Last week Governor Greg Abbott announced that Texas bars can reopen if local County Judges approve. For the time being, Harris County will not be allowing bars that make more than 51% of revenue from the sales of beer, wine and spirits to reopen. However, in order to reopen under current Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) rules and Texas’s COVID-19 guidelines, Harris County bars can be reclassified as restaurants if food sales represent over 50% of the its revenue. Several Houston-area bars are making the adjustments needed to open under current regulations — including neighborhood cocktail bars in the Heights, a vintage speakeasy, an island-themed bar in Galveston and two new concepts. Some locations are implementing simple and minimal updates, while others are introducing more expansive changes in response to the requirements.
Axelrad, 1517 Alabama: This midtown beer garden is transparent with the changes it has made in order to reopen during the COVID-19 crisis. Detailed lists of guidelines have been made posted on Instagram, Facebook and the company’s website.
Prior to the pandemic the indoor space, which featured a bar, games and even occasional art installations, was available to patrons. Now, with the exception of the bathrooms, only the outside areas of Axelrad are open. If customers do have to go inside, they are required to wear a mask.
There are also changes to the bar’s spacious outdoor space. The number of hammocks, which Axelrad is known for, has been reduced, and the tables have been spread out to accommodate social distancing protocols. Axelrad is also assigning a staff member to ensure that all guidelines are being followed.
In addition, the bar is going cashless, for now. In place of standard bar service, guests can choose between ordering from staff that will come to the table or ordering and paying via their phone. Also, pizza is available from Luigi’s Pizzeria, which shares Axelrad’s outdoor space. There are also plans to add a selection of rotating food vendors.
Axelrad is currently open Monday through Thursday from 2 p.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday from noon to 2 a.m. and Sunday from noon to midnight. With the reduced seating capacity and potential for space to fill up quickly, Axelrad is now encouraging customers to make a reservation.
The best news is that pets are still allowed!
Cocktails at Better Luck Tomorrow. Courtesy photo.
Better Luck Tomorrow, 544 Yale: With an outstanding cocktail program, diverse back bar and equally good food from James Beard award-winning chef Justin Yu, this Heights bar recently reopened with revamped safety protocols, menus and hours.
Indoor seating is now limited to just few tables and a handful of seats at the end of the bar. However, there is plenty of seating on the patio, which wraps around half of the building. Drink prices are now lower to ensure that revenue from food is higher than alcohol sales (a TABC requirement for being classified as a restaurant). Plus, Better Luck Tomorrow is now serving weekday lunch, beginning at noon. The last major change is the new happy hour — all alcoholic beverages are half-price from noon to 5 p.m.
Several of Better Luck Tomorrow’s classic food items such as The Party Melt, Not A Pizza and the fried lamb belly are still on the menu. However, Yu has also added new items such as a calamari sandwich and tamales.
The current hours are Monday through Wednesday from noon to midnight and Thursday through Friday from noon to 2 a.m. On Saturday and Sunday, Better Luck Tomorrow opens at 11 a.m. for brunch, closing at 2 a.m on Saturday and midnight on Sunday. The kitchen is open daily until 11 p.m.
Davenport Lounge, 2115 Richmond: This Montrose bar announced its opening with an Instagram post that said, “Oh hey, we are back.” The popular spot has a massive spirits selection and knowledgeable bartenders. It reopened with a few minor changes. It removed a handful of tables and couches from the center of the service floor. At first, all of the bar seats were removed, but now bar seats are available with plexiglass barriers between the bar and patrons and between every other seat. In addition, a limited selection of pre-made items such as pizzas and burritos is now available.
The hours have stayed the same, open from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily.
Daquiri Time Out, 2701 Market, Galveston: Not much has been posted about the changes made at Galveston’s island-themed cocktail destination. The bar simply put out a social media post stating that it is now open for business and to “please be on your best behavior,” as the staff has not dealt with people for a while. For now, Daquiri Time Out is serving items such as cheese boards and sandwiches from Maceo Spice & Import, a local café and spice store. The bar is also working on its own food truck. Daiquiri Time Out is open daily from 4 p.m. to Midnight.
Libation at Johnny’s Gold Brick. Courtesy photo.
Johnny’s Gold Brick, 2518 Yale: The Height’s cocktail bar quietly reopened Wednesday, September 30. Johnny’s has been a staple of the Heights since March 2015 and the environment is the definition of a friendly neighborhood bar, which also happens to serve some of the best craft cocktails in the Heights. The wall to the left of the bar features a painted list of a dozen classic cocktails offered for $8 year round, and customers can open a menu of monthly drink specials through a QR code taped to the tables.
To increase safety, many chairs have been removed, plexiglass dividers have been placed along the bar and there is currently no bar seating.
Johnny’s offers jalapeño sausage chili dogs and Frito pies daily and hosts a variety of pop-up food events on Fridays and Saturdays.
Johnny’s is currently operating daily from 4 p.m. to midnight. Watch its website for an upcoming to-go menu.
Dividers have been added between the table as Julep. Photo by Alba Huerta
Julep, 1919 Washington: Julep is taking a gradual approach to reopening. Friday, October 2 was the bar’s first day back, and it was only open Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. For the following weeks, Thursday has been added.
