How to spend the day in Montrose, Houston’s hip neighborhood

When people talk about Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, descriptors like “eccentric,” “quirky,” “hipster” and “queer” often pop up. The people who live here call it a small town within H-Town that has always attracted individuals who are creative, social and cherish diversity.

While the area has changed significantly in recent years, Montrose still teems with artists, musicians, community organizations, free-admission art galleries and streets lined with leafy trees. It also has a passion for celebrating its own past. “When Nell Stewart turned 100 [in 2020], the neighborhood threw a party and parade in her honor,” said Mary Quinn, president of the East Montrose Civic Association about a longtime resident. 

If you’re new to Houston or just want to learn more about Montrose, keep reading.

Montrose history stands apart in Houston

The 4-square-mile neighborhood is roughly bordered by Allen Parkway to the north, Bagby Street to the east, I-59 to the south and Shepherd Drive to the west. Platted in 1911 as railroads sparked development, Montrose was intended from the outset to become Houston’s most fashionable district. Custom Craftsman, Prairie, colonial revival and Italianate mansions attracted iconic residents who included Howard Hughes, Clark Gable and Lyndon B. Johnson as well as broadcast legend Walter Cronkite, who grew up in Montrose. 

As Houston grew, the construction of I-59 bisected the district, and musicians and hippies moved into homes vacated by the affluent. In the 1970s, Montrose became ground zero for Houston’s LGBTQ community—with the since-closed iconic gay bar Mary’s, serving as the epicenter—and giving rise to places like the Montrose Center, which continues empowering queer people of all ages across the city. As the 1990s brought a boom of townhouse and condo developments around Houston, and particularly in Montrose, residents have been fighting to preserve the neighborhood’s unique buildings and character, but not always successfully.

In this friendly place where upscale mixes with low-brow, you can get a tattoo and collect thrift-shop gems before dining in an acclaimed restaurant and hitting a burlesque show.

The Menil Collection is home to modern and contemporary galleries. The sprawling campus is always free to visit in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood.

Courtesy Allyson Huntsman for The Menil Collection

Montrose art-spotting, in galleries and outdoors

The most famous place to view art in Montrose is the Menil Collection, which sprawls across five buildings displaying a broad range of styles and mediums, all of which are always free to visit. The main museum features works from the de Menils’ personal collection on a rotating basis, such as paintings by Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and René Magritte, artifacts from ancient civilizations and remarkable artist retrospectives. While you’re at the Menil, wander into Richmond Hall to bask in Dan Flavin’s light installation, or meditate at the world-famous Rothko Chapel next door.

You can also spend time touring art outdoors across Montrose. Vibrant murals depict subjects ranging from community pride to romping dogs and famous cartoon characters. Even traffic signal boxes sport eye-popping images across the neighborhood. Use the handy Houston Mural Map to find Montrose’s many outdoor artworks with ease.

Montrose parks are prized and protected by residents

Making time for the outdoors at least weekly, and preferably daily, is part of the Montrose lifestyle. Pack a picnic to eat near outdoor sculptures in Menil Park; the space offers 30 acres of greenery, trails, shady oaks and a tree swing.

Other Montrose parks beloved for their unique features include Ervan Chew Dog Park (not just for dogs; children adore the splash pad), Mandell Park with its community and teaching gardens, Shiffick Park (it takes a wide-angle lens to photograph the phenomenal live oak tree here) and Cherryhurst Park.

South Beach 2.0 has evolved with the growth of the Montrose neighborhood.

South Beach 2.0 has evolved with the growth of the Montrose neighborhood.

Michael Anthony

Montrose entertainment

Montrose residents like soul-stirring drama, which explains why Stages opened The Gordy, an impressive three-theater venue in Montrose. They also dig discos and drag shows, a wild side of the neighborhood you can easily check out at South Beach nightclub, which now boasts a state-of-the-art combination of sound and laser systems to keep you dancing until 3 a.m.

If seeing live music is your scene, Anderson Fair has showcased Texas-bred singer-songwriters since 1970—think Townes Van Zandt, Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett to name a few—as one of the nation’s oldest continuously operating folk and acoustic music venues. It’s worth visiting even to see the historic posters and concert photos on display.

