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tmariar

Oldest Bar in Houston

72 posts in this topic

Looked but didn't find this discussed on this forum before - possibly because the majority view is that La Carafe is the oldest bar in Houston. I'm not necessarily disputing that - I'm just interested in knowing more about the basis for that claim. And the basis for any claim that another bar in town is older. Perhaps my ultimate question is, does it depend on how one defines "oldest bar in Houston"? Or is La Carafe hands-down the winner regardless?

Some factors that might come into play:

(1) Whether "the bar" refers to the business itself, or the structure in which it's located

(2) Whether the bar has operated continuously since its opening

(3) Whether the bar has operated continuously in the same place since its opening

(4) Whether the bar has operated continuously under the same name since its opening

(5) Whether the bar has been operated by the same family since its opening

(6) Whether the bar is a full service bar, or sells only beer and wine

(7) Whether the bar is a full service bar, or sells only beer

(8) Whether an "ice house" is a "bar"

(9) Whether the bar is located in Houston proper, or just in the Houston area

(10) Whether a restaurant bar is a "bar"

(11) Whether a hotel bar is a "bar"

Am I missing any? (I'd personally say the "oldest bar in Houston" is whichever indepedendent business in Houston that is commonly thought of as a "bar" has, for the longest continuous period of time, operated under the same name, in the same location/structure, regardless of ownership.)

At the expense of making this a really long post (sorry), but in the hope of ultimately saving others some time, here's some background info on a few contenders:

La Carafe - 813 Congress - A wine and beer bar on Market Square with an unbeatable ambiance and good jukebox. Generally believed to be the oldest bar in Houston. Located in the Kennedy Bakery building, which was built in the 1860's.

- "Considered to be the oldest Houston building existing on its original site." (National Register listing for Kennedy Bakery, per Texas Historical Commission)

- "[G]enerally acknowledged as the oldest structure in Houston existing on its original site." (same)

- "The building [o]ccupies the site of the previous 'Shakespeare Coffee House.'" (same)

- "Legends report the two-story brick structure, which was built for pioneer merchant John Keimedy [sic], at various times housed a trading post, stage stop, and slave market. Research indicates, however, that the structure housed Kennedy's bakery." (same)

- "The 1873 Houston City Directory lists a druggist operating from the bakery building, and drug stores, under several different ownership's, continued to operate there until 1932, from which time a wide variety of businesses occupied it. Ownership remained in the Kennedy family until 1970. The building was sold to William V. Berry in 1970, who operates a pub, known as La Carafe, in the building." (same)

- "The La Carafe building is listed on the National Register for Historic Places and is believed to be the oldest bar in Houston, and is the oldest commercial building still in use, in Houston." (The Story of Home)

- "Later serving as a pony express station and becoming the modern La Carafe we know today in the 1950s, the building was passed down for 5 generations of Kennedys before it was sold to Wenglar's older brother who passed away shortly after gaining posession in 1987. Since 1988, Wenglar has kept La Carafe at it's original, mellow best, hiring bartenders who have been with La Carafe for her entire duration as owner." (same)

- "La Carafe is not only the oldest bar in Houston, but it's also the oldest commercial building in Houston if I'm not mistaken." (Lance Scott Walker, BarTab Blog, Houston Chronicle)

Leon's Lounge - 1006 McGowen - Homey and eccentric cleaned-up dive bar in Midtown.

- "There's no other bar in Midtown - or in Houston, for that matter - like Leon's Lounge. Not only does it boast an existence spanning nearly six decades - quite a feat, considering the blink-and-you-missed-it nature of Houston businesses - it's also the most interesting place you can find any night of the week in Midtown." (Houston Press)

- "Owner Scarlett Yarborough was given the bar from her father, Leon, who purchased the property in 1953." (Houston Press)

- "[W]ord on the street is that it's 1953 establishment date makes it one of the oldest watering holes in town, second to La Carafe." (houstonist.com)

- "Supposedly the oldest bar in Houston?" (dishwaterblue.blogspot.com)

- "It is supposedly the oldest bar in Houston." (poster on forums.hornsfans.com)

- "Some people claim its the La Carafe and I have heard about a place called Leon's that is actually the oldest continuously operated bar? I know that you or someone who reads this column will know." (poster on BarTab Blog, Houston Chronicle)

Kay's Lounge - 2324 Bissonnet - A true Texas-style wine and beer bar located in one of the neighborhoods/towns that, in my ignorance, I lump together as "West U".

- "The second-oldest bar in Houston has been serving beer and wine since 1943." (envymags.com)

- "Antique beer ads accumulated since the bar's opening in 1939 adorn the walls and ceilings." (citysearch.com)

West Alabama Ice House - 1919 W. Alabama - Montose ice house that is probably the best-known in the city.

- "Serving up cold ones on hot days on the outskirts of the Montrose since 1927" (aol.cityguide.com)

- "Opened in 1927, the West Alabama Ice House is a Houston landmark that became known as 'Houston's backyard'." (governor.state.tx.us)

Warren's Inn - 307 Travis - An old-school bar on Market Square that serves great cocktails.

- "It's rumoured to be the oldest bar in Houston" (whereisgoodservice.blogspot.com)

Mary's Lounge - 1022 Westheimer - Treasured gay bar in Montrose, with an entertaining mural.

- "Mary's claims to be the oldest bar in Houston" (citysearch.com)

- "It's been around forever - they claim to be the oldest bar in Houston, but that's debatable - and Mary's Lounge is still packing them in." (Houston.com)

Warwick Hotel Lounge - 5701 Main - No longer exists, so not really a contender, but interesting to note.

- "Established: 1926" (governor.state.tx.us)

Anyone have any information/thoughts to add to the above? I'm planning to do more research...

Edited by tmariar

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as far as i know la carafe isn't the oldest bar and never claimed to be. i think even warren's is older. it is the oldest buidling with a continually operating business in it. i'm not sure your internet "research" is accurate. searching a blog to find factual info? even if you just read the items you posted, you can tell there are so many conflicts between each.

