A Revival in the Historic District

What's old is new again in the heart of the city  

A slew of new restaurant and bar openings surrounding Market Square and the Historic District has made Downtown Houston the place to be once more. New spots from well-known bartenders and chefs now mingle with tried and true favorites like La Carafe and Warren's Inn. In addition, major developments along Buffalo Bayou keep the buzz going.

When Market Square Park reopened several years ago beckoning visitors with green space, a dog park and even a Niko Niko's cafe, it became a catalyst for new projects and brought a renewed focus on the north side of Downtown. The debut of Bobby Heugel's OKRA Charity Saloon late last year spawned even more buzz as the latest wave of hotspots comes online.  

New Hangouts 

Justin Burrows, part of the team that opened Anvil Bar & Refuge, offers guests a modern American cocktail experience at Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge. It's the kind of place where he and his friends would frequent-no fuss, no pretension, just quality drinks in a fun atmosphere. In the 1,700-square-foot space, he serves up everything from classic cocktails to $2 Lone Star beers. Opened March 2013. 

The 9,000-square-foot Batanga features Latin American tapas, exotic drinks and live music, as well as a large umbrella-covered patio that overlooks Market Square Park. Customers can expect a mix of dishes from various regions in Latin America, such as Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Colombia, as well as dishes from Spain and Portugal. Opened March 2013.

With OKRA Charity Saloon, a group of independent restaurant and bar have launched aunique concept--a bar where 100 percent of the proceeds are donated to charity. The concept is simple: For each drink purchased, guests receiveone vote that they may cast that night for one of four selected charities. The charity with the most votes at the end of the month receives the next month's proceeds. Opened December 2012. 

Capitalizing on its longtime success in Montrose and neighboring locations,Barnaby's Cafe opened its Downtown location on Market Square in fall 2012, serving up American and Tex-Mex favorites, everything from delectable spiniach and feta burger to quesadillas.  

Going from mobile food truck to bricks-and-mortar, Fusion Taco took over the space formerly inhabited by Les Givral in 2013. The concept revolves around tacos like fajita beef and pulled pork with an Asian influence and spices.  

El Big Badtook charge of a prime space at the corner of Prairie and Travis streets in late 2013. Here you'll find one of the largest selections of tequila  in town plus dishes like chili con queso, roast duck empanadas,and blue crab tostadas and mushroom tacos.

The Nightingale Roomadds live music to the 300-block of Main Street. The concept brings a mix of musicians and DJs to the shotgun-style space beneath Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge. Nightingale offers wine and beer along with specialty punch and cocktails all in an antiqued settingcomplete with a large chandelier, plenty of mirrors and exposed brick walls. The space opened in late 2014. 

Longtime Favorites

Hotel Icon, the 135-room luxury hotel that anchors the area, recently became part of the Marriott Autograph Collection and underwent a $5 million renovation. The property's signature restaurant was also reimagined and the new Line & Lariatoffers Gulf Coast seafood dishes with a modern Texas flair. 

Warren's Inn is a Downtown classic--a no frills, hangout that continues to be popular with its masculine, all wood decor and cheap drinks. You'll find many regulars here, as well as a new set of scenesters late night and on the weekends. 

Though not as old as several of the other bars around Market Square, Hearsay Gastro Lounge has been holding its own since 2009 in a beautiful, historic building that once served as a Confederate Armory in the Civil War.  Hearsay serves upscale pub grub in grown-up style and also boasts a hearty beverage menu with a solid whiskey, wine and bubbly selection, as well as St. Arnold's and Ziegenbock beer on draft.

Located in what's said to be the second oldest building in Houston, Treebeardshas developed a loyal following for its classic Creole dishes such as red beans and rice, seafood gumbo and shrimp etoufee. The restaurant with an upstairs balcony overlooking the park also offers daily lunch specials such as fried chicken on Mondays and blackened catfish on Fridays. 

Many come to Char Bar to wind down after work and enjoy the friendly service. The small, intimate space invites patrons to enjoy a signature martini (fair warning these are served quite strong). Walls bedecked with old family photos, plus suits in glass cases and a vintage jukebox make the Char a fascinating Downtown jewel.

The oldest haunt in Houston, La Carafe wine bar is less a ghost than a piece of living history, a timeless challenge to the contemporary nightclub scene. The cozy candle-lit tavern hasn't changed much in more than 125 years and only serves wine and beer with tabs rung up on an antique cash-only register.

Coming Soon

Construction has begun on the former Sunset Coffee Building at Allen's Landingthat will return the historic structure to use and hopefully bring new life to Buffalo Bayou Downtown. Once complete in mid-2015, the $8 million building renovation north of Market Square will offer an outdoor plaza, refreshment facilities, canoe and kayak rentals and a rooftop event space among other amenities. 

Written by: A.J. Mistretta

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