Relative to all the trauma of 2020, restaurants had it somewhat easier in 2021. While they didn’t have to face any shutdowns — at least in Texas — this year still had plenty of challenges.
Rising prices for ingredients and other essentials, a devastating winter storm, an extremely tight labor market, and, most recently, the omicron surge all presented challenges to operators and employees alike. Many places found a way to persevere, but some reached the end of the road.
With that in mind, let’s look back at some of the shuttered bars and restaurants we’ll miss the most.
Originally intended to be a spiritual successor to Chris Shepherd’s groundbreaking restaurant Underbelly, UB Preserv evolved into a welcoming space with a creative menu that pulled freely from Houston’s immigrant traditions. Under the leadership of executive chef Nick Wong, the restaurant mixed staples like its crispy rice salad and Vietnamese fajitas with a rotating cast of dishes that were both playful and flavorful.
Wong and sous chef Leila Frink are heading to Georgia James Tavern, which gives that restaurant the potential to become one of the shining stars in Underbelly Hospitality’s growing empire. As for the space at 1609 Westheimer, it will reopen next month as Everlong Bar & Hideaway.
The Pastry War
In the face of an imminent lease renewal and uncertainty about when downtown’s nightlife scene would return to pre-pandemic levels, owner Bobby Heugel made the decision to shutter the popular agave bar at the end of October. First opened in 2013, Houstonians will remember it for multiple reasons: focusing on family-owned producers instead of big brands, an extensive back bar of hard-to-find spirits, and its signature house margarita made with a blend of Persian and key lime juice.
As for the future of 310 Main, Carson Hager, owner of 80s-themed nightclub Cherry and Japanese-inspired Zenaku, posted on Instagram that he’s leased the space for a new concept that will open next year. Details are TBA.
For ten years, this restaurant in The Heights satisfied diners by putting its own spin on trends such as farm to table, craft cocktails, and specialty coffee. Its opening occurred around the same time as The Heights began to emerge as one of the city’s best dining neighborhoods, and people filled its patio for brunch, burgers, and more.
The space won’t stay vacant for long. Goode Co announced that it has leased the property for a still-unnamed restaurant that will open in 2022.
Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen
The Houston institution — it traces its roots to the original Blue Oyster Bar that Tony Mandola and his wife Phyllis Mandola opened in 1982 — ended its 10-year run on Waugh Dr. in July. Known for its combination of Gulf Coast fare like gumbo and fried seafood paired with Italian-American specialities such as spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna, Tony Mandola’s provided Houstonians with a lively forum for any number of happy occasions.
Thankfully, it may not be gone for good. Eater Houston reported Tony Mandola's plans to reopen on Houston Ave., although the restaurant hasn’t provided any updates on when that might occur.
Golden Bagels & Coffee
Originally opened by Katz Coffee owner Avi Katz and local attorney Gregg Goldstein in January 2018, Golden Bagels & Coffee closed its doors in September. Known for its freshly made bagels and diverse selection of schmears, the cafe set itself apart from other bagel shops by curing and smoking its own salmon.
The space didn’t stay empty for long. It has already been converted into Kinokawa, a new omakase restaurant from chefs Billy Kin and Brandon Silva.
Avondale Food & Wine
Originally opened as L’Olivier in 2012 by chef Olivier Ciesielski and his business partner Mary Clarkson, the restaurant, which relaunched as Avondale in 2018, closed in July. Ciesielski’s seasonal, market-driven menu and an in-house wine shop that specialized in small producers helped it build a following with Houston oenophiles. The duo plan to reopen but haven’t revealed their new location yet.
Burt’s Meat Market
After 75 years in business, the Fifth Ward institution shuttered in March. Known for its signature sausages and affordable, steam table lunches, Burt’s provided shoppers with a taste of East Texas and Louisiana-influenced meats and sides. Although it’s gone, fans can take comfort in knowing that sausage maker Aaron Lazo, a 35-year Burt’s veteran, now practices his craft at Henderson & Kane in the Old Sixth Ward.
The Southern-inspired steakhouse in The Heights closed in April after a five-year run. Known for its in-house butcher shop and a creative menu built around comfort food and a first-rate burger, the restaurant earned widespread praise, including a spot on Texas Monthly’s list of the best new restaurants for 2017. At the time, owner Ken Bridge planned to convert the space into Mapojeong Galbijib, an all-new Korean BBQ concept, but an opening timeline hasn’t been set.