Edited by musicman

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as far as i know la carafe isn't the oldest bar and never claimed to be. i think even warren's is older. it is the oldest buidling with a continually operating business in it. i'm not sure your internet "research" is accurate. searching a blog to find factual info? even if you just read the items you posted, you can tell there are so many conflicts between each.

The internet research is accurate, at least as of yesterday - I've quoted verbatim from each source. I wasn't trying to prove anything other than that there are a lot of conflicting claims to the title of oldest bar in Houston, with the occasional recitation of a date, but usually not much more information to back up any given claim. I included some additional information I found offered with regard to La Carafe, but even that is potentially in conflict - I put those two passages in bold type for that reason. (Though, I'm not sure that they're necessarily conflicting - I think they could be reconciled.) I think it's also interesting to note that the claims that LaCarafe is the oldest bar in Houston (they're all over the internet - I cited just a few examples - they far outnumber the claims with regard to the other bars, even taken together) are not from sources discussing the history of the building or business.

Again, I included what I did as a starting point - hoping to advance any discussion beyond the types of postings I'd seen elsewhere - which are usually either "I heard that...", or a conclusory statement that La Carafe is the oldest bar in Houston. It's a topic I've decided to research, and canvassing information available on the internet (even blog postings, which are often good leads) is usually where I start my research. Including a post on this forum seemed a logical second step. My next step will probably be to try to talk to the business owners themselves - the statements I've seen always seem to be made by a third party.

In any case, thanks for the input - I should have been more explicit about the above, but it was already such a long post... I'll report back if I find out anything, in case anyone is interested.

Edited by tmariar

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The internet research is accurate, at least as of yesterday - I've quoted verbatim from each source. I wasn't trying to prove anything other than that there are a lot of conflicting claims to the title of oldest bar in Houston, with the occasional recitation of a date, but usually not much more information to back up any given claim. I included some additional information I found offered with regard to La Carafe, but even that is potentially in conflict - I put those two passages in bold type for that reason. (Though, I'm not sure that they're necessarily conflicting - I think they could be reconciled.) I think it's also interesting to note that the claims that LaCarafe is the oldest bar in Houston (they're all over the internet - I cited just a few examples - they far outnumber the claims with regard to the other bars, even taken together) are not from sources discussing the history of the building or business.

Again, I included what I did as a starting point - hoping to advance any discussion beyond the types of postings I'd seen elsewhere - which are usually either "I heard that...", or a conclusory statement that La Carafe is the oldest bar in Houston. It's a topic I've decided to research, and canvassing information available on the internet (even blog postings, which are often good leads) is usually where I start my research. Including a post on this forum seemed a logical second step. My next step will probably be to try to talk to the business owners themselves - the statements I've seen always seem to be made by a third party.

accurate information shouldn't conflict. just because something is on the net doesn't mean it is true. i hope you realize that.

i will say definitively that la carafe has never claimed to be the oldest bar in houston just that the building itself is the oldest commercial structure.

i sent an email to an employee there so she can ask carolyn.

Edited by musicman

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The claims for the Warwick and the Alabama Ice House can't be correct. No (legal) bar was "serving up cold ones" in the 1920s. Prohibition wasn't repealed until the 1930s. Another consideration is whether a private club counts as a bar, because I believe Houston may have had some laws around that as well at one point.

If you want to research this, are the TABC liquor licenses available? I bring this up because IIRC the old Aquarium Lounge on West Dallas had an old newspaper article framed that mentioned that it had the second oldest license in the city (Kipling Pub by the Alabama theater was also mentioned as an old one). Another old one is the Marquis II on Bissonnet from the 1960s, but I would think that Leon's or Kays are the best candidates.

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accurate information shouldn't conflict. just because something is on the net doesn't mean it is true. i hope you realize that.

i will say definitively that la carafe has never claimed to be the oldest bar in houston just that the building itself is the oldest commercial structure.

i sent an email to an employee there so she can ask carolyn.

I don't know what more I can say. If I believed unsbstantiated claims off the internet, I'd already have an answer, as a Chronicle reporter has already stated unequivocally that La Carafe is the oldest bar in Houston - and that's good enough for most people. I'm attempting to find out the factual basis for that claim, and any conflicting claim, so that I can come to my own informed conclusion. And maybe shed some light on an area of Houston history that seems somewhat shallowly explored to date. I could have just asked "what is the oldest bar in Houston?" - if I'd gotten any answers, though, many would probably have been along the line of those posted elsewhere. So I included those to establish where we're at in terms of the general public knowledge - in the hope of learning something beyond that. Yes, the internet information - most of it hearsay - is incomplete and conflicting. To the extent it is in conflict, some of it must be inaccurate. I'm asking a question, not offering an answer.

Any insight Carolyn has would greatly interest me - thanks very much. I'll see if I can get in touch with Scarlett or someone at Leon's.

I don't know how to do a double quote-back in one post, but thanks, too, Subdude. All very helpful information! I don't remember that article from my Aquarium days, but I think TABC licenses may be available, and it's a great idea. And I'm glad to add Marquis II to my research list - will try to keep it to one raspberry long island ice tea...

Edited by tmariar

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i will say definitively that la carafe has never claimed to be the oldest bar in houston just that the building itself is the oldest commercial structure.

i sent an email to an employee there so she can ask carolyn.

i just spoke with faye (long time employee) who said warren acquired both bars after the original warren's end was near (a little more than 19 yrs ago which is what i thought). she said that la carafe isn't the oldest bar just the oldest commericial building. i will await a response from carolyn.

Edited by musicman

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i've never "heard" that la carafe was the oldest bar. i didn't think it had always been a bar. i have "read" that it is the oldest building in downtown. i don't have my houston architecture guide handy, but that may have been where i found my information.

good luck with your research.

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i just spoke with faye (long time employee) who said warren acquired both bars after the original warren's end was near (a little more than 19 yrs ago which is what i thought). she said that la carafe isn't the oldest bar just the oldest commericial building. i will await a response from carolyn.

Interesting - thanks. I hadn't realized there was another incarnation of Warren's when I posted, but then picked up an old copy of Ray Miller's Houston last night and saw a picture of a Warren's Inn located at 316 Milam...

