Visitors to Houston searching for the city’s epicenter of cool look no further than Montrose, with its creative institutions, thriving nightlife and wealth of high-quality dining options.
The rest of Houston is so different from Montrose that the two could practically be in separate cities. Long seen as a safe(r) space for progressive and creative thinkers, you could argue that Montrose tends to keep pace with the rest of the developed world while the rest of Houston does its own thing. Home to some of the best art museums in Texas, the nucleus of the LGBTQ+ community (although a depressing number of iconic venues closed down during Covid), and the best place to have a great meal or a raucous night out, it’s the ideal base for anybody visiting Houston for a day or two.
Montrose has been branded Houston’s most walkable neighborhood, but for anybody who doesn’t know Houston, that in no way suggests the area is a joy for pedestrians. Particularly if you’re visiting from somewhere with a notable history predating the invention of the car, the blocks are still a rigid grid, and the pavements, where they exist, are occasionally in a sorry state. But on the plus side, they are almost always well shaded beneath the lush canopy of the many thousands of trees that help make Houston one of the greenest cities in the US.
Despite being located only a couple of miles southwest of Houston’s Downtown, the walk between the two is not particularly rewarding or safe. The limited public transportation (only the #82 bus links the two) means that it’s best to have your own means of transportation; a maxim that applies to Texas (and most US cities away from the east and west coasts) as a whole. Westheimer Street is generally seen as the main drag, although there are worthy attractions spread throughout. Here’s how to make the most of 24 hours in Montrose.
Things to Do
It’s apt that a neighborhood as progressive and intellectual as Montrose is one that’s suffused with art. Aside from the ubiquitous murals, at the top of the pile is The Menil Collection (1533 Sul Ross St). The main building is entered via a lofty, light-filled atrium, with galleries filling the wings to the left and right. The curation here is exquisite, assembling an array of exhibitions (drawn from a collection of over 19,000 pieces) whose very eclecticism is a commentary on the beauty and breadth of human expression. Highlights include Surrealist Wunderkammer, an anthropological exploration of surrealism through the ages, and the Paleolithic carvings.
This impressive collection serves merely as an introduction to a verdant campus of buildings whose free-to-visit exhibitions are tightly assembled into one area, making it easy to visit them all in one day. Next door is the highly revered Rothko Chapel (3900 Yupon St), an abstract place of calm and non-denominational prayer for the modern era. The 14 Rothko paintings within are all shades of black. The effect divides visitors, with some being deeply moved, others saying they are moved because everybody else seems to be, and the final group simply shrugging their shoulders and wondering where the art is. There’s certainly an argument for it potentially being an overtly pretentious discourse on the oil industry that both drives this city and funds these museums.
Other nearby highlights are the Cy Twombly Gallery (1501 Branard St), featuring some of the American artist’s vast abstract expressionist canvases, and Menil Drawing Institute (1412 W Main St) featuring exhibitions designed to illustrate the importance of drawing in everyday artistic practice. The Houston Center For Photography (1441 W Alabama St) is also in this area, exploring the history of fine art photography and offering regular classes.
To get away from the trappings of the big city for a while, head to Buffalo Bayou Park, which stretches along the entirety of Montrose’s northern edge. A series of ruminating paths follows the bayou right up to the edge of Downtown. It’s in this locale that you’ll find Bike Barn (105 Sabine St), where you can rent two wheels for two hours or more. Head half a mile further south of Montrose and you’ll reach the far larger Hermann Park, which is home to an additional cluster of museums that are more suited to families, such as Houston Museum of Natural Science (5555 Hermann Park Dr), with its impressive dinosaur fossil collection.
Where to Stay
There are surprisingly few hotels in Montrose, with the majority concentrated in the northeast, spilling over from the Downtown area. For a five-star stay, La Colombe d’Or (3410 Montrose Blvd) offers one of the priciest rooms in Houston, placing you a few blocks from the Menil gallery zone to the south and Westheimer Road to the north. There’s a rooftop pool and large fitness center among the upscale amenities.
La Maison (2800 Brazos St) is a smart, four-story townhouse on the border of Midtown and Montrose with an exceptional breakfast and homey rooms. Balconies with rocking chairs, Jacuzzis and four-posters beds are among the features available in some of the rooms at La Maison. The Midtown/Montrose location is great for restaurants and bars, with the best of both neighborhoods within easy access.
As the name suggests, Modern B&B (4003 Hazard St) takes the traditional bed and breakfast concept but elevates it with the building’s contemporary architecture. The homes in Montrose are well known for their creative designs, but what makes this site particularly special is that the owners designed the interiors themselves. The open plan common areas give way to cozy private rooms equipped with the kind of furnishings that make a stay feel more like one in a private home than a hotel.
Where to Eat & Drink
Open only for breakfast and early lunch, La Guadalupana (2109 Dunlavy St) is precisely the kind of down-home eatery that tells you a lot about the area. In many hip-and-they-know-it neighborhoods, the money men flood in a price out joints like this, but La Guadalupana is both family-run and the delicious Mexican fare, such as huevos rancheros and enchiladas, are at prices that would have seemed good value years ago.
For a terrific pint, try the in-house concoctions at Southern Yankee Crafthouse (1312 W Alabama St), such as Qué Pablo?, a Mexican lager served with lime, or the Fool’s Paradise, a grapefruit IPA. Beer flights are available if you’re keen to sample more, while the hearty comfort food menu includes pizzas and shareables, such as the giant pretzel with an exceptional beer cheese dipping sauce. Nearby on Westheimer, Poison Girl (1641 Westheimer Rd) is a good next stop, with its generous whiskey selection and pinball machines.
Rudyard’s (2010 Waugh Dr) is the kind of laid-back community focal point that every neighborhood should have. Self-styled ‘the living room of Montrose’, you can kick back with a beer, order pizzas and burgers, and throw some darts downstairs. Upstairs is one of Montrose’s main entertainment highlights: The Riot Comedy Club, where open mic comedy on Mondays and a blend of touring and local acts, comedy showcases, and improv nights hit the stage throughout the week.
As the night rolls on, if you want a change of vibe but don’t want to walk far to get it, Sixes and Sevens is located next door to Rudyard’s. This technicolor bar uses artful lighting from the spirits shelves to the tables to create a fun, inclusive atmosphere, with equally vibrant cocktails on special offer in the earlier evening hours every night but Friday.
Many of the LGBTQ+ scene’s beloved venues struggled during Covid, especially following on from Houston Pride’s move from Montrose to Downtown in 2015. However, the scene is alive and well still, with stalwarts such as JR’s (808 Pacific St) with its large patio area, Barcode (817 Fairview St) with its drag shows and karaoke, and Ripcord (715 Fairview St), which has been going since the 1980s, among many fabulous options when you want to dip your toe in.