First Look at Black Hole Cafe

Black Hole Cafe 002.jpg
Does Montrose need another Inversion? The folks behind Black Hole Cafe (4504 Graustark, 713-528-0653) apparently think so. And since they're also the folks behind popular establishments Poison Girl and Antidote -- the former in Montrose, the latter in the Heights -- the new Black Hole Cafe will likely be just as popular.

Despite the differences in space and location, Black Hole reminds me quite a bit of Inversion. Although it sits in a quiet, residential neighborhood a few blocks away from the University of St. Thomas campus in the former location of a convenience store, the coffee shop is littered with visually striking artwork and furniture, like Inversion. Also like Inversion, it's littered with hipsters on laptops during the day, and it sells local products and baked goods along with its coffee.

However, there are two striking departures.

The Good: Black Hole Cafe sells wine and beer.

The Bad: Black Hole Cafe served me a terrible latte yesterday afternoon.

Black Hole Cafe 001.jpg
And despite being wooed into a gauzy sense of comfort by the long, low-slung space and its broad windows and mid-century-esque furniture that seemed to invite an afternoon of lazing about with a book, that latte snapped me back to reality.

Perhaps I've been spoiled by the likes of Max Gonzales and David Buehrer and the crack teams of skilled baristas they've trained that have fanned out around the city. Five years ago, would I have known the difference between a truly astounding latte and one that was just average? Perhaps not. Now? I could barely drink half the cup at Black Hole Cafe before abandoning it along with the beckoning confines of the cafe.

For a double latte, I couldn't taste but the faintest trace of espresso. It was almost entirely milky, with no head at all. I can warm up a pint of milk in my microwave and dump it on top of a frozen pellet of Jazzybird at home. Can I be a barista too?

Luckily, the coffee was ably washed down with a cinnamon roll from Sinfull Bakery. It was served very cold from the refrigerated case, but there was a microwave nearby ready to fix that dilemma.

Do I think that having coffee masters in Houston at places like Catalina and Tuscany (and, on a different, albeit still skilled, level, Inversion) has ruined people like me on lesser lattes around town? Yes. But do I think Houston is better for it? Yes. And coffee shops like Black Hole will hopefully step up their game as a result. Once they do, the little cafe will be unstoppable.

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Black Hole Coffee House

4504 Graustark St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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26 comments
justinhaynes
justinhaynes

It is only two weeks old, but Black Hole coffee is already full and buzzing.

The weather was beautiful outside yesterday on Sunday afternoon and I think the door was open for part of the time we were there. There are more soft places to sit than at Inversion where you'll find mostly tables and quiet studying.

My americano and maté latte was nice last night as was my yogurt parfait. Myself and three friends sat and played at a table where the cooler used to be where I would walk literally across the street from where I used to live to get an Arizona iced tea (pre- high fructose corn syrup), and then walk next door to the laundry mat to play a game of Ms. Pacman and *dominate*.

Katherine, you do well to make comparisons to the other coffee destinations inside the loop as it gives us a picture of the coffee landscape. As somone who lived in and around Montrose for about 10 years I'll offer the following. (I moved to Austin 4 years ago but Houston still feels like home. :-) ):

The Black Hole replaces Cafe Artiste which closed down in May 2008 almost three years ago:

2008 May: Cafe Artiste (RIP) left W. Main and Mandell (http://swamplot.com/dude-what-... Back when smoking was still allowed in restaurants, the place would fill up with smoke, but after that was no longer allowed except on the patio, it was one of my favorite places to go.

Things in common:

- It was a place where you could go to not only study but also to socialize. That place *ate* sound. you could be studying at a table, and people on the couches talking really wouldn't disturb me.

- More soft furniture. black Hole has an area next to the door that is separate from the tables where you can go to lounge. Artiste had more space, but this place works just fine.

- It is in a neighborhood. Antidote, Inversion, Catalina, Dirk's, and even the old Diedrich's are on main streets. Artiste was and the Black Hole is back in a neighborhood away from some of the noise. (Also have a look at Petrol Station earlier in the day - it gets a bit louder at night.)

As for inversion (can't remember when they opened but it was after that house-to-be-scrapped-turned-art-project was built. At night you can still see its image screened on the window when it gets dark enough to be backlit.), they grew a bit more when Diedrich's closed:

2006 Oct: The old Diedrich's Coffee (RIP: http://houstonist.com/2006/10/... on Hazard and Westheimer, before The Upper Hand got the upper hand and overflowed from next door, was the hangout for studiers and others before Inversion filled more of that niche (complete with patio, though nothing really replaced that patio during nice weather.)

OK, I'm being long winded. But the point is that there is definitely room for the Black Hole.

Al
Al

Justin...nice to see you're back in the 'hood.

justinhaynes
justinhaynes

It is only two weeks old, but Black Hole coffee is already full and buzzing.

The weather was beautiful outside yesterday on Sunday afternoon and I think the door was open for part of the time we were there. There are more soft places to sit than at Inversion where you'll find mostly tables and quiet studying.

