Bartender Chat: Mike Shapiro of Char Bar
This week, I paid a visit to a sometime overlooked stop among Market Square bar-crawlers: the tailor and watering hole-in-one, Char Bar (pronounced "sh" as in champagne). Maybe people are confused by the signs, as one reads "Duke of Hollywood Tailors" and another "Char Bar." So which is it?
It's both. It's a "tar". It's a "bailor"...like a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, but...you know...classier.
When you walk past Weldon's shoe-shine stand on the left and grab a seat at the bar top, you're greeted by a wall of photos depicting three generations of family. Mike, the owner and bartender on this Monday evening, explains who's who, pointing out his daughter, Charlien, after whom the bar is named. It's comfortable and relaxed inside with a vintage vibe. No one's doing Vegas bombs, but then no one's drinking with their pinky out, either.
After walking around for a bit and eyeing the numerous bolts of fabric and textiles tucked away in glass cabinets, I ordered a beer and got to know a little about Mike, his family, the tailoring business, the bar business and how Houston has changed since his family set up shop on Travis street 76 years ago.
Where are you from?
Born and raised in Houston.
When did you open Char Bar?
Well, the bar has been open since 2002, but the tailor and shop opened in 1936. My grandfather opened it in '36, my father took over in '62 and I took over in '81.
How would you describe the bar's aesthetic?
Even though it's downtown, it's a neighborhood bar and if you come here alone, there will be other people at the bar to talk to. Everyone's very friendly, it's like a big family and it's really low-key. Everything at the bar is relatively new, but this place has a history. Before my family took over, it was a feed store with hitching posts outside. I mean, this was the hub, the center of business for Houston. City Hall was just across the street. This was the real downtown.
How would you describe the crowd?
I'd say about half is regulars...and about half of the tailoring business is bar patrons that have just, over time, brought me things to alter. This past month, I had a lot of people come in from out of town. I actually just mailed a suit off to Fort Worth. This guy was in town for a wedding at Hotel Icon and a big group of people came in -- they were already pretty drunk, it was 1 a.m. -- and he just bought a suit.
Fill in the blank: At the end of my shift, I pour a _____.
Bourbon. Maker's Mark is my go-to but sometimes I'll do Knob Creek.
You get three songs on your jukebox. What do you play?
I'd play some Phil Collins, maybe some Journey...and Jay Z.
Wildcard: If you were to treat yourself to the finer things in life, what would you treat yourself to?
Some dry-aged beef. Funny story. My wife and I, we were celebrating something, and I told her I wanted a rib eye roast for dinner. So she went to Central Market, I told her to buy about five pounds...and she comes home with this package, the price on the sticker said $150. I went nuts. This stuff was, like, $30 a pound. You know what she said? "It's all they had." Right. All they had. But I tell you what. It was the best piece of meat I've ever had.
Char Bar, located at 305 Travis Street downtown, is open Sunday through Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Swing by, say hi to Mike, bring that skirt you've been meaning to have taken in or those shoes that need shining, and grab a good drink .
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