Food for Thought
Another Houston food institution is set to be bulldozed: Shouldn't we care more about history?
Restaurants and bars often become second homes to regulars.
Think of Cheers. (Norm!) They are places where you can hang out, relax, get some great food and some drinks and just be as comfortable as you are in your own living room.
But in Houston, where developers reign as king and city ordinances hardly benefit iconic hangouts and neighborhoods over new building, we often lose our homes away from home. They pave over paradise to put up a parking lot.
As long as I’ve lived in Houston, and that’s been a while, one of the things I missed out on was the famous Shamrock Hotel. Built in the 1940s by wildcatter Glenn McCarthy for $23 million it was the epitome of elegance and the be-and-be-seen place in Houston. Frank Sinatra was the opening act on St. Patrick’s Day in 1949 when media from around the world came to see the celebrities and the water skiing women in the giant swimming pool.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have dined in the Pine Grill where the champagne cocktails were $1.50 and the Chef’s Special Dinner (just $3.25!) consisted of cream of fresh celery, roast Long Island duckling with applesauce, French new peas, bread and butter and fresh strawberries and coffee. Heaven.
Frank Sinatra was the opening act on St. Patrick’s Day in 1949 when media from around the world came to see the celebrities and the water skiing women in the giant swimming pool.
But, alas, the Shamrock was torn down by the expanding Texas Medical Center in 1987 and — like the song says — was paved over for a parking lot.
But even in my time I’ve lost places I loved. La Mora Cucina Toscana on Lovett Boulevard, one of the most romantic, charming Italian eateries in Houston, is now a bunch of town homes. Luckily, chef/owner Lynette Hawkins has a new, causal spot, Giacomo’s cibo e vino. Not the same ambience but terrific food.
Oh, and who remembers the Confederate House? The reigning dining establishment for oilmen, athletes and ladies who lunch for more than five decades, the establishment of old world dining (jackets required) that was finally forced to change its name to the State Grille to be more PC, is also gone. I used to love to lunch there and hang in the dark lounge on the right side after you entered, where regulars would congregate in the early afternoon for cheap cocktails and a free hot buffet. I really loved that place.
Today it’s a huge hole in the ground about to be turned into a 40-story luxury apartment building because lord knows that’s what the corner of Weslayan and West Alabama needs when all the streets in the area look like they’ve been shelled by terrorists and there are high rises being built all around without any new water/sewer or police or fire stations being built to handle the increase in population.
Oh, wait that’s not my beat.
OK, back to food.
And now the latest. Blanco’s Bar & Grill will close.
You read the news here on CultureMap that St. John’s School purchased the land where Blanco's sits from the Taub family to expand the private school.
Goodbye History — Again
Blanco’s is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fine dining establishment. But it is a Houston icon. A real Texas country-style honky tonk that features boot scootin’ bands by night, political fund raisers, chili cook offs, Rodeo committee ad hoc meetings over beers and burgers, and a popular cheap lunch. There are chicken fried steaks, red beans and rice, chopped steaks, chili cheese fries and a surprisingly good club sandwich.
Today it’s a huge hole in the ground about to be turned into a 40-story luxury apartment building.
The wood frame single story building with faded blue paint has been around almost as long as St. John’s. Originally it was a day care center, and then a bar called Hondo’s before Barry E. DeBakey, son of the late, great heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, bought it and changed the name.
For decades Blanco’s has served the River Oaks rich set, nearby office drones, construction workers, journalists and just about anybody wanting to escape the big city feel and just relax in a place where the beer is cold, the wild animals stuffed and decorated (there’s a pink cowboy hat on a deer head at the bar) and the staff knows your name and your drink of choice.
Last week the Today show did a live shot from Blanco’s for a story about a drinking app for your iPad. Too bad they didn’t talk about the impending demise of this institution.
Sometimes history and modern development can coexist. Case in point is the Church of St. Joske’s in downtown San Antonio. Technically, its name is St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
Built in 1876 by the German community it has long been known for its fabulous stained glass windows. But Joske’s department store wanted to expand and in the late 1940s it wanted the church land. The church refused to sell and the flagship Joske’s, a five-story emporium that was the first in the state to have escalators and air conditioning, built around the church.
Three sides of the church are now surrounded by the store that has since been acquired by Dillard’s, which then closed it in 2008. The historic little church is still active and still surrounded by huge development.
But that likely won’t happen to Blanco’s.
Honky tonks and parochial schools don’t exactly mix. I can’t see St. John’s School building around Blanco’s. And besides that Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has a rule about selling liquor within 1,000 feet of a school.
So, it’s adios Blanco’s.
We don’t know when it will close. The school first needs a master plan for expansion and then will likely have to raise funds before construction begins.
In the meantime, get your boots over to Blanco’s for little dancing, a little booze and some great greasy burgers.