Bobby Heugel reveals very small changes he made to reopen beloved Montrose dive bar
One of Montrose’s most enduring bars will soon reopen its doors. Sometime between now and Thanksgiving Bobby Heugel and his business partner Peter Jahnke will welcome patrons to Catbirds.
Open since 1995, Catbirds closed suddenly in August. Heugel and his business partners, who already owned the shopping center that includes Catbirds, purchased the bar’s assets and name from former owners Shelly Wilburn and her daughter Emily.
Heugel says he used the University of Houston LGBT Research Collection to trace the space’s history back to the early ‘80s, when it operated as a wine bar called Et Vu. Since then, the bar has been a condom store and a photography studio. Its familiar mural of jazz musicians dates back to Dizzy’s, which immediately preceded Catbirds.
After finalizing the purchase, Heugel and Jahnke have spent time cleaning the bar up, giving it a fresh coat of paint, and securing the necessary permits to reopen under their ownership. Notably, they didn’t change much. For example, the new paint is the same color as the old paint. Rotting wood on the patio has been replaced. The patio lights have been changed from white to pink, but they’re hanging from the same lines as before.
Former staff members — some of whom have been hired to work at the bar when it reopens — and a few choice regulars have been in to see the renovations. They approve, as Jahnke explains.
“We got the stamp of approval from people who have known this place for 10 years plus. People walk in the door, they go, ‘okay. Not that much [has changed],’” he says. “That was the mentality the whole way through. Fix it if it’s broken. Try not to change it too much.”
“The pool table is the biggest change,” Heugel adds. “Same TVs, same shelving. All of the bar equipment is the same. We added a dishwasher. We added a freezer so we could have frozen schooners of Lone Star, which will also be $3.50 on happy hour.”
They did make a couple other small changes. A single-person bathroom has been closed off due to its propensity of being used for illicit behavior. The ATM has been moved to the back of the room where it’s out of the way.
As for the prices? They’re actually a little cheaper than before. Packaged beers are priced between $3-5, with draft beers at $5 or $6. Frozen daiquiris will cost $8 for regular or $9 for flavors — choice of strawberry, coconut, chili mango, or “voodoo.” Jello shots will be $6, and house wines will be $8 by-the-glass or $28 per bottle. Classic cocktails will cost $10, but Catbirds will only stock a limited selection of spirits and ingredients
During happy hour — available on weekdays from 3:30 - 6:30 pm —all beers will be priced at $3.50 or less. Well spirits will also be $3.50. Those prices should appeal to both returning regulars and new customers.
“That place was closed for awhile and now it’s back,” Jahnke says about the way he hopes people will respond to the reopening. “The service is great, and the prices are a little cheaper. It’s what I wanted plus a little extra.”
Janhke estimates he’s worked at approximately 40 restaurants and bars in a variety of roles. He served as part of the opening crew for bars such as Tongue-cut Sparrow and Refuge, has spent time working as a bartender at restaurants including Nobie’s and The Toasted Coconut, and even cooked on the line at Theodore Rex and Squable. Running a casual neighborhood bar might not seem like an obvious next choice, but it’s where he wants to be.
“It hits that perfect juxtaposition for me. It’s been hard, good work getting it open and being here every day,” he says. “From cooking days and stuff, I love working high end, but I really like to be at a low end or a neighborhood spot. That’s where I’m most comfortable. Being able to apply all of that to a place I care about, those are the things that I’m excited about — making regulars and saying yes to everybody and seeing big groups come in.”
Heugel plans to let people get reacquainted with the bar for the first couple months. Starting in January or February, he has some ideas for programming such as trivia nights, tarot card readings, and steak night. The bar’s stage could be used to host bands or DJs that would complement the atmosphere. Catbirds’ TVs will continue to feature local teams. Mostly, the two friends are ready to throw open the doors and share the space with their customers.
“I think it’ll be good. I think Montrose and Westheimer needs it,” Heugel says. “I don’t think this neighborhood is in a bad place. I just think it’s kind of sagging in the moment. It would feel good to have another bar on the strip again instead of it being closed.”