A Seat at the Bar: Ron’s Pub

We have our first serious contender in the search for My Bar in Houston.

Ron’s Pub is a great little neighborhood joint on Fountain View, just west of the Galleria, about five minutes from my office and 10 minutes from my apartment. So it’s good in terms of geography.

Ron's PubIt’s an un-assuming place in a small strip mall. That’s key. I don’t want anywhere fancy; I don’t want some hipster joint.

And they have a good beer selection and the mixed drinks are pretty stiff. Both points in Ron’s favor.

There actually was a Ron, but he died in 1997. There’s a painting of him behind the bar, along with what appear to be some of his military service ribbons.

I’ve actually been to Ron’s twice, because there are two bars.

On my first trip, I sat in the original bar, which is Ron’s Pub. On this side, there are televisions that mostly have trivia going. There seems to be a small contingent of regulars who come in and play trivia while downing a few pints or knocking back a good mixed drink.

I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me at the bar — always a good thing. He was probably about 70, retired, lived in the neighborhood. He sort of gave me the lay of the land; told me about the bartenders, and the guys who are really good at trivia.

On my second trip, I sat on the other side of the bar, which is called the White Horse Inn and is just through a doorway that separates the two. There’s also an open gangway that allows the bartenders to go back and forth, so it’s actually like a U-shaped bar with a short wall in the middle.

Ron IIThe other side of the bar is where most of the taps are and is more geared toward sports, especially English football since Ron was born in Belfast and raised in Liverpool. Again, it was mostly guys sitting at the bar, including one guy who said he was originally from Long Island, but considered himself a Texan because he’d been in Houston since 1976.

There’s a juke box, kept low so that you can hear yourself and others at the bar.

On my first visit, I had a pint, which was kinda pricey, but not bad. My second time there, I had a Jim Beam and Coke, sorta my signature drink. It was good and strong, another point in favor of Ron’s.

Ron’s doesn’t really have food. There are chips and peanuts, but that’s about it. They do let you bring food in, especially from the hamburger joint next door.

I could definitely see myself stopping into Ron’s regularly, becoming one of the trivia players. But I’m not giving up the search for My Bar just yet.

Ron’s is close, but there may be something better out there.

A Seat at the Bar: Richmond Arms

Well, the search for My Bar in Houston continues.

White HartTuesday night was cold and rainy, a lot like Devon in southwest England. One of the great pubs of the world is there in Moretonhampsteadn: The White Hart.
So with Houston feeling more like Exmoor, I figured I’d give Richmond Arms, a British pub on Richmond Road and Fountain View, a try.
No one could accuse the owners of false advertising. Inside, it looks and feels like a small village pub in England or Ireland. There’s a long, L-shaped dark-wood bar with a brass foot railing that runs along the righthand side.
Behind the bar is about 30 taps, neon British beer signs, and cute bartenders. Other authentic features include framed soccer jerseys (English Premier League and 8 Nations games seem to be a major draw). Team flags — Arsenal and Sheffield — hang from the ceiling.
Richmond ArmsSo far, so good.
It was pretty packed for a nasty Tuesday night, with most of the seats taken at the bar. I managed to find a gap and order a pint. Most of Europe is well-represented at the taps: Abbey de Leffe from Belgium; Boddington’s and Bass from the U.K.; Guinness and Smithwicks from across the Irish Sea; along with Pilsner Urquell, Paulaner Hefeweizen, Stella, Amstel and Dos XX. There are some good American brews on tap, including one of my favorites, Magic Hat No. 9, as well as local favorites from St. Arnold, Karbach and Shiner.
With no room at the bar, I took my pint and stood at one of the wide pillars that have a carved shelf about waist-high, a perfect spot to rest your beer. The problem was, a Karback Hopadillo IPA was $6.75; that’s almost ballpark prices.
I didn’t eat, but the menu is as British as the decor. Some of this week’s specials include baked potato soup, lamb, and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. The lunch menu includes the usual pub food — wings, fresh-made chips, potato skins.
In addiiton to some tables around the bar, there’s a sunken seating area complete with a fireplace that was roaring on this chilly evening. A video jukebox. And, of course, a corner with a dartboard. All of it punctuated by a good smattering of authentic British and Australian accents.
It’s a good place. I’ll probably come back and watch some soccer. But it’s not for me. Maybe I’m a cheapskate, but the $6.75 for a pint is a little too steep. And the place didn’t seem at all friendly. I didn’t feel like I could sit down at the bar and strike up a conversation with anyone.
So the search goes on. Stay tuned….


