Get those phones out. Houston’s most Instagrammable bar opens July 25.
Present Company, the latest project from prolific bar owner Shawn Bermudez (Boondocks, Pistolero’s, Stone’s Throw, and The Burger Joint), replaces Royal Oak, the bar Bermudez closed in the summer of 2016. It had been slated to open last fall, but a massive fire destroyed the second story, attic, and all of the air conditioning units.
But the delays had a salutary effect, allowing Bermudez, managing partner Michael Leitner, and beverage director Rex Nielsen time to refine the decor, drinks, and overall experience. Bermudez realized Royal Oak had come to the end of its life, but figuring out how to replace it proved tricky.
“I was inspired by old school Palm Springs, ’60s through ’90s. Design-wise, usually when I take a place over, I try to make sure it doesn’t look like what it looked like before,” Bermudez tells CultureMap “Over here, it was more difficult, because I had to figure out how to turn one of my old concepts into a new concept. How do I get rid of everything I had before and start all over? Color is the way to go.”
Indeed, Present Company features color just about everywhere. From the bright hues on the chairs on the patio and a floral print banquette upstairs to the birdcage chandeliers inside and the tropical patterns on the two upstairs cabanas, Present Company offers lots to look at. An outdoor vertical garden, multiple neon signs, and orange booths on the back patio are all good spots for photos — as are the bathrooms, which have graphics of David Bowie (women's) and Farrah Fawcett (men's) on the ceiling.
It’s also about twice as big as it was before, courtesy of downstairs and upstairs patios that replaced the parking spots along the west side of the building. The additional space makes Present Company a patio bar, and that’s also reflected in Nielsen’s cocktail menu. The focus is on refreshing flavors and drinks that can be executed quickly. After all, no one wants to wait five minutes or more for a drink.
For example, a milk punch cocktail that’s built around coconut milk and banana cognac gets prepped before service in a small glass bottle. When someone orders one, the bartender takes the bottle out of the fridge, gives it a quick shake, and heads it to the customer. Similarly, two frozen cocktails — the Once Bitten, a hibiscus gin and tonic, and the Twice Shy, a rum-based tiki cocktail — come out quickly, too.
In addition to cocktails, the bar features a limited selection of beer and a pretty extensive wine list for a bar. Most bottles are under $50, which makes them perfect for sharing.
Turning from drinks to food, Bermudez tapped Matthew Pak, his partner in The Burger Joint, to create the new menu. Royal Oaks entrees are out, replaced with a new focus on shareable plates like pork belly bites as well as burgers and pizzas. The full menu is available until 10 pm nightly, and a late night menu runs until midnight.
A couple of Royal Oak’s most popular promotions remain. Tuesday night is still steak night, and the bar still serves brunch on the weekends, complete with a DJ. Bermudez always resisted the “Sunday Funday” moniker, but expect Present Company to continue on the space’s legacy as a popular weekend spot.
Royal Oak had a five-year run before Bermudez decided to change things up. Does he think Present Company might have a longer tenure?
“I tried to think outside the box and do things that are a little different than what I’m noticing in the city,” he says. “Hopefully, I accomplished that and hopefully we last a little longer than five years. But you never know.”
However long it lasts, just know that every detail will be thoroughly photographed.