Tea Time at the New Marquis II

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Seeing people smoking outside of the newly renovated Marquis II is strange enough to distract you from the other changes, like the exterior coat of dark paint and the windows that make the place seem less like the strip club it used to be. (Supposedly the Bunny Club, 1970s; Google turns up this extremely sexy link.)

The only bar in West University -- a distinction that allowed patrons to light up inside for a few years after City of Houston law forced other bars to go smoke-free -- has cleaned itself up, and that means no cigarettes indoors as a matter of bar policy instead of regulation. I might be able to name another neighborhood bar in Harris County that doesn't allow smoking even though it legally could, but I'd have to think about it for a minute. Bars that allow smoking even though they're legally prohibited from doing so are another story.

The Marquis II has a nearly unrecognizable interior to go with its clean air. The old version, which opened in the '80s, felt like a fraternity set up a squat in a newly abandoned, windowless storefront. The new Marquis II looks looks like a semi-upscale strip-mall bar. It's clean and kind of soulless. Even the shuffleboard table is a little too slick. What used to be a frat dive is now just a frat-ish, mostly anonymous bar. And there are windows, as if you Marquis day-drinkers really want to know whether or not the sun is out. Don't ask me, I ain't from this neighborhood.

It couldn't have been an easy or inexpensive renovation; it's like the owners paid a contractor to wipe out any character the bar had. Yeah, it was dirty. Actually, it was filthy. The floor was nearly sentient, and I don't think a canary would have lasted too long inside. But it felt like there were a few stories there, even if a good number of them started out with "Bro, ..."

The new Marquis does feature the same old-school juke box, though it's a little hard to hear on the far side of the room. The beat-up piano is there, looking sadder than it used to. And Tuesdays still feature the infamous $6 Long Island Iced Tea special ($7 for special flavors), which has humbled many an experienced drinker. A couple staffers also mentioned that the crowd has stayed mostly the same, even without the smoking - the regulars keep coming back, and the college kids keep drinking large glasses of multiple kinds of booze.

But the feel of the place is gone. Maybe give it another 25 years or so.

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