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Interesting - thanks. I hadn't realized there was another incarnation of Warren's when I posted, but then picked up an old copy of Ray Miller's Houston last night and saw a picture of a Warren's Inn located at 316 Milam...

yes he opened it in the 60's. he had some interesting friends like liberace, who was a regular when he was in town. if you go to the current location, ask to see the post card of the original. very classy bar. the stools/chairs/2 chandeliers (with some pieces removed to accomodate lower ceiling height), the mirrors and the two large pieces of wax art are from the original place.

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If you want to research this, are the TABC liquor licenses available?

What the TABC website offers appears to be the issue date of the current permit, which is updated each time the permit is renewed. (I was wrong about this - see update below.) As such, I got the following "original issuance" dates:

La Carafe - Nov. 1988

Leon's - Feb. 2004

Warren's - Nov. 1988

Mary's - May 1992

Marquis II - Jan. 1992

Kay's - Feb. 2007

West Alabama Ice House - Mar. 2002

I can request a customized search, which might capture the original permit issuance date, but there are various fees associated with doing so. So I won't give up on this line of inquiry, but may hold off to see if I can narrow the list a bit first. (Though I did send them an email with the list and my purpose in asking in case it sparked the curiosity of someone at TABC.)

Update - A very helpful public information officer at TABC responded quickly to my email. She said that the above dates are in fact original issuance dates, and noted that there would be a new issuance date if there was a new owner. (Which may explain the recency of the dates.) She also said that there is a way to search the website for inactive permits, though the information does not go back more than a certain number of decades. (She had run a sample search and saw a 1964-88 permit listed under La Carafe's address.) However, they do have microfilm records going back to the 1940's - though the microfilm machine is out of service at the moment. I can't look now, but will run and report on inactive permit searches when I next have a chance.

Edited by tmariar

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i just spoke with faye (long time employee) who said warren acquired both bars after the original warren's end was near (a little more than 19 yrs ago which is what i thought). she said that la carafe isn't the oldest bar just the oldest commericial building. i will await a response from carolyn.

Amada (another long time employee) just called me to talk about 24 and i asked her the question too. she said that la carafe's isn't the oldest bar and provided me with a little history of warren's and la carafe. she said that warren actually had ali baba's first. that was in the 60's. she said that times were pretty hard and ali baba's started going downhill (i'll spare you the madame and her clientele details) and warren saw the 4 seasons place (in french, on same block of milam) came on the market. he knew the place was larger and was in better shape so he sold ali baba and bought the 4 seasons place (the 1st official warren's inn). that was in '78 dec.

she said the owner of la carafe Bill Berry moved to California in the early 80's. Dan Mattutat and Carl, the manager, were running the place for a few years. Bill wanted out cause he couldn't be there to see over things, plus the place was in desperate need of repairs. when warren was forced out on milam, the place where warrens is now came on the market and was also owned by bill berry. warren just wanted the place where warren's is now but bill berry wouldn't sell it to him unless he bought la carafe and kept it as la carafe because bill said it would run itself. he bought both bars in late 86 or early 87. it took about a yr to remodel the place so he could open up the new warrens inn on christmas 87.

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(2) Whether the bar has operated continuously since its opening

**************************

Mary's Lounge - 1022 Westheimer - Treasured gay bar in Montrose, with an entertaining mural.

- "Mary's claims to be the oldest bar in Houston" (citysearch.com)

- "It's been around forever - they claim to be the oldest bar in Houston, but that's debatable - and Mary's Lounge is still packing them in." (Houston.com)

Not quite correct.

Mary's claim is that it's not only the oldest gay bar in Houston, but in all of Texas. I've never heard of anyone claiming that it was the all-around oldest bar.

My understanding is that Jim Farmer opened Mary's late summer/early fall of 1970. He ran it until his death in the early 90s, but it has remained open continuously (except for 2 or 3 days a few years back, when there were some, um, financial issues.)

It's also my understanding that Mary's does not own the land or building, and that they've leased it from the same people since it opened.

As has been discussed in another thread, the famous mural has been painted over :angry2:

And they're not exactly "packing them in" these days. Usually, it's pretty dead.

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she said the owner of la carafe Bill Berry moved to California in the early 80's. Dan Mattutat and Carl, the manager, were running the place for a few years. Bill wanted out cause he couldn't be there to see over things, plus the place was in desperate need of repairs. when warren was forced out on milam, the place where warrens is now came on the market and was also owned by bill berry. warren just wanted the place where warren's is now but bill berry wouldn't sell it to him unless he bought la carafe and kept it as la carafe because bill said it would run itself. he bought both bars in late 86 or early 87. it took about a yr to remodel the place so he could open up the new warrens inn on christmas 87.

I remember Dan. He was one of the original Urban Animals, a loosely organized group of skaters. They were often the only people you'd see on the streets at night in downtown Houston in the 80's. He also organized The Lucille Ball, an annual event restricted to redheads (wigs and temp colors accepted, too.) He was a good guy, and died far too young.

There used to be a spectacular stained-glass light fixture at La Carafe (rumored to be a genuine Tiffany) and there were some very hard feelings when it didn't remain in the bar - I'll leave it at that.

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There used to be a spectacular stained-glass light fixture at La Carafe (rumored to be a genuine Tiffany) and there were some very hard feelings when it didn't remain in the bar - I'll leave it at that.

when did it disappear?

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when did it disappear?

Just about the time the place changed hands. <_<

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Thanks, guys... I knew the posters here would have some helpful - or at least interesting - input.

Not quite correct.

Mary's claim is that it's not only the oldest gay bar in Houston, but in all of Texas. I've never heard of anyone claiming that it was the all-around oldest bar.

Interestingly, I haven't personally seen or heard any of the bars discussed above claim that it is the oldest bar in Houston. (For a time I thought the "Story of Home" site I cited with regard to La Carafe might be an official site, but I never found anything confirming that, so proceeded on the assumption it was not.) Which I think is significant (the fact that it's not the bars making these claims). Maybe nobody knows, or maybe it's a problem of defining what it means to be the oldest bar. I'm going to try to run the TABC searches late tonight or tomorrow, and see where that gets me. I'll keep Mary's in my searches just in case.

