July 30th, 2009
Cafe Byzantio: Spanning the Continental Divide
In 6 Words: Greek, Byzantium, Gyros, καφές, Belly-Dancing, ζεστασιά
A favorite trivia question of mine has always been, “what metropolis is the only to span two continents?” I don’t want to ruin it by giving the answer right away, but I suppose a good hint would be that I think of that trivial bit of information as I walk up to Cafe Byzantio. A Greek coffee shop/bar/restaurant that seemingly spans the border between Montrose and Midtown, it follows in the footsteps of it’s namesake (now twice removed).
Byzantio is the last of the converted-to-business, single-family homes along West Gray before you get to the budding mini-opolis that is Midtown. The entire strip has been re-purposed into restaurants, bars and law offices. Only one or two residences remain.
The yard is long gone, now a concrete slab with tables sprouting up to the left and right as I walk in the front arched, iron gateway. Each table is empty for now, the Houston sun hasn’t relented quite enough for the Byzantines to take respite outside. Up the brick stairs to the front door, more tables line the front wall outside, a sure sign that this place expects to corner the outdoor market in more agreeable months.
I walk through the front door into a quaint living room with three chairs and a couch surrounding a box-like coffee table, an armoire in front of me displaying some pamphlets, fliers and menus to take home. I can see the bar through the over-sized doorway, spanning the entire remainder of the establishment, kitchen in the back. A few people sit at the bar, paired up in twos, concentrating on their own conversations, not the bartender toweling off a shaker, or the newcomer.
The man behind the counter makes eye contact with me and tries to say something as I ask him for a coffee. “You can sit anywhere you want.” I apologize for jumping the gun on my order, take my coffee and find a seat in the expansive room adjacent to the bar, disconnected – in spirit only – by an exposed brick column and a half wall. Opening up my computer, I plan on taking advantage of my first opportunity to record my experience live.
Free WiFi does it’s part to distract me from my goal. Rereading emails from earlier in the day, responding to Facebook messages from weeks ago and catching up on the Tweets that I have missed during the workday, all keep me from more productive matters. Three TVs conveniently stashed in the corners also manage to steal my attention. But, I must get back to business: drinking coffee and Scooping.
A waitress makes a lap around Byzantio and catches me looking at the menu and makes a stop at my table. I order a gyros sandwich in order to comply with the theme and a glass of water in an attempt to dilute the caffeine. The humus looks so tempting and I nearly call her back to the table to make another order but I refrain. My tender stomach thanks me for not overwhelming it.
The warm pita sandwich is placed in front of me before I know it, folded and wrapped in aluminum foil with a side of salt and peppered fries. A couple of delicious bites into my meal I glance over at the bartender abandoning his post and fiddling with the controls at the DJ stand. Dave Matthews Band comes alive, his distinctive voice undeniable. “So Much to Say” finishes with Dave’s falsetto and “Warehouse” begins to play.
More people file into the bar as I finish up my sandwich. I’m sitting along the bench facing the bar on the other side of the building. The two tables next to me soon have occupants. A third approaches. A fourth is quick to join. I’m getting crowded out. Don’t they understand that I have important “experiencing” to write about? Hopefully my computer will still be here when I return from the bathroom.
Good news: You can buy a disposable finger toothbrush in the bathroom. Bad news: Someone is sitting at my table.
“I’m sorry, do you need me to move?”
“No, you’re fine.”
“No, seriously. I can move, it’s no problem.”
“Oh, you’re not with the group?”
I glance around at several people with 8” mini-laptops and answer, “no, I’m not.”
“You’re free to join us. We are a Linux group. You know, people that don’t like Microsoft.”
“It seems that I’m a flag-bearer here with my MacBook. But, I must pass for now. Thank you.”
We actually joke a bit together about being muscled out of my established spot (specifically by the only female in the group). Laughs at my expense? I’m not sure. I do know, however, that open source programming has a home at Byzantio. Don’t let the man hold you down!
The umpteenth DMB song in a row plays over the speakers as I find another table. Another cup of coffee that will be nothing but trouble when I try to sleep tonight is ordered, and I open up a book to close out the night. Unhindered by the Linuxa Nostra, I finally feel productive loitering at the cafe.
Before I know it, the waitress comes up to me to ask if I need anything else before they close down. She brings me my check for my sandwich, coffee and two (maybe three) refills for a unexciting $13. It’s well worth the nearly five-hour stint I’ve been warming the seats here. I push open the door at 12:03 and it’s off to home, to sleep, to rue another day at work tomorrow.
[Trivia Answer (if you haven’t googled it already): Istanbul which was once Constantinople which was once Byzantium]
Where – Montrose/Midtown (403 W Gray St, Houston, Texas 77019) View Map
What – Whatever You Want: Bar, Coffee Shop or Restaurant
Wear – Messenger Bag Touting Mac or Straight From Downtown Job
Who – Linux Users, Mac Proponents, Businessmen and Women
How Much – Won’t Blow You Away
When – Lunch-12:00AM M-TH Lunch-2:00AM Fri, Sat and Sun
Web – http://www.byzantiohouston.com/