Temple of Doom
A little swath of pseudorain-forest bit the dust with the closing of Dale Peters's ambitious Amazon 2050 A.D. restaurant and club, which shuttered February 6 after less than eight months in business. Built on the ashes of the former 8.0 in the Shepherd Plaza strip center, the eye-popping pyramid was the scene of an epic liquor license struggle that delayed its opening until last June.
Trammell Crow property managers for the now deserted space are upbeat about the spot's re-leasing prospects despite the (ahem) distinctive buildout, which is estimated to have set Peters back about three quarters of a million dollars. "Those snakes can be painted over, no problem," says our blithe source. "As soon as the word got out that he was closing, our phones were ringing off the wall. We should have another tenant within 60 to 90 days."
Prospective restaurateurs would be well advised to woo the Upper Kirby District, which, backed by City Councilmember Martha Wong, spearheaded the drive to keep Peters and liquor out of the center. Upper Kirby worried that the club-heavy Shepherd Plaza was attracting too much rowdiness, noise and congestion; they don't want the area to become another Richmond strip.
The cornerstone of Upper Kirby's protest against Peters was the Saint Germain Foundation, located within 300 feet of the Amazon 2050 site. The foundation calls itself a church; the Harris County Appraisal District says it's a "cultural society." (Saint Germain, admired in certain New Age circles, is said to have had many famous-name incarnations over the last 50,000 years, some of them in exotic locations such as Atlantis.)
If the Saint Germain Foundation were in fact a church, a city ordinance would block the sale of alcohol in a sizable chunk of Shepherd Plaza. The city ruled, however, that the foundation is not a church -- which left the TABC free to grant licenses. But that's not to say Upper Kirby couldn't mount another protest.
"We're looking for clarification from the TABC on that liquor license," the group's spokesperson says ominously.
"Anybody who tries to open there is going to run into trouble," predicts Peters, who is still the general partner in the Richmond strip Daiquiri Factory [5706 Richmond, (713)789-1303].
He still sounds bitter over the five-month battle for his liquor license. "The fight cost me a lot, and even though I won, those people managed to hold us up so long that the mass exodus from Shepherd Plaza was complete by the time we could open. We designed Amazon as a bar-slash-restaurant, with the emphasis on bar, but the bar crowd was long gone by June. We tried to regroup as a restaurant-slash-bar, something a little more mainstream, but it was too late."
Visibility was a problem, too, Peters believes. "It's not like you could even see Amazon from Shepherd," he points out. "Drivers are too busy trying to manage those merge lanes to look around. We couldn't pull people from West U, and the Plaza wasn't pulling any foot traffic for us."
"If we'd opened downtown at the same point in time," he laments, "we'd be a huge success by now." Certainly Amazon's high-profile temple architecture would have made an intriguing addition to the downtown skyline, and -- who knows? -- maybe it's still a possibility. "I'm absolutely going to reopen the Amazon," Peters says firmly. "I'll give you a hint: It's definitely coming to a theater near you." Hmm ... downtown ... theater ... big space.... Could that mean Bayou Place?
-- Margaret L. Briggs
Got spicy gossip about the city's restaurant scene? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.