Beautiful Strangers

A bar in a grocery store? You read that right.

Plenty of bizarre partnerships have worked out well.

There's that fish that attaches itself to sharks and eats food that falls from the shark's mouth. One kind of tiny snail migrates by way of being eaten by birds and then getting pooped out in a different location. And there's Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost.

It appears it's time to add one more.

Shopping carts are not pictured, but nearby, at new downtown supermarket Phoenicia's MKT Bar.
Larami Culbertson
Shopping carts are not pictured, but nearby, at new downtown supermarket Phoenicia's MKT Bar.

While the idea of tacking an upscale beer and wine bar onto the side of a grocery store might sound as odd as a dead man possessing an eccentric purported psychic, that's exactly what has happened with downtown's MKT Bar at Phoenicia (1001 Austin).

Opened in November of last year, MKT is connected to the adjoining Phoenicia Specialty Foods. Think Whole Foods, but cheaper and prettier. MKT is well-constructed, attractive and even a bit groundbreaking.

"They have this type of setup in California or New York," says general manager Paulette Fiedler, "but nowhere else in the city."

Although the new Whole Foods in Montrose (701 Waugh) also has a beer and wine bar between its meat and seafood departments, MKT is separated from the rest of the market by a pair of swinging double doors. The floors are concrete, the lighting is dim and the seats are simple. It all feels stately. TVs dot the walls, and the large windows offer a pleasing view of Austin Street's traffic, which is far more tolerable when you're not sitting in it yourself.

At times, it's hard to even notice that the bar and specialty-foods store are butted up next to each other. That might lead to the assumption that MKT is trying to separate itself from Phoenicia.

It's actually the opposite. You're welcome to purchase items on one side and enjoy them on the other. Shoppers Amy Johnson, 37, and Theodore Brakatselos, 44, are grateful for the chance to grab a drink between combing the aisles.

"I love a store you can walk to, grab a cart, start shopping, take a break to come here and enjoy a glass of wine, and then continue shopping and call it a night," says Johnson.

Nightfly caught up with Johnson literally in the middle of her shopping for foodstuffs at Phoenicia, when she and Brakatselos decided to pop over to MKT. Her shopping cart was even parked next to the doors that lead into the bar.

"That is definitely my kind of shopping," she says.

MKT is also beginning to take advantage of its generous space, which can accommodate more than 250 people, and regularly offer live music. So far in February, Spanish guitarist Omar Felker, longtime local jazz vibraphonist Harry Shepherd and MKT musical director/Mantis lead singer Nick Greer have played.

There won't be many moments at MKT when the music overpowers the general ambience — "It's low-key but extremely nice," agrees Greer — but that appears to be the point.

The evolution of Houston bars' business model is changing quickly. In the last few years, the city has seen the evolution of the gastropub (Hearsay, 218 Travis), the indoor/outdoor club (Brixx, 5110 Washington), the video-game bar (Joystix, 1820 Franklin; Kung Fu, 5317 Washington), the trendy neighborhood bar (Community Bar, 2703 Smith) and more.

Now the city has its first grocery store/bar. MKT might not be as existentially fulfilling as a spirit using Whoopi Goldberg's body to kiss his wife one last time, but it's certainly more plausible.

And loads more entertaining.
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LAST CALL

This coming weekend/week, MKT will have a couple of concerts featuring some local artists that you should consider seeing, because it's way more interesting than sitting at home and looking at office pranks on YouTube. DJ Da4th and Matt Wilhelm will perform separate shows February 25, with Da4th on first (4 to 7 p.m.) and Wilhelm joining him later. Cory Wilson will do his jazzy jazz-brunch February 26. Folk/Americana artist Robert Kuhn performs February 27 (hear his music at www.reverbnation.com/robertkuhn). A night out seeing any of those will make for a solid way to make amends with your significant other for screwing up yet another Valentine's Day. Just sayin'.

 
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