The Former Etro Space Behind Anvil is Becoming Penny Quarter, a Café & Bar
Back in June 2018, it was announced that Anvil Bar & Refuge would be leasing the attached space at 1424 Westheimer, which formerly housed dance club Etro. Now, the company is announcing the long-awaited plans for that space. It is becoming Penny Quarter, a café and bar slated to open early this June. According to a press release, it’s intended to fit in with the existing, strong café and bar culture in Montrose with “casual drinks alongside modest food menus.”
The operations staff list reads much like the existing principals of Better Luck Tomorrow and recently announced restaurant Squable, which is going into the former Southern Goods space in the Heights. Penny Quarter’s wine director is Justin Vann (also of Theodore Rex) and Alex Negranza is coffee director. Tommy Ho, who is already Anvil’s general manager, is going to take that role at Penny Quarter as well. All three are also partners in the business and join Bobby Heugel, James Beard Award-winning chef Justin Yu (also of Theodore Rex and in charge of menu development, of course), Terry Williams and Steve Flippo in that capacity.
While Negranza is well-established as a bar manager in Houston (he’s currently the director of operations of downtown bars The Pastry War, Tongue-Cut Sparrow and The Nightingale Room), he actually started in the coffee business in Seattle, even serving as a judge five times for the Specialty Coffee Association of America United States Barista Championships. Up to now, though, he’s strictly been in the bar business in Houston. “I actually moved to Houston to take a job at Anvil,” he said. “It was supposed to be a sabbatical from coffee and it’s turned out to be 10 years long.”
One way that Penny Quarter’s coffee program is going to be different from other coffee shops in the neighborhood is by using beans sourced from all over the country. “Most Houston coffeeshops are roaster-retailers, and that creates an opportunity for Penny Quarter to distinguish itself, offering instead the very best coffee available from a variety of roasters both local and nationwide that I have extensive relationships with,” said Negranza via press release.
Unlike Anvil next door, another big drink focus is on wine. Vann plans for Penny Quarter’s wine list to have over 100 selections, from both the old world and the new. Although Penny Quarter is going to have a small selection of beers and basic spirits, don’t expect “cocktails” or anything more complicated than a vodka soda.
Anyone who knows Yu or attended one of the old Money Cat brunch pop-ups probably encountered his self-depreciating (goofy) sense of humor. When you’re a James Beard Award-winning chef with a regularly reserved-to-capacity restaurant, though, everyone starts taking your food very seriously. Yu is hoping that Penny Quarter is a chance for a more lighthearted menu. That said, expect it to still showcase locally sourced ingredients from nearby farms.
“For as much of a relaxed, jokey person as I am, cooking at Oxheart and Theodore Rex kind of make people take me too seriously,” said Yu via press release. “I miss offering food that can be a part of everyone’s morning, noon or night. Certainly, the ingredients will be sourced with thought and the food will made with genuine care, but it’ll be nice to work in a setting where what matters most is that it tastes great and it fits into your day.”
The menu features include “ten to twelve dishes of simple toasts and larger plates that can be easily taken to go. Such dishes include a Pistachio Butter and Burnt Honey Toast, a spicy, fried egg and bacon sandwich and a Rice Bowl with Crumbled Sausage and Salsa Verde.” At night, the options shift to a mix of salads, sandwiches and entreés. Early examples include Kale and Greens Salad with spiced cashews and seeds, Crispy Cheese Grilled Cheese and Yu’s take on chicken and rice.
The press release also reveals some interesting history about the two-story building that used to house Etro: it was originally built in 1960 and started as a Firestone Tire location. Garrison Design Office is reworking the space to be more suitable as a café. That includes cutting two big windows in the front and adding a long bar counter. Overall, the space should hold 90 seats, with a third of those on the patio.
Once open, Penny Quarter’s hours are expected to be from 7 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Wednesdays and 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Keep up with the progress via Instagram, Facebook and the website. (The social media feeds and website are pretty bare right now but are surely not going to stay that way long.)
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.