Dodgers reach agreement with Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena

Big day for shortstop news in major league baseball, what with Derek Jeter announcing this will be his last season and the Dodgers apparently providing the answer to team president Stan Kasten’s “mystery player” by agreeing to terms Wednesday with a big name — or at least a really long one.
Los_Angeles_DodgersErisbel Arruebarruena, reportedly a slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop, has reach a contract agreement with the Dodgers, two sources told The Times’ Dylan Hernandez. He still has to pass a physical, and there could yet be some immigration issues to be resolved. The Dodgers have not formally announced the deal.
But otherwise the Dodgers’ Cuban pipeline continues to flow. The Dodgers already have two projected Cuban starters in their lineup in outfielder Yasiel Puig and second baseman Alex Guerrero.
Arruebarruena certainly doesn’t figure to start and at best has an immediate future as a backup infielder, one of the Dodgers’ few real needs. More likely, he’ll start the season in the minors to get used to American baseball while the Dodgers see if they can make do with Chone Figgins, Dee Gordon, Justin Turner or Brandan Harris.
Kasten had told season-ticket holders Monday that the Dodgers soon would be adding a mystery player.
Arruebarruena, who turns 24 next month, spent six seasons playing in Cuba so he’s not subject to the international spending cap. He reportedly defected in November and established residency in Haiti.
He bats right-handed and played with Puig for Cienfuegos. In 2012-2013 he hit .293 with a .366 on-base percentage and a .422 slugging percentage. He sounds similar to Miguel Rojas, a non-roster invitee best known for his glove.
That hardly translates into someone ready to make an offensive mark in the majors. But on a team seemingly loaded with offense, later in the season the Dodgers could find him a useful fill-in.
For an organization whose major shortstop prospect, Corey Seager, spent last season at Class A and could be moved to third, Arruebarruena at least adds needed organizational depth.


2014 May Not Be Skully’s Last Season

Good news from today’s L.A. Times. The upcoming 2014 baseball season may not be the last for Vin Scully, who I profiled in the WSJ in 2009 for his 60th anniversary.

Dodgers beat writer Bill Shaikin says:

Vin Scully said Monday he is “very unsure” whether this season will be his last as the voice of the Dodgers.
“This is 65 years,” Scully said. “That’s a retirement number.”
ScullyScully, 86, quickly emphasized he had made no decision on whether to retire. The Hall of Fame broadcaster said he would evaluate the matter this summer and would consider how well he feels physically and whether he can continue to do the job at a high level.
“I don’t mind getting older,” he said. “I just don’t want to get old.”
Scully, the voice of the Dodgers since 1950, calls home games but generally limits his travel to games in San Francisco, San Diego and Arizona. He said he expects to call about 110 games this season.
He said he might consider a lesser schedule beyond 2014 if the Dodgers had any interest in such a concept. Jerry Coleman, the San Diego Padres broadcaster who died last month at 89, called home day games in his final seasons.
Scully also said he appreciated overtures to participate in the profiles, documentaries and other behind-the-scenes programming that will accompany games on SportsNet LA, the all-Dodgers, all-the-time cable channel that launches Feb. 25. However, with game broadcasts by night and game replays by day, he said fans deserve to hear other voices.
“That will be more than enough of me,” Scully said. “I don’t want people to say, ‘Him again?’ ”


A Seat at the Bar

So I’m looking for the perfect bar in Houston.
Not just any bar, but My Bar.
First, a little bit about me.
I’m originally from New York, the greatest saloon town in the world.
KeatsThere isn’t another city in the world with more good bars.
What do I mean by a good bar? A place where you can walk in, grab a seat at the bar, order a well-made, reasonably priced drink, and start up a conversation with the guy or girl next to you.
I’ve been all over the world: Paris, London, Berlin.
The states, too: L.A., Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco.
Nowhere are there as many good bars as there are in New York. And not just Manhattan, but Brooklyn, Queens, Da Bronx.
I was spoiled because I hung out at one of the best bars in New York.
45th and Second Avenue.
Jimmy Henessey and Ed Green behind the bar.

Evangelis Dimitri Kalogiannis, aka Angelo.

Evangelis Dimitri Kalogiannis, aka Angelo.

