Quite unexpectedly, MKT Bar—the casual restaurant within Phoenicia's downtown grocery store—has become one of the most consistently terrific drinking and dining destinations around, something I never would have expected when it opened in late 2011. Good for a bite before and after grocery shopping or for picking up a picnic on the way to Discovery Green? Sure. Hip happy hour spot? I thought not, despite an attractive bar and equally attractive draft offerings that, like the groceries inside Phoenicia itself, span all corners of the world in their provenance.
Chalk it up to MKT Bar's proximity to not only Discovery Green, but also the Toyota Center, the George R. Brown convention center and a slew of skyscrapers filled with people eager to escape after a long day spent inside a gray cubicle, or perhaps to MKT Bar's carefully curated musical acts it brings in on a near-nightly basis, or maybe to the short-and-simple happy hour list that offers $3 bottles and cans of beer, $4 draft pints and $5 glasses of wine (plus a deal on its killer za'atar fries). Chalk it up to all these reasons, or none—sometimes Houston is just funny and unpredictable—but whatever you do, you owe it to yourself to check out what is now one of the best happy hour destinations in town.
The vibe inside MKT Bar just past 5 p.m. is one of thrilling urban energy, the kind of rush hour Houston usually experiences only on the freeways, and not often in downtown cityscapes. Inside MKT Bar or at one of the patio tables facing Austin St., you can just as easily imagine yourself in downtown Chicago or New York City as people come and go with paper sacks of groceries or settle in for a few drinks over the sounds of clinking glasses, clattering plates and whatever DJ the bar has booked that night.
Tonight's set is a double-header of talent befitting MKT Bar's stature, as two of Houston's best bring their own wildly different genres of music to the small stage that sits in one shadowy corner of the bar. Up at 5 p.m. is Fat Tony who, much like Kam Franklin and The Suffers, is just one set away from a national spotlight—or at least that's how it feels when watching the Houston-born rapper perform. ("You Ain't Fat" remains one of our favorite H-town tracks of all time.) And up at 8 p.m. is legendary Houston hitchhiker and musician Craig Kinsey, known most recently for his work with the Sideshow Tramps and as "the Godfather of the Houston Americana Music Scene."
Happy hour at MKT Bar begins at 2 p.m. on weekdays and runs through 7 p.m., which means you'll have to pay full price for your drinks during Kinsey's set—but just consider that a cover, and consider it a privilege to see two such terrific acts in one night.