Editor's note: No one can blame Houstonians for being eager to turn the page on 2020. But as we do, we look back on the headlines that readers most devoured this year. What started off as a promising year quickly turned to a pandemic, cancellations and closings, and racial strife.
Readers followed our COVID coverage, but especially took comfort in food; indeed, our most popular story (not surprising in a food city such as ours) was the triumphant return of Houston restaurants and dine-in service. We bid farewell to a nationally famous Starbucks, endured widespread flooding, and toasted couples brave enough to marry in a pandemic.
Time will tell what 2021 brings, but we look forward to bringing you the news as it develops in the new year. Thank you for reading. We wish you the very best 2021 has to offer.
1. Master list of Houston restaurants reopening for dine-in service beginning May 1. When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that restaurants could reopen for dine-in service after six weeks of being limited to only operating for to-go, hundreds of Houston restaurants took the plunge. Diners encountered a very different experience than before the pandemic with hand sanitizer, mask requirements, and other precautions in place. Throughout the rest of the year, more restaurants would reopen and some bars have converted into restaurants in order to operate under the new guidelines.
2. Here is when the COVID-19 pandemic could end in Houston, according to experts. Published in late March, this article reported on a study by scientists at UTHealth that predicted the pandemic would peak in early April and be mostly over by mid-May. Instead of the study's predicted total of 3,500 total cases for the Houston area, Harris County has reported over 236,000 cases as of the end of the year and more than 2,600 deaths. Looking to the future, mid-May 2021 does seem like a potentially good target to have much of the region vaccinated.
3. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo hints at another Houston-area lockdown. Shortly after Hidalgo floated the idea of another shutdown in her "State of the County" address, the Eighth District Court of Appeals made the prospect of a county-wide shutdown moot when it ruled that county judges cannot exceed limits set by Gov. Greg Abbott. Meanwhile, the debate about how to limit the spread of the pandemic — and saves lives — while maintaining the region's economic health rages on.
4. Hoffman reveals an ironic twist to the shocking Houston Astros firings of A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow. Our columnist offered his take on the Astros cheating scandal from his perspective as a former Little League manager. Sign stealing has always been — and will always be — a part of baseball, but Hoffman recognized Astros owner Jim Crane made the right call by parting ways with manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. He also correctly predicted that Hinch would return to a Major League dugout as soon as his suspension was lifted.
5. Houston's famous Starbucks at 'the end of the universe' flames out. Lewis Black made the intersection of West Gray and Shepherd Dr. famous when he ranted about finding the "end of the universe" at the corner where a Starbucks sat across the street from another Starbucks. While the location at the southeast corner has closed, the larger location on the northeast corner, complete with a drive-thru, remains open to fulfill those frappuccino cravings.
6. Houston power couple embraces 2020 with adorable elopement and local honeymoon. When COVID-19 scuttled their plans for a wedding at a resort in Belize, Grace Gibson and Nick Scurfield pivoted. The couple opted for a casual elopement at the Fort Bend County courthouse. Instead of a honeymoon, they spent a couple of nights at the Hotel ZaZa and feasted at establishments like Tacos A Go Go and Riel (two clients of Scurfield's public relations firm). With the money they saved, the couple bought a house in Montrose. They plan to celebrate their first anniversary in Belize.
7. Magical new Harry Potter-themed bar transports Houstonians to Diagon Alley. Frankly, it's a bit of a mystery why this article proved so popular. Perhaps readers wanted an escape and a Harry Potter-themed bar seemed like the perfect refuge. Perhaps people really like the idea of drinking a butterbeer. Either way, the Instagram-friendly attraction proved irresistible.
8. Shocking shutters due to COVID-19 rock prominent Houston restaurants. This article in May offered an early taste of all the closures that would result from the coronavirus pandemic. The three restaurants listed — Poitín, a restaurant that had a spot on Texas Monthly's 2019 list of the state's best new restaurants, venerable pizzeria Barry's Pizza, and the Uptown Park location of The Tasting Room — operated for years before declining revenues brought about their ends.
9. Where to eat in Houston right now: 11 best patios for socially distanced dining. Experts agree that dining outdoors is safer than dining indoors. With that in mind, we shared some of our favorite patio spots, including La Lucha, Candente, and Backstreet Cafe. Hopefully, the city will have a mild winter that will allow Houstonians to continue utilizing these spaces.
10. Here are the Houston schools and businesses closed due to the massive 610 East flood. We all learned how fragile the city's water supply is when an accidental water main break shut down a section of the Loop, temporarily closed some schools, and triggered a boil notice for a couple of days. Somehow that seems a little quaint given the other challenges the city has faced this year.