It was the early 1990s and I hung out there — mostly after work — with my best friend in all of New York, Angelo. It was really His Bar, not My Bar. He introduced me to Keats.
There were some other regulars that hung out there with us: Ed Limm, Chris Burkhadt, Steve Caputo, Steve Rosenbloom.
Keats was a special place.
Now I live in Houston.
I like Houston.
I often tell people that Houston really isn’t Texas. It’s more cosmopolitan than most of the rest of Texas. Mainly because of the oil and gas business. Yes, you have the guys in 10-gallon hats, big belt buckles and pointy-toed boots, But the oil and gas business also brings people from all over the world to Houston.
South America.
The Middle East.
My New York friends hate it when I remind them of this, but according to the 2010 Census, Houston is more diverse than New York City. It has more people, from more different places, speaking more different languages, than any other city in the world.
As a result, Houston has great restaurants.
Mexican (authentic Mexican, as well as Tex-Mex).
Food truckAnd great food trucks.
You name it.
And, yes, there are a few decent BBQ joints, as well as places that serve fresh seafood that a few hours before it landed on your plate was swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.
And Houston has some pretty decent bars.
Most have a happy hour.
You can sit outside most of the year.
But I haven’t found My Bar yet.
I’ve been to The Owl on Kirby. It’s a good place for an after-work drink, but it only offers popcorn in the way of food.
The bar at Barry’s Pizza is a cool place to hang out, but it’s more restaurant than bar.
And the bar at Jake’s, a Philly cheesesteak place on Chimney Rock is a good weekend place to watch Big 5 basketball games.
So there are some good watering holes in Houston, I just haven’t found the bar for me yet.
What do I mean by that?
Well, that’s what this blog is all about. My search for what I think of as My Bar.
The bar at Barry's.

The bar at Barry’s.

I don’t have unreasonable expectations. I don’t expect to find Keats in Houston. That was a bar from another time and another place. But here are a few of my criteria.
The bar has to be the centerpiece of the place. Not some big space that happens to have a bar but most people sit at tables away from the bar.
A good jukebox. A mix of classic rock, a little country, some oldies. And not too loud. You have to be able to hear yourself and the guy next to you talk.
I’m not totally bound by geography, but I’m not gonna drive 45 minutes to get to My Bar. Being convenient — either on the way home from work, or near where I live — is part of what makes it My Bar.
I live in the up-and-coming Westchase neighborhood, near Westheimer and Gessner. And I work on the western edge of the Galleria.
I’m not interested in the wine bars in River Oaks. Downing Street — mostly a guy’s hangout because it has a humidor and sells expensive cigars — is OK, but it’s not a place I see myself hanging out at a few nights a week or stopping into after work regularly.
Blanco’s was a great River Oaks bar, but it never would have qualified as My Bar. It was a great, unique place and more Houstonians should have been outraged that it was closing, but it was a place to go on a Friday night and hear good country music, like Gary P. Nunn, and dance with some ladies.
My Bar can’t be too fancy — no plants. And it can’t be a total dive. It has to be somewhere in-between.
The drinks can’t be too expensive.
The clientele can’t be too snotty — or young. I don’t see My Bar being one of the hotel bars downtown where the oil and gas guys and the women who want to marry their wallets go. I don’t see My Bar being in Montrose or Midtown or any of the other hipster neighborhoods inside the loop. Mainly because I’m 50 and most of the people who hang out at those places are in their 20s and early ’30s.
So not only should the folks at My Bar be a little older, it should be a good mix of white-collar middle managers, blue-collar workers, locals, transplants, mostly men, but a good smattering of women.
And most of the people there should be regulars. People who know each other — at the bar, but not outside the bar.
People say “Hey Fred” when they walk in, but may not sit down next to Fred.
People can sit and joke with one another. Know a little bit about each other’s family. Ask questions.
“How ya doin”?”
How’s your mom?”
“How was your vacation?”
They should know just enough about you to be familiar and friendly. So, for instance, at My Bar, I should be able to look at the Super Bowl box pool and know not just who has the good numbers, but who they are.
That’s about it.
I’m just looking for a neighborhood joint where I can stop by after work, have a drink or two, maybe a bite to eat, and some pleasant conversation with people I want to get to know, and people who want to know me.
A place I can bring my friends from New York and Chicago and say, “This is My Bar.”