First Look at Royal Oak Bar & Grill

Categories: Bar Beat

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This did not take place at Royal Oak. I did not do this on Friday night (and never would), but you have to admire the creativity in some small way.
When a friend wanted to meet for a late-evening bite to eat and some beers in the neighborhood last Friday night, I immediately suggested Royal Oak Bar & Grill (1318 Westheimer, 281-974-4752). The former home of Bartini had recently been converted into what I'd heard was a cute whiskey bar with good beer and good food. I was eager to check it out.

I can tell you that the interior is cute. I loved the dark booths, the cheekily elegant decor and the soaring ceiling with its grand centerpiece: an enormous chandelier made entirely of antlers. I can't tell you anything about the food, however, because despite the bar being half full and waiting for 25 minutes, no one ever bothered to wait on our table.

The other tables in the bar, however, had no problem getting any service. What could have happened? Why was just our table ignored, as if we were lepers dropping various body parts as we limped our way to some seats?

That question I can't answer. I can only give my version of what happened on Friday night.

My friend and I were both well dressed, I in a dress and tights, she in jeans and knee-high boots. We were polite and smiled as we tried to get the attention of the three waiters that were rotating throughout the main room on the first floor. We even successfully got one waiter to bring us a pair of menus.

He snapped them rudely down onto the table without saying a word or even making eye contact with us, then walked off. He never came back by the table. He never let any of the other waiters know that a table was in need of service. We watched them carry drinks and dishes to every other table around us, tables that were filled with people that looked as if they had come straight in off Washington Avenue. My friend and I instantly got the feeling that we did not fit in here.

Those tables got bottles of wine, glasses of beer, shots of Jaeger. They got plates of stuffed jalapenos. Pizzas. Burgers. All of the food looked very good.

Meanwhile, the waiters huddled together by the POS system mounted to one wall, stopping their chit-chat only when a plate of food or a tray of drinks came up. At the other tables, immaculately coiffed women in stilettos and men in business attire ate and drank happily as we continued to sit alone, ignored. Waiters refused to make eye contact, and it was almost too loud for them to hear us. I certainly wasn't going to grab one by the arm and manhandle them.

My friend and I were utterly confused by this point. Were we supposed to order at the bar? If so, why were all these other tables around us getting full service? As a measure of last resort, we walked up to the bar and found the manager.

"I'm sorry," I said, in my nicest voice possible (although my inner bitch was straining -- hard -- to get out by this time). "But are we supposed to order at the bar? We're sitting at that table, and I just wanted to make sure." I pointed at our pub table, now empty except for the two unused menus.

"Yeah," came his laconic reply.

"Oh, okay..." I gathered myself. "Because we've been waiting for over 20 minutes now and no one has waited on us." I smiled meekly.

"Oh. Well I'll send someone over." Nothing on his face registered any kind of apologetic feelings toward us. And then I got mad.

"No, that won't be necessary," I replied, shortly. "We're just going to leave."

He finally snapped to. "Oh, no, wait!" he sputtered. "Just go sit down and I'll send someone over." No apology. No "I'm sorry." Just a slightly agitated demand for us to go take our seats again. To be ignored some more? To have a waiter that's now irritated at us wait on us, huffing all the way through dinner?

No thanks.

"That's not necessary. We're leaving," I reiterated.

And so we did. The manager never bothered to apologize. Never tried to make any amends whatsoever. But that's okay. We ended up in the comfortable confines of Rudyard's, with a Fireman's #4 in one hand and some fish and chips in the other. It's not the best food in the world, but at least you can actually get someone to take your order there.

The next day, I browsed through some reviews of Royal Oak on Yelp and was both relieved and aggravated to see that my friend and I weren't the only ones to have received this treatment at the place. It took me back to the complaint I'd made last night. Even Ricky Craig, owner of Hubcap Grill, chimed in with a similar complaint of his own. Is this what's becoming of Lower Westheimer?

And that's what bothers me most about Royal Oak. This bar and grill is from the same owners of Boondocks, people who ostensibly know Montrose and respect the vibe in our neighborhood. It's casual, laid back, unpretentious and takes all comers.

In other words, all the things that Royal Oak was not on Friday night.

So here's the question: Should Royal Oak be given the benefit of the doubt, considering that it's only been open a few months and could, understandably, still be experiencing service jitters? Or is this the new face of Lower Westheimer, and should we all seek shelter in places like Catbird's while we still can?

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Royal Oak Bar & Grill

1318 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Music


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44 comments
Erika
Erika

I'm disappointed that Katherine Schilcutt has decided to use the term 'leper' to describe how she felt when being ignored by the staff at the Royal Oak Bar & Grill. Perhaps she should have read the Houston Press cover feature story about Jose Ramirez, Jr in 2010 about his experience with Hansen's Disease, more commonly known as leprosy. And how he advocates around the world against the use of the word 'leper,' a stigmatizing word that inflicts pains such as the 'n-word' does. Perhaps she should educate herself a bit more, now being the perfect time, as Jan. 30th is the 48th annual World Leprosy Day, enacted by President Kennedy.

