As the result of changes in TABC guidelines, bars across the Houston area have been able to reopen as restaurants by adding food to their offerings.
Per state regulations designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, operating as a restaurant means that a (former) bar must comply with procedures such as limiting itself to 75-percent capacity, maintaining 6 feet between tables, and keeping customers seated. Establishments that don’t comply risk have their liquor license suspended.
Despite whatever challenges these restrictions might place on a bar’s business model — they’re now expected to generate half their revenue from food sales — many have taken the plunge and started operating as restaurants. Here’s a quick look at some of places that have made the switch.
The Midtown wine bar remains one of the city’s most romantic destinations, especially now that the prospect of cooler weather makes its courtyard a more pleasant seating option. Let the staff offer advice about the right bottle or glass to sip. Food options are centered around panini and the well-curated cheese and charcuterie boards, but the tableside s’mores are always a winner.
Eight Row Flint
Agricole Hospitality’s patio bar in The Heights has always had the tagline “whiskey, beer, tacos,” but it’s become best known as Houston’s finest purveyor of Ranchwaters. For a less sweet option, consider the Ricky Tanner, a straightforward concoction of tequila, Topo Chico, lime juice, and salt. Beyond the tacos (try the Brussels sprouts), the menu includes fajitas, wings, a burger, and more.
The Flying Saucer
With downtown bars and restaurants having been hit particularly hard by COVID-related shutdowns, the time has never been better to sample the beer list at this downtown pub. Not only will customers find all the best local brews, but the staff brings in plenty of national standard bearers, too. Food has always been part of the experience; offerings range from pizza and wings to sandwiches and salads.
Kirby Ice House
Both the original and Memorial location of the massive patio bars have reopened. Best known for their sprawling backyards, all that outdoor space seems particularly well suited to the present moment. A rotating selection of food trucks allows Kirby Ice House to fulfill its food requirements.
Montrose’s Mexican-themed patio bar offers plenty of room for social distancing. Cocktail options cover just about any taste, but the signature frozen watermelon fresca remains particularly refreshing. The Mexican-inspired menu offers lots of options, including the establishment’s take on the ultra-trendy beef birria tacos.
The New Potato
This spot in the Fifth Ward offers a low-key vibe, a well-curated tap wall, and classic cocktails. Food options vary by day, but it will either be Rose Maria’s Blue Corn serving quesadillas and tacos, Tacos a la Madre serving tacos and burgers, or barbecue on Friday nights.
Penny Whistle Pub
The recently renovated Irish pub has always been a solid option for a classic cocktail or a cold beer. To satisfy the food requirements, it’s utilizing a mix of food trucks, a steak night on Thursdays, and the kitchen of its sister concept Revelry on Richmond. Customers can order food directly through Penny Whistle and have it delivered from next door.
The Montrose institution known for its extensive bourbon selection has reopened for dine-in service. Food choices are limited to pizzas and hot dogs, but most people will probably just be happy they can hang out in the backyard.
Sixes and Sevens
To go along with reopening, the Montrose spot swapped out its original, Italian-inspired menu for Japanese-style bar snacks and ramen. Either way, the colorful room is perfect for Instagram, and the creative cocktails remain as refreshing as ever.
This ultra-stylish Washington Avenue spot made a huge splash before the shutdown, and its return has been greeted with similar fanfare. The Ladies of Libation, bartenders Laurie Harvey and Kris Sowell, consulted on the cocktail list, and their “make it pretty” aesthetic is reflected in touches such as edible gold and glitter. Food options are mostly limited to sweets and charcuterie boards, but, on the plus side, an expanded patio makes it Sugar Room a comfortable option for social distancing.
All of the Kirby Groups bars have reopened, but their cocktail bar in Midtown remains a personal favorite — both because CultureMap Tastemaker Awards bartender of the year nominee Jessica Johnson calls it home and culinary director Brandon Silva tends to serve his most creative fare there. New drinks on the menu include the Mr. Big (vodka, watermelon, cucumber, absinthe, lemon) and the Port Royal (rum, gin, cassis, honey, lemon). Wooster’s cheeseburger is always reliable, but vegetarians will crave the cauliflower “al pastor.”