Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Hometown Tourism

At the risk of losing potential readers, I am beginning this post with a disclaimer:

If you live in downtown Houston or in close proximity thereof, this is not meant for you. Don't get me wrong: there will be things in the forthcoming text that will (hopefully) be informative and entertaining regardless of your residence, but this post is geared toward suburbanites like me for whom a night on the town is a bit more of a commitment than it is for inner-loopers. My wife and I have had a lot of enjoyable excursions through downtown despite living on the outskirts of the city. Here are some helpful ideas from personal experience.

Plan ahead:

For responsible adults, a night of dining and bar hopping in town means that getting behind the wheel at the end of the night to drive home is not an option. Cab fares to get from a Houston suburb into town and back again are not cost effective, and for all of our city's many selling points, its mass transit system is not one of them. Often the safest and most affordable choice for us out-of-"town"ers to enjoy the city's dining and bar scene is simply to stay at a hotel for the night. To feel like I'm getting the most out of the hotel splurge, I try to plan these excursions around events going on in the city such as concerts, festivals, comedy shows, or sporting events. My most recent stay downtown was for a Rockets playoff game. My wife and I were able to stay in a downtown hotel, walk a few blocks for a pre-game bite, walk to the game, and then walk a few blocks to the Market Square area to drown our sorrows.

Roasted beets and carrots from Prohibition Supperclub and Bar

Where to eat:

The last few years have brought about a lot of growth in the downtown dining scene. Well respected chefs such as Erin Smith who is steering the ship at the new J.W. Marriott Hotel's restaurant, Main Kitchen, and Ben McPherson who left fellow downtown restaurant Batanga to lead the kitchen at Prohibition Supperclub and Bar have helped raise the profile on the area's dining. A recent stop at Prohibition rewarded me with a successful interpretation of Oysters Rockefeller as well as a nicely priced and well roasted plate of carrots and beets. MKT Bar inside of the downtown Phoenicia is another good spot to  split a pizza or grab a few Mediterranean-inspired snacks.

Left: sherry sampling at Public Services Wine and Whisky | Right: recent Eating Our Words Top 100 selection, balogney at Public Services

Where to drink:

All dining experiences come down to personal preference of course, but I've found that bar preferences are especially specific to the individual. Some go out in large groups and want the party atmosphere that can be found at places such as The Nightingale Room, while others prefer the old dive scene like downtown mainstay Warren's. When looking for a well-mixed cocktail in a no frills bar, Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar and Spirit Lounge fills that niche. In search of straight forward drinks and a laid back atmosphere? Stop into Okra Charity Saloon. The drinking options in downtown are as varied as one could hope. As far as my personal favorite goes, I say look no further than Public Services Wine and Whisky.

Public Services, co-owned by Oxheart's Justin Yu and Karen Man along with respected Houston sommelier and Oxheart alum Justin Vann, opened last fall in the old Cottonwood Exchange building. The architecture and history of the building alone makes it worth a visit, but the small bites provided by Chef Yu and his staff combined with the eclectic but approachable list of wines and whiskies make every visit to Public Services an uncommon adventure.

If you're fortunate enough to have Vann himself serve you  - which shouldn't be hard as he's seemingly always there - I highly recommend putting your trust in his hands to guide you through some of his favorites. My last visit was a tour through the sherry section of the menu, a well-known Vann favorite. The vibe of the bar is my speed as well: a comfortable noise level but not so much so that a conversation with a companion is impossible. They'll mix up a few cocktails for those so inclined, but the wine and whisky selection is so interesting that I recommend passing on a gin and tonic that can be had at any bar in Market Square.

Left: waffle at Tout Suite | Center: biscuits and gravy from Kitchen 713 | Right: fried chicken from Kitchen 713

Where to recover the next day:

Another benefit of an overnight stay in the city is that it allows for a next day brunch stop. Places downtown such as Hearsay, The Honeymoon, and El Big Bad offer great brunch options and a bit of the hair of the dog, or one could venture just outside of downtown before heading back to the 'burbs to East End locales like Tout Suite or Kitchen 713.

Tout Suite has a small selection of hot dishes or a wide array of pastries to eat with your coffee while Kitchen 713 provides great southern style comfort food. The biscuits and gravy I tried there recently is a dish I could eat every Sunday morning, and the fried chicken for two that came with biscuits, sides of red beans and rice, green beans and macaroni and cheese ended up providing a nice leftover dinner later that night.

I envy those that live in either walking or short cab ride distance to these great parts of our city. If you're reading this and fall into that category, I sincerely hope you're taking full advantage of your proximity to town. If you're from the hinterlands like myself, take a tour through some of Houston's nightlife sometime. Our city is worth a visit.


Kim said...

Great roundup! And even as an "inner-looper" I can absolutely still appreciate this. When going to a game or concert downtown I definitely like to have a bar/restaurant game plan ahead of time. I tried the Springbok recently, which is a South African pub. It was a fun spot, and definitely something different!

Houston Fed said...

Thanks, Kim! Dining in Montrose and the Heights is great and I do it all the time, but it's fun to be in the heart of the city exploring too. Downtown has been changing so much recently that there's always something new to try.

Canvin@pressurecookerportal.com said...

Nice post!!! I've read it many times.Thanks

Christina Picou said...


Beth of pressurecookerpros.com said...

Thank you for sharing !

Peter@hotelectricsmoker. said...

I love traveling, it is very nice

William said...

Very interesting post. I found new ideas here. Thank you for this.

Ollie Allen said...

It's so nice to travel and to taste local food.Wonderful!

Billie Yee said...

I love to travel but I can't do it often.

Andrew said...

everything there looks so good, thanks for sharing this !

John said...

Nice and amazing post