Ex-Gangster Cantina Turned Heights Wine Bar Boom Boom Room

Out Go the Lights

"Fuck you."

We've just asked Heights resident Bill Curtin for a quote about why he likes coming to Boom Boom Room (2518 Yale), the neighborhood's quaint, two-year-old wine bar.

"Fuck you and the goat you rode in on," he elaborates. "That's my quote."

The Boom Boom Room's clientele has changed somewhat since trading chianti for cholos.
Larami Culbertson
The Boom Boom Room's clientele has changed somewhat since trading chianti for cholos.

Luckily, Curtin's ire (more playful than pissy) is directed towards the needling Jim Clippard — another member of his evening party — as we fumble for our pen. Clippard laughs it off.

Our pen now in place, Bill and Jim poppycock their way through the expected rhetoric — the place is quiet, local and possessed of teeth-chatteringly cold, dry rosé — but Curtin's initial statement is much more in line with the precedent set by the Boom Boom Room's beginnings.

Before the present management took over, the tiny, cinderblocked building was a cantina, run by someone current owner Jackie Harris respectfully refers to as a "real asshole."

The cantina, Harris relays, was a bit of an off-color joint, "owned" by an alleged member of the Mexican Mafia. Harris lived and worked as an artist behind the establishment; she and her husband even owned a few other properties on the same block. So when the innate charm of living near a deadly, Desperado-style bar wore off, she decided to get rid of that cabrón.

Typically, when someone has a problem with a neighborhood business, they're resigned to calling in noise complaints or throwing eggs at it in the wee hours of the mornings. But gangsters apparently ain't so great with paperwork, and when Harris found out that the cantina's Corleone had never registered his deed, she contacted the actual property owner and began negotiating to take over the place herself.

"I got with the lady who technically owned it — she was the same lady I bought my warehouse [behind the cantina] from, and she didn't like the guy either," remembers Harris. "I told her, 'Sell it to me and I'll get rid of this guy.'"

The owner did. So Harris did.

Though Harris bought the Boom Boom Room in 2001, it didn't open its doors until late summer 2006. Renovations proved a bit tricky once Harris and husband Wally Shannon — who gives the room some extra boom-boom as its Saturday-night musical entertainment — temporarily relocated to France.

Since opening, however, the place has been well received by the locals. (Running off a nest of ill repute is always good for PR, we suppose.) The bar was even presented a community improvement award by the Houston Heights Association, though Harris admits that had more to do with those renovations than with anything else.

With the exception of two custom-made wood-and-glass doors, the outside of Boom Boom Room — so dubbed because a couple of former co-workers gave Harris the (unfortunate?) nickname "Boom Boom" — is little more than paint splashed on cinderblock. Small as it is, though, the inside is a bit of a Euro/Vegas hodgepodge, and is markedly more impressive.

Fifteen or so tables accommodate the room's occupancy of around 80, with seating ranging from what looks to be more expensive versions of modern Ikea kitchen chairs to leather lounge couches. The bar, about 30 feet long, offers more than 300 types of wines (sadly, not the classy boxed variety we enjoy). The artsy decor is generally enjoyable but can be a bit scatterbrained, not wholly unexpected when you learn the owner is the originator of the Art Car Parade's famed Fruitmobile.

Here's the weird thing, though. Despite its effervescent paint, fresh flowers and kooky star-shaped lanterns, BBR can occasionally feel vacuous — kinda like if you saw the lady married to the retired marine in American Beauty wearing Chi­quita Banana's outfit. As outgoing as it looks, something just doesn't sit right. In fairness, that blankness might be inherently tied to the bar's newness. Often, tiny neighborhood hangouts like this need to let their roots sink in before they can be judged culturally.

Tuesday through Friday, the bar's soundtrack is whatever shuffles through Harris's iPod, making unexpected back-to-backs of Sinatra and the Beastie Boys or folk and Latin music not uncommon. Saturdays, though, Wally Shannon and bandmate Jeff Wyner provide a live rockabilly show, easily making this the best night to visit.

Despite our nitpickings, the Boom Boom Room is a solid, pretension-free addition to Houston's seemingly booming wine-bar trade. Heights residents will probably enjoy it the most because, well, it's there. If you prefer your wine served with smugness rather than cheese, however, The Tasting Room (114 Gray) may be more your speed. And if you're looking for a quote, well, Bill Curtin's got two words for you.

Last Call

School is fast approaching, which means a) your teenager and his pissy attitude are once again HISD's problem, and b) the We Give A Jam fund-raiser is about to pop off. It's a music-infused community outreach fund-raiser dedicated to helping provide an adopted inner-city school and its students the necessary supplies for the upcoming year. This year's event will be held at Gallegos Elementary (7415 Harrisburg) 1 to 6 p.m. this Sunday, August 23, with live music, food and a two-on-two break-dancing battle (because one-on-one battles are totally lame). So don't be lame; buy some school supplies and head on over.

 
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