When I walked into Leon’s Lounge in Midtown, I didn’t know that I’d stumbled upon the oldest bar in Houston, but bartender Megan Zambas is pretty sure that it is. And Houstorian has her back on this claim, to boot.
1006 McGowen St.
As a drinking town, Houston has a hazy sense of its own history. But according to its own lore, Leon’s Lounge has been around since 1947. If you’re going to go by city directory records, however, Leon Yarborough’s establishment has only been a Houston institution since since 1953.
Although Leon’s has come under new management in the last four years—fleshing out the patio seating and adding treats like homemade empanadas to the short menu—it still has the long, narrow bar room with an old-timey saloon feel, stained glass accents with stories of their own, and the perfect, freshly-squeezed orange juice to make for a really sturdy screwdriver.
Zambas played the Rolling Stones’s Let It Bleed as she answered my questions in between customers.
How long have you been bartending?
I’ve been here since October. But in general? About 10 years. Here [at Leon’s, where they serve food and spin vinyl records] I’m a bartender/DJ/cook. I’m also a yoga instructor some of the time. Hopefully in a few years I’ll be more that than this.
What’s your favorite drink?
My favorite drink to make is a whiskey on the rocks, because it’s easiest. My favorite to drink is probably a mint julep or a Moscow mule.
What is a Leon’s Lounge regular like?
We have different types of regulars: the ones who come here because they’ve come to Leon’s since forever. They’ve come for 20 years and they keep coming. And there are the newer 20-something professionals who enjoy a really well made cocktail. The people [living in the apartments above the bar on McGowen St.] come hang out here too.
What’s your philosophy on drinking?
I am Irish and Greek, and if I don’t drink I might just keel over. Unless you’ve got a drinking problem, enjoy yourself.
Where else do you drink?
Catbirds, Grand Prize (it’s a bartender’s bar), OKRA I love because of the charity thing. Any Westheimer bar I can walk to from my apartment.
What’s the best thing about Leon’s Lounge?
It’s our staff. In my experience, you work at a lot of places where everyone complains about the job and each other, but we hang out outside of here and enjoy each other and it’s out of the ordinary.
You will know Leon’s Lounge by its British telephone booth and wooden deck out front. And seriously folks, try that orange juice.