Leon’s Lounge has been a favorite of Houston drinkers for decades and when it abruptly closed in late January it was a blow to the Bayou City bar scene.
This week plans for were made public for Leon’s Lounge, located in Midtown at 1006 McGowen, to return to Houston's nightlife under new management.
Duane Bradley, who owns The Davenport Lounge off Richmond near South Shepherd and another location in Clear Lake, announced that he and his business partner Jim DeFoyd have reached an agreement with Scarlett Yarborough, the owner of the Leon’s Lounge building and business name to reopen the bar.
If all goes to plan the bar should be open for business and slinging drinks on Sept. 1.
The bar closed in January after owner Scaarlett opted not renew the lease after five years of operation. Scarlett leased the bar and gave it a makeover that included new design, turntables and a stash of records and drinks a step or three above dive fare. It will reopened in October 2015 and featured live music and local guest DJs.
Since January Yarborough has mulled over various options for the future of the bar. As Houston’s oldest bar it has years of history inside its walls.
“I’m thrilled that Jim and Duane are both aboard,” says Scarlett Yarborough. “I wouldn’t have done it with anyone else.”
The bar is just about a decade older than she is, making it almost like an older sibling to her.
“These guys are great partners and really have an eye for history and nostalgia,” Yarborough says.
Bradley said Tuesday that he was excited to reopen Leon’s, a bar that he had frequently quite a bit over the years with friends.
“We want to take it back to the best version of Leon’s, the era when Leon would have been operating it,” Bradley says. “We’re going to retile the floor, for starters, and we have a bunch of old pictures from the beginning of the bar’s life that we want to decorate with.”
“We won’t change a lot; we just want take it back to something lounge-y,” Bradley says.
The new-old Leon’s will serve simple, old-school cocktails according to Bradley. They won’t be serving food and there will be no TVs to be seen, he adds.
“I build my bars around conversation,” Bradley says. He expects it to dovetail nicely with the rest of the bars in the Midtown bar scene.
“People want good drinks and attention to detail,” he says. He expects to lean heavily into the local craft beer scene and serve various whiskies from around the country.
“We’re not competing with the craft cocktail folks, we’ll just have good drinks made right,” Bradley says.
The Leon’s Lounge that Bradley remembers best was when it was a dive bar in the purest sense of the term.
“I went there when it was seedy and rough,” Bradley says. “It was a sketchy place back when I was going.” He’s owned bars in Houston since the early ‘90s.
Yarborough’s favorite memories of the bar include her father, who died in late 1990, performing bar tricks and making random bets with patrons.
Yarborough’s father Leon originally bought the bar in 1947 soon after he returned home from World War II. He changed its name to Leon’s La Bomba. The name was later changed to Leon’s Lounge.
He was so good at gambling and playing cards that was able to raise money to buy the bar, his daughter says. At one point Leon was known locally as “The Mayor of McGowen” in fact.
DeFoyd himself used to play poker upstairs with the bar’s namesake, Bradley says, among other Houston luminaries.
At one point the front room of the bar was dominated by a large shuffle board. According to Yarborough the 1956 Texas state champion shuffleboard team practiced at the bar.
RELATED: La Carafe is rich with Texas history
Leon's retains the distinction of being Houston's oldest bar that wasn't a restaurant or ice house at birth.
West Alabama Ice House, on West Alabama of course, has been in operation since 1928, but it only serves beer and wine.
La Carafe, meanwhile, has been open since the '50s in Market Square but it happens to be housed in Houston's second-oldest building, previously a bakery among others things, which leads to some confusion. They serve beer and wine only.