Landmark Montrose bar to be reborn under new owners: Laidback margaritas to replace go-go dancers
Since it closed last June, Montrose residents have wondered about the fate of EJ's, which served as a neighborhood institution for more than 40 years. With its drag shows and go-go dancers, EJ's was an essential part of gay culture in Houston.
While the drag shows have moved on, the property is in good hands. It has been quietly acquired by Cottonwood/Liberty Station partners Sara and Rob Cromie, Harres Exezidi and chief operating officer Jake Rainey for their first concept south of Buffalo Bayou. With renovations underway and a plan to open in mid-April, Rainey is telling CultureMap some details about the bar, which they are tentatively calling La Grange.
Inspired by a love of fishing and coastal food, Rainey describes La Grange as a having a "coastal Mexican" theme.
Inspired by Cromie's love of fishing and coastal food, Rainey describes La Grange as a having a "coastal Mexican" theme, but it won't feature an overtly Mexican-inspired decor.
"It's going to be a bar," Rainey says. "It's not going to be high-end like Caracol or anything like that."
Cottonwood chef Daniel Ajtai is crafting the menu, which will blend some familiar elements like burgers with Mexican-inspired small plates. "We haven’t finalized the menu yet. We’re still pretty early on in that," Rainey says.
Cocktails are also a work in progress, but Rainey says the bar will feature an extensive selection of tequila and mezcal, along with the craft beers both Liberty and Cottonwood are known for.
Popular bartender Linda Salinas will likely move from Liberty Station to La Grange. She'll bring her experience from The Pastry War, the Clumsy Butcher Group's downtown agave bar, to the cocktail menu.
The basic structure of the space remains intact, including the second story balcony with a view of the downtown skyline. La Grange will have a patio bar, a downstairs bar and a second-story bar for private events and busy weekend nights. It will also benefit from a large parking lot that's a rarity in Montrose.
While the city doesn't lack for options for either margaritas or craft beer — Hugo's and Pistolero's are both nearby — Rainey says he thinks La Grange still has quite a bit to offer.
La Grange will feature the same atmosphere that has made Liberty Station and Cottonwood so successful.
"I think we’re in Houston, Texas," he says. "Everybody wants a good margarita, and I’ve always personally believed that you can do a bunch of different themes, but, at the end of the day, the product has to be good. If the product is good, people are going to come.
"I think we make a good product now. I think the margarita will be good, and the craft beer will be served in appropriate ways."
La Grange will also feature the same laidback atmosphere that has made both Liberty Station and Cottonwood so successful, although Rainey notes that whether it's as family-friendly as Cottonwood will mostly depend on how patrons utilize it. Hours will mimic Cottonwood's with lunch only served on Friday and brunch on the weekends.
Rainey joined the company after a well-regarded tenure at The Flying Saucer. He adds that he and his partners will look to grow again once La Grange is up and running.
"We want to do more stuff. We don’t have a plan as far as specific concepts. We did a patio place here at Liberty Station. We have Cottonwood, which has a lot of live music and craft beer and craft cocktails. This place will be significantly different than those two, but it will share similar qualities in that it will be full service."
An iconic Montrose space remains under local control by well-regarded operators. If it all comes together, La Grange will be one of 2015's best bar openings.