For music with more of an edge, look no further than Numbers. Open since 1970, the Village People played at this Montrose icon in 1979, and dozens of big acts have followed over the years: Stray Cats, Iggy Pop, REM, the Cure. Now you can vibe to new wave, punk, goth, industrial and electronic; aim for Classic Numbers Fridays. Or simply check out the cool mural of indie rockers outside and keep moving.

AvantGarden, based in a historic house, is a patio, bar and lounge presenting attractions to suit nearly every mood and taste. Stages upstairs, downstairs and outside host burlesque shows, local bands, dance DJs, open mics, belly dancers, erotic poetry, magic, and art classes. Longtime Houstonians will remember the venue took root as The Mausoleum in 1996.

Lo-Fi, a vintage clothing store in Houston's Montrose neighborhood.

Lo-Fi, a vintage clothing store in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood.

Lo-Fi Vintage/Yelp

Where to shop in Montrose: From luxury boutiques to thrift stores

If you’re hunting for treasures around Houston, Montrose offers some of the best shopping in the city. It’s a thrifter’s paradise, with Westheimer Road haunts that include Leopard Lounge (clothing from the 1920s to the early 2000s for mashing up any look you want), Lo-Fi (rock T-shirts, hot studded jeans and the like) and Pavement, a sustainability-committed buy/sell/trade shop where tailors and designers repair garments and produce the RePaved clothing line. Out of the Closet on Westheimer is a great thrift shop that gives its profits to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and if you’re seeking antique furniture and other finds, look no further than the Guild Shop.

If you want to browse a collection of indie merchants, restaurants and local artists at once, visit the Montrose Collective, a newly developed stylish hub where you can also enjoy bites and drinks at patio eateries, and check out the changing artist-in-residence exhibits presented by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s CAMHLAB.

Montrose restaurants 

Whether you want to dress up for dinner or simply relax over superb bites, walk in any direction in Montrose and your taste buds will hit the jackpot. Light Years Natural Wine Shop and Bar is in a cozy bungalow and specializes in juicy natural wines. Meanwhile at Montrose Cheese & Wine, you might decide to sample the goods on the shop’s pretty patio.

You can’t visit Montrose without stopping for breakfast at La Guadalupana, the neighborhood locals’ most cherished restaurant, which has been serving Mexican comfort food and pastries since 1995. For more upscale Mexican cuisine, chef Hugo Ortega’s namesake restaurant Hugo’s is a must. A few blocks down from La Guadalupana, check out Kau Ba for great Vietnamese food.

If you’re hankering for late-night food, Chapultepec Lupita has been around since 1977 and earned praise from the one and only Lizzo. Prices run low for delicious Tex-Mex from veggie enchiladas to meaty flautas, and it’s open almost 24 hours.

For something a bit more upscale, restaurant critics rave about March. This tasting-menu restaurant takes diners on a tour of the Mediterranean coast with a menu that changes every few months and offers a strong wine list. Downstairs, Rosie Cannonball also serves European fare in a slightly more casual space.

The greenhouse interior and patio at Ostia restaurant in Houston.

The greenhouse interior and patio at Ostia restaurant in Houston.

Courtesy of Robin Soslow, Special to Chron

If the atmosphere is the most important part of your dining experience, Montrose has a few spots that you’ll score highly. If you’ve ever wanted to dine inside a charming greenhouse, head to Ostia‘s patio. The restaurant earns cheers for its handmade pastas, seasonal salads and beautifully composed drinks. For a congenial vibe in a rustic-chic setting, try Camerata at Paulie’s, which pairs artisanal cheeses and charcuterie with fine wines and sake that reflect where they are made and who makes them. Nobie’s is a longtime favorite for New American cuisine in a cute bungalow. Will only a burger do the trick? Take your pick between historic Lankford’s and buzzy Burger Joint.

Where to go for dessert and drinks in Montrose

Craving a sugary treat? Sweet Cup, a Montrose original, has been delighting visitors with handcrafted gelato and sorbet for more than a decade. Flavors change with the seasons and all ingredients are locally sourced.

Come nighttime, Poison Girl hits the spot with masterful bartenders, bargain-priced drinks and pinball (can you spot the giant Kool-Aid man on the back patio?). Or have drinks with your four-legged friend at West Alabama Ice House, which has been in the same spot since 1928 and offers a climate-controlled outdoor bar, billiards, ping-pong and a taco truck, the beloved Tacos Tierra Caliente.

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