“VOODOO QUEEN IS BACK AND I FEEL STRAIGHT UP DRUNK JUST THINKING ABOUT IT.” The announcement appeared in my Facebook feed in mid-March, posted by a friend whose excitement was so unrestrained she caps-locked the breaking news to attract her booze-thirsty friends and followers. Two reactions to her post echoed the thoughts of Houston barflies at large: “They finally re-opened?” and “Let’s go.”
The dive bar opened east of downtown in 2013 and went on an unanticipated hiatus in 2016 following a fire. The resurrected incarnation, Voodoo Queen Daiquiri Dive, is a brighter, roomier version of its former self, with purple and turquoise vying for primary color status and ample elbow room for patrons since the bar added square footage once inhabited by a neighboring laundromat. The difference between what existed before and what it’s been replaced with represents a maturity of sorts. Sipping one of the bar’s frozen concoctions and listening to selections from its well-stocked jukebox, I think of it in music terms.
Voodoo Queen always felt like one of the most “punk rock” bars in the city to me. The revised model is like The Clash’s Combat Rock. It may seem less gritty than London Calling and can’t possess the nostalgia of something entirely new and unexpectedly awesome, like The Clash’s eponymous debut album. But Combat Rock had the chart-toppers, the songs cultivated from experience for mass appeal, the ones which ensured a legacy for the band. Voodoo Queen 2018 has the big hits that could keep it in rotation for Houston’s drinkers for years to come.
For one, the bar is less dim than it once was, with pink and white neon drink signs and more than a half-dozen strategically placed televisions adding to ample lighting. It boasts a pair of bars for sidle-up drinkers aiming to chat up the attentive bar staff. Pool tables, an air hockey table, and a photo booth remind you that you’re in a bar, and some familiar kitsch reminds you that you’re in this specific bar. An aquarium nestled between the frozen drink machines and a taxidermied bear on the floor, who appears to be guarding the pair of pastel-painted restrooms, are holdovers from Voodoo’s years past.
There’s food on the menu, but for now the fare is relegated to po'boys; sorry Voodoo Queen regulars, no sign of chicken and waffles yet. Variations include fried shrimp, chicken, and Andouille sausage, and they’re all under $12 apiece. We tried the roast beef sandwich. It’s chipped, but not so finely that you’re unable to get a meaty hunk of beef in each bite. The filling includes some debris, like they do it in New Orleans, and a tasty remoulade. It all holds up nicely to the bread, which is toasted and fresh. The sandwich is big enough for a pair of dedicated drinkers to share, which is what my wife and I do. After all, we came here to drink.
If you can’t find something you want to taste at Voodoo Queen, it’s your own wishy-washy fault. The drink selection comes on a laminated menu that resembles those placards pro football coaches hold on the sidelines, the ones with an assortment of game-winning plays printed on them. The plays here include hand-blended daiquiris like the Banana Hammock and the best-selling Penus-Coladus, a banana daiquiri and a Fireball-infused pina colada, respectively. Some shots samples are Shark Repellent, which is a blend of rum and Hpnotiq; and a Jager, rum, and pineapple mix dubbed Surfer on Acid.
I was drawn to the frozen machine drinks. I asked the bartender which is the best to try, the one she’d recommend to out-of-towners who will return to some far away community and regale neighbors with the tale of a perfect H-town libation. She selects The Bends, billed as the strongest machine drink in the house. It’s a banana daiquiri containing lots of rum, including Flor de Caña, which she says is the base rum for most of the frozens.
“Careful,” she warns me. “They’ll catch up to you.”
I joined my wife on the patio, where a quartet of oversized picnic tables and matching benches are stationed for those who don’t believe or willfully ignore those surgeon general warnings about smoking. The clientele is young and chatty tonight, and on the patio you’re in near enough proximity to eavesdrop on conversations that sound like a fellow asking his companion, “So tell me more about these guys you dated...” There was a long pause. The intoxicant in the drink and the anticipation of her answer make for a thrilling moment. “So, there as this one guy,…” she begins. Even pin-pricked by Voodoo Queen’s strongest frozen drink, I’m able to return to decorum and tune out the rest of the conversation.
This return visit to Voodoo Queen coincided with the Houston Astros’ opening homestand of the new season. The game is a 10-6 drubbing of the hapless Baltimore Orioles by our world champions and the action is on every screen of the bar. As we happily sipped from our plastic keepsake cups (the bartender even offers to rinse them for us before we leave), we were reminded of the promise that true champions never settle. There’s always an opportunity to build something better from a proven winner.