In our Best of Houston issue last year, we selected the scant few tables in front of La Carafe as the Best Place to Smoke and Drink in town. We loved the place for its "prime view of the skyline" and the fact that outside speakers allowed patrons to "bathe in the sweet sounds of the bar's award-winning jukebox."
We also dug how you could "scope out the action in Market Square" and on Congress Street and ponder the history of your surroundings. Oddly for Houston, there's no shortage of it there. Late local columnist Sig Byrd once waxed particularly lyrical about Congress, that "old, crowded, tired avenue once so proud, so bright with gaslight and hearty laughter. Sam Houston walked this avenue. So did Mirabeau Lamar, Gail Borden, Audubon, Dick Dowling, and other great ones."
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And now there's good news. The best place to smoke and drink (and think about local history) is about to get a lot bigger.
La Carafe owner Carolyn Wenglar recently closed on the parking lot next door to the ancient building that houses her old bar. Construction is underway to convert the patch of asphalt into a beer garden. Some of it will be built out of steel salvaged from the original location of Warren's -- Wenglar's other bar -- across the square from where it stands today.
It's a happy ending for an ugly and typically Houstonian chapter in our architectural history. La Carafe's neighbor was almost as old as it was, but it was torn down in the middle of the night over the vociferous objections of preservationists, all so that about 20 more cars could have convenient parking.
That space is needed for drinkers and smokers, so that their hearty laughter can bring more life back on to that "old, crowded and tired avenue."