January 13th, 2011
Agora: The Grand Re-Opening
The door sticks when you try to push it open and doesn’t shut without a good shove, but that’s as much of a comment on the new coats of paint the frame is wearing as it is the dipping temperatures. It’s just nice to have a door to walk through after the fire crept over from the antique shop and ravaged Agora on the night of Halloween. Two and a half months has surely felt like an eternity for the owners, employees and the faithful lovers of the Greek coffee shop on Westheimer.
You won’t find too much different from before. All the comic and tragic theater masks are in the same places. The frames on the wall are hung just as they were before, even if they’re completely different images. The hurried painting of a steaming cup of joe on the window by my favorite table at the front of the coffee shop is even the same. But there is certainly a different feel on the grand re-opening of Agora. Maybe it’s just the calm of relief that has washed over the patrons knowing that the storm has passed.
“How are you doing?” I ask one of the long-time employees of Agora, Peter, as I walk up to the counter to get my usual cup of coffee and bottle of Pelligrino.
“Better now,” he says through a thick Greek accent.
“You had a pretty quick turnaround, considering…”
“Everything’s new. New A/C. New Roof. New Floor. The only thing that is the same are those black columns in the center,” he tells me. The supports he points at seem to tell the full story. They are black. Whether that’s a product of the soot and tar from the fire or just a paint job is unknown.
There is no pride in his rattling off of replacement parts and pieces; no sense of accomplishment. His is a speech of deliverance from the fiery hell that Agora had to endure. For a moment, I feel like trying to empathize with Peter, but “well, I had to go to Starbucks *shudder* while you were closed” doesn’t seem too compensatory.
There are subtle differences. For instance, a couple new coolers have been added to the corner at the end of the bar for self-servers to grab their waters, juices or beers. The pole on which they filed the credit cards for open tabs is gone. The ceiling is lower in certain parts. All the changes are subtle, easily overlooked and only add to a dreamlike experience. “I swear this place was different than it is now, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…” Honestly, my lack of definitive answers as to what has changed makes me feel like I took Agora for granted before the fire. My old lover is gone and has moved on without me.
The most surprising thing is that I can find a seat at my favorite spot. I fully expected the place to be overrun by people who have been waiting to get their fix for so long. More than any other place in Houston, it always felt like the patrons of Agora were here just to be here. They craved the aura of the place over the coffee or frappes or out-sourced muffins. Luckily that much hasn’t changed.
Closer to 8PM a couple of my friends join me at the marble table that I’m calling home for the night. One comments on the smell of paint and varnish saying that it’s better than before. I ask him what “before” smelled like. He says, “I don’t know. Smoke and… Westheimer.” I find this both hilarious and fitting. For me, Agora was Westheimer for so many years.
By the time the clock starts creeping past nine, hordes start to filter in the door. This is what I expected, but I’m not sure if the newcomers are expecting the usual belly dancing exhibition that was held on typical Wednesday nights. In fact, I don’t know what the new “typical” will be. All I know is that Agora has found its way through the ashes and back to a rightful spot on Houston’s definitive road.
I decide to close out my tab because hunger is setting in. Agora took care of one thing that they were lacking: parking. The other, a kitchen, wasn’t on the rebuild agenda. Fighting my way through the crowd, I find myself happy that I have a crowd to fight through. Everyone seems to be having a conversation about the fire and how impressed they are tonight, the re-opening.
But let’s never speak of it again, friends. I’d prefer not to be reminded of it anymore. Agora is back and that’s all that really matters.
Where – 1712 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77098 [Google Map]
When – Daily 9AM – 2AM
What – Coffee, Frappe, Beer and Wine
How Much – Completely reasonable
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