After a few months worth of repairs, Midtown stalwart Leon's Lounge (1006 McGowen, 713-659-3052) reopened a couple weeks ago. I was hoping the new owner, who also runs Under the Volcano, hadn't changed much beyond bringing the space up to code. As I was walking down Fannin toward the bar, a drunk at a Metro stop started barking, "Hey, girl, hey!" at me, even though nothing about my appearance or gait suggests that I'm female. So far, just like old times.
I wasn't disappointed when I walked in the building, either. The chandeliers, the yellowy light, the long bar, the stained glass and the cattle-chute patio all look about the same. The piano in the back room is gone, though, and there's some tasteful furniture where the pool table used to be. No more jukebox, either -- the bartenders keep a steady stream of LPs going instead, with selections coming off a playlist passed down from management. (It was working when I was there -- early Who, a little New Orleans R&B and some sexy low-key French pop thing I've never heard of.)
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But the biggest cultural shift from "dive" to "dive-ish" is the addition of a drinks menu. It's similar to the Volcano's; I looked it over and ordered a Gin, Cucumber and Basil Rickey. It was, to make use of a culinary term, really good. It also would have been really out of place at the same address a year ago. The next day, I asked John Nova Lomax, Press staff writer and author of the excellent Houston's Best Dive Bars, what he thought the addition of a menu meant for Leon's status. After some brow-furrowing and wall-gazing, he raised his hands to chest level as if offering a gift and said, "Neo-dive." Whatever you call it, it's nice to have some incarnation of Leon's keeping Midtown honest.
Leon Lounge's Gin, Cucumber and Basil Rickey
- 1¾ ounces Gordon's gin
- 1 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- quarter-inch cucumber slice
- 4 basil leaves
- splash club soda
Muddle cucumber and basil at the bottom of a Collins glass. (You can add a little club soda to lube things up, if you want.) Add ice, then the gin, lime, syrup and final splash of soda.