Brewpubs in Houston and surrounding areas since 1993

Updated 5/16/2014

Background

When brewpubs were first legalized in Texas in May 1993, it was a huge deal and people risked money to get into the business. Both small and large brewpubs sprouted around Houston and surrounding areas. It was a great time for beer lovers, but the market was hard on the brewpubs and most of them did not last more than 2 or 3 years. Over fifteen years later there is only one establishment still brewing. Some others have ceased brewing but still operate a restaurant and/or bar. This page charts the most basic history of each establishment in the Houston and nearby cities.

Sources

This data was compiled from various Internet sources such as restaurant and bar review websites. I also got a great deal of information from old copies of the Southwest Brewing News, for which I used to write. This article appears to be copied from the February/March 2001 issue of Southwest Brewing News, and is loaded with good information. This article from the Houston Business Journal also has a lot of great information and is worth reading. I also got a good deal of knowledge from Scott Birdwell at DeFalco's Home Wine and Beer Supply. Since all brewpub brewers in the Houston area started off as homebrewers, they all know Mr. Birdwell. Many of the brewing roads around here lead to DeFalco's.My final source of information comes from my personal experience of having watched the Houston beer scene for some time, especially during the rise and fall of the brewpubs. If you have any updates to this data send them to ken (at) ken blair (dot) com.

Name Location Date opened or started brewing Date closed, changed name or ceased brewing Brewer(s) Notes, comments, history & additional information
Bank Draft Brewing Company 2420 Dunstan, Houston, Texas 1995, August 2000, September Scott Littlewood, Jeff Humphreys Bank Draft brewed their own beer and also served a number of microbrewed beers as well. They did not operate a restaurant. The establishment had a great run but ultimately suffered when the owners opened The Mercantile, a brewpub in downtown Houston. The Bank Draft was located in Rice Village near The Village Brewery, Two Rows, and 2 or 3 other beer enthusiast bars including The Gingerman. Here's a page from the original Bank Draft website that details the history how the Bank Draft got started.
Bay Brewery, The 709 Todville Road, Seabrook, Texas 1997, July 2000, October Phil Endacott Was also known as the Bayview Seafood Company.
BJ's Restautant / Brewery 515 W. Bay Area Blvd., Clear Lake, Texas 2003? Ceased brewing, still open Mark Duchow This location was formerly known as Bradley's Restaurant & Brewery. It is possible that BJ's, a national chain of restaurants, ceased brewing on-site in 2006. I sought information directly from the company to clarify this, but never did receive a response. Some BJ's locations do brew on-site but some get their beer from a reigonal location. This article says that at least one Texas BJ's is getting its beer from Saint Arnolds in Houston.
www.bjsrestaurants.com
Boondoggles' Pizzeria & Brewery 4106 Nasa Road One, Seabrook, Texas 1997, October Ceased brewing, still open Steve Roberts No longer brewing, but still serving beer and food.
Bradley's Restaurant & Brewery 515 W. Bay Area Blvd., Clear Lake, Texas 1996, January closed Gary Heyne, Phil Endacott This operation changed ownership and changed name to BJ's brewery at some point after September 2001.
Galveston Brewing Company 2521 Mechanic Street, Galveston, Texas 1996, January 1997, May Steve Roberts This was the second brewpub to open in Galveston and competed with the nearby Strand Brewery. The Galveston Brewing Company was known for producing beers of a greater variety and quality that what was brewed at the Strand, but did not last as long. Food-wise, The Galveston Brewing Company served only deli sandwiches.
Harp & Star Brewing Co. 1404 Fm 1960 Bypass Rd. E, Humble, Texas N/A N/A Richard Coggins This operation never got off the ground. Richard Coggins was formerly brewing for the Market Square Brewing Company.
Hoffbrau Steaks and Brewery FM 1960 and FM 249, Houston, Texas   2001, August Max Miyamoto This was the second brewpub with brewer Max Miyamoto at the helm. After this he took the reigns over at Side Street Brewing.
Hops House Brew Pub 2317 South Highway 6 1998 Ceased brewing in 2000, still open John Crockett Still operating, bar only. Now called JP Hops House. www.jphopshouse.com
Houston Brewery, The 6224 Richmond Ave, Houston, Texas 1994, September 1999, December Tim Case A heroic undertaking when first built, and known for producing top-quality beer. Ultimately the business was unable to make a profit due to the high cost of running the operation and peoples' declining interest in the Richmond strip nightclub scene. Although changes were made along the way, this operation fell like most of the others.
Huey's Restaurant and Brewery 15335 North I-45 at Richey Road , Houston, TX 1996, May 2000 Greg Schepens Greg Schepens was previously with the Rock Bottom Brewery.
Market Square Brewing Company 800 block of Congress st., Houston, TX 1994, September 1995, July Richard Coggins This was a very small brewing operation located next to La Carafe. They were using 14 gallon fermenters and no temperature control. There were plans to move to larger brewing equipment but the operation shut down before that happened.
Mercantile, The Downtown Houston 2000 2001, January Jeff Humphreys This establishment was operated by the same people as Bank Draft Brewing Company, and was located in the building of the 1912 Isis Theatre where some of the theatre's original decorative elements were discovered before construction of the brewery.
Rock Bottom Brewery #3 6111 Richmond Ave 1994, September 1998, February Greg Schepens, Kevin Marley, Tom Crawford The Rock Bottom renovated and moved into the former Lake Longhorn restautant, and was part of a national chain and was a very large operation. Part of the reason of failure was the inability to get enough people to fill the place at the right times. Parking was also very, very limted. The company had an agreement with the office building next door to use their parking after business hours. The next door building was built and owned by M. David Lowe, a staffing company that was purchased in 1997. The operation also suffered partially due to the declining interest in the Richmond Strip area. This was a wildly successful area for nightclubs since the early 80's but the trend started to dwindle around this time. After closing the building became Polly Esther's, a nightclub / dance club. After that closed it remained a nightclub for a few years. The building was demolished in 2007 after having sat idle for several years due to the continued decline of the nightclub business in this area. As of January 2009, the land still sits idle and is covered with layer of short weeds and grass. www.rockbottom.com As of 2014, the property is the location of a paintball playing field.
Side Street Brewing 2006 Lexington, Houston, Texas 77098 2003, September 2004, February Max Miyamoto This was Max Miyamoto's third gig in the Houston area.
Strand Brewery 101 23rd St. at Harborsied Drive, Galveston, Texas 1995, May 2001 Wolfram Koehler, Michael Briggs, Tyson McLeod This was the first brewpub in Galveston and offered a full menu but was never known for producing beers with great variety or character. This operation was backed by George and Cynthia Mitchell whose names are well known in the Galveston and Houston areas. This location was a Fuddrucker's restaurant, but as of January 2009 this is no longer listed on the company's website. It was most likely closed after hurricane Ike greatly damaged the island. Wolfram Koehler, the brewery's first brewmaster, was formerly with Crescent City brewpub in New Orleans.
Two Rows Restaurant & Brewery 2400 University St, Suite 200, Houston, Texas 1997, January Closed October 2, 2010. Rob Cromie, Ian Larson This is the Houston Chronicle article about the closure. Was part of a chain, and a good establishment. The end of an era in Houston. www.tworows.com. Two Rows was located in Rice Village which was home to two other brewpubs and still has a few beer enthusiast bars that remain today, most notably The Gingerman.
University Brewing Company (Brew U) 3941 Southwest Freeway, Houston, Texas 1997, July Closed James Hudec This was a Brew on Premise operation where customers could brew their own beer with the help and equipment of the shop. They also served their own beer which was brewed in-house. The establshment closed sometime before 2000. James Hudec reportedly went on to open the Brenham Brewery (closed, 2003), brewed for Rahr and Sons Brewing Company for six months, and also brewed for both Gordon Biersch and Crescent City in New Orleans.
Village Brewery, The 2415 Dunstan, Houston, Texas 77005 1994, April 1998, September Bryan Pearson, Max Miyamoto The very first Brewpub in Houston which opened with great fanfare. The operation faced competition early on from two other brewpubs in the area, as well as a few beer enthusiast bars. I'll never forget going there once during the first few days after it opened and the place was overwhelmed with customers. I think we waited 2 hours before finally being served. Things mellowed and the owners made small changes to the operation over the years to fine tune the business formula. Ultimately the name was changed to The Orchid Lounge shortly before going out of business forever. Here's their original website saved at archive.org


