Bobby Heugel is bringing coffee back to 1424 Westheimer Rd. Refuge, the cocktail bar Heugel opened last year next to Anvil, will add coffee and wine service via its downstairs lounge beginning in early June.
If these plans sound a little familiar, they should. In 2019, Heugel and business partner Justin Yu operated the space as Penny Quarter, an all-day cafe with coffee, cocktails, wine, and a food truck that served a diverse menu of nutritious fare.
Unfortunately, the concept closed due to the pandemic — eventually serving as a short-term home for Japanese-inspired cocktail bar Tongue-cut Sparrow before turning into Refuge. With Refuge a hit (more on that in a bit), the time seemed right to revive the idea of operating the downstairs as a daytime space where people could get coffee, work, or meet with friends — all while preserving its ability to host events at night.
“We have always really liked this space. We like the patio, especially now that we’ve redone it,” Heugel says. “We think it can be somewhere that has really modest sales goals and be a comfortable, Montrose neighborhood spot. We think we can mix the space up and get some of those things we really liked about Penny Quarter back.”
Refuge Coffeehouse & Bar will be different from Penny Quarter in some key ways. Most importantly, the only food available will be from Love Croissants, chef Omar Pereney’s pastry concept that’s available at select coffee shops around town as well as the Urban Harvest farmers market. Coffee will come from local roaster Tenfold. The cocktail menu will feature coffee-based drinks such as the Irish coffee, espresso martini, and carajillo.
Wine will be available via a retail shelf that customers can drink on-site or take to-go. Anvil’s bottled cocktails will also be available for purchase to-go.
Physical changes to the space include new furniture, new paint, and a reworked bar layout. An all-new patio includes more greenery and new furniture.
“I think the space should be used however people want,” general manager Tommy Ho adds. “We have retail, the coffee aspect. People want to work here that’s fine, too. The patio’s nice on nice weather days.”
As with any of Heugel’s projects, opening the coffee shop will be a team effort by personnel from across Thorough Fare, the hospitality group he operates with in partnership with James Beard Award winner Justin Yu. Squable partner Terry Williams will curate Refuge’s wine list, and Refuge head bartender Kristen “K.K.” Nepomuceno will spend the first couple months working downstairs to teach proper wine and cocktail service to the coffee shop’s baristas.
Being open during the day — expected hours of operation are 10 am - 5 pm — allows Refuge to use the downstairs space for private events at night. Heugel says hosting events four nights a week will allow Refuge Coffeehouse to meet its revenue goals while still offering affordable coffee and wine to daytime patrons. So far, Refuge has hosted wedding showers, liquor brand tastings, corporate events, and other parties. For the right price, the whole complex can house up to 145 people.
“I think there are lots of pretty event spaces in this city, but please tell me another space where you can get the quality of wine and cocktails we offer,” Heugel says. “There’s not a lot of private event spaces where the cocktails are that good and come with that pedigree.”
As for the upstairs portion of Refuge, the bar recently celebrated its first anniversary by introducing a small food menu developed by Refuge bartender Peter Jahnke, who has also worked as a chef at restaurants such as Underbelly and Theodore Rex. Heugel and bartender Máté Hartai recently launched a special Martini Tuesday offering that’s proven to be a hit.
“It’s really become this space that I think was what we hoped it would be where people who we really like working with [and] with a great bartender pedigree get to come work in a space where they can focus more on the finer touches and refine their bartending career [for a business] that takes care of them but doesn’t require them to do crazy volume” Heugel says. “I think it rounds out the bar scene in Houston that I think was getting a little stagnant and repetitive.”
Indeed, after a pandemic slowdown, new bar openings have picked up. Heugel cites establishments such as the Lounge at March, EZ’s Liquor Lounge (opened by Anvil veteran Matt Tanner), and Clarkwood as other establishments that are giving Houstonians something new.
“I really like Clarkwood,” he adds. “It’s lively and energetic and doesn’t feel like the same thing that’s been around Houston for awhile. I think it’s really healthy.”
Refuge bar remains open Tuesday - Saturday from 5 pm - 1 am. Refuge Coffeeshop will open in early June once its staff has been trained. Follow the bar on Instagram to stay up-to-date on its latest developments.