Two Houston landmarks were lost in 2013

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.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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20 comments on “Two Houston landmarks were lost in 2013
  1. Texan5142 says:

    You guys are killing me here in Minnesota, what I would give just to be able to get a Whataburger .

    • DanMan says:

      Let me temper your desire. I rolled into a Whataburger the other day and wanted one of those new cheese and green chili pepper deals they came out with. But I only one piece of meat. IT COULD NOT BE DONE! I ended up with a regular cheeseburger they added 50 cents to for putting the green chilis on it. No white cheese and the rest of the garden on it too. Not terrible but not what I wanted.

      btw, we’re freezing down here too. It’s about 55 and partly cloudy right now.

  2. glennaa says:

    Wow I didn’t realize that John Flowers of Kenneally’s died. I had my first real draught Guinness there in 1984. They used to have a small stage and Irish bands on the weekends. I’ll have to raise a pint in his memory this weekend.

  3. Tuttabella says:

    Marfreless? I’m a native Houstonian, and I’d never heard of it. I’m curious to know the pronunciation. From what I’ve read, it seems like Marfreless was a real “tongue twister,” and I doubt there was the shortage of “poles” that Chris points to in this post.

    • GG says:

      Marfreless is Mar-frel-ess. No poles or dancers but lots of dark nooks and sofas for making out. It was known as the “make out bar” and lots of married men took their girlfriends there. It had a great ambience, almost like I imagine a speakeasy in the thirties would have had, and like Chris wrote, an unmarked little door as the entrance. If you didn’t know it was there you would think it was just a service entrance.

    • John Galt says:

      Rumor has it that back in the day the place for a young gentleman with money to spare to acquire a companion for the evening was on West Gray near what is now Midtown (think the new Chapultepecs and Specs on Smith). Marfreless on W. Gray near Shepherd was the perfect rendezvous, and the darkness allowed a respectable level of anonymity.

  4. Houston-Stay-At-Homer says:

    New to Houston…first time out with a very lovely young lady with whom I worked…after a few tex-mex margaritas…she suggested we go somewhere a bit more quiet…I said sure…and off we go to Marfreless…I had no idea what it was, didn’t learn the name of the place for a number of years later, and couldn’t see a thing once we got inside, but yes, a very special first date indeed.

    There are a few cities with better restaurants than Houston, but no city matches the quantity and variety of great restaurants. We may not have the best restaurants in the world, but we have more really, really good places (of just about every food genre) than anywhere in the country.

    • bubbabobcat says:

      “… but no city matches the quantity and variety of great restaurants. We may not have the best restaurants in the world, but we have more really, really good places (of just about every food genre) than anywhere in the country.”

      And to that point, noted on the “Live with Kelly and Michael” show this morning: per Zagat, Houston and Dallas residents dine out more than the rest of the country. So I would guess most Houstonians agree.

  5. DanMan says:

    gotta admit, that DeBakey kid put on a good hangout at Blanco’s

  6. Turtles Run says:


    • GG says:

      TR, what was a good, clean cut Mormon boy doing in a place like that? An ex-boyfriend took me there once many years ago. Sad to see it closing.

      • Turtles Run says:

        What Mormons cannot enjoy romantic evenings and like GOPlifer stated there was a no intercourse policy. Despite what the church and many members may claim, sex is a very enjoyable activity and a gift from the maker.

      • GG says:

        Just having fun with you TR.

  7. John Galt says:

    When I host out of town guests, especially from the coasts, I avoid the cliches at all costs. People from Boston and San Francisco expect honky tonks and BBQ. They don’t expect sophisticated dining and world class museums. They expect greasy Tex-Mex. They don’t expect Hugo’s. It’s amazing to watch the preconceived notions evaporate over a dinner in the garden at the Daily Review, or any of a hundred other places. And, if they ask real nice, I’ll take them to Goode Company or Chuy’s.

    • goplifer says:

      Every big city has some nice restaurants. Only certain places have a Blanco’s.

      Goode Co is definitely on that list. And don’t forget Spanish Flowers. Visitors need to see the Heights if they are going to have at least a remedial grasp of life in Houston.

      Every now and then I take people to Last Concert Cafe.

      Anybody remember The Gallant Knight over near the medical center?

      • DanMan says:

        The Gallant Knight had Clockwork as the Saturday night band didn’t they? I’ve been to at least three wedding receptions they’ve played since the Knight closed. One of the best party bands in town.

      • Turtles Run says:

        Donerakis and La Mexicana are two great Tex-Mex joints to take out of town guests. I am interested in everyone’s opinion but what is their favorite BBQ joint in town. One place I always fondly remember is a BBQ joint in Acres Home that was really just a converted house that, if memory serves me correct, was only open on the weekends. It has been years since I have been there but the place had the best potato salad I ever had in my life.

      • goplifer says:

        When I only have time for one BBQ place on my trip to Houston, it’s Luling City Market. Goode Co is outstanding. Used to go to Drexler’s, but haven’t been there since they closed the original location.

      • DanMan says:

        Doneraki’s is very good as are a million other Mexican joints in Houston. I was taking a class at UW-Milwaukee one summer and stumbled across a great Mexican restaurant. I was talking to a waiter and commented I never get this kind of Tex-Mex outside of Houston. He said his family moved from Houston and opened their place.

        Spanish Village on Almeda has been around since the late 40’s early 50’s and their margaritas and mohitos are excellent. Their fried chicken is a specialty and the Tex-Mex is great too.

        Another real good place for BBQ is Beef & Bun (Longpoint and Fuqua). For sheer volume/dollar go for a poorboy basket.

    • John Galt says:

      The GK! As a Rice student around 1990 we drove past that place and made up so many mental myths about what must happen in the den of funkiness, but it was a long time before we actually went. It was funky and cool, and friendly. We went occasionally after that.

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