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What the TABC website offers appears to be the issue date of the current permit, which is updated each time the permit is renewed. (I was wrong about this - see update below.) As such, I got the following "original issuance" dates:

La Carafe - Nov. 1988

Leon's - Feb. 2004

Warren's - Nov. 1988

Mary's - May 1992

Marquis II - Jan. 1992

Kay's - Feb. 2007

West Alabama Ice House - Mar. 2002

I can request a customized search, which might capture the original permit issuance date, but there are various fees associated with doing so. So I won't give up on this line of inquiry, but may hold off to see if I can narrow the list a bit first. (Though I did send them an email with the list and my purpose in asking in case it sparked the curiosity of someone at TABC.)

Update - A very helpful public information officer at TABC responded quickly to my email. She said that the above dates are in fact original issuance dates, and noted that there would be a new issuance date if there was a new owner. (Which may explain the recency of the dates.) She also said that there is a way to search the website for inactive permits, though the information does not go back more than a certain number of decades. (She had run a sample search and saw a 1964-88 permit listed under La Carafe's address.) However, they do have microfilm records going back to the 1940's - though the microfilm machine is out of service at the moment. I can't look now, but will run and report on inactive permit searches when I next have a chance.

Anyone know when Gingerman(WestU) was open? It seems to have been there a long time.

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Anyone know when Gingerman(WestU) was open? It seems to have been there a long time.

Don't know, but I'll add it to my search of the TABC records, which I keep having to put off (along with my bar visits) because of work. And I'll post the info I come up with on the bars we've discussed. If anyone has any other names to add to the list, just let me know.

Three cheers for TABC-public-information-officer-extraordinaire Carolyn Beck, whose help with the TABC database and the history of Texas liquor licensing has been invaluable. I will include what I've learned from her with regard to the latter when I report on the TABC info.

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Anyone know when Gingerman(WestU) was open? It seems to have been there a long time.

Per their website, the original Ginger Man on Morningside was opened in 1985, which sounds about right to me - I started hanging out there not too long after it opened. Before that, however, the same building housed Chuggers, a comfortably seedy neighborhood bar that had been there for quite some time (I have no idea when it opened). The original owner of the G-Man purchased Chuggers, changed the name, started doing renovations and adding beers to the menu, and the rest is history. The first winter it was open under the new name, the heating system indoors was either non-existent or chronically non-functional, so the regulars knew to dress warmly when they headed down there for a pint or two.

Another one to add to the list: the River Oaks Bar, a true dive that was located on Greenbriar behind where Freebirds is now. It had been around for years, but finally closed close to 20 years ago. Another bar, Live Bait, opened in the same location a while later and went through multiple ownership changes before eventually shutting down. The building is vacant and boarded up now.

Edited by mkultra25

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The following is the info I've been able to get from the TABC online database - it doesn't provide any answers (see above re the TABC online records not being complete - there may be earlier permits than those listed below), but it does move the ball a bit. I've included info on other bars mentioned, where I was able to find it. This shows the bar name, and then each permit in the online records for that same name or location (by owner name and effective dates of permit).

La Carafe

LCW Properties, 11/10/88 to 11/09/07

William V. Berry, 12/23/64 to 12/22/88

Leon

Edited by tmariar

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A couple of years ago on another forum we were knocking about the question of the oldest restaurant in the Houston area. No one was doing any research, just using common knowledge or histories posted on restaurant websites. Gaido's (1911, Galveston) seemed to be the winner until someone noted the Houston Club was established in 1894 and almost surely had food service from the beginning.

I would imagine it also had a bar.

From the current website, under Amenities: ALLEN'S LANDING, a casual, nautically themed lounge offers cocktails, appetizers and a casually themed lunch menu from 11am into the late afternoon. Members entertain guests with a game of pool or happy hour cocktails and feast on snacks and appetizers.

Good luck on your research. I'll be interested to see what you come up with.

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Gaido's (1911, Galveston) seemed to be the winner until someone noted the Houston Club was established in 1894 and almost surely had food service from the beginning. I would imagine it also had a bar.

I haven't been posting everything I find, not wanting to try everyone's patience, but there were indeed a large number of private clubs with early permits. For example, the following all had permits issued on September 1, 1961: The Coronado Club, Bayou Club, Houston Country Club, Lakeside Country Club, Petroleum Club, Forest Club, and Pine Forest Country Club. (I think the significance of that date has something to do with "the advent of Private Club Registration Permits" referenced in the TABC history linked above.) Those I know do have nice bars. I'm not ignoring these places just because they're private clubs - especially because I believe that any bar in Texas serving hard liquor prior to 1971 could only serve it to "members" - I think I'll have to account for such bars, and for hotel bars, in any final analysis - but I'm personally more interested in bars that were/are independent businesses, open to the public at large. Bottom line, though - thanks, that's a good note to add. I'm not ignoring private clubs.

To summarize where I am now (note that some of the below are unsubstantiated claims off the internet, and that almost all the claims/information are from a source other than the bar itself):

1920 - Prohibition began

1926 - Warwick Hotel Lounge said to have been established

1927 - West Alabama Ice House said to have started serving

1935 - Amendment repealing prohibition ratified by Texas

1939 - Kay's said to have opened

1943 - Kay's said to have started serving

1950's - La Carafe said to have opened

1953 - Leon's said to have opened

1960's - Marquis II said to have opened

1960's - First Warren's Inn said to have opened

1961 - Advent of private club registration permits

1961 - First private club permits I've found so far

1964 - Oldest La Carafe permit I've found so far

1965 - Oldest Grif's-related permit I've found so far

1970 - Mary's said to have opened

1971 - Mixed-drink permits become available

1978 - Oldest Mary's permit I've found so far

1978 - Oldest Warren's permit I've found so far

1980 - Oldest Marquis II permit I've found so far

1984 - Oldest Kay's permit I've found so far

1985 - Gingerman said to have opened

1985 - Oldest W. Alabama Ice House permit I've found so far

1986 - Oldest Leon's permit I've found so far

1987 - Oldest Gingerman permit I've found so far

The two items in red are the best info I have so far, given that they are government records (and early dates).

