UPDATED: Some Members of the Hyde Park Civic Association Don't Like Their New Neighbors, Underbelly and Hay Merchant
UPDATE: Bobby Heugel, co-owner of Hay Merchant, contacted us and requested that we publish his unedited response to the situation. You'll find it on page two of this post in its entirety, along with our own response.
Photo by Mai Pham The bar at Hay Merchant has been packed since Day One.
Maybe the guests at Chances and Mary's were quieter back in their days, or maybe Montrose residents have short memories these days. Either way, the Hyde Park Civic Association apparently isn't a fan of its newest neighbors -- Underbelly and Hay Merchant, the new restaurant and craft beer bar duo at Westheimer and Waugh -- and plans to do something about it.
According to the Hyde Park United Civic Association's Facebook page (a private group; we've kept the names of the residents private here as well), they plan to protest a recent notice from the City of Houston that would allow Underbelly and Hay Merchant -- which the Facebook page calls "Hay Market" -- to have an on-street valet parking zone.
"This notice was sent to residents located within 200 feet of the proposed zone," said the Facebook update, which sparked a litany of complaints below.
Wrote one neighborhood resident:
I asked an employee parked in front of my house why he didn't park at the restaurant and he said the manager told employees not to park in their lots but to park on the streets (in front of our homes!). We had to call the police early Sunday morning because four restaurant employees were having a tailgate party in the 2600 block of Yoakum. They were totally obnoxious and drinking straight from 32 oz. bottles. The female urinated in a recessed alcove of a neighbor's property. All were wearing their uniforms with the restaurant logo - so their affiliation was pretty obvious.
When reached for comment, Hay Merchant co-owner Kevin Floyd said that Underbelly staff don't wear branded T-shirts, and only Hay Merchant staff wear shirts with identifying logos on them. It seemed unlikely to him that his employees would throw an impromptu tailgate and HPD shows no record of such a complaint on file.
Parking seemed to be the biggest complaint, however, with many residents chiming in about not only Underbelly and Hay Merchant, but also the new Legacy Community Health Services Building, in a new building that replaced a long-vacant structure which had been a club/bar on and off for years.
"Completely agree with everyone's frustration!" wrote another resident. "Between Legacy and Underbelly/Hay Merchant, we have very little parking for guests and residents at Commonwealth at California."
A valet parking permit, Floyd explained, would allow Underbelly and Hay Merchant to pack patrons' cars into both of their lots and leave far fewer cars on the street as a result.
Ironically, it's Floyd and Bobby Heugel -- both partners at Hay Merchant and its sister bar, Anvil -- who have been some of the most vocal advocates for better parking arrangements and public transportation in the city's more densely populated areas. The men even went so far as to found a non-profit to tackle such issues, OKRA.
"One of our goals," said Floyd, "beyond serving the best beer and food we can, is to help the greater Houston community grow. We take pride in having good relationships with our neighbors. It was our open communication with the local community that helped make Anvil the fixture that it is and it is my hope that the same will be true about Hay Merchant."
As an example, he added: "Recently, one of the residents that lives behind us pointed out that our parking lot light was shining into his living room. As soon as he told me about it, we disconnected it until we could find a better solution. As long as we talk to each other we can always find a solution. "
As demonstrated time and again, the parking issue in Houston's urban core is only going to get worse -- especially in rapidly growing areas like Montrose -- unless the City irons out the many kinks in its proposed Off-Street Parking Ordinance. At least one Hyde Park resident sees it that way, too:
"The City of Houston is to blame here," he wrote. "Any world class city has a parking strategy that includes municipal parking. Sadly Houston fails miserably here. That needs to change if Houston is to be even close to world class."
UPDATE: Bobby Heugel, co-owner of Hay Merchant, contacted us and requested that we publish his unedited response to the situation. You'll find it below in its entirety, along with our own response.