An attractive woman has walked into Agora (1712 Westheimer).
She does not look for anybody she knows, because she has come to be alone. She walks to the counter, orders a Café Americano, pays $2.75, waits a bit, then scoops it up gently when a woman in a clever hat places it on the counter.
The customer, who does not care to give any quotes nor provide a name beyond the curious designation "B," glides to a table near the front entrance. On her way, she grabs an issue of Wallpaper, a magazine that appears to champion solid colors and an artistic lifestyle, and the equally avant-garde literary periodical Bullett.
1712 Westheimer, 713-526-7212, www.agorahouston.com
She sets the former to the side and opens the latter. Rather than flip haphazardly, she gently leafs through the beginning of the magazine. The very first article is called "The Creative Process," by Brazilian-born author, songwriter and activist Paulo Coelho.
One of Coelho's favorite subjects is the universe, the vast cosmological entity that turns out to be an apt narrator for Agora's story. It begins on the night that looked like the end.
Last Halloween, a three-alarm fire spread across the 1700 block of Westheimer. Houston Press assistant music editor Craig Hlavaty, who happened to be nearby that evening, noted that the fire required the presence of "least 13 fire trucks, 100 fire personnel [and] dozens of police." Thankfully, nobody died or was even seriously injured, but it was still a catastrophe.
Before it burned to the ground, Agora stood for almost a decade as a modernized version of a pastoral lake house, decorated with all manner of relics and art. Students, artists, professionals, forward-thinking people and backward-thinking people were all smitten. With determined charm and warmth, it claimed a spot in the hard soil of Westheimer's most traditionally cool section as naturally as any venue ever had.
The fire completely destroyed the antique shop next door and nearly atomized Agora. Regular patrons like 33-year-old photographer Trish Motolinia were mortified. It appeared that the coffee shop/bar, important to the city in general but iconic to its neighborhood, was gone from the Earth forever.
"I come up here all the time," says Motolinia, retroactively weighing what it would have meant had Agora been vanquished. "I love the eclectic world crowd and just the ambience."
Agora was back open in a little more than two months, remarkable considering the YouTube video of the inferno is still posted online. It is as attractive as it's ever been. The decor is still a bohemian jumble, the mezzanine is still crowded and the music still flutters from jazz to The Doors to some belly-dance bojangle as it pleases.
Had Agora not been rebuilt, Houston would have been worse off. And that's why B reading Coelho's article about the creative process is poetic.
Coelho also wrote The Alchemist, a book that has been translated into 67 different languages and sold more than 65 million copies. It's about a lot of things, but it's mostly about self-discovery and how there are no coincidences, only reasons.
The book also contains bushels of quotes that seem applicable to Agora:
"The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times."
"Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realise that nothing really belongs to them."
One,though — naturally, the book's most famous quote — stands tallest:
"And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."
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Nine months after a bunch of adults dressed like children dressed like adults watched Agora ash its way into the sky, it is back, as excellent as it was before. And it will be there until it is not.
The universe would have it no other way.
Two things, one personal and one professional. First, while clicking around looking at quotes from The Alchemist, this one popped up: "A child can teach an adult three things: To be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires." It's pretty brilliant and spot-on, since there may be no greater force in all creation than a four-year-old boy who thinks he's owed something. He will hunt you down like Michael Myers chasing Jamie Lee Curtis until he gets a big plastic Jeep or whatever. Just give it to him; you're not getting away. Second, four other bars that make for equally pleasant reading venues: The enjoyably divey Warren's Inn (307 Travis) downtown, downstairs at Rudyard's (2010 Waugh), Grand Prize Bar (1010 Banks) and the patio at Onion Creek (3106 White Oak).