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It was the tenth inning of the second home game of the new season for the Houston Astros. The immense mechanical roof of Enron Field had been left open to the velvety air of a Gulf Coast spring night. In the streets around the stadium, there were enough policemen on foot, on horseback and in cruisers to make even a really nervous guy, like, say, Saddam Hussein, feel utterly safe and secure. Despite the excitement of an extra-inning game, many spectators were pouring out of the ballpark, hurrying to their SUVs and sedans parked in the $20 spaces around the stadium so that they could beat the rush back to the burbs. A handful dropped in for a not-quite-postgame brewski and burger at the B.U.S. Sports Grill & Bar [1800 Texas Avenue, (713)222-2287] near the corner of St. Emanuel.
The newcomers joined a sizable collection of aficionados inside the florist warehouse-turned-white-collar icehouse. Astros fans sprawled on large leather-upholstered couches and watched a wall of television screens tuned to the action inside Enron, while lissome servers poured drinks from two full bars. On the sidewalk in front, real estate agent-turned-publican Todd Dixon grilled hot dogs, half-pound hamburger patties and skinless, boneless chicken breasts over a wood fire. He seemed very happy. His venture had opened just six days before, on March 30, and with the start of the Astros' regular season, business was going roaringly well, indeed.
The tyro barman was happy to answer questions, from what B.U.S. stands for (Ballpark Union Station) to whether the building once housed a bus station (no).
"Yesterday," Dixon recounted, "we had a crowd from 12 noon on." The day before had been the season opener, and in the hours before the first pitch at 7:05 p.m., the 5,000-square-foot cavern of the B.U.S. had been filled with a crowd, seemingly consisting mostly of men in polos and T-shirts with sports-related imagery on them. More beer drinkers were standing three and four deep on the sidewalk along the open-front building with bottles of their favorite suds in hand. For investors in Downtown Sports, the entity which owns the B.U.S., as well as for bystanding connoisseurs of the bar business, it was a beautiful sight -- no doubt more inspiring than a sunrise over Bora Bora or a TABC inspector passed out drunk in the gutter.
Just a few hundred feet to the west of this jolly scene, a vacant lot located at 1710 Texas Avenue was decorated with a sheet of plywood upon which a faded and stained TABC application for a beer-and-wine license was mounted behind sheets of clear plastic. To the right of that were two more painted signs, one announcing that Little Woodrow's was accepting applications and another stating that Mission Burritoswould be opening inside the Little Woodrow's building.
On September 29 of last year, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels ruled that Little Woodrow's would, according to the charmingly 19th-century language of the TABC code, affect "the peace or morals of the people" and that "the sense of decency of the people [would be] adversely affected." Based on these insults to polite society, the judge denied Little Woodrow's the beer-and-wine permit.
Little Woodrow's owner Danny Evans, who already operates two beer parlors for sports-loving guys -- Little Woodrow's Neighborhood Ice House [2301 West Alabama, (713)529-0449] and Little Woodrow's [4235 Bellaire Boulevard, (713)661-5282] -- was shocked at Eckels's ruling. As a man who had taught for six years at an Episcopal prep school in Austin before donning a publican's apron, he had believed that the neighboring Annunciation Church would look favorably upon his, by strict legal definition, reasonable effort to open a sports bar across the street from a sports stadium (see "Political Communion," October 12, 2000).
The poor, ignorant, deluded Protestant Annunciation Catholic Church [1618 Texas Avenue, (713)222-2289] is hardly your mainstream Catholic church. It is the only Catholic church in the enormous Diocese of Galveston-Houston that celebrates the Tridentine Mass, a Latin celebration that dates back to the Lateran Council of 1572 but has lost favor with all but the most old-line observers. This is really, truly your Old Time religion.
Evans is not turning the other cheek. He observes that "a group of influential Catholics strong-armed people to get what they want." He's still moving ahead with his plans to open a Little Woodrow's downtown. One possible option for Evans is to apply for a full liquor license, which is handled by the TABC in Austin and presumably not subject to parochial pressures. (The B.U.S. operation is a full liquor bar, as will be the Home Plate Sports Bar, scheduled for a June opening next door to the B.U.S.)
Evans observes that "I'm $75,000 in the hole. Ask Michael Fleming [the former Harris County attorney who helped quash Woodrow's application] what it feels like to lose $75,000. He knows the value of money, if he quit the [county] attorney's job to go into private practice when his wife became pregnant with their sixth child." Evans adds, "I hope they feel good about squashing the little guy. I hope they sleep well at night."
Monsignor Frank Rossi, chancellor for the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, who testified so loquaciously as to why a white-collar sports bar would threaten a church that had existed for decades surrounded by shelters for derelicts, rehab clinics for heroin addicts, and the Harris County prisons, had his general counsel return our telephone call.
Monsignor James Golasinski, the pastor of Annunciation who initiated the protest against Little Woodrow's and who has used his pulpit to speak out against such threats to decency as icehouses and the Internet, might want to sit down over beers with Dixon. Says the bar owner: "Some of my friends go to the church. In fact, this past Sunday several of them came over after the services with their children."