The anti-Washington Avenue: Taft at Fairview wedged between Midtown cool &Montrose cooler
She is drunk on the sunshine of a marvelous spring day in Houston, how else to explain her kicking off her shoes and planting her toes in the lap of her male companion? At an outdoor restaurant?
He smiles a bit, blushes and moves her feet away. And though the old lady in me wants to tell her she’s in public, and to put her feet down, I can understand it. She is in a cool new spot in Houston, and she’s there before the crowds find it.
I hate, really, to spoil it for her. But, here it is.
It’s an intersection, actually, at Fairview and Taft, a corner of Montrose that used to be the hangout of some of the area’s more down and out, including, I’m told, drug pushers and their customers, prostitutes and their customers. Now those folks are being edged out, trapped between Midtown cool and Montrose cooler. The immediate neighborhood includes several car repair shops, grand gated mansions, houses with windows boarded up and shiny new townhouses.
Ecclesia Church, which was once housed on Taft, has offered a shower and a nap for the needy, but its coffee shop and art gallery serve mostly people who go to any coffee shop and have already had their showers at home.
The corner store that was a magnet because of its handy pay phone is no more. It was bought by developer Fred Sharifi and spiffed up into a trendy-looking building awaiting a contract with a restaurant perhaps. On a recent Sunday, that space was open as a site of a pop-up gallery, the brainchild of adorable young Esther Gutstein, who stages instant and collapsible art shows with Houston artists in spaces she finds empty … with permission, of course.
People who have come for food or drink or both had already drifted over to look at her art offerings. Some had come from Ziggy’s, where the sign says “healthy” but the owner says, “We call it the ‘h’ word.” It’s a charming place in an old house, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a small but lovely outside seating area.
Say hello to one of the partner/owners, Kevin Strickland, who graduated from Rice and spent 17 years in tax work before he bought Ziggy’s. It’s “comfort food,” he says, noting that some people don’t like “health food.”
So it’s comfort food with low salt, low fat and low carb. And the most popular item, he says, is the Buffalo Burger. I had a civilized breakfast there where the bacon got its own plate. Not sure what the message was. Ziggy’s had a parking problem, but that’s been settled more or less.
Ziggy's is across Fairview from Boheme, which has built its reputation as a wine bar, but is trying to build its brand as a coffee shop, too. It hasn’t been discovered by many daytimers yet, so there’s room to spread out and write your novel or read your paper and get an affordable cup of coffee. Owner Morgan Holleman has accumulated a massive amount of furniture that sits inside and outside on the patios. Some of it’s a bit butt sprung, but there are many choices.
One mid-morning we observed workmen and locals coming in for coffee. When told the register was broken, they promised they’d come back later to pay. All fine with Boheme. Holleman said he had traveled a lot of the world and really missed a coffee shop with a cultural feel and a relaxed atmosphere.
He helps sponsor art events and provides a place for flyers. He lives in an old house next door. “I always wanted to walk to work.” You can say hello to him at the bar, poring over wine lists. And you can get a light meal. He’s proud to serve, among other things, locally produced Pola artisan cheese.
And he’s happy to say he’s seen revenue double every year.
Boheme is right next door to the home and office of Angela, palm reader ($10) and tarot card reader ($25), who has been in this neighborhood for 19 years. She’s seen a lot more foot traffic of late, she says, and her hours are 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., or generally when Boheme is open. Walk-ins are welcome.
And she’s right next to TNT Shirt Co., which produces tees to order. They used to have a retail store and are thinking about reopening it now that the action has increased, says owner Peter Buschlen. You can walk in and look around if you choose.
Next door there’s a Pinot’s Palette, where groups arrive to paint and drink of the evening. You need to sign up in advance for that.
Across the street is the big action for browsers, though, Reeves Antiques. Paul, the dad, has been in the business since 1969. He sells fine old furniture and some eccentric pieces to decorators and the public. Matt, the son, is only 24 but spent years traveling the country with his dad, buying estate furniture and the like for the retail store. Matt convinced his Dad to give some “mid-Century modern” furniture a go.
“I hated that stuff,” his Dad said.
But in came the ‘50s couches and chairs and tables and out they went on one weekend, selling like mad. Matt has since expanded his side of the store to include artwork and rugs. He even got a nod from Paper City recently for his efforts. Matt lives upstairs at the store, and can be seen trotting to Boheme for his morning coffee. Cleaned up and dressed for work, he actually looks and talks like a young Mark Ruffalo.
Reeves Antiques is open during the week and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
The neighbor/business folk of Taft and Fairview have seen good changes in atmosphere in the last few years and they can’t imagine how much bigger it might get. A group of them assembled and seated on the mid-century modern at Reeves’s, point out other activity ... down Taft is Juan Mon’s sandwich shop, and closer is the The Texas Junk Co., a mecca for people seeking used cowboy boots at Rodeo time and a fascinating visit for people who like odds and ends with a past. Of course, you’ll pass the beloved Baby Barnaby’s on Fairview, too.
One thing they know they don’t want to be: the next “Washington Avenue.” Those young trendy types, they say, come and then move on. They want this neighborhood, in all its mixed-use splendor, to think of as their place.
And anybody who loves that sort of atmosphere is most welcome, too.