Edited by tmariar

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Great stuff. Thanks for posting all this.

I think that the "Grifs Shillelagh Inn" listed from the 1960s was in Market Square (it is there in old illustrations), and the Montrose location came later.

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I think that the "Grifs Shillelagh Inn" listed from the 1960s was in Market Square (it is there in old illustrations), and the Montrose location came later.

Oops - the end date on that Grifs Shillelagh Inn permit listed above should have been 1994 - I've made the change. TABC lists the 1965-1994 permit for Grifs Shillelagh Inn for Grif's/Griff's Roseland address. I've found a couple of newspaper articles that locate the bar on Roseland at least as of 1986. And here's an excerpt from a 1992 Chronicle article:

Michael Joseph Patrick Griffin, 50, was born and raised in Boston. He came to Texas to attend the University of St. Thomas, where he played basketball and later became a coach and assistant dean of men. When the university discontinued its sports program in the early '60s, Griffin quit and set about finding a new livelihood. The best idea he came up with, he recalls, was to open a sports bar for his friends and students in the neighborhood near the university. By the time he opened the doors in 1965, he had only $12 left for operating expenses. But the people came. Located at 3416 Roseland, just behind Houston's Chinese Consulate and one block east of Montrose, Grif's has survived fires, impatient bankers and annual St. Patrick's Day, an occasion that he says has drawn as many as 5,000 revelers.

I don't see another permit listed in Harris County under the Shillelagh Inn name - but, if the bar was in Market Square in the early 60's, it may be that the online database doesn't go back far enough. (The street address search on the TABC website is easy to use, by the way - the search page is here.) And thank you, Subdude, for the suggestion of checking the TABC records.

It seems that this is going to be a more long-term project than I thought, especially given that names surfaced in the TABC search of bars and ice houses with which I'm not familiar (per post #21 above) - I think that visiting as many of these places as possible will be important, if I'm not able to find a way to do a comprehensive TABC search. But it's a subject that interests me, and hopefully others as well, so it should be fun. I'll report here on my progress. If anyone else has a chance to talk to an owner or employee of any of these bars, as Musicman did, I'd love to hear what they have to say.

Edited by tmariar

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Warren's Inn on Old Market Square did not exist as such until the mid-to-late 1970s. Before that it Les Quatres Saisons restaurant and before that a toy store. The building was built in the late 1850s by Louisa and Christian Bethje and the land had been owned by Louisa's previous husband, Joseph Sandman. What I have seen in print stated that the building was built in 1868, but Louisa died in 1867 and I know she had the building erected. Her deceased husband's wood framed house was on the lot (purchased in 1840) until 1857 when Louisa had it removed, ostensibly to build the brick building which became Warren's Inn. I believe that building was the oldest commercial building in Houston before it was destroyed in the middle of the night in 1988.

Rudyard's has to qualify as one of the longest running bars with the same name, although the original location was on Kipling (get it...Rudyard's on Kipling?) across from the Alabama Theater (Bookstop) and it has changed owners. Rudyard's was the Urban Animal neighborhood bar. Warren's the Urban Animal skate night bar.

I remember Dan Mattutat carrying kegs of beer up and down the stairs at La Carafe on skates.

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Warren's Inn on Old Market Square did not exist as such until the mid-to-late 1970s. Before that it Les Quatres Saisons restaurant and before that a toy store. The building was built in the late 1850s by Louisa and Christian Bethje and the land had been owned by Louisa's previous husband, Joseph Sandman. What I have seen in print stated that the building was built in 1868, but Louisa died in 1867 and I know she had the building erected. Her deceased husband's wood framed house was on the lot (purchased in 1840) until 1857 when Louisa had it removed, ostensibly to build the brick building which became Warren's Inn. I believe that building was the oldest commercial building in Houston before it was destroyed in the middle of the night in 1988.

Rudyard's has to qualify as one of the longest running bars with the same name, although the original location was on Kipling (get it...Rudyard's on Kipling?) across from the Alabama Theater (Bookstop) and it has changed owners. Rudyard's was the Urban Animal neighborhood bar. Warren's the Urban Animal skate night bar.

I remember Dan Mattutat carrying kegs of beer up and down the stairs at La Carafe on skates.

Thanks for the Warren's background info, which I see now was also discussed on HAIF here. How sad about the Bethje-Lang building! Subdude posted a nice photograph in that prior thread - it's the same building that was photographed as "Warren's Inn" in the Ray Miller book.

Rudyard's on Kipling - I like it. The TABC online records don't seem to go back far enough to capture the former Rudz location. A search for Harris County locations with "Rudyard" in the name just gives the Waugh line of licenses, dating back to 1984. I looked for bars on Kipling, and got the old Velvet Elvis location (2108 Kipling, online records for 1991-93), additional records for that same location (the Kipling Pub, 1981-91; Amery's Kipling Pub, 1994-2000; Vintage, 2006-current), and one license for 2020 Kipling (Bayou Landing, issuance date unknown, to 1975). I'll add Rudyard's to the list for additional research...

[seeing Urban Animal folks skating around downtown was such a thrill for me as a kid - the way the memory has stayed with me, it was always the middle of the night (though it likely wasn't), downtown was otherwise deserted (ditto), and out of nowehere I'd spy a small group of skaters, all dressed in black, disappearing around a corner just before I could really get a good look... I remember wondering if they might be vampires.]

Unrelated (to isurerdid's post) updates...

- I found a 2003 Chronicle article on Kay's, which says Kay's has been serving since 1939.

- TABC's online records had licenses for Marfreless going back to 1972, for Gallant Knight (recently closed, I hear) going back to 1974, the Lone Star Saloon (downtown, 1900 Travis) going back to 1972, EJ's (Montrose, 2517 Ralph) going back to 1974, Silver Slipper (Frenchtown, 5th Ward) going back to 1974, Fitzgerald's going back to 1977, Jimmie's (White Oak) going back to 1979, Etta's Lounge (5120 Scott) going back to 1979, and the Roll-N-Saloon (San Felipe) going back to 1980. As I mentioned before, there were also lines of licenses for a number of bars I hadn't heard of previously going back earlier than any of these.

