Rising property taxes in its expensive River Oaks surroundings have forced Marfreless, the most famous Houston bar without a sign, to close at the end of the month. The bar's owners announced the news on the Marfreless Web site Wednesday evening:
Dearest friends, patrons, charities, and fellow establishments of the evening - the owners and staff of Marfreless are grieved to announce the upcoming closing of our iconic Houston landmark bar and lounge. Our tentative last day of business will be Saturday March 30th, 2013.
While we are actively seeking a new place to call home and another door to paint blue, we have recently and unfortunately joined the ranks of those small businesses which have been forced to adapt to the ever-increasing cost of fees levied by property owners.
The statement went on to say that, in a sense, Marfreless will be throwing a wake for itself between now and the final last call, with owner Michael Wells on site tonight through Saturday. It welcomed customers to come by and share their "stories of poignancy, excess, and debauchery."
Marfreless also put out a call for tributes on social media via its Twitter account, @MarfrelessBar, and the hashtag #MarfMoment. It didn't take long, and in fact these #MarfMoments were being posted before the news even broke; it was that kind of place.
Known by the blue door that became the only outdoor sign Marfreless ever needed, and frequently mentioned in "Hidden Houston"-type articles, the 40-year-old bar has long been a popular spot for clandestine assignations; as a friend put it, a good "mistress bar." (The couches...) It was awarded "Best Cheap Thrill" in the Houston Press' 2004 Best of Houston issue, with good reason:
"I think I've made out with two chicks here," a patron says, adding, "not on the same night, though." When it comes to Marfreless, he's certainly not alone. This West Gray-area nightspot is so secretive, only a stenciled black street number marks the door. You can hardly blame the prurient for assuming it's a swingers bar. And while the prurient are wrong (as they so often are), it's only by a matter of degree.
Marfreless is a grown-up version of the seventh-grade broom closet: a makeout bar. Downstairs you'll find attentive service, soft candles, dark wood. Upstairs -- well, let's just say you don't go there for the food. Two rooms and a fleet of sofas offer varying levels of intimacy perfect for necking and nibbling.
If you can manage to coax your date up the stairs, you're probably well on your way. The drinks aren't cheap; there are plenty of $7 martinis and $9 glasses of wine. But when you think about what you're really getting, Marfreless might be the best deal in town
More recently, when Houston hosted the 2011 NCAA Men's Final Four, Marfreless prompted this memorable anecdote that our news blog Hair Balls awarded "Comment of the Day," after we recommended visitors try this place over Hotel ZaZa for upscale nightlife.
Last time I was at Marfreless I walked in on someone getting a beej in the upstairs back room.
So long, Marfreless. Houston will be a less shady place when you're gone, and we're all poorer for it.