Bars where Pete has had a Drink (5,829 bars; 1,754 bars in Seattle) - Click titles below for Lists:

Bars where Pete has had a drink

Thursday, January 11, 2024

#5538 - La Carafe, Houston, TX - 1/6/2024

La Carafe, Houston, TX

Established in 1955 in a downtown Houston building constructed in 1860, "La Carafe" is often referred to as both the "oldest bar in Houston" and the most haunted site in the city. I'll leave the latter claim to the ghost chasers, and the former is highly dubious; but it is an old and wonderful bar housed in one of, if not the oldest commercial buildings in the city.

The oldest bar in Houston is not a question I can answer. There are various places that make the claim, most of them starting during Prohibition or in the two decades after, and pretty much none of them having a clearly established date of when they were established as a licensed bar, rather than an ice house, grocery, etc. The history of the La Carafe location goes back to the Kennedy Bakery, built by Nathaniel Kellum in 1847. As the torimask blog notes:
"Let that sink in just a minute. 1847. Ten years before, Houston was incorporated, with a population of 1200 people. Sam Houston is head of the Republic of Texas."

La Carafe, Houston, TX

That original structure was destroyed by fire, leading to the current building being completed here a few blocks from Houston's first steamboat landing, where the Kennedy Bakery sold hardtack during the civil war. In subsequent years the building is said to have hosted a Pony Express stop, an apothecary, a print shop, a drugstore and a hair salon. In either 1955 or 1957, James Harrison leased the space and opened a bar named Le Carafe. Then in 1963 the place was purchased by William V. Berry, who appears to have tweaked the name to "La Carafe," and who is responsible for the vast number of portraits, old photographs and antiques, said to be from his travels around the world and also a large estate sale in New Orleans.

La Carafe, Houston, TX

So to Mr. Berry we owe the veritable museum, but we are also indebted to the subsequent owners for preserving the artifacts and lovely ambiance of the business. It was purchased in 1987 by Warren Trousdale, who died the following year, leaving the bar (and also the nearby "Warren’s Inn") to his younger sister, Carolyn Wenglar, who has run it ever since. A Rice University "Owlnet" article observes:

'Since 1988, Wenglar has kept La Carafe at it's original, mellow best, hiring bartenders who have been with La Carafe for her entire duration as owner. Though many people have offered to buy the place from her, Wenglar has said that the building is not hers to sell. Its a building, she says, that belongs to the public and she is none too anxious for entrepreneurs to make it into a law firm. Aside from her interest in the history and preservation of La Carafe, Wenglar says of her life as owner and manager, "It's been fun, real fun, and I like it."'

As a sort of collector of information on antique back bars, it's a bit frustrating that I have not found any background on the two very interesting such bars (one on each floor). If anybody has any information on these, I would love to hear it.

Today the bar remains a chill, comfortable, happily dark place to grab a drink and have an interesting conversation. It is wine centric, with additional beer choices, and steadfastly refuses to allow a television inside. On my visit, bartender John helpfully let me and some other first time visitors take a look at the second floor and balcony, which are only open on weekends, and which just further cemented the place as one of my very favorite bars I've ever been to.

813 Congress St, Houston, TX 77002 - (713) 229-9399
Est. 1955 - Building constructed: 1860 
Previous bars in this location: None known
Web site: facebook 
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