Nicole
Nicole

It sounds like you had a bad experience which from what I understand is rare. I would like to first point out that there are no waiters - Royal Oak is a bar that serves food - this means you have food runners and cocktail waitresses. While I will absolutely agree that you should have gotten service regardless; I just wanted to point this out. Also, Royal Oak has been serving food for a few short weeks. They are still working out the kinks as does any new bar. As far as feeling like you didn't fit and perhaps that had an impact on your JÄGER consumption - I have been to Royal Out at least ten times since it has been open and certainly don't fit the midtown/ Washington Ave profile and have had no problem with service. It seems like you had a bad experience, probably came in right after a rush - I would give it another shot ... But if you're looking for the next catbirds, Royal Oak isn't for you. Royal Oak is bringing a different environment (that has been needed) to our lovely Montrose neighborhood! The originals will always be long time favorites, but we should welcome newer and classier establishments!

Albert Nurick
Albert Nurick

Mistakes happen - no business is perfect. But it's very telling to see how a business reacts to a mistake. Royal Oak's indifferent approach speaks volumes about their attitude toward their customers, and explains in advance why they won't be around at the end of the year.

John G.
John G.

I'm the president of a community group that tried scheduling a happy hour at this place. After at least four phone calls and a week's worth of time, we decided to take our business elsewhere.

Wholefish
Wholefish

Kyle,if you have a BG permit (beer & wine only-8.25%) then tax is visibly placed on your check. It is only when you have a MB permit (mixed beverege or hard liquor 14%) it has to be built into the price and it is against the rules to print it on the check. I am prety sure Zelco has the BG, so they are correct in putting the 8.25% on the check.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Surely servers? Sounds like Boondocks to me. After the way they have treated many of my friends, I can't give the owner any more business. I'm not surprised the waiters were surely. Maybe he flew them in from L.A. on his family's money.

Brian Block
Brian Block

I was there on New Years day as it was still getting set up. They were just putting on the awning or something outside when I pulled up. The guy serving us at the bar seemed nice. When I arrived, they said the kitchen wasn't ready yet but must have been microwaving stuff. My friends I met had been given cheese sticks to nosh on. I was planning on going back, but there is no excuse for the bad service and not making things right. Until they do, I won't give them a second thought. They're not getting my money.

Eggs
Eggs

The one time I went there was on New Years Day. There were not many people in the bar, and we went there just for their $7 mimosa pitchers. They served us with no problem, even later in our stay bringing out a few plates of appetizers on the house. Then again it was early in the day, and it wasn't busy, so I can't make a proper judgement.

Kevin Shalin
Kevin Shalin

I experienced inept service at Octane awhile back...gave them the benefit of the doubt because they had only been open a couple weeks. Think I'm ready to check it out again.

Eric
Eric

The first time I went there, around Thanksgiving I think, I thought there was a preppie convention going on. Every guy was in his early 20's wearing khakis, a Lacoste shirt, and a blazer, with perfectly combed hair. It made the patrons at Anvil look like total hipsters. Definitely doesn't fit the Montrose scene.

Clemdiver
Clemdiver

I've had good luck with Poscol and Hugo's. This place is just haunted. With glory-holes nonetheless.

Craig
Craig

Not another hint about your dang neighborhood. I don't give a hamsters patootie where you live. Why must you always tell us this? To your credit you finally stopped plugging Beavers.

Maybe they just didn't like your attitude...

And I realize you may not be a real journalist, but you can't say "late-evening bite" without telling what time it actually was.

Hugh Ramsey
Hugh Ramsey

I've always had good service there. But I generally sit at the bar.

CMN
CMN

I'd been wondering about the place, and was intrigued by the high chandelier you can see through the window at night. Looked cozy, thought I'd check it out soon. Thanks for saving me the mistake, there are too many good experiences to be had in area to waste a night on a place like this.

Now I can only pray this isn't the beginning of a trend. As longs as places like "Priviledge" keep multiplying on Washington, hopefully we're are safe and places like this will promptly fail in Montrose.

Montrosian
Montrosian

They worked on that building for months. Clearly spent a lot of money on what had previously been some failed bars with vacancies in between for a long time. So why spend so much on the redo to erase the stigma of failure and then drop the ball so fast with awful service? Especially with owners already in the biz? You get one chance with Houstonians...too many other choices.I'm surprised no one has commented on the name. I think it's awful. Blah. Suburban. Not Montrose.

Lauren
Lauren

Given that they've only been serving food for a few weeks, I could understand there being a mix up of some sort. But it would seem like the manager would be falling all over himself to apologize, sending over a free appetizer/round of drinks--something. I never understand why new businesses like this don't make more of an effort to make customers happy. I'm tolerant of mistakes, especially at new places, but I expect someone to CARE when the mistakes are pointed out.

Jeff
Jeff

I guess they picked the wrong table to ignore. :)

Daniel Carlson
Daniel Carlson

"Service jitters" means your server brought you a Diet Coke instead of a regular, or forgot to split the check after you'd asked him/her to. Letting two people sit for 20 minutes -- an eternity in customer time -- and then not even pretending to be sorry when they wanted to leave is just rude. Were I you, I wouldn't bother returning.

