A converted 1930s-era Pentecostal church in Humble maybe isn't the first place you'd think to grab a drink, but when that former church has been the site of a cult favorite French restaurant for more than 25 years, it's worth a try. Scott Simonson and his wife Stacy Crowe-Simonson are co-owners and have the general run of the place, with Stacy focused in the kitchen and Scott manning the front of the house and, right now, the bar.
"We don't have as much of a sociable happy hour, it's more of a mix throughout the evening," he says, pouring a summery Lillet cocktail. "A lot of people have dinner and then come over to the bar for an after-dinner drink. We get people in on a layover, and they know us and they know they have the time, and they'll shoot over for 40 minutes. We've even had people who call and say, 'We'll be there in 10 minutes, can you fire soufflés?' And we'll have the soufflés ready, they'll come in, have a little champagne, a little something, and instead of eating airport food they've actually enjoyed a good meal."
Simonson speaks about alcohol like a scientist or an artist, with both encyclopedic knowledge and a finely tuned sense of his craft, noting how adding honey to a cocktail with Dubonnet compliments the aperitif better than simple syrup, and then adding that they keep the honey blended with Grand Marnier for a better chilled texture. "I love when people come in and they order a straight Dubonnet -- it's not always the old veterans, but young people, and they know it's something they like, and they come to a French restaurant because they know it's gonna be there. And if they have that, and they want something else, that's when we get into a Marie Antoinette or a French Twist...something classic but just a little bit different."
Like the drinks, the feel of the lounge area is classic but not stuffy. Chintz is definitely not a bad word, and the overstuffed sofas and chairs make the microsuede ottomans of a Midtown lounge look about as comfortable as a wooden stool. This is somewhere you can sink in, and with a cocktail and a cigarette, too. Chez Nous, being outside of Houston city limits, is grandfathered around the ordinance of having no smoking in the building, so they just close off the bar when someone requests to light up. It's a good thing too, because no one here seems too eager to change anything.
As Simonson says, "There's not a law that says we can't change anything here, but it's just our law of loving the tradition. We feel lucky that we have a foundation that we can work off of, but then splinter and get a little modern here and there while still having that classic sense that we pay homage to every day." If only the holy rollers could see the place now.