- I found a 1986 Chronicle article by Marty Racine that mentioned in passing that Local Charm - then still at its Telephone Road location (I believe it later moved to Washington, and soon thereafter became the Rhythm Room, which has since closed) - billed itself as the oldest bar in Houston.

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I looked today at some old Houston City Directories, and came up with some interesting new information on La Carafe, Leon's, Kay's, and the West Alabama Ice House, which I've posted here. I'll go back to the Directories when I have more time, and will post the City Directory research here when it's complete and I can summarize it more succinctly.

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I'm impressed by your research. I know today we associate ice houses with open air beer joints, but was that always the case? It seems reasonable that they were just grocers that at some point got a liquor license.

Did you happen to look at Kipling Pub?

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I'm impressed by your research. I know today we associate ice houses with open air beer joints, but was that always the case? It seems reasonable that they were just grocers that at some point got a liquor license.

Did you happen to look at Kipling Pub?

I had always heard that ice houses were called ice houses because that's where you'd go to get a new block of ice to keep your ice box (refrigerator) cold - the custom of having cold beer on offer as well followed from the ice-getting being primarily handled by men (because the blocks were so heavy)... and ice being plentiful... But it does seem that they could have had blocks of ice on sale at a grocery-type market as well, maybe with a delivery service. Or maybe I'm overcomplicating this and there were just grocers that sold beer for consumption on the premises in addition to whatever else.

Regardless, where I'm hoping the grocery/restaurant references in the city directories will become clearer is in the TABC records, which will differentiate (I believe) among different kinds of licenses. They do now, and I'm assuming they did back then. If I can refine my research enough, I think the TABC folks might be willing to check some records that exist only on microfilm - once their machine is working again - or I could check when I'm next in Austin.

I did not look at the Kipling Pub (except as referenced in a prior post) - I didn't look in any detail at any location or business name other than the four I mentioned... I just dropped by the library over lunch, and spent some of that time trying to figure out how the directories work (sad that this was my first visit to the Municipal Research Center even though I work less than a block away, but it was a good excuse to finally go). I am planning to prepare better for my next visit, so that I can more quickly and methodically record info on all the different names and locations I'm trying to research.

Seems to me even this early into it that I'm headed for the conclusion that more than one bar has fair claim to the title of oldest in Houston - that the oldest will vary with the definition of terms. But I don't think that's such a bad outcome.

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this was my first visit to the Municipal Research Center

I'm not familiar with that institution - where is it located?

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I'm not familiar with that institution - where is it located?

Possibly because I got the name wrong... I meant the Houston Metropolitan Research Center. I often saw it referenced in TARO search results.

Looked like the only thing on the second floor of the Ideson building open to the public. (Seeing the inside of that building is alone worth the trip.) Most of the city directories are on the shelf (looked like some were on microfilm or microfiche), organized by year. They contain alphabetic listings of businesses/people - plus, the ones I looked at had listings by street name and address.

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I'm impressed by your research. I know today we associate ice houses with open air beer joints, but was that always the case? It seems reasonable that they were just grocers that at some point got a liquor license.

Ditto, and your website also, which I just recently discovered. I wanted to thank you for the write-up on Original New Orleans Po Boys and the link to the other article - I knew that building had to have been there longer than ONOPB but couldn't remember what it was.

The discussion of beer joints and ice houses reminded me of this I picked up on one of the GHPA tours:

4dy3i1f.jpg

The tour guide said something about how the Magnolia Brewery managed to survive Prohibition because it was also a huge ice factory.

I know the brewery spanned the bayou and some was destroyed in the 1935 flood, but I wonder how much of this was ever built?

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The tour guide said something about how the Magnolia Brewery managed to survive Prohibition because it was also a huge ice factory.

I know the brewery spanned the bayou and some was destroyed in the 1935 flood, but I wonder how much of this was ever built?

Thanks for posting that picture - I had seen it before, but then couldn't find a copy when I needed it. I think there may also be a colorized postcard with a similar view - couldn't find that, either. What I've seen about the Houston Ice and Brewing Company is here, and in the links cited. I'm also interested in the extent to which the brewery built over the bayou... but haven't discovered much detailed information. I've looked for photos, without success - though I need to look back again at some of the early panoramic photos on the Library of Congress site. I had always understood that the drawings similar to the one you posted were not accurate depictions of what building was ultimately done - though I can't cite a source for that off the top of my head - and so I always wondered if written reports that there were buildings out over the bayou were incorrect and based only on the drawing. I do recall reading that the structures the brewery built into the bayou were blamed, at least in part, for the damage caused by the 1935 flood. Would love to find out more.

I've also read that, while the brewery survived Prohibition, because of the ice works, Prohibition was still the beginning of the end...

As for the bars research, I went through some of the City Directories in more detail today - it's time-consuming. I'll have to write up what I found tonight, and will link to the updated research later. Some quick highlights of what I think I found out today (and last night, talking to the bartender at Kay's):

- The Warren's trail does seem to end somewhere in the 1978-80 time period, consistent with musicman's [edit: and isuredid's] comments above.

- Also, I didn't find a Rudyard's listing of any kind in 1979-80 (about as late back as I looked this time - so don't know yet about earlier listings), but did find that "Rudyard's British Bar" appeared to have been located in the Kipling Pub/Velvet Elvis (now "Vintage") building (2108 Kipling) in the 1981-82 time period. The 2108 Kipling building is listed as vacant in 1980.

- I had wondered if there was a connection between Marquis II and a bar called the Marquis Lounge that I saw listed on W. Gray in earlier years. The bartender at Kay's mentioned the West Gray Marquis as the first Marquis without my asking about it, so there may be a connection. The dates seem to work out so far.

