Earlier this year, passing the small, empty strip mall on the corner of West Dallas and Heiner, just under the Pierce Elevated, was an almost daily ritual for me on my commute. With a camper trailer out front and sawhorses strewn in the parking lot, it was hard to tell what exactly the space would become.
As I walked into The Refinery Burgers & Whiskey for the first time, it was difficult to tell the space had been a simple commercial strip just a few months prior.
The layout of space itself is reminiscent of Washington Avenue drinking spot Liberty Station. The shallow entrance space, dotted with small dining tables, is backed by an expansive concrete bar running the length of the room. Off to one side is a small dining room, a thoughtful space many bars trying to do pub-and-grub often overlook.
The other end of the bar is capped by a chalkboard wall, a concept that seems to be growing in popularity despite the fact that even well into adulthood, most males just want to write things about butts and dicks on the wall.
The space is light and open, and the overall finish is dotted with clean touches like rough cedar trim, pendant lighting and wood ceilings. The oil-industry theme is carried through here in oilfield signage, photography and paraphernalia. While these drive home the petroleum concept, it all feels like someone unleashed a bored housewife who studied at the Chili's School of Restaurant Décor. I will admit, however, that the wall of well caps and pipe fittings dotting the dining room wall is a very cool touch.
When I visited, the deck and patio space was still under construction. But when completed, it should offer one of the nicer bar views of the west side of the downtown skyline.
Food service is no-frills. Burgers and hot dogs dominate the menu. My Texamex burger with guacamole and pepper jack was solid. What I really enjoyed, however, was the simple fried bologna sandwich. Maybe it was the novelty or the comfort food factor, or maybe the lowbrow tastes of my inner four-year-old have become dissatisfied with mac 'n' cheese and are branching out. Either way, I'm fully prepared to be laughed at and disregarded as a food blogger.
From my visits, bar service looked solid. Billing itself as a whiskey bar first, the place has more than 30 whiskeys on hand with plans to add to the list going forward. I counted among them three Texas brands and three rye whiskeys. The Old Fashioned I had on my second trip in was impeccable -- as was the Manhattan on my initial trip -- boding well for the future.
Any new bar opening in the wake of the three newest breweries in Houston should be offering a decent selection of local beers, and The Refinery scores well. Karbach, No Label and Saint Arnold were all represented on the bar's ample selection of taps.
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It will be interesting to see if the whiskey concept holds or if the bar backs down to more traditional Midtown tastes. The space itself is well done -- the location was begging for a bar, and service seems eager if a bit unpolished and clumsy in its infancy. For the total package, I'm forgoing conclusions; as bars like the aforementioned Liberty Station and Community Bar have shown us, the neighborhood doesn't always dictate a bar's ultimate purpose.
The potential for a nice neighborhood spot nestled just between Montrose and Downtown makes The Refinery worth checking out, at the very least. If you do stop in, be sure to check out the chalkboard for the clever joke I wrote about butts.