Early reports of the news that iconic dive bar Kay’s Lounge would be closing September 3 painted a familiar tale. The evil developer bulldozes a local institution against the will of the leaseholder, but, as Kay’s co-owner Marshall Hefley tells CultureMap, that’s not the relationship he has with developer Nicholas Silvers.
“I want everyone to know Nick didn’t force me out,” Hefley says. “I consider Nick a friend. Even the day they’re tearing it down, I would call Nick and say let’s go have lunch before they start doing it.”
When Hefley, who has worked for the Houston Fire Department for almost 37 years, and his partners made the decision to sell the Kay’s property, they approached a real estate agent who introduced them to Silvers. The Kay’s owners felt like they’d found the right person to purchase the land.
“Nick and I met a couple times and had lunch . . . Then it just worked out after we talked with Nick awhile . . . I knew he was just honest, straightforward, would tell me exactly what he wanted to do,” Hefley says.
“We probably spent four months just talking and meeting up here before we talked about putting a real contract down,” Silvers adds. “We didn’t want to start throwing paper back and forth.”
They agreed on a one-year lease extension with month-to-month terms to follow. That lasted almost an additional year-and-a-half before the time came to close Kay’s. Silvers says he realizes many people are sad that a bar that’s operated since 1939 is closing.
“I grew up here. I spent my whole life here. I’ve been nostalgic about things changing. I remember when the Rockets said they were going to leave the Summit, and I was just shattered,” Silvers says. “It’s progression. If it hadn’t been me, someone else would have come and maybe tried to put a high-rise or a mid-rise here.”
Instead of potentially become a mess like the ongoing fight over the Ashby high-rise, Silvers and his partner will build patio homes on the property. They may not replace a neighborhood institution, but they will fit in with the area's character, the builders say.
More than the building — or even celebrity regulars like Dave Ward and Dr. Red Duke — Hefley credits Kay’s success to the friendly staff, all of whom will soon be looking for new jobs elsewhere.
“I’ve had the same guys forever: Mario, Chuy, Grady, Breck, and a girl named Shug. Mario and Chuy have been with me for 15 years,” Hefley says. “Just being kind to the customers, they (make people) feel like it’s their home.”
Since the announcement last week, Hefley says people have asked him about the fate of the bar’s iconic, Texas-shaped table and the cats that live on the property. The cats will be taken to a farm in Hempstead when they can live in a barn and chase rodents.
As for the table, Hefley and his partners contemplated auctioning it off for charity but have decided to hold onto it instead. They’d like to reopen Kay’s somewhere in the Hill Country. The neon sign, bar top, and the famous table will all have a new home, someday.