Edited by tmariar

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- Also, I didn't find a Rudyard's listing of any kind in 1979-80 (about as late back as I looked this time - so don't know yet about earlier listings), but did find that "Rudyard's British Bar" appeared to have been located in the Kipling Pub/Velvet Elvis (now "Vintage") building (2108 Kipling) in the 1981-82 time period. The 2108 Kipling building is listed as vacant in 1980.

Hmm. I believe I first visited Rudz when I was 16, which would've been in 1980-81. It was in its current location on Waugh then. Never made it to the earlier location on Kipling.

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Hmm. I believe I first visited Rudz when I was 16, which would've been in 1980-81. It was in its current location on Waugh then. Never made it to the earlier location on Kipling.

I think your recollection meshes with what I've found so far. The TABC online records only go back to 1984. While the 1981 Houston City Directory only shows Rudyard's British Bar, at the Kipling location, the 1982 Houston City Directory lists both Rudyard's British Pub at the Waugh location and Rudyard's British Bar at the Kipling location. So perhaps the Waugh location opened in 1981, after the directory was published?

Interesting that you got in at 16. I'd heard that Rudyard's had (at least for a while, don't know about now) such a strict no-minors policy that underage band members couldn't come in until the band was just about to go on. That kept me from trying to see some shows I really wanted to see, back in the day. Were you there to see a band? Do you remember who it was?

I've added to my online notes the info I found today. The updates concern city directory listings from 1978 to 1986, and the following bars/locations: Chez Lounge, Etta's Lounge, Jimmie's Place, Kay's Lounge, La Carafe, Leon's Lounge, Marquis II, Mary's Lounge, Noe's Drive-In, Roll-N-Saloon, Roseland Lounge, Rudyard's, Turning Point Lounge, Warren's, West Alabama Ice House, 3743 Greenbriar (once River Oaks Bar), 5607 Morningside (now Gingerman).

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Thanks for posting that picture - I had seen it before, but then couldn't find a copy when I needed it. I think there may also be a colorized postcard with a similar view - couldn't find that, either. What I've seen about the Houston Ice and Brewing Company is here, and in the links cited. I'm also interested in the extent to which the brewery built over the bayou... but haven't discovered much detailed information. I've looked for photos, without success - though I need to look back again at some of the early panoramic photos on the Library of Congress site. I had always understood that the drawings similar to the one you posted were not accurate depictions of what building was ultimately done - though I can't cite a source for that off the top of my head - and so I always wondered if written reports that there were buildings out over the bayou were incorrect and based only on the drawing. I do recall reading that the structures the brewery built into the bayou were blamed, at least in part, for the damage caused by the 1935 flood. Would love to find out more.

I've also read that, while the brewery survived Prohibition, because of the ice works, Prohibition was still the beginning of the end...

As for the bars research, I went through some of the City Directories in more detail today - it's time-consuming. I'll have to write up what I found tonight, and will link to the updated research later. Some quick highlights of what I think I found out today (and last night, talking to the bartender at Kay's):

- The Warren's trail does seem to end somewhere in the 1978-80 time period, consistent with musicman's comments above.

- Also, I didn't find a Rudyard's listing of any kind in 1979-80 (about as late back as I looked this time - so don't know yet about earlier listings), but did find that "Rudyard's British Bar" appeared to have been located in the Kipling Pub/Velvet Elvis (now "Vintage") building (2108 Kipling) in the 1981-82 time period. The 2108 Kipling building is listed as vacant in 1980.

- I had wondered if there was a connection between Marquis II and a bar called the Marquis Lounge that I saw listed on W. Gray in earlier years. The bartender at Kay's mentioned the West Gray Marquis as the first Marquis without my asking about it, so there may be a connection. The dates seem to work out so far.

I have heard that the Marquis II was indeed the child of Marquis I.

Marquis at 1957 West Gray

Marquis1.jpg

I think I have a picture of the Magnolia Brewery complex that I will post when I can get access to it.

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I have heard that the Marquis II was indeed the child of Marquis I.

Marquis at 1957 West Gray

Marquis1.jpg

What an amazing room! Toulouse-Lautrec , Marie Antoinette, "Happy Days", Colonial Williamsburg and the Playboy Mansion have never been so forcefully joined before - or since, one hopes.

I suppose the decor started making sense after the third martini....

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What an amazing room! Toulouse-Lautrec , Marie Antoinette, "Happy Days", Colonial Williamsburg and the Playboy Mansion have never been so forcefully joined before - or since, one hopes.

i like the decor. too bad we don't have as many left. just way more interesting. i can still appreciate a GOOD jukebox!

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Fantastic photo, Subdude! That photo just can't be circa 1980 - so I bet I find the Marquis goes a ways back in time... I wonder if Marquis II still has any of what's pictured (I'm pretty sure the Honeybaked Ham Company, or whatever else is at 1957 W. Grey these days, does not)... The only design elements that come to mind when I think of Marquis II are the piano and bathroom-stall shower curtains (if you're lucky), though it's been a while. Curious, too, about the early-80's "Bunnie Show Lounge" detour between Marquis and Marquis II, which is reflected in the city directory, for the Bissonnet location, but not in the TABC records.

So many bars, so many questions. Forgot to mention a couple of other recent research finding - Leon's re-opened this past weekend under new ownership, but looks the same; and Kay's now serves hard alcohol.

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It might have been on the old HAIF, but there was a rendering of plan for the Marquis II building in its original incarnation as a donut shop. On the roof there was a gigantic rubber donut. Seriously. I don't know if the donut was ever actually added however. Last I was at the Marquis II the decor was scary 1970s furniture and dark gray walls.

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It might have been on the old HAIF, but there was a rendering of plan for the Marquis II building in its original incarnation as a donut shop. On the roof there was a gigantic rubber donut. Seriously. I don't know if the donut was ever actually added however.

The city directory for 1958 lists for 2631 Bissonnet (the Marquis II location): "The Big Donut Inc." Don't know for sure if it was connected but, in the 1950's, there was a chain of drive-through donut shops that were called "Big Donut Drive-In". The Los Angeles location looked like this:

big_donut_drive-in_early_1960s_los_angeles.jpg

I think it's still there (in L.A.) - but called Randy's Donuts now. There were apparently about 9 other Big Donut Drive-Ins in the 1950's, but I don't know whether there was ever one in Houston. Maybe "The Big Donut Inc." was a copycat company.

