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Downtown's Historic District Revival

What's old is new again in the heart of the city  

A slew of new restaurant and bar openings surrounding Market Square and the Historic District has made Downtown Houston the place to be once more. New spots from well-known bartenders and chefs now mingle with tried and true favorites like La Carafe and Warren's Inn. In addition, major developments along Buffalo Bayou keep the buzz going.

When Market Square Park reopened three years ago beckoning visitors with green space, a dog park, and even a Niko Niko's cafe, it became a catalyst for new projects and brought a renewed focus on the north side of Downtown. The debut of Bobby Heugel's OKRA Charity Saloon late last year spurned even more buzz as the latest wave of hotspots comes online.  

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New Hangouts 

A new entertainment-focused lounge concept opened on Main Street in the Historic District last November.The Nightingale Room brings a mix of jazz and blues musicians curated by partner Mike Criss to the shotgun-style space beneath Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge. The new concept offers wine and beer along with specialty punch and cocktails all in an antiqued setting complete with a large chandelier, plenty of mirrors and exposed brick walls. The Nightingale Room pays homage to Houston musical legend Sippie Wallace, known as the Texas Nightingale in the 1920s.

The historic Cotton Exchange Building in Downtown Houston has become Public Services Wine & Whisky, a new concept from wine guru Justin Vann and partners Justin Yu and Karen Man of Oxheart. The bar stocks a variety of off-the-beaten-path wines and whiskeys and the chefs are preparing a menu of "nontraditional" snacks for what promises to be a new Historic District hotspot. Opened October 2014. 

A burlesque and cabaret concept that's built a following in the Galleria area recently moved to a historic space Downtown in November 2014. Prohibition took over an 8,500-square-foot building on the edge of the Downtown Historic District, one block from the recently opened El Big Bad restaurant. The space has been renovated to include second-floor mezzanines and 40-foot ceilings. The bar and restaurant space are open six days a week and a separate Supper Club is open for shows and special events. Opened November 2014. 

Justin Burrow, part of the team that opened Anvil Bar & Refuge, offers guests a modern American cocktail experience at Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge. It's the kind of place where he and his friends would frequent--no fuss, no pretension, just quality drinks in a fun atmosphere. In the 1,700-square-foot space, he serves up everything from classic cocktails to cheap sessionable beers. Opened March 2013. 

The 9,000-square-foot Batanga features Latin American tapas, exotic drinks, and live music, as well as a large umbrella-covered patio that overlooks Market Square Park. Customers can expect a mix of dishes from various regions in Latin America, such as Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Colombia, as well as dishes from Spain and Portugal. Opened March 2013.

With OKRA Charity Saloon, a group of independent restaurant and bar have launched a unique concept--a bar where 100 percent of the proceeds are donated to charity. The concept is simple: For each drink purchased, guests receive one vote that they may cast that night for one of four selected charities. The charity with the most votes at the end of the month receives the next month's proceeds. Opened December 2012. 

Capitalizing on its longtime success in Montrose and neighboring locations, Barnaby's Cafe opened its Downtown location on Market Square in fall 2012, serving up American and Tex-Mex favorites, everything from delectable spinach and feta burger to quesadillas.  

Going from mobile food truck to bricks-and-mortar, Fusion Taco took over the space formerly inhabited by Les Givral in July 2013. The concept revolves around tacos like fajita beef and pulled pork with an Asian influence and spices. 

Bobby Heugel's Clumsy Butcher restaurant group opened a tequila and mezcal bar dubbed The Pastry War in late summer 2013. This new concept at 310 Main Street takes its name from an 1838 invasion of Mexico by French forces. The Pastry War carries a wide selection of both liquors, many of which have never been poured in Texas previously. The spot also offers classic Mexican cocktails alongside Mexican longnecks. 

The folks from the former Heights-area El Gran Malo took over the prime corner spot at Prairie and Travis streets and opened El Big Bad. El Big Bad features 50 handcrafted tequila infusions (think peanut butter and vanilla habanero), craft beer and plenty of fare to feast upon. El Big Bad is all about fresh juice margaritas and fresh Mexican classics. November 2013.

Longtime Favorites

Hotel Icon, the 135-room luxury hotel that anchors the area, recently became part of the Marriott Autograph Collection and underwent a $5 million renovation. The property's signature restaurant was also re-imagined and the new Line & Lariat offers Gulf Coast seafood dishes with a modern Texas flair. 

Warren's Inn is a Downtown classic, a no frills hangout that continues to be popular with its masculine, all wood decor and cheap drinks. You'll find many regulars here, as well as a new set of scenesters late night and on the weekends. 

Though not as old as several of the other bars around Market Square, Hearsay Gastro Lounge has been holding its own since 2009 in a beautiful, historic building that once served as a Confederate Armory in the Civil War.  Hearsay serves upscale pub grub in grown-up style and also boasts a hearty beverage menu with a solid whiskey, wine, and bubbly selection, as well as St. Arnold's and Ziegenbock beer on draft.

Located in what's said to be the second oldest building in Houston Treebeards has developed a loyal following for its classic Creole dishes such as red beans and rice, seafood gumbo and shrimp étouffée. The restaurant with an upstairs balcony overlooking the park also offers daily lunch specials such as fried chicken on Mondays and blackened catfish on Fridays. 

Many come to Char Bar to wind down after work and enjoy the friendly service. The small, intimate space invites patrons to enjoy a signature martini (fair warning these are served quite strong). Walls bedecked with old family photos, plus suits in glass cases and a vintage jukebox make the Char a fascinating Downtown jewel.

The oldest haunt in Houston, La Carafe wine bar is less a ghost than a piece of living history, a timeless challenge to the contemporary nightclub scene. The cozy candle-lit tavern hasn't changed much in more than 125 years and only serves wine and beer with tabs rung up on an antique cash-only register.