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No Pun Intended

It's impossible not to play on words with Hearsay, downtown's newest bar.

It's a trap. It's so clearly a trap that you briefly consider that it might not even be a trap. But it's a trap.

If you open a venue and decide to call it Hearsay (218 Travis), you're pretty much just baiting every chorus-verse-chorus writer to start an article about your place with some nearsighted pun like, "If you're looking for a classy hangout downtown, hearsay place you might enjoy" or something dreadful like that.

But its name actually turns out to be kind of clever and thought-out, a sly hat-tip to the many lawyers and law offices in the area, says management. Keep unraveling, and you find out that the demure entry doors belie a background story that rivals that of any in the area.

The three-story building that houses Hearsay has been around for just about 150 years. Commercially, only the building that houses La Carafe (813 Congress) is older. Officially known as the W.L. Foley Dry Goods Co. building, Hearsay's bricks and mortar were part of the Civil War and suffered through a big fire in the 1980s. The city nearly condemned it after that, but it was purchased in part by ambitious local artist Lee Benner in 1994.

It became a venue some might remember as 12 Spot, and then officially opened as Hearsay in mid-October after about a year of build-out following 12 Spot's demise. Of course, summing up the building's history in fewer than 100 words is like summarizing Bun B's career by saying that he put out some records and then his friend died and sometimes he wears a hat.

The place has a massive amount of history, which Benner chronicles nicely on Hearsay's Web site (www.hearsayhouston.com). He bought the building exactly one day before the city was to decide whether or not to tear it down. (What? You mean the City of Houston considered tearing down a historic building? The heck you say.)

Or you can ask Peter Courchene about it when you visit. He's the cheery Director of Operations of Landmark Houston Hospitality Group, and he touches on some of the highlights of the story nicely, peppering in a few anecdotes of his own like a seasoned college professor.

Hearsay is probably not a place you'd spend your entire evening, but makes for a proper bookend. Presumably because it's new, the venue's culture is far from set. A house-music Britney Spears remix was playing softly when we visited, and the evening's soundtrack never deviated too far from that. Because it's a "gastro lounge" (i.e., it serves food), there's a definite jazzy-restaurant vibe going on, and there were a few sporting events playing on the television.

It was a weird mix, but that'll settle inonce the crowd does.

Eventually, beyond the restored architecture and purposeful decor — all the banisters on the staircase, for example, are refurbished, hand-picked light posts — Hearsay's real draw will prove to be the drinks. The food ain't terrible either.

"We focused a lot on our drink selection, with some small batch groups you're not going to find at some other places," says Courchene, adding with a laugh, "but we do have Coca-Cola."

Even the industry folk are already talking, like wine rep Natalie Barba, who also visits Anvil Bar and Refuge (1424 Westheimer) and Beaver's (2310 Decatur), a couple of other lounges held in high regards for their spirits.

"A lot of places don't have that vibe," she says. "The ambience, the architecture, it's amazing. And they put quality into the bar. The mixology is ­something they should be proud of."

Stylistically, Hearsay probably has what it takes to survive in the downtown nightlife weeds. And during the day, it's bright enough to go after the "more upscale than a burger joint, more laid-back than fine hotel dining" niche, which can only help. If you hear something otherwise, it's probably just hearsay.

Wait. Did we just pun "hearsay"? Son of a bitch.

LAST CALL

Take a quick peek at this weekend's calendar. It's a good couple of days for live music, particularly if you're hoping to wash off all that Westheimer Block Party from your clothes. Everybody from Ghost Mountain (Friday, Super Happy Fun Land, 3801 Polk) to Dwight Yoakam (Saturday, Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Fwy.) to The Mullet Boys (Saturday, Scout Bar, 18307 Egret) to Americans in France (Sunday, Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh) will be performing. And there are something like 20 other shows to choose from. Thanksgiving is only a couple days away, which means catty conversations about whose husband said what to whose sister-in-law. Get out this weekend and enjoy your life. Because come about 4:45 p.m. Thursday, you are so going to want to gnaw through your own throat.

 
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