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.”

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

2 Responses to A Seat at the Bar

  1. Ed says:

    Sounds like an upgrade from “Shirley’s Tavern” ?

  2. Pingback: A Seat at the Bar: Ron’s Pub | mark yost

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