Vintage Houston Restaurant Postcards: The Days of Wine and Roses

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Although a good handful of Houston restaurants have been around at least as long as my grandparents, the general rule of thumb in this city is that restaurants live fast and die young.

And although you rarely find postcards of current restaurants anymore, in any city, we have that dying medium to thank for some of the most enduring images of Houston restaurants past.

Lavish dining rooms filled with crystal and silver, Tiki-themed restaurants and dance floors -- all hallmarks of a bygone era -- abound in old postcards from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Take a trip back in time with us as we browse some of the vintage postcard offerings at CardCow and try to recall a kinder, gentler time in the Houston dining world.

Trader Vic's

Yes, Houston used to have a Trader Vic's. Even sadder, it used to be housed in the glorious Shamrock Hotel. This is why we can't have nice things. According to my mother, bless her, "Trader Vic's was the shit."

Sir Loin

Houston may have never had its own Medieval Times, but Sir Loin looks like it came pretty darn close. In all seriousness, though, owners Mary and Sonny Look were Houston restaurant legends. Sonny died back in 2003 and was responsible for now-gone landmark restaurants like Sir Loin, The Depot and the eponymous Sonny Look's.

The Depot

Speaking of The Depot, this Look restaurant proved that even a train theme could be upscale if done correctly -- and it was, recalling all the glory of the "Golden Era of railroads." Sadly, all trace of The Depot is now gone, and a drive-thru branch of Chase stands in its old location at 212 Milam.

Kaphan's Restaurant

This South Main stronghold was famous for more than just its seafood: Long ago, it was one of the first Houston restaurants to have an integrated dining room. If you're a total vintage restaurant geek, you can not only buy the postcard above, but the actual recipe book that owner Pete Tomac used for Kaphan's.

Granny Harber's

While it's difficult to picture a Houston summer without them, Granny Harber's Chez Orleans was one of the first restaurants to bring crawfish to the city. Alison Cook, back when she was the food critic for the Houston Press, reported on how Harber would boil one sack of crawfish a week before Jim Gossen -- now owner of Louisiana Foods -- and the Landrys came to town and changed the entire scene with Don's Seafood in the 1980s. Granny Harber's is now an EyeMasters and Don's Seafood was bought out by Tilman Fertitta, but Houston's love of crawfish remains intact.

Swiss Chalet Restaurant

Hey, kids! Here's how you can tell this postcard is old: There's no 713, 281 or 832 before the telephone number. Oh, the good old days when all of Houston was the 7-1-3. The special occasion but always fun Swiss Chalet was run by all-around good guy Gabriel Martin, who died just two years ago, and wasn't actually Swiss at all -- he was from Argentina.

Tokyo Garden and Club Tokyo

In the days before there was a "sushi" restaurant on every corner and in every mall food court, Tokyo Garden was considered very special and very exotic. It probably didn't hurt matters that it featured "Japanese classical dance performances" every evening. It's long gone now, having been demolished to make way for an extended stay hotel.

Brennan's French Restaurant

Long ago, just Brennan's used to be called Brennan's French Restaurant. It served breakfast all day long and was open until midnight. No, I promise that I have not mistaken it for a Denny's. Just look at the picture above. See? No surly waitresses in blue eyeshadow there, just pure, old-fashioned elegance (and a lot of lattice). And are those tablecloths blush or bashful?

Kelley's Famous Corral Room

That's not a photo of Taste of Texas. It's Kelley's Famous Corral Room, a steakhouse located across the street from the swanky Rice Hotel that once supplied "Houstonians and visitors with really fine food at really moderate prices." It's now also been replaced with a Chase bank. Downtown's always been a tough market for restaurants, you see...

The Ship Ahoy

According to the back of the card, this Main Street restaurant was known for its nautical atmosphere and it considered itself to be the city's finest restaurant, serving "northern steaks and chops as well as sea foods and Chinese dishes." Even better? It had air conditioning! Pretty spiffy for the 1940s.

The Ming Palace Restaurant

My favorite thing about this postcard is that it -- like The Ship Ahoy -- placed a tremendous amount of emphasis on the fact that you would not be sweating through your meal: "Houston's finest and most luxurious Chinese Restaurant where you can enjoy the best Chinese and American food, in an atmosphere of refinement -- with AIR CONDITIONED COMFORT." (Caps theirs.)

Albert Gee's

Why don't we have restaurants anymore with names like "Albert Gee's Poly-Asian Restaurant and Club Luau"? This brings to mind repeated viewings of South Pacific and elegant post-World War II dinner parties (even though this restaurant dates from the 1960s).

If you're a vintage postcard lover or just want to continue this trip down memory lane, check out CardCow's entire stock of old Houston restaurant postcards in its archives. And, yes, almost all of them are for sale.

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