Thursday, February 20, 2014

La Carafe, Houston's Oldest Building, 1847

La Carafe is one of Houston's longest running bars (1957) housed in Houston's oldest building, the Kennedy Bakery, built in 1847.

my favorite shot of the bunch

Let that sink in just a minute. 


Ten years before, Houston was incorporated, with a population of 1200 people. Sam Houston is head of the Republic of Texas.

One year before, Texas enters the Union as the 28th state. Stagecoach services are now running through town. Buffalo Bayou is being cleared so the Port of Houston can be established not only in name. 

When these walls went up, the War with Mexico was still ongoing. The sewing machine was being invented, as was the rotary printing press. 

Cherokee Indians would trade with white men at this building in the late 1840s and the 1850 census would report 2396 Houston citizens.

When John Kennedy immigrated from Ireland to settle in Houston in the early 40s he established a trading post built in 1842 that burned to the ground. He constructed the current building where it still stands in 1847 to run a steam bakery.  (His son-in-law would be W.L. Foley, who also had an interest in buildings.)

With the advent of the civil war, Kennedy leased the space next door as an arsenal for the Confederate Army and turned the bakery into a hardtack supply for the military. If only this concrete slab and plastered brick walls could talk.

In 1873 the space was turned into an Apothecary (they wouldn't be called pharmacies for another 80 years) and remained as such until 1932. From what I can find online, a print shop may have taken residence here after that until 1957 when it was opened as a bar and restaurant, bought by Houston entrepreneur William V. Berry in 1963 and christened La Carafe. He decorated the walls with various ephemera and paintings, largely from estate sales in New Orleans. 

I wanted to get a look at the place with a much light as possible, since most reviews noted that a flashlight would be helpful after dark just to see where you're walking, much less take in the decor. 

Gladys -- A Portrait
The largest piece on the long wall is the only one currently with a known story. A patron recognized it and send Carolyn Wengar, ,the owner, what information he had. 
Gladys' portrait stands 7'1  and was painted by J. Guthrie.
The information of her portrait: "Mrs. W. Barr Knox, daughter of Mr. George Burrell.
Full length in white evening dress, with gold cloak over her left arm, standing before a white chimney piece. Begun c. 1918, finished 1923. A copy hangs in a museum in Scotland.

James Guthrie was a Scottish painter who created large portraits of many well-known state leaders.  I am floored that this original has landed in a Houston bar, where her white gown is now yellowed from so many decades of smoke, that it is indistinguishable from the gold cloak.

I was unable to track much about Gladys herself, although she seems to have lived in this area of Scotland, married to William Knox, who used the Ryefield house as an art gallery. Her father William Burrell, a Scottish shipping merchant, established an art collection in Glasgow in 1944. The story of how this painting of his daughter made its way across the sea is currently lost to us. 

Other shots of the interior:

1901 National Register is still in operation. 

The pillars of three decades of candle wax flank the register on the bar that is believed to have been installed during the building's apothecary days.

Dust and old portraits add to the charm

The upstairs bar is only open after 9:00 pm on the weekends, but with no one else in the place, a tour was in order.

Upstairs, a turn of the century ice box is used as the wine cooler

The upstairs bar with carousel horse and Tiffany inspired lamps

Great light fixtures -- would you call it a chandelier without branches, though?

the upstairs register. The bar is cash only.

This is the window/door visible from the east side of the building, pictured above. It was once connected to the demolished building next door through this entryway.

Going back down what is the original narrow stairway, where ghost sightings are most often reported. 

A number of the portraits were down as they are refinishing the plaster and painting it fresh.

Lighted bottles under the staircase

The not-so ancient jukebox is stocked with 50s sounds and has earned Best Jukebox in Houston.

If you didn't read the five million reviews that mention that THIS IS A CASH ONLY BAR (beer and wine solomente), there is an ATM conveniently located beside the tunes.

I had a glass of the 10 year port and it was excellent. 

The only thing I didn't get a picture of was the restrooms. A lot of reviews were complaining about how narrow they are, so I was prepared for full-on airline lavatory space. It's not that bad. And they were very clean. This also seems to probably be the best lit place after dark. 

Bring an appreciation of history if you're here during the day, and bring a torch if you're here after dark. Bring cash, either way.


Post a Comment