Houston not only survives but also thrives in the wake of disaster.
By Niki Jones, Photos by Carrin Welch
On the brushy, muddy, flood-flattened banks of Houston’s Buffalo Bayou stands a metal sculpture positioned so it appears to be growing straight up out of the ground. Approximately 10 feet wide and 4 feet tall, the sculpture is emblazoned with one word: emerge. This could not be a more succinct description of a city formerly known for old money derived from the oil industry that’s becoming known for something else: resilience.
After Aug. 17, 2017, the world watched as Houstonians did everything within their power to help their fellow residents recover from Hurricane Harvey. It’s this sort of mindset—equal parts strength and city pride—that consistently enables Houston to survive and then thrive after such devastating events. This is one of the major characteristics that makes Houston a great choice for a vacation, whether traveling from near or far.
A little more than half a year since Hurricane Harvey devastated the city and its surrounding areas, Houston refuses to back down to the forces of Mother Nature. Downtown is absolutely thriving, with scores of fantastic new restaurants, bars and hotels.
“We expected to see a bigger dip in business after Harvey, but we really didn’t,” says Gloria Giannelli, manager of Mkt Restaurant & Bar. “People [in Houston]are still going out.”
One standout is Nobie’s. Named after Executive Chef Martin Stayer’s grandmother, the restaurant features an ever-changing menu of locally sourced, innovative dishes like duck-fat hash browns, curried Brussels sprouts, and shrimp and grits. The one item that remains permanently on the menu is Nonno’s Pasta, an otherworldly homemade tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce and Parmesan. This dish alone is worth the visit, and the hip vibe of the Montrose-area converted house, along with Nobie’s friendly and talented bartenders, adds to the total package.
Another noteworthy food spot is The Kitchen at Dunlavy. Situated in a glass “tree house” right on the Buffalo Bayou, this beautiful chandeliered space offers delicious breakfast and brunch items like salmon toast and house-made pastries, all reasonably priced.
While the area near The Kitchen at Dunlavy is relatively intact post-Harvey, there is definitely devastation to the park along the bayou, which is understandable since the hurricane caused the most significant flooding in the city’s history. However, Houston’s resilience is evident here too. On a misty Saturday morning, there was no shortage of Houstonians enjoying the trails, walking dogs and riding the BCycles available for rent for just $3 a half-hour. Also present and a testament to Houstonians’ love of their city: large groups of volunteers planting trees on the banks of the bayou.
One experience that provides a unique window into the city’s history is the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, an underground former drinking-water reservoir built in the 1920s that’s been converted to a public space that periodically features art installations. The half- hour tour, which costs $5, is definitely worth the visit. Pro tip: Don’t forget to check out the 17-second echo.
Houston has a history rich in art, home to some of the most incredible collections in the world, the most noteworthy of which is the Menil Collection. Campus-like in layout and shaded by giant live oaks, the main building and surrounding bungalows house a diverse collection of antiquities, modern art and everything in between, as well as revolving exhibitions. And there’s even a café on-site. Admission to the Menil Collection is always free.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston houses another impressive and extensive collection, boasting more than 65,000 pieces from throughout the world. The modern buildings are airy and laid out well. General admission is $15. Pro tip: Admission is free every Thursday.
Sawyer Yards is an epic redevelopment of a former industrial area in the Arts District. With more than 300 artist studios, Sawyer Yards often hosts exhibitions and classes, and there are usually working artists happy to welcome visitors into their workspaces. Colorful murals line the exterior walls and there are lots of areas to explore. Pro tip: Plan your trip during a biannual Art Stroll.
When it comes to lodging, head for downtown, as there are many hotels there and the area is very quiet in the evenings and on weekends. The brand new Le Méridien Houston Downtown was formerly the Melrose Building, an office structure built in 1952, and features many of the original details, like green marble walls in the entrance area and vintage pebbled wire-glass windows in the guest rooms. The rooftop bar has some of the best sweeping views from atop the 22 stories, and the craft cocktails are delicious.
The Main Street/Market Square area of downtown offers many more bar and lounge options, and is just blocks and a quick walk from the Le Méridien. Pro tip: Order the Brush Fire at Little Dipper Bar.
Houston remains an inspiration in so many realms: food, hospitality, friendliness, art, but ultimately, the resilience and ability to bounce back after major catastrophes on the part of Houston’s residents is what makes this city so special, and definitely worth a trip.
Le Méridien Houston Downtown
1121 Walker St., lemeridienhoustondowntown.com
Marriott Marquis Houston
1777 Walker St., marriott.com/hotels/hotel-rooms/ houmq-marriott-marquis-houston
Hotel Zaza Houston
5701 S. Main St., hotelzaza.com
Eat and Drink
2048 Colquitt St., nobieshtx.com
Mkt Restaurant & Bar at Phoenicia
1001 Austin St., mktbar.com
Local Pho Vietnamese Noodle
2313 Edwards St., localpho.com
2356 Rice Blvd., hungryscafe.com
Little Dipper Bar
304 S. Main St.
Okra Charity Saloon
924 Congress Ave., friedokra.org/okra-charity-saloon
316 Main St., deansdowntown.com
2531 Kuester St., goodnightcharlies.com
See and Do
1533 Sul Ross St., menil.org
3900 Yupon St., rothkochapel.org
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet St., mfah.org
2101 Sawyer St., sawyeryards.com
Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
105 Sabine St., buffalobayou.org/visit/destination/ the-cistern
Various locations throughout the city, houston.bcycle.com