Postino Wine Cafe, at 805 Pacific Street in Montrose, is not just another handsome addition to the area’s dining choices. Its decor also includes a prominent tribute to the vibrant gay nightlife that existed within those walls for nearly five decades.
The modest brick structure in the heart of the Montrose gay-bar area has been home to four bars since the early 1970s, and was most recently known to Houston’s gay community as the Montrose Mining Company. The Mining Company closed in September 2016 after 38 years, making it the longest-running gay bar in Houston. And thanks to the efforts of Postino’s management team, memories of those bygone days are now part of a unique history wall within the café.
Lauren Bailey, CEO and co-founder of Postino’s parent company, says that the organization has always been interested in historic buildings to house their restaurants. There are now 11 Postino cafés located in Phoenix, Tucson, Denver, and Houston. The first wine café was opened in 2001 in an old Phoenix post office—thus the name Postino. In April 2018, the company opened its first Houston location at 642 Yale Street in the Heights, to great success.
But even before that Heights location opened, Bailey’s development team had already decided on the Pacific Street location in Montrose. The commercial structure, built in 1920, required a massive renovation. The electrical system and plumbing were gutted and modernized, and boarded-up windows were reopened. The Montrose location’s renovation took 19 months to complete, and the new café celebrated its grand opening on September 16, 2019.
Bailey says that her team loved the architecture in the Montrose area. While doing research on 805 Pacific Street, they came across JD Doyle’s mammoth Houston LGBT History website, which has a vast array of ads and other memorabilia from the four bars that had operated at 805 Pacific Street over the past five decades. Bailey was fascinated by what she saw, and used every available ad and photo when designing the Postino history wall. Many of the ads featured pictures of the bartenders, and she reports that some of those bartenders have visited Postino and marveled at the impressive montage.
In fact, many restaurant guests tear up when they first see Postino’s Montrose history wall, according to Bailey. And for those who don’t remember the Montrose Mining Company, the wall provides a quick history lesson. Bailey says that Postino feels honored to be in such a historic location, and to be able to preserve memories of the neighborhood’s past. She is especially impressed that Houston’s gay community had been able to create their own unique area within Houston.
The Postino Concept
Postino is owned by Upward Projects, an umbrella corporate organization that owns numerous restaurants under such names as Postino, Windsor, Churn, Federal Pizza, and Joyride Tacos. Postino is described on its website as “an industrial wine café, offering unique and approachable wines, simply scrumptious food prepared with local ingredients, and a warm, edgy culture that brings people together.” The company’s core values include being authentic and humble, acting with integrity, and achieving as a team. General manager Abigail Hill says she enjoys working at Postino because the organization really practices their values.
The finished café is bright and open during the day, designed in a contemporary industrial style. The guest waiting area features a contemporary chandelier in rainbow colors. As evening sets in, the café grows even more festive with strings of lights that sparkle outside in the covered patio dining area, which is equipped with heaters for chilly weather. The Postino atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, and the cheerful staff members are always helpful. Background music is kept to a level that diners don’t have to shout over it. On the north wall is an outdoor bar countertop where food and drinks can be passed through from the inside bar. The patio is pet-friendly, and the café provides water bowls for visiting dogs.
A Varied Menu
Postino offers a selection of 27 different wines from around the world, many of them made exclusively for Postino. Diners can also choose from 30 different beers and ales (either on tap or bottled) from Texas, Vermont, Missouri, New York, Colorado, California, Belgium and Germany.
A variety of appetizer boards offer up assortments of meats, cheeses, and vegetables. The house specialty is bruschetta. The soup offerings are varied each day, and there are several salad and panini sandwich choices as well. Featured deserts are chocolate bouchon, crème brûlée, and a salted caramel sundae.
As Houston restaurants reopen, Hill notes that Postino will continue to do what it can to help combat the spread of the CODIV-19 virus. Paper menus are single-use only, and salt and pepper shakers and sugar dishes are provided only on request and thoroughly sanitized after use. Curbside service is available for to-go orders, and delivery is provided through Uber Eats.
The History of 805 Pacific Street
JD Doyle’s gay-history archive at houstonlgbthistory.org reveals that in the early 1970s, a bar called The Tattooed Lady was operating at 805 Pacific Street. Postino has restored a large neon outdoor sign with the word Montrose displayed in the same retro ’70s font found in The Tattooed Lady’s ads.
In 1974, Pacific Street Station opened as a show/drag bar featuring popular performers of the time such as Tiffany Jones, Torchy Lane, and Eartha Kitt. After that bar closed in 1976, Uncle Charlie’s opened in January 1977 as a restaurant and bar. It soon evolved into a cruise bar before closing in March 1978. The Montrose Mining Company opened that same month, and continued to operate for 38 years, closing on September 8, 2016. The Mining Company was voted Best Gay Bar by the Houston Press in 2009, and was also voted one of the 200 best gay bars in the world by Out Traveler in 2015.
Fred Sharifi, owner of the neighboring Baba Yega restaurant, is the current landowner for 805 Pacific Street. Sharifi bought the property from nightclub owner Charles Armstrong after the Mining Company closed in 2016. Armstrong had originally purchased the property from Frank Craven in 1986. Craven, a former car dealer from Philadelphia, eventually owned 60 gay clubs nationwide.
Patrons of the Mining Company will remember it as a long, rather narrow structure with a two-sided bar running down the center with seductive lighting and loud music. Handsome bartenders moved quickly around the center bar to keep customers happy. The atmosphere was masculine and cruisy. Customers loved the reasonable drink prices and the barrels of free shelled peanuts. A large covered patio also had a full bar, and was always packed during Sunday afternoon beer busts. The Postino history wall documents that era with ads announcing the bar’s Sunday drink specials.
Other bar ads on the history wall show the Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations at the Mining Company. Photos document the bar’s signature Pride parade entries—tractor shovels laden with men in hard hats, holding flags that waved in the wind. The bar outdid itself one year with a cherry picker that was raised high above the parade crowd and let out puffy clouds of dry ice.
As the Montrose area continues to gentrify, the local LGBTQ community has seen much of “Old Montrose” disappear. Postino’s new venture on Pacific Street is a model for other local businesses, showing that new establishments can emerge while still retaining a connection to the neighborhood that LGBTQ Houstonians have called home for many decades.
For more information about Postino Wine Cafe Montrose, visit postinowinecafe.com/p/montrose.html.
This article appears in the June 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.