My americano and maté latte was nice last night as was my yogurt parfait. Myself and three friends sat and played at a table where the cooler used to be where I would walk literally across the street from where I used to live to get an Arizona iced tea (pre- high fructose corn syrup), and then walk next door to the laundry mat to play a game of Ms. Pacman and *dominate*. :-)

Katherine, you do well to make comparisons to the other coffee destinations inside the loop as it gives us a picture of the coffee landscape. But for some of the long time Montrose residents I'll offer the following:

The Black Hole replaces Cafe Artiste which closed down in May 2008 almost three years ago:

2008 May: Cafe Artiste (RIP) left W. Main and Mandell (http://swamplot.com/dude-what-... Back when smoking was still allowed in restaurants, the place would fill up with smoke, but after that was no longer allowed except on the patio, it was one of my favorite places to go.

Things in common:

- It was a place where you could go to not only study but also to socialize. That place *ate* sound. you could be studying at a table, and people on the couches talking really wouldn't disturb me.

- More soft furniture. black Hole has an area next to the door that is separate from the tables where you can go to lounge. Artiste had more space, but this place works just fine.

- It is in a neighborhood. Antidote, Inversion, Catalina, Dirk's, and even the old Diedrich's are on main streets. Artiste was and the Black Hole is back in a neighborhood away from some of the noise. (Also have a look at Petrol Station earlier in the day - it gets a bit louder at night.)

As for inversion (can't remember when they opened but it was after that house-to-be-scrapped-turned-art-project was built. At night you can still see its image screened on the window when it gets dark enough to be backlit.), they grew a bit more when Diedrich's closed:

2006 Oct: The old Diedrich's Coffee (RIP) on Hazard and Westheimer, before The Upper Hand got the upper hand and overflowed from next door, was the hangout for studiers and others before Inversion filled more of that niche (complete with patio, though nothing really replaced that patio during nice weather.)

OK, I'm being long winded. But the point is that there is definitely room for the Black Hole.

Meemers
Meemers

I had stopped by for lunch one day since the hype generated in my neighborhood about a cafe opening up was good news. The remodeling of the inside was taking a long time so I thought it should be fabulous and great upon opening day. Then I found out the cafe was to be operated by the same people that own Poison Girl and a Heights cafe (Antidote). All of this buzz created by all of these good positive things was going to make this a much needed hangout with all of the "fixins"....NOT. The mozzarella/basil/tomato/pesto sandwich I got was measly and almost as hard as a rock (probably because all of the half-wrapped sandwiches are left out in the open to dry out all day). There was more bread than filling!!! But to justify the cost of $8, they throw in a bag of chips. For $8 sandwich, it better be outstanding, give a lap dance and "love me long time". Hardly the case here. You're better off getting a sandwich from Central Market or Whole Foods for $6-7 and it will be LOADED with everything you want, plus toasted, plus cut in half. Nix the sandwiches at Black Hole.

But to be fair, I decided to go there again and give them another chance to see if they worked out the bugs. Aaaaaah!! Wrong. I got another sandwich (still served half-wrapped from an open air basket on the counter). I didn't know concrete could be made into bread shaped forms. Rather than go back for a refund or exchange for another teeth-breaker sandwich, I just trashed it. If this is not their forté, why would they have sub-standard food that doesn't match the coffee (which I tried...meh).

I think I'll try the other establishments mentioned in this commentary section since it will be worth the drive to Washington Street.

SaS
SaS

I loved the idea of Black Hole coming to my neighborhood, but the drinks aren't good. I agree with TQro, the hot chocolate was lukewarm, tan milk. The cappuccino was weak, but the croissants were amazing. And if you ever need to just dart in and grab coffee, good luck. The baristas are friendly, but s-l-o-o-w. I'm rooting for you, the neighborhood needed a place like this, but time to put in overdrive and work out the kinks. It would be a shame to be known as the storefront for Kraftsman and Sinfull Bakery.

Buster Hymen
Buster Hymen

I agree. If I wanted a croissant or great bread, why would I go to Black Hole (which I don't think is the best name for a business.."I'll throw my money into the Black Hole").

kentonue
kentonue

This "article" is complete bile. Comparing black hole to inversion is the equivalent of comparing taco bell to original ninfas. Inversion is an old man venture capitalist investment disguised as a local coffee shop.

Beyond that, the tomato mozzarella sandwich at bh is pretty much *insert sexual reference here*.

Granted Catalina has amazing coffee/espresso, but it is inhospitable to customers (anyone remember Ike?).

I'll take a friendly environment and good neighborhood coffee over Inversion any day.

Meemers
Meemers

You're not making much of an argument there because Ninfa's on Navigation sucks the big one. They use cheddar cheese for the cheese enchiladas and for that they need to have their La Raza license revoked. Appetizer plus entrée plus a iced tea: $25.33 plus tip. I'm never going back there again.

guest
guest

This isn't a review, but a comparison which is very unfair to black hole and people who haven't been yet. Review it for what it was, not what everyone else is. If had never been to catalina or inversion, the article implies i shouldn't even step foot in black hole. Let them know it wasn't good while you're there, don't slander them on the backbone-less internet.

