Downtown Houston Tequila & Mezcal Bar The Pastry War Set to Close
The Pastry War is Closing
We’d say to pour one out for The Pastry War, but you shouldn’t waste precious agave spirits like that.
After a seven-year run, a statement on both The Pastry War’s Facebook page and on owner Bobby Heugel’s personal page says that the last day for the bar at 310 Main is October 30. The news highlights both downtown Houston’s ongoing economic woes as the pandemic continues and the limited financial help provided to struggling small businesses.
“We reopened anticipating additional promised relief from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Unfortunately, like two-thirds of applicants, we did not receive these vital funds,” wrote Heugel. “Downtown in particular has been hit hard by the past year because offices, hotels, and other necessary parts of business in this part of Houston have not yet returned. The lack of business, the lack of promised financial support, and the pending end of our lease term means that we cannot confidently renew our lease despite our very supportive landlord.” While Heugel says that he believes downtown will recover, it is happening too slowly to justify keeping The Pastry War open.
The Pastry War first opened in September 2013, and while the cocktail list and food menu were occasionally refreshed, the core offerings never changed. These included the best selection in Houston of small-batch, traditionally made agave spirits, including mezcal — with all the trimmings, including orange slices and sal de gusano (agave worm salt) — tequila and sotol, outstanding margaritas and a small but well-curated selection of snacks such as pork tamales and queso and chips. (As the running joke goes: no pastries. The Pastry War is named after an 1838 conflict between Mexico and France.)
It’s not the first high-profile food or drink business in downtown to shutter over the past few years — and the toll has been especially heavy on bars. In January 2018, Moving Sidewalk closed, and co-owner/bartender Alex Gregg moved to San Diego. Another of Heugel’s establishments on the same block, The Nightingale Room, closed at the end of 2019.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started and the state ordered bars to close in mid-March of 2020, the permanent departures accelerated.
Just east of downtown, Lucky’s Pub closed in June 2020. After being fully acquired in March 2018 by partner Boomtown Coffee, the bar, café and coffee house known as The Honeymoon was closed for good the following month. On the restaurant side, Treebeard’s closed in May after 40 years due to a rent increase.
Owners Justin Vann and Justin Yu of Theodore Rex (the latter has partnered with Heugel on other businesses, including Better Luck Tomorrow in the Heights) officially closed Public Services Wine & Whisky in November after being unable to open under the “restaurant” loophole that allowed some bars to get out from under state-mandated closure. The bar had no kitchen facilities, nor any place for a food truck to park.
While some of these businesses shuttered for other reasons, the increased pace of closings during 2020 made it clear that the pandemic, which resulted in many downtown employees working from home, and a lack of financial support artificially shortened the lifespans of these well-respected businesses.
However, despite these challenges for downtown there is some good news for the area. The former OKRA Charity bar has been revamped by its former general manager Mary Ellen Angel into Angel Share, which is continuing OKRA’s charity-focused mission. The city of Houston worked with area businesses to allow them to close portions of Main and build patios in the street. Little Dipper Bar was the first to take advantage to this opportunity and now has spacious patio. Meanwhile, Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge, has reopened and is still offering some of the city’s best cocktails on its picturesque balcony overlooking the rail line.
These bars, as well as other downtown businesses, need support before it’s too late. So if you’re going out for drinks, it’s time to head back.
We asked Heugel to elaborate on one part of his statement: “ALL staff have been promised jobs at our other bars, but we have encouraged them to take this time and consider what is best for their future with or without us.” On the surface, it seemed to allude to the fact that many hospitality workers left the industry after last year’s pandemic-driven layoffs. What he meant, though, was a different perspective on the situation, and the opportunities it’s created.
“I just mean explore their options in the industry,” he said. “I think it’s a great time to look at options because there’s so much available. I am not in any way saying that bartenders don’t have a promising future. They certainly do.”
New Bars & a Special Project Are Coming
Heugel did offer some hopeful news. He says The Pastry War will not be his last agave spirits bar. After spending years visiting over 300 Mexican distilleries, he believes he owes those businesses — many of which are family-operated and still use time-honored, small-batch distillation techniques — his continued support. However, he adds, “There will never be another Pastry War,” indicating the name of that next bar is yet to come. In addition, it may be a while. Heugel wants to take some time to “think about my place in the conversation of agave spirits and make sure that my impact in the future will be as meaningful as possible.”
Additionally, he says, “Justin [Yu] and I have a big project planned for 2022 that will require tremendous focus. We also plan to open a second Better Luck Tomorrow as well.” Heugel did not disclose the location of the next Better Luck Tomorrow, or details on what the “big project” is.
Below is Heugel’s full statement.
Until it closes, The Pastry War’s hours will remain Wednesday from 4 p.m. to midnight and Thursday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. It’s closed Sunday through Tuesday. In addition, half-price Mezcal Wednesdays will continue, and so will happy hour, which runs from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and features $5 house margaritas, $3 Mexican beers and free games of pool.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.