I finally got back to the library to do a little more research - though I jumped around a bit because a lot of the city directories were off the shelf. I'll post when I've updated my notes.

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The research is still incomplete, but I've created individual pages containing easier-to-read updated histories for each of the below. (I'm going to try to take and add some photos this weekend.) These are all what I'd consider historic bars (by Houston standards), but Jimmie's, Kay's, Leon's, Marquis II, and the West Alabama Ice House appear to have the longest histories so far as recognizable institutions. Thanks again for all the input!

Fitzgerald's - The building was built in 1918, and served as a Polish dance hall until 1974. Fitzgerald's opened in 1977.

Golden Eagle Ice House - Built in 1940, the building appears to have been an ice house since at least 1958. It

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I added some photos - mainly of the lesser-known bars - to the pages. Here are a few of them:

silverslipper1.jpg

harborlights2.jpg

hollywood.jpg

roseland.jpg

golden2.jpg

Sorry - no interior shots - I was by myself. I was asked twice if I was lost.

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- The Warren's trail does seem to end somewhere in the 1978-80 time period, consistent with musicman's [edit: and isuredid's] comments above.

- Also, I didn't find a Rudyard's listing of any kind in 1979-80 (about as late back as I looked this time - so don't know yet about earlier listings), but did find that "Rudyard's British Bar" appeared to have been located in the Kipling Pub/Velvet Elvis (now "Vintage") building (2108 Kipling) in the 1981-82 time period. The 2108 Kipling building is listed as vacant in 1980.

Rudyard's British Pub opened at 2108 Kipling in 1979. During that period a lot of people from England were moving to Houston for work. The economy in Britain was very bad at the time. I believe it stayed at that location until around 1982 when it moved, temporarily, over to West Alabama while it searched for a new home. I want to say it was where T.K. Bittermans is now. I believe it was 1983 when they finally relocated to the current building on Waugh, which had previously been The High Noon Saloon - a gay bar.

Edited by isuredid
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Those places look like some serious bars. Where are they located?

Here's the Spark Plug Club from the 1960s.

SparkClub.jpg

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Those places look like some serious bars. Where are they located?

Here's the Spark Plug Club from the 1960s.

SparkClub.jpg

looks like a bar for the 7 dwarfs.

- The Warren's trail does seem to end somewhere in the 1978-80 time period, consistent with musicman's [edit: and isuredid's] comments above.

12/78 from amada and faye who've both worked there more than 25 yrs.

Edited by musicman

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I added some photos - mainly of the lesser-known bars - to the pages. Here are a few of them:

silverslipper1.jpg

harborlights2.jpg

hollywood.jpg

roseland.jpg

golden2.jpg

Sorry - no interior shots - I was by myself. I was asked twice if I was lost.

Whoa. These bars look like the ones you hear on the news about patrons getting shot and killed.

Isn't the Marquis a white building heading east on Bissonett towards Kirby?

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Those places look like some serious bars. Where are they located?

The exact street addresses, and some more photos, are in the links up in post 43. Generally speaking, though:

The Silver Slipper is in Frenchtown, a part of the Fifth Ward that is just east of 59, and south of 610 North. It's one of the few remaining vestiges of creole culture there. They feature zydeco bands pretty regularly. It's right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

The others are indeed the kind of bars that generally come up in internet searches only because someone got shot in the parking lot.

Harbor Lights Night Club and the Golden Eagle Ice House are both on McCarty, just north of the turning basin, off Clinton. McCarty is a pretty wide street, and somewhat industrial. There are a lot of trucking facilities in the area. I saw an old-style tourist-court motel on McCarty that I wish I'd been able to photograph. It's just east of Denver Harbor, so that area may be considered the Fifth Ward as well - I don't know for sure. It's plainly defined, at least down where these bars are, by its proximity to the turning basin.

The Roseland Club and Sandy's Lounge are both on Telephone Road, just south of 610 South. That part of Telephone Road is just packed with businesses. I saw a little bakery nearby, advertising kolaches, that looked like it had been hanging on there even longer than these bars. The map makes it look like there is a small traffic circle nearby, but I forgot to check it out.

And then the Hollywood Inn is in Sunnyside (east of Scott, south of 610 South), in the middle of a little residential neighborhood.

There aren't that many bars in town that have had a single continuous TABC license since the 60's/70's, and these bars were among them - that's why I included them in my list. I already knew the Silver Slipper - I haven't been there, but know someone who has. The others don't seem to have any special historical significance apart from their licenses - and don't look much different from most of the other bars in the same neighborhoods, which could have been just as old, but perhaps changed names or owners over time. Still, the fact that they've been run for decades by the same person makes me think that they would be interesting places to visit. With a couple of friends. In the afternoon.

Here's the Spark Plug Club from the 1960s.

Again, great photos, Subdude. I saw you listed the club as "extant" in another thread - does that mean the club is still around, or just the structure? The photos and the address (1142 Adele) make me curious about where it would have been - the neighborhood looks very residential from the bird's-eye satellite view, and the bar looks like it could have been a converted attic.

Isn't the Marquis a white building heading east on Bissonett towards Kirby?

You know, I don't really remember the color - I've always been at night. It's a bit inconspicuous in the daytime - but, yeah, it's just a few spots down Bissonnet, off what I'd call the southwest corner of Kirby and Bissonnet.

Edited by tmariar

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Again, great photos, Subdude. I saw you listed the club as "extant" in another thread - does that mean the club is still around, or just the structure? The photos and the address (1142 Adele) make me curious about where it would have been - the neighborhood looks very residential from the bird's-eye satellite view, and the bar looks like it could have been a converted attic.

The building is there, but it has had structural damage and the club is closed. It is a mainly quiet residential neighborhood with some businesses around. When I was there I met a man who knew the owner of the club and he spent half an hour telling anecdotes about the place. Quite interesting.

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