Keeping Houston Quirky
Drinking in Houston's history
Most entrepreneurs look to the future, but this one also looks to the past.
The Houston Chronicle profiled businessman Atul "Lucky" Chopra, who, after founding several successful medically-related businesses, has found a niche in the real estate and hospitality markets in buying devalued old buildings and restoring them to luxe hangouts—bars, restaurants, even a hotel may be in the works. In a city of strip malls, he creates historic spaces that are nothing if not unique.
In 2007 Chopra purchased the Kennedy Corner Building, Houston's second oldest standing commercial building, and installed buzzworthy bar Hearsay. The site formerly served as an ammunition dump during the Civil War and housed the original Foley's department store in 1896. The building was spared from demolition by local artist Lee Benner (who purchased the building by taking out a loan against his truck) and restored in 2001, with Chopra installing a full kitchen, a premium sound system, plasma televisions, and a six-figure early-twentieth-century Tuscan crystal chandelier to complete the retro-swank vibe.
However, the first historic structures on Chopra's radar are just now getting set for renovations. Purchased five years ago, right before Midtown land values took off, Chopra is spending $3 million starting in March to turn a stately but neglected columned colonial revival house (circa 1913) on Elgin Street into a site for a restaurant, lounge and event center, according to the Chronicle.
An even bigger project is set to begin in February, with Chopra's company spending a reported $20 million to turn the former Boy Scouts of America building into a space for his offices, banquet rooms and a restaurant (currently planned as a Moroccan/Spanish hybrid called Moor's Restaurant and Tapas Lounge, to be operated by second-generation restaurateurs Hicham Nafaa and Ali Bendella).
But Chopra biggest real estate project to date is still in the planning stages. He's in the process of negotiating the purchase of a downtown building he wants to turn into a boutique hotel (in the true sense of the word, with a mere 35 rooms) anchored by a restaurant, club, and high-end spa. If the deal goes through, Chopra plans to spend upwards of $30 million in renovations.
And he's not through: Chopra says he has about 10 other historic properties on his radar for purchase and conversion. As he told the Chronicle, "I really can't imagine doing strip centers. It wouldn't excite me."
If it means more watering holes with authentic ambience, we say out with the new, in with the old.