Searching for a Real New Orleans Experience in Houston
A different kind of voodoo queen beckons to the small East End bar's customers.
Photo by Angelica Leicht
Generally, Nightfly doesn't see grown men order a drink simply by pointing at the menu, heads hung in shame. But from a rickety chair at Voodoo Queen (311 Milby) recently, we giggled in amusement at how often it was happening.
Gentlemen beware. The frothy pineapple goodness of the bar's cheeky "Penus Colada" may be emasculating, but it's worth point-ordering anyway. You don't have to tell anyone what it is, but they'll probably guess by the phallic fruit skewered by a glowing fleur de lis anyway.
The latest bar project of owner Brandon Young, the evil genius behind Moon Tower Inn, Voodoo is styled as a Vegas tiki bar meets N'awlins voodoo hut. The drink menu at the tiny Second Ward bar is heavy on both fresh fruit and pours, requiring your big-kid pants and a wallet to match.
Finding true New Orleans authenticity in Houston is fun, but it can be expensive. But then, you're lucky to find Voodoo Queen at all.
It's easy to pass by the place without giving it a second glance. Housed in the former Milby Washateria, Voodoo is sandwiched between the East End's ramshackle houses and historic buildings in the shadow of a towering coffee plant. Only about ten people were inside when we stumbled in, but it's not meant to hold many more patrons than that anyway. Between the stools lining the fishtank-themed bar and the rickety tables, there are about 18 total seats. Bonus points for the punk rock blaring from the epic old-school jukebox, too.
The cocktails at Voodoo Queen are no joke
Photo by Angelica Leicht
But as small as Voodoo's space may be, its drink menu is by no means sparse. The focus is on specialty cocktails with very heavy pours, aptly named concoctions like "The Undead." It's very NOLA of them.
The names may be amusing, but the "heavy on the 151" warning labels are no joke. As our group wandered up to the bar, a guy who introduced himself only as Jeff had obviously not heeded said warning. One wobbly handshake and a side-hug later, he muttered something unintelligible and wandered outside into the cold night.
Although the neighborhood is rife with history and culture, it's still a bit rough in parts. The predominantly Hispanic area has come a long way in recent years, though, thanks to a focus on preservation and restoration. Second Ward is home to some true cultural gems -- Tlaquepaque Market and Bohemeo's, for example -- and investors have noticed. Navigation Boulevard looks nothing like it did a generation ago.
Voodoo Queen seems to have been aware of this gentrification and steered itself away from Navigation. It takes only a glance at owner Young's Facebook feed to know his cheeky attitude toward nightlife fads. He makes a point to remind followers that his bar is supposed to be nothing like the trendier Anvil or Pastry War, but that's not entirely true.
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The Big Easy is decorated with all sorts of musical knick-knacks.
Those fruity drinks will set you back Anvil and Pastry War prices, but are still worth every penny for the buzz you'll be sporting post-Penus Colada. None of our crew could handle more than two of Voodoo Queen's deadly libations, though, so we decided to seek out a somewhat different New Orleans vibe at The Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club (5731 Kirby).
Opened in 1994, unofficial headquarters of the Houston Blues Society, The Big Easy focuses on music rather than liquor. Sure, the drinks are plenty strong, but we came for the no-cover zydeco.
The Big Easy is one of Houston's true hidden gems, especially on Sunday nights. We could hear that glorious accordion and washboard-based music from the parking lot as cars tore down Upper Kirby at deadly speeds, even at midnight. But the dancing -- a jerky Texas take on the zydeco shuffle -- was even more impressive than the traffic.
We'd never seen such a lively crowd at a blues bar. Damn near all 30 or so people inside the club were on on the dance floor; their dancing was a little stiff, but it didn't matter. The moves still looked utterly fantastic, and Lil Porter & the Zydeco Hustlers' cover of Michael Franti & Spearhead's "I Love You" couldn't have been topped.
The Big Easy draws a friendly, rowdy crowd of folks from every walk of life, but Houston's considerable number of Louisiana expats have long been drawn here. And how can any place be authentically New Orleans if that city's natives won't visit it? We had found the NOLA we were looking for after all.
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