September 1, 2016

La Carafe in Houston, Texas

La Carafe Exterior

photo by: Sean Davis/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

La Carafe in Houston, Texas.

Determining which structure truly deserves the title of Houston’s oldest building has always been a bit of a conundrum (even before a couple of cold brews), but the two-story brick building at 813 Congress Ave., today home to La Carafe, has been a fixture in the Market Square Historic District since the 1860s.

Commissioned by Irishman John Kennedy (no relation), the structure replaced the steam-operated Kennedy Bakery which sold hardtack during the Civil War before it was destroyed by a fire. Located mere blocks from the site of Houston’s earliest steamboat landing, the former Kennedy Bakery was part of Houston’s first commercial district and was considered one of Houston's first buildings.

By the 1950s, the current structure was converted into a bar. Businessman William V. Berry eventually went on to purchase the property, changing its name from “Le Carafe” to “La Carafe” and adorning the walls with ornately framed photos and paintings from his travels that still hang today.

It’s not hard to imagine that the well-worn interior, featuring a juke box, an old-fashioned cash machine, and candles dripping with years of wax, has remained true to its mid-20th-century charm. “It’s basically like what it was when I took over,” says Carolyn Wenglar who has owned the bar—and the nearby Warren’s Inn—since 1988.

A historic bar would not be complete without some paranormal folklore and La Carafe does not disappoint. While Wenglar hasn’t had any personal contact with spirits or ghosts, she has heard of more than one customer encountering a woman in white on the second floor or a former bar manager who can still be heard yelling “Last call!”

The National-Register listed site also features a second-floor bar that is only open on the weekends and for years has played host to community séances.

(Click on the Google embed below for a 360-degree view of La Carafe.)

Location: 813 Congress Ave., Houston, TX 77002

Hours: Monday-Friday, 12:00 p.m.-2:00 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday 1:00 p.m.-2 a.m.

Local tip: La Carafe exclusively serves beer and wine, and don’t bother trying to pay with your credit card—this is a cash-only joint.

You’re having: A pint of the Texas-brewed Lone Point Yellow Rose IPA.

Best Yelp review: “Atmospheric, great jukebox, and a rarity in Houston—a historic building. Sit on the balcony upstairs, gaze on the sign for the Rice Hotel, and let the speed of Houston's change blow your mind.” –Katherine H.

Katharine Keane is a former editorial assistant at Preservation Magazine. She enjoys getting lost in new cities, reading the plaques at museums, and discovering the next great restaurant.

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