For the time being, Julep is keeping the dine-in drink menu the same as Julep To Go‘s. To aid in the transition toward being more of a restaurant, there are several food options that are available in-house that are not available for delivery, including lobster rolls and oysters.
Julep is taking no chances with safety. Glass and wood dividers have been placed between tables and were carefully designed to match the establishment’s decor. Social distancing and standard COVID-19 protocols, such as mask wearing, are also being enforced.
Check Julep’s website for any changes in hours of operation. For reservations, guests can email [email protected]
Russell Thoede of Lei Low squeezes fresh lime juice into a mixing glass while demonstrating how to make a classic Mai Tai. Photo by Holly Beretto
Lei Low, 6412 North Main: Houston’s rum and tiki headquarters is another bar that opted to open quietly and make an announcement the following day, giving the staff a chance to warm up and adjust to all of the new changes.
While closed, Lei Low’s owners took the opportunity to heavily revamp much of the space, such as refinishing the bar, raising the seats on the booths, remodeling the restrooms and refinishing many of the walls. The rum bar also took the opportunity to put out this year’s Halloween decorations and design a new drink menu.
In terms of COVID-19 safety, the Heights tiki destination has thought-out protocols. When entering the bar, customers are now greeted at the door and shown to an available spot. Alternating booths are marked as unavailable for seating to increase social distancing between groups of customers. A wall of acrylic lines the bar, providing barrier between the bartenders and guests. Other partitions divide the bar seats every few chairs.
The menu is now accessible through a QR code taped to every table and section of the bar. Pre-COVID, the only food items available were chips and a housemade snack mix. Lei Low now offers Spam musubi and a cheeseboard. There is a wide selection of decorative tiki and classic cocktails, along with a few hundred rums for enthusiasts to choose from.
Lei Low is currently operating Tuesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to midnight, with an all-day happy hour on Wednesdays. For those that still wish to have their tiki drinks at home, check out the to-go menu online.
Houston craft cocktail bar with a speakeasy feel, Ready Room. Photo by Ryan Baker
Ready Room, 2626 White Oak: Capitalizing on the location’s speakeasy appeal, Ready Room in the Heights has re-opened. These craft cocktail experts operate out of a small building in Ritual‘s parking lot. Its only sign is a small decal in the window that reads, “by appointment only.” To further the effect, Ready Room has moved forward with a reservations-only model.
Despite the small size, the bar offers a selection of over 550 spirits. Before the coronavirus shutdowns, Ready Room used elegant, booklet-styled menus with drinks thematically sorted into Houston’s wards. Now, the bar utilizes an online menu, accessible through its website or a QR code. In place of occasional menu changes, there is now a new menu each week. However, a handful of staples, such as the Brandy Sazerac with housemade five-spice bitters and Blood & Sand with housemade vermouth, are always available.
Ready Room did not have food prior to the shutdowns, but now offers housemade gumbo and a small charcuterie board. Before reopening, several tables and bar seats were been removed to help ensure social distancing.
For now, the hours of operation are Thursday through Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Check out Ready Room’s website for information on the menu and to make a reservation.
The variety of places to relax at East End Backyard. Photo by Wilf Thorne photography
East End Backyard, 1105 Sampson: Former Houston Dynamo star Brian Ching’s new patio bar opened on Friday, October 9. This is Ching’s second concept in the area. His first, Pitch 25, opened about two years ago.
Unlike Pitch 25, which is primarily an indoor soccer park and beer garden, East End Backyard dedicates 16,000-square feet of its 20,000-square foot lot to an outdoor patio with an eclectic assortment of games, chairs, couches and picnic tables spaced so customers can maintain social distancing.
The highlight of the patio may be the 3,500-square foot dog park, which is fenced in and has tables for dog owners to relax while their pups play freely.
Customers can find the bar, which showcases 25 beers and ciders on tap, in a bright blue bungalow on the property. There patrons can also chose from a selection of spirits and cocktails. In addition, there is a rotating lineup of food trucks.
Hours of operation are Monday through Wednesday from 3 p.m. to midnight, Thursday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. until 2 a.m.
Permissions Whiskey, 2920 White Oak: Permissions is a brand-new whiskey bar in the Heights. Owner Peter Nolan has built a resume creating cocktails at several Houston establishments including The Federal American Grill, Ready Room and Doris Metropolitan.
Every detail of the bar is immaculate and creates a classic Big Easy vibe. The space is lit by crystal chandeliers brought straight from New Orleans. Each wall features a different material, with the highlight being the wood panels that sit behind the largest booth and the back bar. To round out the aesthetic there is a solid granite bar top and contrasting green felt chairs. For those not comfortable with indoor seating there is a small front patio.
The selection at Permissions is spirit-forward: Nolan states that he has over 325 whiskeys and over a hundred other spirits to choose from. There is also a well-developed cocktail program featuring several classic cocktails and several takes on the Old Fashioned. The food available at Permissions includes items such as charcuterie boards, fresh oysters and locally crafted desserts.
The bar is currently open daily from 4 p.m. to midnight and walk-ins are welcome, but customers can always message ahead on Instagram to book a seat.
Editor’s note: this article previously appeared as “Some Houston Bars Have Reopened and Two New Ones Joined The Scene”, but we decided to revise the headline. In addition, Lei Low’s recent reopening was added.
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