The Place: La Carafe 813 Congress 713-229-9399
The Deals: $.50 off all drinks
The Hours: 4 to 7 p.m.
The Scene: The water dripping off La Carafe's awning onto the Congress Street curb was one of the nicest parts about sitting on the sidewalk after work. But even without the novelty of the first significant rain in months, the front of the 164-year-old building is a great place to watch downtown deflate at 5 p.m.
Unlike the bar's interior, though, it's not exactly calm out front. The streets around Market Square get nearly gridlocked, the Metro bus convoys sound like groups of poorly maintained tanks and the only space for tables is in the path of foot traffic. Still, sitting out there with a $2.50 glass of house wine and watching everything is mesmerizing, like staring at a campfire. And it's even better when the jukebox is transmitting Roy Orbison out into all that mess while a regular gives a homeless-looking guy advice about learning French. (It's all about immersion.)
Of course it's still a little warm to sit out too long. I decided to move inside when two flies started either fighting or screwing on the copy of 29-95 I was halfway reading. It was the best thing I'd seen on those pages all afternoon.
Actually, I was meeting a woman who writes for that publication. A woman with a good sense of humor who will understand that the fly thing was definitely a joke. We grabbed one of the small tables across from the bar - there was a good mix of patrons there, a couple white collar workers, and one guy who looked like Ignatius Reilly. But there was plenty of room, which there often isn't later at night.
When you sit inside La Carafe with another person, even the most mundane bullshit (coming from my mouth, not hers) takes on a soft-focus romantic bent. Maybe it doesn't work as well if you're completely sober; I've never faced that situation.
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Try it with anyone, even a friend: Have a conversation about house paint or Frigidaire parts, but hold hands above the table. Instant significance.
It works best at night, but even early evening sun coming in through an open front door can't cut through La Carafe's ambiance. If you've been drinking in Houston for any significant period of time, you should know what it's like in this hallowed, narrow piece of Houston history. If you don't, you need to grab some cash and rectify that, happy hour or otherwise.