It's often tempting to refer to restaurants as beacons, especially if they're bright points in otherwise dark areas (whether metaphorically or literally).
I once referred to Moon Tower Inn this way, noting the power that the hot-dogs-and-beer joint had to draw people in like moths to a flame. It was a bright spot both figuratively and literally speaking on a dark stretch of Canal in the East End, where there are few notable restaurants in the area that aren't Ninfa's on Navigation, Alamo Tamale Factory or Villa Arcos. The lit-up "backyard" of Moon Tower drew people in at all hours of the night, often staying open until 2 or 3 a.m. (Don't worry, Moon Tower fans -- the restaurant is set to reopen any day now.)
I feel the same way about Bombay Pizza -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- which is a beacon along Main Street in downtown Houston where so many other restaurants have struggled or outright failed.
Outside, Bombay Pizza has built a lovely little patio that, while not as splendid as the greenery-ringed sidewalk patio at Mia Bella a few blocks away, has a nice view of the bustling downtown corridor.
And inside, I wrote in the review, "you'll find a healthy crowd both day and night, the latter of which is depressingly rare -- especially considering neighboring restaurants such as Convey, ERA, Samba Grille, The Strip House and Korma Sutra have all closed within the last year." Dinner is a tough time for most downtown restaurants that aren't steakhouses, but Bombay persists by offering dine-in, take-out and delivery of its Indian fusion pizzas.
I also noted in the review:
Nearby, Ziggy's Bar & Grill owner Kevin Strickland says he's experienced a 45 percent decline in sales over the last 12 months - part of which he blames on light-rail construction - while restaurants like The Capitol and Guadalajara Del Centro have been sadly quiet the last few times I've dropped in.
That's not to say all downtown restaurants are struggling: grocery store giant Phoenicia and its adjoining eatery, MKT Bar, are thriving, and popular West Houston restaurant The Burger Guys is moving into the old Korma Sutra space later this fall. And then there's Bombay Pizza, which struck a chord with Houstonians, long accustomed to living in a melting pot, with its Indian-Italian fusion cuisine from the moment it opened in December 2009.
It's places like Bombay Pizza that are going to be important to the ongoing revitalization of downtown -- a revitalization that was both encouraged and stymied by the construction of the city's first light-rail line, along Main Street nearly ten years ago (related: I can't believe it's been nearly a decade since the light rail went in).
Construction woes caused many Main Street businesses and restaurants to close, and the area is still in recovery. Joshua Martinez, owner of The Modular and previous owner of a bar along Main Street, once put the light-rail construction to me this way: "It scared everyone away." And distressingly few restaurants or bars have returned since.
Complicating matters is the construction of the city's second light-rail line, which has downtown streets torn up once again. Earlier this year, the Chronicle's Nancy Sarnoff noted the rash of closings in an article called simply, "Downtown restaurant fallout continues." In her article, Sarnoff identified dinner service at downtown eateries as the "Achilles heel" of the area.
What will be important in combating both ongoing construction and slow dinner services will be restaurants such as Bombay Pizza -- and, in the future, bars such as Charity Saloon -- that make coming downtown in the evenings worth the drive and worth the parking, not to mention enticing workers who are already downtown at the end of each business day.
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We're on the right track now. And restaurants like Bombay Pizza are lighting the way.