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Oldest Bar in Houston


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#1 tmariar

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 12:13 AM

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


#2 musicman

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 6:24 AM

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, Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 8:25 AM.

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#3 tmariar

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 9:59 AM

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, Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 10:00 AM.


#4 musicman

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 10:16 AM

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, Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 10:18 AM.

The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. -- Ronald Reagan
I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. -- Winston Churchill

Willomena Slater goin ghetto on Betty Suarez..."come on girl, i'm black and you're mexican. let's not talk around it like a couple of dull white people"

#5 Subdude

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 10:50 AM

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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#6 tmariar

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 10:59 AM

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, Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 11:27 AM.


#7 musicman

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 11:02 AM

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, Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 11:03 AM.

The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. -- Ronald Reagan
I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. -- Winston Churchill

Willomena Slater goin ghetto on Betty Suarez..."come on girl, i'm black and you're mexican. let's not talk around it like a couple of dull white people"

#8 bachanon

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 11:02 AM

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.
Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him. Aldous Huxley

#9 tmariar

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 11:21 AM

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...

#10 musicman

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 12:38 PM

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.
The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. -- Ronald Reagan
I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. -- Winston Churchill

Willomena Slater goin ghetto on Betty Suarez..."come on girl, i'm black and you're mexican. let's not talk around it like a couple of dull white people"

#11 tmariar

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 12:44 PM

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, Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 2:14 PM.


#12 musicman

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 3:11 PM

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.
The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. -- Ronald Reagan
I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. -- Winston Churchill

Willomena Slater goin ghetto on Betty Suarez..."come on girl, i'm black and you're mexican. let's not talk around it like a couple of dull white people"

#13 dbigtex56

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 3:30 PM

(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.

#14 dbigtex56

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 4:03 PM

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.

#15 musicman

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 4:07 PM

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?
The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. -- Ronald Reagan
I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. -- Winston Churchill

Willomena Slater goin ghetto on Betty Suarez..."come on girl, i'm black and you're mexican. let's not talk around it like a couple of dull white people"

#16 dbigtex56

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 4:24 PM

when did it disappear?

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

#17 tmariar

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 5:09 PM

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.

#18 icanluv2

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 8:28 PM

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.

#19 tmariar

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Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2007 at 10:25 AM

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.

#20 mkultra25

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Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2007 at 11:32 AM

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, Wednesday, March 14, 2007 at 11:38 AM.


#21 tmariar

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Posted Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 11:39 AM

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’s Lounge
1006 McGowen Inc., (Pending) to (Pending)
Scarlett Yarborough, 02/05/04 to 02/04/08
Scarlett Yarborough, 04/19/96 to 04/18/04
Johnnie Jackow, 10/03/94 to 10/02/96
Johnnie Jackow, 10/01/86 to 09/30/94

Kay’s Lounge
HEF/MAF LP, 02/27/07 to 02/26/08
HEF/MAF LP, 07/11/01 to 07/10/07
Glen Creech, 09/05/84 to 09/04/01

W. Alabama Ice House
Kulla Markantonis, 03/15/02 to 03/14/07
Kulla Markantonis, 03/06/87 to 03/05/02
Juanita Parker, 07/02/86 to 07/01/87 (for "W. Alabama Drive Inn", same location)
Hugh Cowart, 10/14/85 to 10/13/86 (for "W. Alabama Drive Inn", same location)

Warren’s Inn
LCW Properties, 11/29/88 to 11/28/07
Carolyn Wenglar, 12/18/78 to 12/17/88
Rex Wood, 07/30/79 to 07/29/86 (for "Market Square Food & Beverage", same location)

Mary’s Lounge
MXXII Inc., 05/08/92 to 05/07/07
MXXII Inc., 05/12/78 to 05/11/92

Marquis II
Apollo Entertainment, 01/16/92 to 01/15/08
Gertrude Bales, 02/08/80 to 02/07/92

Gingerman
Texas Amp Ltd., 07/07/03 to 07/06/07
Gingerman Beverage, 09/25/00 to 09/24/03
Robert Precious, 12/12/87 to 12/11/00
Beverly Cartner, 12/12/83 to 12/11/87 (for "Chugger's", same location)

River Oaks Bar
Manuel Barragan, 01/16/90 to 01/15/91
Baltazar Ramirez, 11/12/86 to 11/11/89
Diane Huggins, 11/01/84 to 10/31/86
Bar Sharks Ent., 10/30/97 to 10/29/00 (for "Live Bait", same location)
Clifford Freeman et al., 10/22/91 to 10/21/97 (for "World Bait Headquarters", same location)
Alba Verdin, 03/06/91 to 03/05/92 (for "Willy's Bar", same location)

Aquarium Lounge
Ruth Mary Busch, 01/25/72 to 01/24/01

Griff's
The Polluted Parrot, Inc., 01/08/02 to 01/07/08 (for "Griff's Shenanigans Cafe")
Restaurant Conceptions, Inc., 06/14/94 to 06/13/02 (for "Griff's Shenanigans Cafe")
Michael Griffin, 09/10/65 to 09/09/94 (for "Grifs Shillelagh Inn")

Reasons that Carolyn has mentioned as to why a new license might be needed: (1) a change in ownership, and (2) a need to change the kind of license - e.g., the need to be re-licensed in 1971 to go from being a private club licensee or beer/wine licensee to a mixed-drink licenseee. Carolyn also noted (though I don't think it comes into play for the online searches) that Texas didn't ratify the amendment repealing Prohibition until August 1935, and that there was no TABC until November 1935 - so there will be no licenses before then. (TABC history document here.)

[BTW - In doing my searches, I came across a number of still-open bars I'd never heard of that have had one continuous permit since the 60's or 70's. (And one or two that had one continuous permit since the 1950's, but that closed in the past few years - shame.) I won't post them, though, unless someone is interested.]

Will update with anything new I learn - I'm still working on this.

Edited by tmariar, Friday, March 16, 2007 at 8:15 AM.


#22 brucesw

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Posted Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 1:29 PM

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.

#23 tmariar

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Posted Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 3:36 PM

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, Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 3:57 PM.


#24 Subdude

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Posted Friday, March 16, 2007 at 1:56 AM

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.
"Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb
like the sun; it shines everywhere"



Real men don't say "veggie".

#25 tmariar

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Posted Friday, March 16, 2007 at 8:27 AM

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, Friday, March 16, 2007 at 9:03 AM.


#26 isuredid

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Posted Friday, March 16, 2007 at 8:26 PM

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.

#27 tmariar

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Posted Sunday, March 18, 2007 at 12:17 PM

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.

#28 tmariar

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Posted Monday, March 19, 2007 at 2:59 PM

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.

#29 Subdude

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Posted Monday, March 19, 2007 at 3:19 PM

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?
"Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb
like the sun; it shines everywhere"



Real men don't say "veggie".

#30 tmariar

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Posted Monday, March 19, 2007 at 4:22 PM

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.