Justin Burrow Heads Downtown: New Cocktail Bar Planned for Main Street
Justin Burrow during a shift at Fitzgerald's.
Photo by Chuck Cook
The downtown block that already contains classic bars Warren's Inn, Char Bar, Dean's Credit Clothing and Notsuoh is about to get one more watering hole when bartender Justin Burrow opens his new bar in late March. The bar doesn't have a name yet, but Burrow and his partners -- Brad Moore and Ryan Rouse -- have been "referring to it as the Bad News Bar," Burrow jokes.
Moore and Rouse are the operators responsible for opening the popular, ultra-divey Big Star Bar in the Heights and Grand Prize Bar in Montrose, and Burrow -- who helped open Anvil Bar & Refuge before moving on to tend bar at Haven and Fitzgerald's -- says that the partnership has been a successful one so far.
"I've got so much in common with those guys as far as casual attitude goes," says Burrow. "You can expect a lot of that Grand Prize attitude from this place."
The second story space also has a broad, beautiful balcony that overlooks Main Street.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Burrow plans a straightforward cocktail bar for the space with a vibe that Burrow describes as "classic hotel bar," without the exposed brick or industrial elements that are increasingly common these days. It's a bar which won't try to compete with the wines at La Carafe or the inexpensive well-drinks at Warren's. Nor will it compete with the new OKRA Charity Saloon, which opened last month around the corner on Congress (and which is partly run by Moore and Rouse).
"The Charity Bar was never intended to be a cocktail bar," notes Burrow."It's intended to be for everyone. They don't have a cocktail menu because they're not meant to."
At his bar, there won't be a kitchen -- "because I don't know anything about food" -- nor will there be draft beer, but there will be $2 Lonestars, classic cocktails, original recipes and a blended drinks. Yes; blended drinks.
"The piña colada is my favorite thing," he laughs. "I'm okay with everybody knowing that now." Burrow promises frozen, blended drinks unlike anything else offered in Houston and he promises they'll keep you cool. "People like frozen drinks because it's hot here. There's nothing wrong with a good frozen drink."
"More than anything I want to have fun with this place and not try to box anyone out of it," says Burrow. "Fun to me is cocktails; that's what I know how to to backwards and forwards."
Burrow helped open Anvil Bar & Refuge in 2009, which he credits for keeping cocktails real. "That whole snotty 'I'm a mixologist' thing never happened in Houston; we tried to quash that at Anvil just off the bat."
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
The so-called "Bad News Bar" will occupy the second floor at 308 Main, inside the space which used to house Martell's Video Lounge & Brandy Bar. Martell's has been closed for years, but -- luckily for Burrow -- didn't require extensive renovations, a benefit to moving into a downtown corridor which was once busy but is currently quiet.
"I think that the bar scene downtown has suffered mainly from lack of responsible ownership," says Burrow. "It's been a lot of club guys trying to come in and get their money and get out and they've been very successful at that.
The upside, according to Burrow? "They've done me and all of my friends a service in having these places built out already."
Between the new Charity Saloon, the upcoming Batanga, the hush-hush restaurant which is going in next door to the "Bad News Bar" and Burrow's own project, the new wave of young bar owners -- which is also rumored to include Poison Girl owner Scott Repass and Dirt Bar owners Steve and Shaun Sharma -- moving onto Main Street hopes to make a more permanent settlement than those previous club owners did.
"Downtown has always been a disappointment to me as a native Houstonian," says Burrow, "with the exception of Warren's and La Carafe...which I've been going to since I was too young to be inside of them. Downtown as a whole has never been a cool destination spot." And this is something Burrow is determined to change.
"I didn't sign a one-year lease," says Burrow. "I'm gonna be there for a while."
"I'm really trying to dig in here and make this place my home."
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.