Houston lost an irreplaceable chunk of what makes the town unique in 2013. Both Blanco’s and Marfreless closed their doors.
Blanco’s was the last real honky tonk in Houston. A shack in a dusty lot smack dab in the heart of River Oaks, Blanco’s was a reminder of Houston’s roots. Ever since the more glamorous Post Oak Ranch closed in the ‘90’s, Blanco’s has been the city’s last honky tonk holdout, a gritty symbol of a faded version of Houston.
Houston is the kind of place where an authentic Texas dance hall can sit in the shadow of the city’s finest mansions. Well, it used to be. The property was bought by St John’s School and the bar closed in November.
Until recently I was often back in Houston for business trips. Blanco’s was a regular stop, providing a priceless opportunity to introduce software professionals from the coasts to the boot-scootin’ joys of a Texas dance hall. The loss of that place makes me very sad.
Marfreless is a very different venue, but perhaps just as much a loss. Marked only by a blue door back behind the River Oaks Theater on Gray, Marfreless was a make-out bar. It was sophisticated, cultured, and subtly perverse. It was not the kind of place you would take a first date, unless it was a very special first date.
Very few bars without a pole are forced to maintain a no-intercourse policy. On the long couches of Marfreless the good and great in Houston sated their passions under the discretion of inky darkness. Marfreless and Houston were an outstanding match.
There are only two things Houston produces that are better than any other city on the planet – megachurches and strip clubs. Marfreless encapsulated that combination of buttoned up conservatism and skeevy perversion that defines Texas’ largest and greatest city.
Blanco’s is gone for good. Marfreless is supposed to reopen in January under new management. Whether it will retain its…character…remains to be seen. Changes happen and we have to move on.
On the plus side, there are still lots of great old Houston institutions still charging ahead in 2014. Though the founder of Kenneally’s passed away this year, the city’s best Irish pub will remain open.
This Is It Soul Food is going strong at their new location on Blodgett, near TSU. They moved from the old building in Freedman’s Town, but the new place is fantastic.
And out on Hillcroft, Raja’s Sweets is still cranking out great curries at very reasonable prices. They were a lifesaver for me as young student and we’ve continued to take the family there whenever we come to Houston. They were featured recently on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods. It was strange to see the young kid I remembered behind the counter serving me curry, now all grown up and on my television.
The years pass. Things change. We lose some of what we love, but much of what we cherish keeps getting better and there are always new things to appreciate.
Happy New Year.