kind of wavy, shadowy effect on the walls that I think will be pretty cool," he says. The space features handmade metal work for tables, lighting fixtures and sliding glass windows that run the length of the main dining room and look out onto La Grange's internal courtyard.
Interior patio charm
The two-story, interior patio gives La Grange much of its charm. It features a koi pond, games like darts and foosball, and a second story that provides views along lower Westheimer and a glimpse of the downtown skyline. Upstairs also features "Red's Bar," a second-story space that's named after a long time E.J.'s bartender and dancer which can be used for either private parties or as overflow seating during busy nights. Rainey says he's considering adding a humidor to Red's and making the second story cigar-friendly.
Rainey says he's considering adding a humidor to Red's and making the second story cigar-friendly.
Turning to the food and drinks, Chef Daniel Ajtai's menu was still under development in March, but it's ready to go now. Whereas Cottonwood's menu is built around its burgers, La Grange has a definite seafood focus — although burgers are still available. Asked about whether La Grange represents a step up on the culinary Ajtai responds:
"Cottonwood is a modern ice house. We didn’t want to go too crazy with the cuisine over there. We wanted it where everyone was comfortable with the menu. Over here, coastal cantina. Give Jake and I a beautiful place to try to turn it up a little more. It’s a little more ambitious, but not far from what we were knocking out over at Cottonwood."
Ajtai sounds particularly excited about his smoked tomato campechana. "Instead of using ketchup, we make our own smoky tomato reduction (and then add) octopus, scallops, shrimp and crab meat. The smoked tomatoes bring out the sweetness in the seafood. It’s a good rollercoaster of flavors" he says.
Other dishes include barbecue oysters, mini shrimp tamales and stacked enchiladas with choice of filling.
Bar manager Linda Salinas brings her experiences from places like Anvil and The Pastry War to La Grange's cocktail menu. Rainey predicts the watermelon fresca, made with blanco tequila aperol and watermelon juice, will be a big hit. In keeping with the Mexican theme, La Grange will serve both red and green micheladas.
"We'll have a ton of Texas craft, but if there's a good beer from Belgium, that's not going to keep us from putting it on the wall."
Rainey also expects the bar's frozen cocktails to be popular. That starts with a margarita, obviously, but will also include frozen horchata and other options. "We’re going to have a lot of different things rotating through there, but we’re going to take it seriously. It's going to be a full program," Rainey says.
Given Rainey's history with The Flying Saucer and the offerings at both Cottonwood and Liberty Station, it comes as no surprise that craft beer will round out the beverage options. The space features a total of 20 taps divided between an internal bar, a courtyard bar and Red's; while they'll initially mimic each other, Rainey says they'll eventually all feature different brews. Rounding out the options will be 30 bottles and cans, but they won't be exclusively Texas craft.
"Good beer is good beer," Rainey says. "We'll have a ton of Texas craft, but if there's a good beer from Belgium, that's not going to keep us from putting it on the wall."
Between the food, drinks and overall atmosphere, La Grange looks poised to be Montrose's new patio hotspot. One other element that should ensure its success — a substantial parking lot.