February 24th, 2011
Misconceptions and First Impressions: Calvin Goes to Houston
As an outsider, I had a pretty stereotypical view of Houston in general. Crowded, overweight and smoggy with a Gordian knot of highways and people wanting to mug you on every street corner. After spending the weekend there with The Loop Scoop crew, I can say that my perceptions have been pleasantly skewed. I found a place that had a myriad of interesting people to see and talk to, mind blowing places to eat, clever street art and a variety of places to practice my favored hobby of imbibing. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow of everything I did that weekend (due to the fact that some bits are hazy, and that The Loop Scoop has probably already covered the reviewing bits), but I will give you the impressions and anecdotes of a guy from a small college town in the bright lights of the big city.
I got a little later start on my trip than I had hoped. It looked as if I was going to hit the major traffic arteries right around five o’clock. I was really dreading this as I could not find a Texas Country radio station no matter how many times I hit the scan button. Instead I found traffic to be flowing smoothly and was without delay arriving at the residence of good friend and former roommate. After waiting for Richard to arrive, we had a nice dinner and plotted our weekend while standing over the stove. It was determined that I was to be treated to good local food and the finest bars Houston had to offer.
Shortly thereafter it was decided that our first stop would be PJ’s, a bar that I thought was a house. It turned out that at one point it was a house and the atmosphere inside was much like a house party. We drank beer by the pitcher and watched people murder the works of Sir Paul McCartney on the karaoke stage. The performances ranged from tragic to awesome as some of my more nefarious acquaintances attempted to get me to make fun of people’s mustaches in order to get into a fight. Luckily, after a spirited rendition of a beloved “Sister Hazel” favorite it was decided we should adjourn next door to Cecil’s.
It was a big place and I was surprised to see that we were drinking alcohol that wasn’t distributed via a shot machine. The hot topic of discussion was the recent ban of 4 Loko and the degree of feeling bad about things you did while drinking it. It should be noted that I may have drunkenly graffitied my opinions of beans on two different places there. See if you can find them, maybe The Loop Scoop guys will give you a t-shirt.
After waking up uncharacteristically early on Saturday morning, my host asked if I would like to join him for a run on the Memorial Running Trail. I reluctantly agreed but was soon won over by the amount of cute women and people walking their dogs, even early on a cold Saturday morning. After a light jog and clean up, my host informed me that we would be Feasting for lunch. I wasn’t sure what he meant by this, but I assumed that we would be consuming a lot of food very soon. It turns out we were actually going to a place called Feast and I was in for some culinary oddities I probably will rarely see again. Feast doesn’t have a set menu, more often relying on things found in season.
Although set up like a fine dining restaurant there was a decidedly casual atmosphere along with a wait that belied its popularity. After seeing the menu, some quick googling on the cell phone to figure out what I would actually be eating was required. For a place that served as many various pork parts as Feast did, I would have expected red and white checkered table cloths. I’m still kind of sad that I didn’t try the rabbit.
After stopping for provisions at a convenience store (convenience store, not gas station. Gas stations seemed to be clustered near major highways only) we went to what possibly could be my new favorite place: The Anvil. It was a cocktail bar with a Prohibition Era drink menu. You could get a real Old Fashioned. I could write pages about the ice cubes they use. But the thing that stuck out the most, even though you won’t notice it right away, was that there were no TV’s or a jukebox blaring out obnoxiously loud music. You could actually sit across the table from someone and not have to go hoarse trying to have a conversation.
Although the drinks were a bit pricey, The Anvil was probably my favorite of all the places we went. By this point we were hungry again so we decided to find a taco truck so I could get a taste of the street food that Houston has been rapidly becoming famous for. On a side note, tow truck drivers are always willing to make a deal. Don’t park in the no parking.
After getting detoured and running into some drunken Ukrainians, we arrived at Liberty Station, a bar that had been a gas station or something at some point. It seemed like luck wasn’t on our side when we saw that the truck out front was no taco truck, but something with a gigantic chicken attacking downtown. Little did I know, that chicken was about to attack my taste buds. The menu at Zilla Street Eats looked like something put together by stoners left in the grocery store overnight. Looking at the guy cooking, it was a distinct possibility.
They had foot-long corn dogs and burgers with mac and cheese on them. The pickles they used were those pickles you get at the fair, but sliced up. I had a cheese steak sandwich that had sirracha (“cock sauce”) on it. All of our food was awesome and went well with the gallons of St. Arnolds we were drinking. The bar itself was pretty interesting, lots of wacky crap on the walls, nice big patio to play bags on, vintage pinups in the bathroom. But what set Liberty Station apart was its jukebox. It might have been the best jukebox I’ve ever encountered. It had just about everything I’ve ever liked musically, ever.
After spending a ridiculous amount of money on the jukebox and freezing my ass off playing bags (if you’ve got space heaters everywhere, turn those fuckers on!), the ladies of our party left and we resumed the tour. It was determined that the best place for this to occur was Keneally’s Irish Pub, where it was $8 dollar scotch night.
Keneally’s wasn’t so much an Irish pub as it was just a homey kind of place to get wasted off your ass. So maybe it was exactly like an Irish pub. One thing I noticed about Houston was the indoor smoking ban, which kind of irked me at first, but then I realized that it was pretty nice not smelling like an ash tray the next morning. Topics of conversation included, but were not limited to: celebrities that were hot in the nineties, one hit wonders from the nineties and how Irish coffees are the gentleman’s 4 Loko.
Sunday started off a little later than usual thanks to about 11 $8 scotches. I had made plans to meet one of my good friends from high school who is a veterinarian in Houston now. She took me to the Hobbit Café, which was packed and promised a great brunch. I guess I had skewed perceptions about what hobbits eat, because when my plate of migas arrived, I was taken aback. I ended up not even being able to finish it all because it was freaking massive, but delicious.
And thus ended my tour of Houston.
—Calvin of North Texas
Thanks Calvin. Loopsters, if you or anyone you know has experienced the same misconceptions—only to have them turned around after a hearty taste of Houston, let us know.