7 September 2000
This week's Houston Press carried yet another article reflecting changing times in Montrose. Apparently, after this week, the venerable Aquarium Lounge will close its doors. Its Eightysomething (yes, 80+ years) owner will be closing the Montrose institution, done in by a lack of parking caused by the recent (over) building of pretentious yuppie townhouses and the elimination of all street parking in favor of bike lanes of all things!
The Aquarium is/was one of the best dive bars in Houston, if not the country. It was a shrine to Elvis, covered with memorabilia. It was run-down, but in a good way. It seemed stuck in a time warp. The floor wasn't level, and it sagged in some places. The restrooms surely didn't meet any city codes. Yet it had a certain charm. Perhaps it was the well-stocked aquarium that gave the place its name. Perhaps it was the spirit of its owner. Maybe it was just the friendly, but certainly offbeat, vibe.
Whatever the case, it is another Montrose institution that will be missed. I recall 3-4 years ago, before I first experienced the Aquarium, hearing a great Shiner Bock advertisement on the radio. It described this really interesting bar, just outside of downtown Houston, where "Elvis is still alive." I called the publicity people at the Shiner Brewery, who told me Texas state liquor laws prevented them from running actual names of bars, and that all of their advertisements were fictional. But I persisted with the young lady -- you don't just make up details like that. I finally convinced her that I wasn't a state official -- that I was just in search of a cool bar -- and she admitted that the Aquarium Lounge was the basis of that particular advertisement, although they had taken some liberties in describing the place.
When I finally went there, it was almost exactly as described: a great dive. It's really sad that the roads in Lee Brown's America (Houston) are falling apart, yet the mayor can find the resources to set aside bike lanes that spell the end of an institution. Oh well, I guess I should gain some satisfaction from knowing that when the (nonexistent, thus far) bikers destroy their bikes in a pothole, they won't be able to run in and get an ice-cold shiner bock at the Aquarium anymore!
I still say they should hire someone to do free valet parking before closing their business. Wouldn't it be cool if Houston's best dive bar offered free valet parking? It is Montrose, after all, where stranger things have happened (indeed, they are happening right now on any given street corner).
Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited