Barflies and beer lovers were shocked to learn today that Ernie's on Banks had suddenly and mysteriously closed overnight. The stalwart bar on Banks -- its very name reflecting the unpretentious nature of the place ("Yeah, we're on Banks. Just like it says.") -- had been a Montrose landmark for years. As Mary Jane Poorman at Houstonist put it, "Like our very own "Cheers" in the Montrose, Ernie's was a safe haven, a cool refuge from, well, the uber-trendy douchies one occasionally runs across."
Ernie's was also home to the Texian Army, the rowdy bunch of Houston Dynamo supporters that brings an entire brass section to home games and always watched the away games at the pub. Lately, the bar had also played host to packed crowds of soccer fans during the World Cup group stage matches.
Response to news of the closure consisted of shock and sadness, most notably for the rapidly shifting landscape of the quirky Montrose neighborhood. As Kyle Nielsen commented on Twitter, "Mary's, Condoms Galore, Skybar and now Ernie's? WTF Montrose?"
But although the old Ernie's is gone for good, there are plans for a new bar to rise from its ashes -- and quickly.
Brad Moore verified today that he purchased Ernie's and plans on opening it soon as a brand-new bar. Moore is the man behind Houston establishments like Pearl Bar (which he sold several years ago) and the ultra-cool Big Star Bar in the Heights, which used to be a brothel.
"We're not getting rid of Ernie's; we're gonna make it our place," Moore wants to assure people. "It's still going to be a little two-story neighborhood bar...and then some."
Although the move may seem sudden, it's been a long process for Moore and his partner, Ryan Rouse. "We've been negotiating for over a month, and Ryan and I have been working on finding a space for quite a long time. Hopefully it'll move quickly and we'll be open sometime this month. We're in there all day and night," Moore laughs. "I slept on the pool table last night!"
Moore is bringing an all-star team of bartenders to the new incarnation of Ernie's, most notably the aforementioned Rouse, formerly the lead mixologist at Beaver's. Joining him will be two popular female bartenders from Big Star -- Brandee and Carrie -- as well as Jonesey from Catbird's. "They're all part owners," Moore says.
But what of Ernie's crew of beloved bartenders? They'll be moving on to different pastures. "We've got staff that we trust and have known for a long time," Moore sighs. "I don't want to create animosity, but five people that have a stake in the company are going to be the bartenders."
Rouse will be creating a classic cocktail program at the yet-to-be-named bar, but Moore is quick to point out that they're just "Lonestar and Jaeger people." Far from wanting to recreate the same atmosphere you'll find at bars like Anvil and Hearsay, Moore simply says of the bar's menu, "Cold longnecks and cold shots: we'll offer all of it. You can have a $9 badass, uppity cocktail or just chill with a longneck." He's serious about keeping the vibe as casual as possible. "We're not gonna turn anyone away for ordering a red-headed slut," he laughs.
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Out on the enormous back patio, Moore's plan is to have a large grill with a rotating roster of guest cooks. "We've already got a lot of people lined up to cook -- we'll have a regular person on the grill, obviously -- but a lot of people are excited about coming out, like Phillipe [Gaston] at Kata Robata." Special guests won't just be limited to the grill, though; Moore says that bartenders like Claire Sprouse -- the head bartender at Beaver's -- will also be working shifts there from time to time.
As for a name, that's the one part Moore and Rouse don't quite have worked out. "We actually don't have a name yet. Nothing with an apostrophe-s. We're not into those names," he chuckles.
Although he doesn't have a name for the new bar that will soon replace Ernie's, for better or for worse, he does have one thing to say about any fears that the neighborhood is moving in an unwelcome direction: "Montrose is back."
With Moore behind the bar at the once and future Ernie's, I tend to agree.