Md
Md

This place sucks do not waste your money they will be gone in a few months

Kyle
Kyle

I wanted to try Zelko Bistro on Saturday, but had a real bad experience and didn't get to eat. I was really looking forward to it, but if I go back I might have to encounter the same guy again. I'm at an impasse.

NK
NK

We went on Thursday night and watched the Manager of the bar get his food and drinks before any of the patrons while the lone waitress worked the other 12 tables.

diggity
diggity

When do we celebrate annual "World Everything Offends Me Day"?

Kyle
Kyle

Before they worry about cocktail waitresses they should get some cocktails. I had a Manhattan last night with way too much vermouth (I think...something was off anyway) and garnished with a big orange slice. WTF.

Service was attentive and helpful at the bar. It was all big groups at the tables so I didn't get to see if the waitresses were ignoring smaller groups. The taps were very impressive, far better than I expected. Old Rasputin, Rogue Hazelnut Brown and Dead Guy, several other good beers. I didn't see any typical domestic junk on tap. They did have Stella, but can't win em all, right? Pretty good bottle selection, too.

I had the banh mi burger. It was almost definitely a frozen pre-formed patty, but otherwise it was a good burger cooked to order with nice toppings and a good grill-marked bun.

Nicole
Nicole

*Royal Oak ... Thank you iPhone autocorrect!

Kyle
Kyle

I see, thanks.

Dambuilder
Dambuilder

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Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

I found myself wondering if they had, indeed, picked that table to ignore for exactly the reason you suggest it was the wrong table. Kind of like that fiasco with L.A. Times critic Irene Virbila, only without the camera-rape (tongue at least slightly in cheek). The part with the manager threw me, though.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I completely forgot to consider "closing" as a third option. Good call.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I have a feeling Zelko Bistro has been completely overrun recently due to publicity and good reviews. Too much of a good thing? It's a tiny place and they don't take reservations, so I can imagine it's like bedlam in there on a Friday or Saturday night.

urgh
urgh

.......so is 8.30pm a 'late night bite' in your eyes?! i think the reality is you came in a lot later as originally implied and had a pre-conceived idea you should be instantly waited on during a busy friday night in a place that doesnt have hosts to lead you to a table..... as it is not a restaurant. I have spent a few flawless evenings in the bar....which is exactly that- a bar. The food was fantastic, well presented and the drinks came out rapidly, the atmoshpere is laid back, far from egotistical and hey if someone isn't coming to your table just be a pro-active adult and order at the bar.

This review screams personal attack, bitterness and i don't think a well educated and fair minded ' food critic, journalist, whatever you are' has much of a chance at a long and succesful career doing such things.

drive by comment
drive by comment

i think they are referring to the inside the loop and Montrose centric reviews that fill your publication .. vast majority of the population lives out side this geographically small neighborhood

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I seriously doubt anyone at the Royal Oak recognized me. Or would even care. I mean, it's a bar first and foremost. If they were to care about anyone coming in, I'd think it would be Craig Hlavaty or Shea Serrano or one of our nightlife/bar beat guys.

Kyle
Kyle

Yeah, they were really busy and it is so small, so I'm sure it's tough. We were given an estimated wait of an hour, waited patiently nearly two hours, and then a person associated with the restaurant came out on the patio and demonstrated some of the worst people skills I've ever seen.

They're also charging 8.25% tax on alcohol purchases, which baffles me. Isn't liquor taxed ahead of time by TABC?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Lives, perhaps. Works? Conducts meetings? Goes out? I'm no inner loop snob, but there's a strong argument to be made for covering the "heart" of the city, as it were.

Either way, I find it fascinating that hardly any of the negative comments found on posts about inner loop restaurants ever translate into positive comments on posts about outer loop restaurants. Just a thought...

Ashley
Ashley

First of all it is a BAR not a restaurant. You were there on a friday evening. Not to mention they just opened their kitchen two weeks ago. Give them a break. If you wanted to get served why didn't you try ordering at the bar. And being less bitter about the girls there. ''as if we were lepers dropping various body parts as we limped our way to some seats?'' This is a bit dramatic don't you think?? You are reviewing a bar not a zombie movie. I don't even think the manager could have expected how busy it would have been that night considering that happened to be their first night even having cocktail WAITRESSES. Maybe you should just stick to chuys if you are going to have such a complex about the company in the bar.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Good point. I think you should send ¢raig in to do some recon.

Kyle
Kyle

Thanks Montrosian, that's what I thought. My $5 beer is itemized on my receipt as "Items" and had 41 cents tax charged. The people I was with were all charged the tax as well and paid cash, and the aforementioned individual said that he wasn't going to give full change back to them because he didn't have enough coin to cover.

Perhaps if they would stop charging tax on beer purchases, change wouldn't be a problem.

Montrosian
Montrosian

It's illegal to separately charge tax on alcohol. Big no no. Must be inlucluded in the drink price. Plus liquor tax is 14%. Not 8.25% which is the sales tax.

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