On my first visit to The Honeymoon Cafe & Bar last Saturday morning, I spied co-owner Brad Moore posted up at one end of the bar, bolstering himself for the day with a cup of coffee. Moore was freshly returned from Tales of the Cocktail, the annual cocktail conference in New Orleans which all but drains Houston of most of its bartenders for a few days each year.
Fittingly, Moore—who also runs a bevy of other bars with business partner Ryan Rouse, from Big Star Bar in the Heights to Grand Prize Bar in Montrose to a handful of bars here on Main Street in downtown—was still soaking in the New Orleans vibe here at The Honeymoon, which feels as if someone has mashed up Tujague's, Cafe du Monde, and a handful of other older Nola haunts. Hell, The Honeymoon even offers cafe au lait and beignets—the former courtesy of co-owners Matthew Toomey and Charlotte Mitchell of Boomtown Coffee (the coffee roasters with a popular storefront coffee shop in the Heights), the latter courtesy of consulting chef Amanda McGraw.
Toomey and Mitchell are on-hand daily at The Honeymoon in these first few days (the cafe/bar just opened last week), overseeing the general operations of the joint and manning the on-site coffee roaster that overlooks Congress Ave. and the neat line of wicker chairs and marble-topped tables The Honeymoon sets out on the sidewalk each morning.
Inside, more of those wicker chairs and tables make up the majority of the large dining room, which most recently housed Cielo Mexican Bistro until it closed in 2011. The corner space sat vacant for years until the Moore/Rouse/Toomey/Mitchell team moved in, removing all the dark wood paneling and tacky murals, lightening up the entire space, and throwing in a few cozy couches towards the back for good measure. It's hard to not want to linger in this new space, sipping coffees and biding your time between breakfast and lunch (lunch is when you can start drinking cocktails, right?).
McGraw, who created the menu for The Honeymoon (as she did in her previous gig with Siphon Coffee), has put some decidedly New Orleanian twists on the menu while keeping it solidly Houstonian: witness, for example, her beignets topped with cafe sua da dulce de leche (say that three times fast) or a dessert dish that sandwiches horchata-flavored ice cream between two snickerdoodle cookies and tops the whole thing with Blue Heron Farms goat cajeta.
On the savory side, there are fried oyster and chicken liver po-boys along with a slew of other sandwiches for the mid-day downtown business crowd—each quite different enough to set The Honeymoon apart from, say, Brown Bag Deli (not to mention the fact that The Honeymoon insists on buying its bread from Slow Dough Bread Co., its cheese from the Houston Dairymaids, etc.). By night, the taps flow with local beer that's best enjoyed with a meat and cheese board at that long bar with a cocktail—maybe a Sazerac—for dessert.
It's the sort of multi-purpose venue that's been needed to really cement the block of Main Street that's blossomed since the opening of OKRA's Charity Saloon, Goro & Gun, The Pastry War, and other recent projects—and there's no arguing that downtown has long lacked a serious coffee bar, a niche which The Honeymoon would fill quite ably even without offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Breakfast, by the way, is my current favorite time to visit. In the mornings, when it's relatively still inside and out, you can take the time to enjoy McGraw's homemade kolaches or soft scrambled eggs on buttered rye toast while you watch the city gear up for the day—watching the train rumble roughly by on Main, watching cabs come and go from the Hotel Icon across the street, watching lawyers make their way to the courthouse a few steps away, watching red double-decker busses shuttle cowboy hat-topped visitors through guided tours of downtown—soaking in the knowledge that while it may feel a little like New Orleans inside The Honeymoon, outside it is most definitely Houston.