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, Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 12:20 AM.