Meet My Neighborhood: The Greater Heights, Houston, Texas
It's like being in the country without being in the country." - John McKay, Heights resident and owner of Montrose Skate Shop, July 2009
I never would have used those words to describe the Heights neighborhood when I lived there as a teenager in the 1980s. Instead, I thought I was living in the big city—finally moving “inside the loop,” the designation for Houston’s urban core. Being an inner-looper meant access to Downtown’s international festivals and the Theater District. Plus, attending the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, a public magnet school, introduced me to Montrose’s counter-culture, LGBTQ-friendly vibe.
Unlike Montrose’s happening club scene along Westheimer, the Heights’ main attraction was Fitzgerald’s, a live music venue that hosted bands ranging from ZZ Top to punk rock acts. Otherwise, the streets were fairly quiet.
Craftsmen-style bungalows made up the majority of the housing stock with plenty of garage apartments, often rented by artists, graduate students, and even one of my creative writing instructors.
My father purchased a two-story townhome in the Woodland Heights section, a modest home compared to the three-story townhomes dominating much of the real estate in the city now. In 1989, I headed to New Orleans for college where I stayed for 20 years.
Fast forward to 2009: I returned to the Heights as an adult homeowner with a husband and an English bulldog in tow. Following in my father’s footsteps, we bought a two-story townhome where a hike-and-bike trail, built on a defunct railroad line, was just taking shape. Wild bamboo stalks and sprouting sunflowers framed the path leading to White Oak Bayou with downtown skyscrapers visible in the distance, making my neighbor’s characterization of country life in the city readily apparent.
Ten years later, I’m still here, but Fitzgerald’s is not, recently reduced to rubble to make way for a parking lot. We breakfast at Golden Bagels, stand in line with foodies at Italian hotspot Coltivare, and walk our dog on the trail populated with parents pushing strollers and cyclists cruising past us.
To paraphrase my neighbor, who’s also still here, the Heights is now like being in the suburbs without being in the suburbs. A fitting description given that the Heights emerged as Houston’s first suburb in the 1890s, named for its elevation 23 feet higher than downtown.
Against that backdrop, here are seven spots in the Heights that demonstrate how everything old is new again.
Listen to Music in Historic Heights Theater
Houston music lovers mourned the loss of Fitzgerald's, but they find solace in The Heights Theater. The former 1920s era cinema gutted by a fire in 1969 served as an art space and event venue following a renovation by Heights gallery owners.
In 2015, like a musical phoenix rising from the ashes, The Heights Theater opened, featuring local and touring bands, comedians, and an occasional burlesque show. The new owner, Edward Cabaniss, lovingly restored the building in the same way area homeowners preserve the neighborhood’s architectural past. The theater’s lobby shows off the original Spanish tiles on the floor along with art deco circular windows added in 1935.
Raise a Glass at Eight Row Flint
This former Citgo from the 1950s turned neighborhood hangout offers ample patio space for family-friendly afternoons and evenings more appropriate for adults. Bourbon informs much of the menu, along with the decor. Both the bar and table-tops were fashioned from actual bourbon barrels with beer taps created from recycled oil field pipe.
Check Out the Heights Library
Since 1925, the Heights Branch of the Houston Public Library has been a neighborhood mainstay as one of the first two branches in the city. The Italian Renaissance building welcomes youngsters with storytime sessions and crafting classes, while adults take advantage of their book clubs and job-seeking labs.
The area’s love for reading is also evident in the Little Free Libraries found on various blocks, including one decked out like the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.
Dine and Dig for Antiques at the Yale Street Grill
The Yale Street Grill, a former pharmacy and soda fountain from the 1920s, still serves diner-style meals, but the pharmacy is now a mini-antique mall offering stalls of collectibles and vintage clothes.
Families take over the booths along the walls decorated with photos from vintage television shows like “The Munsters.” Regulars prefer a counter seat to watch the waitstaff make the restaurant’s popular milkshakes.
Do an Art Crawl on Heights Boulevard
Serving as the entryway to the area, Heights Boulevard is a picturesque introduction to the neighborhood with Victorian style homes on either side of the leafy esplanade modeled after the grandeur of Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue.
On the grounds of a former streetcar track from the 1890s, passersby are treated to views of sculptural installations created by regional artists. A yearly tradition since 2013, the True North sculpture project adds artistic flair to a path featuring a gazebo, a rose garden, and a World War II Memorial Plaza.
Look for LPs at Vinal Edge
19th Street has long been the hub of the Heights retail scene, so it’s no wonder one of the oldest record stores relocated to this location. Manned by Chuck Roast, a musician, DJ, and historian of the city’s alternative music scene, Vinal Edge caters to record-collecting aficionados and newbies.
The storefront is a supporter of live music, occasionally hosting in-store performances. A short block from the Heights Theater, you’re likely to spot a touring musician browsing the bins alongside locals.
Meet for Treats at Red Dessert Dive
Red Dessert Dive opened five years ago, putting a new spin on baked goods by offering wine and beer to pair with their cakes, cookies, and signature Debusker (a dark chocolate brownie M&M cookie mash-up).
Faced with the recent closing of Dacapo’s Pastry Cafe, whose owners retired after 24 years, Heights residents rally around this relative newcomer in a neighborhood where tradition, from architecture to cuisine, is embraced.