2009 Commentary on Two Rows

One lesson everyone learned from the history here is that you can't make a profit here simply by selling good beer because the market won't support that. While a brewer has an intimate knowledge of the process of beermaking, no bar or brewpub can turn a profit by attracting only patrons who share that knowledge. A successful operation must have the right combination of factors including location, menu, prices, parking, target customer, atmosphere, and probably 100 more. Oh yes, beer is important too. As it has been said, if it was easy to figure out, then everyone would be doing it.

The one surviving brewpub in this area, Two Rows, seems to have a winning formula that has worked well. Here's my amateur take on why they have succeded: They do well because they attract different people for different reasons. Their focus is clearly not just about the beer because the place is more of a restaurant than a brewery. In fact, inspection of their website doesn't even mention the word beer. Clearly they are promoting themselves purely as a restautant now. The beer is good, cheap ($2.50 a pint), and they offer some seasonal beers which I believe will keep beer enthusiasts interested. Upon walking into the place, it looks like a sports bar which will appeal to a big percentage of the population. They have a wide variety of good food at reasonable prices so there is something for everyone. There is a kids menu which adds to a kid-friendly environment which draws in famlies with children, but like any other restaurant, there aren't kids there in the later hours so you can avoid them if necessary. There is an outdoor seating area. The indoor seating area is broken up into at least three different areas which adds some interest. The brewing equipment is in plain sight, but not dominating. The service is reliable. The place is part of a four location chain, so that probably enables them to purchase food, brewing ingredients, advertising, professional services, and consumables at slightly lower prices. They're located in an upscale retail loacation with a high voume of customers. They're located across the street from the Gingerman, a bar that any beer enthusiast in Houston knows of. Finally, they have plenty of parking.

What are the factors working against the success of Two Rows? Their rent is obviously expensive, given their upscale location. They're competing with a number of other restaurants and bars in the area. They're located on the second floor of an outdoor shopping center, so it's unlikely people will just happen to wander by on accident.

When Two Rows first appeared in Houston I was very surprised. They entered the Houston market long after the other major players did, and the fact that they were a chain lead me to believe their beer would be uninteresting. They were also in a location already saturated with brewpubs. Amazingly, they survived. Although I have neither the time nor money to drink and eat out like I did before I had a family, I'm glad Houston still has one surviving brewpub.

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Photos of my Texas Brewers Festival t-shirt from 1996: