By William Michael Smith
By Jef With One F
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Sonya Harvey
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Nathan Smith
By Craig Hlavaty
Three guys walk into a bar. Then they park themselves on the patio at Front Porch Pub (217 Gray), a neighborhoodsy hangout near downtown that's been open for more than a decade.
217 W. Gray
Houston, TX 77002
Region: Downtown/ Midtown
Front Porch Pub
217 Gray, 713-571-9571, www.frontporchpub.com
Front Porch has to figure into any discussion of Houston's best patios alongside Brixx (5110 Washington), Hughes Hangar (2811 Washington) and Little Woodrow's (2306 Brazos). Although it has the same owner, it should not be confused with the Heights' Porch Swing Pub (69 Heights Blvd.), which is built around a different but related Southern cultural standby.
Tonight, the first of three men gathered around one of Front Porch's patio tables is Big City, a tall, mustachioed New Yorker who came to Houston in 1991 to visit a friend and never left. He's glad he's here — "I have no use for a snow shovel anymore" — but has been looking for a proper piece of pizza for two decades now.
He's joined by Hooah, a former Army Ranger with sharp eyes and a sharper tongue who manages to answer about 80 percent of any questions asked with "Hooah," which he explains is a catchall expression used in the military. Imagine Al Pacino's famous expression in Scent of a Woman.
"It can mean anything you want it to mean, except for 'no,'" he says.
Finally there's The Archetype, the group's elder statesman and cut copy from a commercial for masculine coolness. He drinks whiskey, rides a motorcycle, smokes a pipe, listens to jazz and blues, and has dabbled in martial arts.
"I can hit you in the head with a stick four times before you know what's happening," he promises, before going on to explain how Everclear (the '90s band, not the distilled spirit) is similar to ZZ Top's early work. Whether someone's playing the jukebox or the bartender has flipped on Pandora, those two bands and every other type of rock in between are what you'll hear at Front Porch.
These three men do not care to share their names, but that's about all they don't like to talk about. Over the course of just a few minutes, their dialogue stretches from hot-air balloons to the practicality of sharecropping as it pertained to slavery.
It's one of those "Still Waters Run Deep"-types of conversations, which fits, given the surroundings.
At first glance, Front Porch looks like little more than a serviceable bar surrounded by a huge porch, perhaps a pit stop between the more exciting, more fulfilling nearby destinations. But Front Porch is in fact among the city's best come-as-you-are establishments, which is how it's built up such a loyal fan base: one character at a time.
"It started off as an excuse to smoke a cigar on Friday," explains Hooah. "Then [that] turned into a few days a week. I like it because it's easygoing. No bullshit, I can sit here and smoke my cigar and not feel out of place. And no one really messes with you."
Like our three regulars, the Front Porch crowd varies in age and occupation but in general is mostly white. Weeknights can get pretty thick, but attendance usually peaks around happy hour.
On a weekend night? Forget about it.
"It's packed by six or seven," swears The Archetype. "By ten, there's nowhere to sit. But they've usually chased us off by then."
Front Porch's porch has a capacity of 150 and is probably twice as big as the comparatively small interior. Inside, though, is an attractive space of nearly all wood and brick, with a handful of televisions and old collectible signs on the walls.
Next to the entrance is a neat little cubby-like side room featuring a pool table. A giant Guinness mirror hangs behind the bar, the universal shorthand for "pub." The kitchen, which serves sandwiches, cheesesteaks and various artery-assaulting appetizers, is open until 2 a.m.; while they're in season, the bar boils up crawfish several nights a week.
Front Porch can't be considered an icehouse, because it has a full bar and more than 36 beers on tap (some craft-brewed), but that's what it feels like. Owner Josh Harris wanted to incorporate both that indoor/outdoor style and his Mississippi upbringing into his bar. He's a big believer in the "Let's Hang Out on the Porch and Talk" school of thought.
And that's what people do at his bar, until they're chased off.
This Thursday, April 26, smokin' Memphis blues-rock band North Mississippi Allstars will be in concert at the House of Blues (1204 Caroline) Bronze Peacock Room supporting their seventh studio album, last year's Keys to the Kingdom. Go and watch them, lest ye suffer music-related plagues of unfathomable anguish: Your iTunes library will be erased and replaced with terrible glam-rock, and everything else you listen to will sound like Gotye.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city