Monday, January 17, 2011

Agora returns

A horrible thing happened to the residents of Montrose last fall, when Agora burned down.

West wall - what remained of the balcony
Agora was not a hipper-than-thou coffee shop. It wasn't a Starbucks with ornamental coffee mugs for sale and a bazillion choices of coffee beans. They made good coffee, had an interesting selection of cookies, and decent beer and wine. The furniture was a selection of mismatched old tables and chairs, some sawn in half to better fit the space. The kind of furniture you wouldn't feel guilty about leaving a wet glass on. 

It was a relaxed place to have a coffee, or a beer, read a book, surf the web or chat with friends when you didn't want to go home yet. There were books and magazines on the tables, posters of Greece on the walls and lots and lots of Greek tourist tchotchkes. It was like hanging out in the living room of your favorite uncle who loved his Greek vacation so much, he decorated his entire house with that in mind. It was the heart of the neighborhood. So when fire claimed it last October, the shock was seismic.

The first question on many people's lips was "Will they rebuild?" Once it was clear that they would, the question was, "What are they going to do to it?" There was serious worry that they would increase the lighting, put in tile floors, or try to update the decor. Horrors!

The new West wall
They re-opened last Wednesday and they haven't done any of that. Agora looks almost untouched. The upstairs smoking balcony is gone (they've expanded the downstairs patio intstead) the comfy leather sofa has been replaced with a new comfy sofa and the piano didn't make it. (The sounding board is now installed in the newly expanded parking.) The stairs are still painted and scarily steep.

New sofa
It's not perfect. I loathe the television in the upstairs corner (My position is that if you want tv, go to a sports bar, or better yet, stay home.) and the jukebox was very loud. But these are minor quibbles. Agora is back!


Friday, January 7, 2011

Houston Garden Center

The weather has been extravagantly lovely, far too nice to stay inside, so I went to the Houston Garden Center, next to the Museum of Natural Science. 

I usually just think of it as the rose garden, because there is such a huge variety of roses surrounding the building and right now they are in bloom!

Everybody who's even vaguely important seems to have a rose named after them: Pope John Paul II (white), Ingrid Bergman (very dark red), Nancy Reagan (not in bloom, but red is a safe bet).  There's a garden puzzle for you: if you had to design a rose for someone, what elements would you choose? Colors, a simple 5 petal rose vs a hybrid tea, scented or not, flower size, a climber, a shrub rose, there are a lot variations to consider.

For example, I see Dolly Parton as a big, golden yellow, hybrid tea, one of those that gets even more lucious as it blooms.  Whereas Wynona Ryder would be a smallish white or lavender shrub rose, scented but not showy.

The garden also seems to be the city's warehouse. There are statues of Confucius, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Simon Bolivar, Bernardo O'Higgens, Robert Burns, and a few others whose names I can't remember.

A gift from Chiba, Houston's sister city in Japan.
My favorite part is actually the Fragrant Garden, which is an herb garden tucked behind an enormous bust of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (a gift from their majesties of Spain). There are beds devoted to mint and sage, a bed of lemon-scented herbs and my personal favorite: rosemary. I can't go there without running my hands through the rosemary, it smells so good.

citronella leaf
And if you want a quiet spot to eat lunch, I highly recommend the pagoda on the far side of the garden. It has a beautiful ceiling.

the panels are beginning to warp a little, but it keeps the rain off.

Have a good weekend!