“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is a fitting tagline for Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, an area that somehow retains its eclectic roots as construction cranes continue to fill the air.
Where to Stay
La Colombe D’Or
A prime example can be found on Montrose Boulevard, where La Colombe D’Or—the former mansion of an oil baron turned boutique hotel—has been hosting travelers since the 80s. The hotel’s décor suggests Jay Gatsby with an addiction to art collecting. From the lobby to the five sumptuous suites named after famous painters, the walls are filled with pieces from hotelier Steve Zimmerman’s personal stash of artwork. In addition, there’s an art gallery featuring a rotating collection of works curated by an in-house art director. Sculpture also adorns the hotel’s exterior along with plans for a high rise, adding a pool, courtyard, hotel rooms, and residential living to the mix. What won’t change is the hotel’s historic sensibilities on full display with white tablecloth dining accented by orchids on every table, an elegant bar, and a perfect location for exploring the Montrose neighborhood.
Trip Chandler Tip: The hotel’s art gallery transforms into the backdrop for a magic show starring sleight-of-hand master, Ben Jackson, on select Friday and Saturday nights.
Where to Explore
Start your Montrose sojourn with a stroll through nearby Audubon Place, offering architectural views of Craftsman bungalows, Victorian flair, and plenty of shade provided by live oak trees.
Like the origins of the La Colombe D’Or hotel, Houston’s Menil Collection has a connection to the oil business. John and Dominque de Menil’s ties to Schlumberger brought them to Houston via France. The couple, known for their art collection and activism, gifted the city with free access to their favorite objects housed in the Menil Collection and its surrounding buildings, in walking distance from the hotel or a short drive.
Although the Menil Collection is temporarily closed through the fall, the Menil campus is an urban oasis for lovers of art, nature, and the occasional drum circle. There’s plenty to view in the Cy Twombly Gallery, Richmond Hall housing Dan Flavin’s florescent light creations, and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel’s latest installation, Francis Alÿs: The Fabiola Project, filled with over 450 versions of a Roman saint from all over the world.
The Rothko Chapel, containing 14 mesmerizing murals by the famed artist, offers a spiritual space for meditation, as well as benches outside to gaze at Barnett Newman’s sculpture, Broken Obelisk, dedicated to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Trip Chandler Tip: For more meditation-friendly spaces, visit the nearby Gueymard Meditation Garden and walk the labyrinth on the University St. Thomas campus, where you can also see the Chapel of St. Basil designed by Philip Johnson, who contributed to the look of Houston’s downtown skyline with the Bank of America Center and Penzoil Place.
Where to Shop + Sup
For more Montrose meanderings, head to Westheimer for a glimpse of Montrose’s past and its future, from morning to night.
Breakfast options include baked goods at Common Bond and La Guadalapana (2109 Dunlavy) where croissants and Mexican pan dulce are both on the menu. Order an expertly-pulled espresso and homemade biscuits at Blacksmith, the former home of Houston’s oldest gay bar, Mary’s.
Trip Chandler Trivia: The first Houston Gay Pride Parade took place on Westheimer in 1978 and continued to roll through Montrose until 2015 when the festivities moved downtown. This year’s Pride Parade is scheduled for Saturday, June 23rd, 2018.
The street art scene is strong along this stretch of Westheimer, where murals are tucked away in alleys or winking in plain sight. For shopping, Space Montrose and Biscuit specialize in unique items crafted in Houston and the surrounding region, along with home décor that evokes a local sense of place.
Trip Chandler Tip: The title of Most-Instragrammed Mural in Houston belongs to the colorful cascade known as the Biscuit Paint Wall, painted by Sebastien “Mr. D” Boileau. (1435 Westheimer)
Reservations are recommended for many of the restaurants along the lower Westheimer strip, including two helmed by James Beard award-winning chefs. Houston’s most recent win went to Chef Hugo Ortega in 2017, whose namesake restaurant is devoted to authentic Mexican cuisine with a Sunday brunch buffet accompanied by live music. In 2014, Chef Chris Shepherd took top honors in the Southwest for his menu at Underbelly, which reflected the culinary diversity of Houston. Since then, he’s added One Fifth, where the restaurant undergoes an annual makeover with Mediterranean on the horizon. The Underbelly concept is soon to move and be reincarnated as UB Preserv in mid-April, while their location will transform into Georgia James, a steakhouse.
Trip Chandler Tip: Cookbooks make excellent Houston souvenirs like Paulie’s: Classic Italian Cooking in the Heart of Houston’s Montrose District and Chef Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico.
Where to Toast
For libations before or after dinner, there’s a bar for every personality type in Montrose. Poison Girl offers a chill vibe, complemented by a premium bourbon selection, pinball, and a patio. Anvil Bar and Refuge is a James Beard finalist for Outstanding Bar Program, which they’ve been perfecting since 2009. Camerata offers wine plus salumi and cheese plates from the owner of Paulie’s. Hay Merchant has plenty of craft brews and big screen TVs. Sip on a Lone Star or give the Texas two-step a try on the dance floor at Goodnight Charlie’s. Travel back in time under the disco balls at Numbers for their classic 80’s music night, going strong for 40 years. How’s that for Houston history!
Featured image courtesy of La Colombe D’Or Hotel