Happy
Happy

If Inversion is your standard for a Montose coffee house, then yes Black Hole is much needed. Black Hole has a great atmosphere. And the sandwich I had made in-house on Slow Dough bread was very good and fresh, something which is lacking at most coffee places. Though I don't live in the neighborhood it will be a great place to stop after museum going. Glad it's there.

Rocket Scientist
Rocket Scientist

Not being a latte drinker, I go for the regular brewed coffee (from Big Bend Coffee Roasters, I believe). It's been great every time I've been to Black Hole (I live a few blocks away). If comparisons must be made with Inversion, here's another departure that works in Black Hole's favor: No televisions. I've never understood why Inversion installed the two TVs inside. Does anyone go to a coffeehouse to watch TV? I hope not. Also, Black Hole has a much larger interior ... the photo above does not capture the entire space.

This area of Montrose/Museum District absolutely needed a cofffeehouse like Black Hole, as evidenced by the large number of statements I've overheard from others who live in the immediate neighborhood and who have been waiting anxiously for this to open. Hopefully they'll work out any kinks and this will become a neighborhood institution.

Felipe
Felipe

Honestly, a few kinks are expected but you really must train your staff to at least make decent coffee before opening. Sounds like there wasn't much training involved when the owners opened this place.

MC
MC

Sad but not hard to believe. I keep on going to Antidote, but its really poor espresso compared to Catalina. Sad.

Gregiish
Gregiish

I think anyone who thinks 'inversion' good, or in any way a standard for other coffee shops to be judged should be deported. yes deported. because such a comparison is a crime against humanity. Inversion is a carbon copy of any starbucks. this is clear with the interior, menu, and customer base. and, truth be told, its coffee is the stuff nightmares are made of. black hole trumps the place in a multitude of ways. one, as your inept review made very clear, it sells beer and wine. YAY. two, the food is impeccable, and a lot of it is made in house. and three, perhaps you know not what coffee is supposed to taste like, or maybe you just had a bad experience, but ALL lattes i have consumed (a lot, given that the place has only been open for a short while) were exquisite. In short, think what you will of black hole, but lend your review the slightest bit of dignity and remove all mention of the odious inversion from it. the very idea of this comparison makes me never want to drink coffee again.

C. Joe
C. Joe

Wow, someone doesn't like Inversion very much now do they?

Francesco Orodinapoli
Francesco Orodinapoli

I always try to be open minded and will try any new coffee shop. Sadly, none I've tried (I would feel bad about mentioning names) have come anywhere close to the quality of Catalina and Greenway (nee Tuscany) Coffee. I don't have a problem buying coffee beans from Dunn Brothers on Weslayan but for in store espresso drinking it's going to be the two aforementioned.

Eric S
Eric S

While I don't think Black Hole should be serving undrinkable coffee, this write-up does seem a little unfair. After all, they've only been open for a week as of today, and it's logical to think that, with Antidote being so successful, the staff at Black Hole will get up to speed quickly.

Personally, I'm glad Black Hole has come to my neighborhood. It doesn't have to be the best in Houston at anything to be useful to me. In fact, if the trendy types stay away, it'll just leave more room for me and my neighbors to relax and enjoy.

Francesco Orodinapoli
Francesco Orodinapoli

I have to agree with Eric. I remember my first visit to Catalina. There were so many gltichy things happening, from Kroger club soda (flat) for the Italian soda to not very inspiring coffee. But my oh my how quickly that changed. Catalina is the one to which all others need to be measured.

Davidrobin
Davidrobin

Trendy as in serving a good product? If you want your local places to simply be a library for people without a office we should all continue to support crappy places and let all the "trendy" types leave with their artisan food, alcohol, coffee and everything else.

Anon
Anon

Sadly, I agree. This place is a bit closer to my apartment than Inversion, but I had a truly awful macchiato one day and a bad latte the next. Both days were packed though, so I'm hoping that it improves once the hype dies down.

coffeegirl
coffeegirl

I went last sunday. My latte was gross.. I couldn't drink more than two sips *sad face* :(

Craig
Craig

Place looks like the old break room at UH's College of Technology. This should impress me?

Thanks for the warning.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Ahhh! One of the reasons I liked the interior so much is because it reminded me of the cave-like geology break room at my old college. We called it the Mohole. Get it?!

GEOLOGY HUMOR.

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

I suggest, if your latte or hot chocolate is no good, to at least let them know about it. Things will never get better if they already think they're fine.

The fact that this place has beer and wine puts it 1,000 steps ahead of Inversion in my book. I adore Antidote and am happy to have a sibling shop on my side of town. Who needs coffee anyway?

TQro
TQro

My daughter quickly trashed her hot cocoa saying it needed 'chocolaty-ness'...she missed the chocolate in it. Where had it gone? She also mentioned the sweetness level, but don't recall if it was overly or lacking. And her brownie had a gritty texture, trashed it too.

RW
RW

I had a Chai Latte that was sub-par as well, but I know that the girl that made it was new. The baked goods made up for it, I think, and I'm sure they'll get better as they get a litte more experience.

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