The Restaurants We Lost
Houston's 11 biggest restaurant and bar closures of 2019 reveal a turbulent year in dining
By any measure, 2019 has been a banner year for Houston restaurants. New concepts from both homegrown talent and out of towners gave passionate diners plenty of places to try.
Still, it’s been a turbulent year as both veteran establishments called it quits after long runs and newer establishments vanished as fast as they opened. That phenomenon holds particularly true for Montrose, which both welcomed new establishments ranging from Rosie Cannonball to Sweetgreen but also said goodbye to high-profile establishments such as Pax Americana and The Pass & Provisions.
Presented chronologically, here’s a look back at 11 of this year’s biggest bar and restaurant closings.
From when it opened in the summer of 2014 to founding chef Adam Dorris’ departure in early 2017, this Montrose restaurant earned multiple accolades, including restaurant of the year in the 2016 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. The creative menu of small plates, which relied on high-quality, locally sourced ingredients garnished with piles of fresh herbs, made every meal exciting. Chef Martha de Leon earned a James Beard semifinalist nomination as Dorris’ replacement, but her departure in 2018 prompted a shift in concept that never recaptured the restaurant’s early buzz.
A second location of B.B. Lemon replaced Pax in August, but it’s been closed for the past couple of months due to unspecified “mechanical maintenance issues,” according to a representative for proprietor Ben Berg.
With her lease up, restaurateur Claire Smith decided to pull the plug on her Montrose cafe and its companion concept WoodBar. Known for its first-rate pastries, comfortable patio, and popular happy hour, Canopy provided the neighborhood with a comfortable gathering spot. Smith continues to own Heights restaurant Alice Blue and maintains a well-regarded catering operation.
The Pass & Provisions
Along with other restaurants that opened in 2012 like Oxheart and Underbelly, The Pass & Provisions elevated Houston’s dining scene and set it on the path to national acclaim. Chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan brought impressive resumes to their roles as co-owners, courtesy of stints working for luminaries such as Marcus Samuelsson, Gordon Ramsay, and Heston Blumenthal.
With its high-low dual concept — fine dining tasting menus in The Pass and a more casual menu of pizza, pasta, and other items at Provisions — the restaurant served as a flexible space that could cater to almost any need. Sadly, it never garnered the same level of national attention as its peers, but to the end, P&P remained a consistently satisfying place to dine.
The Midtown restaurant earned wide acclaim — including a spot on CultureMap’s list of Houston’s Top 100 restaurants — for chef Tony Nguyen’s creative take on Viet-Cajun fare, drawing crowds during crawfish season for his signature H-Town Bang seasoning. With the lease set to expire, the chef and his partners decided not to renew.
Nguyen has yet to reveal his plans for the future, but fingers crossed he stays somewhere inside the loop.
Houston’s on Westheimer
No story about a restaurant closing garnered more readership than the surprising news that Houston’s had unexpectedly ended its almost 40-year run at the corner of Westheimer and Fountain View. Hillstone Restaurant Group, the company that operates Houston’s, only said that “circumstances beyond our reasonable control” prompted the decision.
While the Houston’s on Kirby remains open, the company might have plans to return to the neighborhood at some point in the future. Harris County Appraisal District records indicate that Hillstone has purchased a nearby property 5802 Westheimer Rd.
El Real Tex-Mex Cafe/Reef
Bryan Caswell had a tough 2019. El Real, his Montrose Tex-Mex restaurant, closed in October after eight years in business. The chef cited a decline in business as the reason for the decision, and employees claiming unpaid wages triggered a flood of negativity publicity (Caswell subsequently paid them).
Closing El Real was intended to allow Caswell to focus on Reef, the Midtown seafood restaurant that reopened in June after being damaged during Hurricane Harvey. Unfortunately, the restaurant never regained its status as one of Houston’s best. It closed at the end of November.
The Black Lab/Cezanne
This English pub and its companion jazz bar served Montrose for 33 years, hosting any number of first dates and other special occasions. Thankfully, the restaurant gave patrons approximately six weeks to make their final visits before it closed on December 15. With the Houston Public Library branch that shares the property also scheduled to relocate to a new mixed-use development, more changes could be coming to the building at 4100 Montrose Blvd., but the University of St. Thomas has yet to reveal what its plans are.
With an appealing mix of draft and frozen cocktails and a winning food menu created by chef Adam Dorris, this Montrose patio bar seemed poised for success. Instead, it closed after less than six months in business. Reasons for the decision remain unclear, but speculation centered around the bar’s limited parking and street construction in the area.
Boasting a pair of high-profile owners in celebrity chef Michael Mina and lifestyle guru Ayesha Curry, International Smoke opened with great fanfare in the summer of 2018. Led locally by rising star chef E.J. Miller (Riel, SaltAir Seafood Kitchen), the restaurant offered a sophisticated take on global live fire cooking. Unfortunately, it never quite connected with diners, which resulted in its closing earlier this month.