Overlooked and Underrated: Finding Bonnie's in South Houston

Categories: Bar Beat

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It spent nearly 25 years in the hands of a woman who started as a bar owner when she was only a few years short of senior discounts, and upon her death, it was passed on to her beautician because she didn't have any blood family, though she seemed to have the other kind in spades. Bonnie's has got some character.

The South Houston dive was the College Lounge for 14 years or so before Bonnie took it over. I've got a soft spot for older women who run bars, whether they're gruff Alice's types or sweet Ruthie's-style women. Extra points if there's a Southern drawl involved; reminds me of my grandmother, who, if she ran a bar, would require a solid source of switches nearby to whip regulars into submission. Self-cut, no other way to do it. I'm surprised the smaller trees in Tupelo have any thin branches left.

But I don't know what Bonnie sounded like. I was about nine months late for that. I could tell from talking to the bartender on duty Tuesday that she is missed. She spoke of Bonnie in a way that made it clear people cared for her, next of kin or no.

As for the bar itself -- Bonnie's is a standout neighborhood place, and one I wish I'd visited earlier. The boxy orange brick structure and the "hell with it, they'll know what it means" back-lit changeable sign ("Go e x ns!"), suggest potential sketchiness.

Walk in, though, and you're immediately at ease. The appropriately dim seating area to the right features a small stage and dance floor, uniform tables, fans shaped like roulette wheels, and a few slot machines (amusement only). It's cleaner and more put-together than your average dive, despite the smoke that continues to soak into the walls (no ordinance here, Dr. Paul would be pleased). There's a microwave in a little alcove, and an internet jukebox (nobody's perfect) lights up its little section of plaster. Top song: "Troubador," George Strait. Number 14: "Purple Rain," Prince.

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The stage. Sorry about the noise -- might be time to retire the camera phone for low light.
More importantly, I doubt the horseshoe bar on the left side has ever wanted for conversation. When a friend and I dropped in, the bartender -- some point past 40, and kind as any I've ever met -- enthusiastically answered my questions about the place, while two middle-aged gentlemen discussed global democratic revolutions. The one with the Texas-twinged Russian-sounding accent got animated when he started talking about Ukraine and Georgia. They went on this way for several minutes before they introduced themselves to each other.

Meanwhile, a handsome middle-aged woman with a vanity license plate sat up very straight and sipped her drink with the look of someone doing moderately challenging mental math. I would have liked to find out her story -- already knew her name, she and her license plate pulled up at the same time as us -- but I didn't want to impose. One of the two men didn't mind, though. He bought her a drink (she politely refused a shot) and said something that caused the bartender to remind him to be respectful, almost certainly with a wink.

There's not much to it beyond that. I'm sure things get livelier during events and weekends. There are a few well-placed flat-screens and some notices talking about football games, and the stage looks like it's seen some things (karaoke is Fridays). But even in its casual Tuesday form, Bonnie's is solid.

It's solid enough that I would have at least mentioned it in this piece. And I certainly would have gone there a couple years ago instead of god damn Molly's on FM 518 to meet a then-recent ex for a debriefing session (she was staying on the south side before lighting out for Tennessee). That way, instead of a 25-minute stew on the way home, I could have grabbed a seat at the bar and bitched about, or ignored, my troubles. I'm sure Bonnie's would have obliged either way.



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Location Info

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Bonnie's Lounge

1309 College Ave., South Houston, TX

Category: Music


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6 comments
cassiemanor
cassiemanor

I think everyone commenting on Bonnie's club has gotten the place mistaken for some other place. Bonnie's is not a resturant it a club!

Happyeater
Happyeater

Back in the 90's this was a great place. Went there regularly with clients for business lunches and was never disappointed but that was 14years ago. Happened to be in the area on a weekday with my wife at lunchtime on 7/19/12 and I remembered Bonnie's so we went there for lunch. As we walked up the sidewalk in front of the restaurant I noted the rotted wood siding and window frames and general run down look of the building. Walking into the entry way where there is a small outdoor seating area my wife remarked on the musty and mildewed smell that was very strong. I hoped it was due to the heavy recent rainstorm but it had me wondering if I had made a bad choice.  On our way to our seats we passed the glass front refrigerated case that in days of old displayed the prime steaks and from which you could pick you own. Now the case was empty and in place of the steaks was a dirty white napkin or towel.  After being seated at a somewhat sticky table we both ordered steaks and were told we should go to the salad and soup bar. The salad plates were in a chilled compartment in the salad bar. There were two types available. Worn, a bit dirty and warm or worn, dirty and frozen to the plates underneath. One of the plates had a small winged insect frozen to it. The tossed lettuce and greens were largely wilted and my wife pointed out a bug crawling around in the lettuce. She then picked up a few pieces of spinach from the next bowl and dozens of bugs came flying out of the spinach.  That was all we could take and we headed towards the door. We stopped at the host desk and told them about the bugs. To their credit they looked displeased to hear about the bugs. This was once a great place to eat but those days are gone. Now it is more like one of those horror restaurants on the food network shows. We will never return. 

agautumn04
agautumn04

This may make me come across as ignorant, but is South Houston an actual place? I've never heard of it before. At first I just assumed you were talking about heading to south houston, then I saw the Google Map and now i'm confused.

Bruce R
Bruce R

Ever think about hooking up with the handsome middle-aged lady?  She might teach a young whippersnapper like you a few tricks. Grease the skids with a couple packs of smokes and she'll be unable to resist your powers of persuasion.

If you go to her place don't be surprised if it stinks.  There's probably loads of cat shit in the litter box, and opened cans of cat food on the counter.  And the ferret doesn't exactly clean up after itself. You'll get used to it after a while.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Not an ignorant question at all! The City of South Houston is a separate city within the Houston city limits itself, just like Bellaire or the Memorial Villages. So when someone says "South Houston," I always ask them if they mean the city -- the one right next to Pasadena -- or just south Houston in general.

Glenn Livet
Glenn Livet

Bruce, buddy, have you been tested recently? If not, I know a place

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