January 27th, 2010

Hearsay Gastro Lounge: Houston’s Protean Address Takes Shape Again

In 5 Words: Downtown, Groups, Historical, Appetizer, Mixology

It’s a cool Downtown Houston night and the rain inspired rush of lights pulsate with the beat of the city. As I pull up in front of Hearsay Gastro Lounge, at 218 Travis, I watch people scurry across the slick streets to their plays, concerts and dinner reservations. I pull away from the entrance to park and a city worker in a safety vest motions me to stop as a trash truck tries to maneuver perpendicular in the street. If the buzz in the city isn’t enough to feel like an authentic downtown experience, the city workers being serenaded by the horns and shouts of motorists for holding up traffic really solidify the feeling.

After the trash truck debacle, I circle the block to make my way into the Hotel Icon garage to valet for half price. I drop my car, collect my jacket and cinch it up as I walk briskly through the rain along Congress. I cross Travis, thwarting a car’s attempt at a right turn on red, and into the magnificent threshold of The Hearsay Gastro Lounge.


We do a lot of amazing things in Houston, but our track record of preservation and restoration of historical sites is not our strong suit. Yet, the Foley Building that houses Hearsay is a great start. From entrance to exit, the design calls you back to a different time. I’m simultaneously filled with antiquarian glee and saddened by the dearth of these experiences in Houston. There have been several insightful articles about the protean life of the Foley Building from near demolition to fires and a perpetually leaky roof, the vision of all of its stewards who held fast through the shifting forms has really paid off. Its current form is truly a unique and gratifying experience.


I meet up with my friends at our table, and as we look over the interesting selections on both the drink and appetizer menus, we call the three members that are late. The service is slow and a little discordant at first, but finds its rhythm as the final members of our party arrive and the waitress serves the Saint Arnold beer battered asparagus, Manhattans and wine. The Hearsay Manhattan, available “sweet, sour or perfect,” is a great drink and worthy of the atmosphere. The wine selection is good and, like any Houston restaurant worth its salt, they had 3 Saint Arnold choices on draft.


Along with the asparagus, we order the Mac and Four Cheese and Smoked Salmon Crostini ($5). The salmon is delicious and although the Macaroni was touted as the best in town, I can’t say it’s even close to the Mac and Cheese at Beaver’s. Appetizers consumed, we turn our attention to the entrees. All of the choices on the diverse and succinct menu look delicious. The selections range from Burger to tuna, Mahi-Mahi to steak and lamb chops. The Filet is the most expensive item on the menu at $21, which is a pleasant surprise for a downtown restaurant.

While our meals are being prepared, the conversation constantly drifts back to the character and style of the decor and what a great choice this was for dinner tonight. The wood and mirror installations on both exposed brick walls are beautiful and the view of the downtown streets through the large windows accentuate the high ceilings.


The conversation at the table slows as we taste our meals and pass samples around the table. Everyone’s meal is enjoyable and, considering the price, the food is a value. The restaurant will not bend your concept of what food can be and it will not be the best meal you eat downtown, but the food is as solid as the foundation of the Hearsay. We order a final course of coffee and a delicious raspberry creme brulee to split before we part.


We pay the bill, prepare ourselves for the rain, and take one last view of the Hearsay Gastro Lounge before heading out the historic doors. We say our goodbyes and everyone goes their own way. Unwilling to let go of an evening of nostalgia and history, we wander around the corner to the dimly lit La Carafe, a perfect bookend to a rainy evening in the historic Market Square District.


At first thought, I expected slightly better cuisine. However, after calculating that dinner for two, an appetizer, two glasses of wine, a manhattan, a coffee and dessert is only $70 with tip, it is an experience that I will repeat! With all of the great restaurants that are opening around Houston, it is refreshing to see that there are still some good choices that offer quality entrees well under $20 and delicious appetizers at $5. At this price, it could easily be the kind of place you visit on a regular basis, whether it’s for drinks and appetizers or a great meal with friends.

- Great Bar and seating upstairs. A 10+ group reservation upstairs will get you a private server and bar tender.
- On your way up the stairs be sure to look at the handrails that were custom made by Lee Benner from antique fans and the custom metal wall coverings he designed.
- Valet Parking is $6 at Hotel Icon across the street with a stamp if you can’t find street parking
- Kitchen is open until midnight on Friday and Saturday if you are in need of something more than Frank’s Pizza
- The cocktails and choices of whiskey were good so ask the bartender for some recommendations


Where - 218 Travis Street – Houston, Texas 77002 (Market Square)
- A sense of fulfillment both theoretical and gastronomical
- Your normal downtown gear or your favorite fedora and pocket watch
How Much
– Less than you expect, $21 is the most expensive entree & $5 Appetizers
– Monday thru Thursday- 11am to midnight, Friday- 11 am to after midnight, Saturday- noon to after midnight (Kitchen Closes at Midnight), Sunday- noon to 6pm


Articles of Interest
- Lee Benner, who was part of the team that rescued the building from demolition, hosts a website chronicling the history of the Kennedy – Foley Building (Here)
- Houstorian Blog (Here)
- A fixer-upper attitude in a tear-down world [Chron.com]
- “Restaurateur serves three helpings of history” [Houston Business Journal]
- Historic Building Alteration Request to the City of Houston [PDF]
- Texas Historical Commission [Here]
- A puntastic review [Houston Press]

— Aaron


Calvinuh — Thursday, January 28, 2010 10:14 pm

This restaurant reminds me of the movie Avatar, in that the decor and room are visually stimulating but the service and food were mediocre, at best.

Paul — Friday, January 29, 2010 11:42 am

Methinks that’s an incomplete allegory.

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