Three veterans of Houston’s bar scene are bringing Midtown a new place to party. Adonis Graham, Bronson Gutierez, and Mike Leitner have teamed up to launch FAO, which they describe as an interactive party bar with speakeasy elements.
The retro-spot will power up with a soft opening February 26–28. Doors open at 5 pm Friday and at 2 pm Saturday and Sunday.
Graham and Gutierez opened Reflect as a nightclub and lounge shortly before the coronavirus pandemic shut down bars across the country. With the closure of Pub Fiction, they saw an opportunity to pivot towards a more neighborhood-friendly spot where people can come for a drink during a weeknight happy hour or celebrate a birthday with friends late into the night. With Leitner on board, the trio bring over 50 years of experience to the project.
“We miss Reflect, but with the shift in the neighborhood it made us want to get back to basics,” Graham tells CultureMap. “We wanted to give people a place to hang out where you know who’s running the place. Kind of get that old school mentality of being in the building all the time where people want to see us.”
Located in the former Third Floor/Reflect Lounge space at 2303 Smith St., FAO takes its name from the signs that read “For Amusement Only” above pinball machines to counteract anti-gambling initiatives in Chicago. The bar’s logo takes its inspiration from Atari and Sega, adding to the retro feel.
Video games, pinball machines, and other amusements like skee-ball can be found throughout the spacious room. Flatscreen TVs offer plenty of places to watch games.
“PAC-MAN, Mortal Kombat, basketball, you have all these games we grew up with,” Leitner says. “That’s what we mean by interactive — the neighborhood, interactive, speakeasy, party bar. You might come in on a Tuesday and see a girl dancing on the bar. You just don’t know what you’ll get.”
FAO won’t have a sign or a doorman, but a giant, blue bigfoot — affectionately named Eugene — will help people spot it from the street. Patrons are encouraged to follow the bar on social media to learn the weekly access code that will allow them in. A select group of regulars will receive keyfobs for the door’s security panel that will grant them instant access.
“So they can flex a bit in front of their friends,” Graham says. “‘Hey, I got this.’”
Drinks will run the gamut from craft beer from smaller Houston breweries such as Holler and Local Group to shots that will keep the party going all night. Graham notes that he and Gutierez enjoy the craft of bartending, which they display with housemade syrups that get used in drinks such as an Old Fashioned and a watermelon margarita.
“We know we’re going to bang out a lot of vodka sodas, but we want people to understand they can get a good drink and not feel like shit the next day,” he says.
Food options consist of shareable snacks, pizzas, and sandwiches that will be produced at the bar’s kitchen. The trio are considering vendors for late night eats on the weekends, but their primary focus is on showing people a good time.
“We want you to have one of the best nights of your life … then have to look at your text messages and pictures to figure out what happened,” Leitner says.