Dear GQ, on behalf of Houston, thanks for nothing.
In its September issue, the men’s monthly publication has unveiled one of those most sublime, thorough, laudatory, and frankly, spot-on examinations of Houston in recent memory, calling the Bayou City the new capital of Southern cool.
Currently swirling around all manners of social media, the long-form piece is deftly crafted by Brett Martin, who recently named two Houston restaurants to his 13 Best New Restaurants in America list.
Martin touches on our fair city’s diversity without sounding cliché and on our exploding food scene without sounding nouveau. The essay lavishes cool, objective praise without fawning. In fact, savvy out-of-towners need only skim the story before being compelled to pack up and head straight for the Bayou City.
And that’s the problem.
We locals already face the crushing, daily onslaught of Newstonians (Houston added 94,417 residents in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau). This article, while lovely, won’t help any of us dealing with newcomers asking if we have a Ralph’s or with the Audis festooned with California license plates that perpetually roam the exit lanes (only to get back on at the last second).
We kid, because we care. Martin’s piece is a love letter from someone just realizing they’re in love. It’s the consummate must-read. Here, then, are some highlights.
Montrose as a muse
Was Martin’s blossoming romance with Houston sparked by his stay in Montrose? Almost taking a page from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the correspondent was lured by the charms of the boutique hotel La Colombe d'Or: “I was the sole guest for much of my time there,” Martin notes, “in a suite that inexplicably included a full dining room set, and I was never 100 percent sure they weren't ghosts.” (Of course there were.)
Martin calls Montrose “the part of Houston that looks the most like a cool city is supposed to look—dense; green; filled with museums, coffee shops, cocktail bars, and other hip independent businesses; at least plausibly walkable (though few seem to do so).”
The food, of course
Could there be a better food star to pal around with than Chris Shepherd? Martin spends a good amount of time with the James Beard award winner; highlights include a trip to Saigon Pagolac for Vietnamese fare and a visit to a Nigerian market, DD Vantage. The purveyor of said market, Nora, drops a memorable and quotable line to Shepherd, whom she suspects is with the FBI. Shepherd assures her he’s a chef.
“Oh Lord,” Nora says, shaking her head. “When you're a chef, you get to just play around and call it food.”
There are also fun nods to benevolent bar maven Alba Huerta and food star Justin Yu.
Bun B and Kam
Speaking of stars, Martin spends time with rap hero and raconteur Bun B, who educates the writer on Houston’s African-American community via a trip to the barber shop. Bun reminds the writer that Houston’s hip-hop scene was the ultimate music disruptor: "New York likes to lay claim to everything, and this was something they couldn't lay claim to,” quotes the local legend (who Shepherd assures could be mayor, if he wanted).
And no story on Houston music would be complete without a mention of the Suffers' Kam Franklin, who shares a charming tidbit regarding her start. Franklin, the queen of Gulf Coast Soul, "got her first gigs by inventing agents and managers: fake old white guys with fake e-mail accounts," Martin writes. “I used ‘Mike’ a lot. Mike seems like a trusty guy but also tough,” Franklin explains.
Shade thrown at Austin and Dallas
We’re not one to diss other Texas cities — not when someone does it for us. A businessman "with shops in all three of the state's most famous cities" described them for Martin:
“Austin is like your young, hip millennial brother who always knows the latest cool thing. Dallas is the metrosexual middle brother that nobody really wants to spend time with. But Houston is the older, cooler sibling—he's got some miles on him, he's been through some stuff, but he totally knows what's cool and what's not."
Houston’s cool in one sentence
Martin shared a ride with a Houstonian who encapsulated our city in one colorful sentence. What better way to close? “Houston is cool because Houston doesn't give a fuck about being cool.”