Best New Bars

Is Present Company the Most Instagrammable Bar in Houston?

This Montrose adult playground represents a new breed of bars.

By Abby Ledoux December 1, 2019 Published in the December 2019 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Jenn Duncan

If you do something without posting it on Instagram, did it ever really happen? Forget the hypothetical felled tree in the forest: This is the latest existential query posed by new spots like Present Company, the technicolor wonderland masquerading as a Montrose bar.

It’s a high-octane, tropical paradise, a mid-century Palm Springs oasis dropped onto a bustling stretch of Westheimer. In its former life it was Royal Oak—a dark, whiskey-centric cave of a bar that couldn’t be more different from the punch-drunk, super-saturated successor that owner Shawn Bermudez debuted in the summer of last year.

The transformation was two years in the making, after a massive fire claimed the building’s second story and attic just weeks before it was set to reopen as Present Company. Ultimately, though, the delay served to seriously heighten anticipation around the new venture, which quickly billed itself as Houston’s most Instagrammable bar. It also gave Bermudez and company more time to get it right.

What resulted—a multi-level patio bar (nearly double the size of Royal Oak) positively bursting with neon colors, lush decor, and vintage kitsch—is particularly emblematic of today’s nightlife scene, where, aside from stiff drinks, customers are searching for two things: nostalgia and photo-ops.

Present Company has both in spades, so much so that to take it all in for the first time might well induce sensory overload. Right away virtually everything is eye-catching, from the massive metal palm-tree sign outside to the front deck’s picnic tables splashed in magenta, lime, and electric-blue. Real palms sway above striped umbrellas on patios draped in string lights, and a lush vertical garden boasts more than 4,000 individual plants. Talk about #patiogoals.

The fun continues inside, where more than a dozen brightly hued birdcages-turned-chandeliers, suspended from the soaring ceiling, take center stage. Funky furniture abounds on two levels—think velour couches, jewel-toned armchairs, upholstered bar stools, and marble high-tops—as does lively wallpaper patterned in flamingos and palm fronds. Even the bathrooms present a photo-op: Look up in the women’s room and catch a ceiling plastered with David Bowie; in the men’s, Farrah Fawcett.

But there’s one vignette in the wacky wonderland that manages to stand out from the rest—and you’ve probably seen it, too, even if you haven’t been to the bar yet. Scroll through Instagram long enough, and you’re bound to stumble upon someone perched on a tangerine banquette in front of the glowing, Texas-shaped sign mounted against millennial pink, an influencer’s dream come true.

Image: Jenn Duncan

It’s as if this place were designed explicitly #forthegram, right down to the colorful concoctions on the craft-cocktail menu. Chief among the most popular libations are Stranger Danger and Principal Kisses Alligator, two fruity drinks served in actual La Croix cans. Never one to miss out on a trend, the bar added two “Clawtails” to its seasonal menu, after hard-seltzer beverage White Claw exploded in popularity. Similarly, when the CBD craze reached a fever pitch, tropical concoction “Under the SeaBD” (pineapple rum, kiwi syrup, lime juice, blue curaçao, eucalyptus tincture, Topo Chico, lemon CBD) joined the ranks.

Inevitably people come here to see what all the hype is about. It just helps that the drinks are good. So is the food, from pork belly bites to green chile mac and cheese. The “dessert pizza,” with its cinnamon-sugar dough and chocolate-and-caramel dipping sauce, will send you straight back to childhood.

Present Company is, at its core, an adult playground, a place to drink, dance, and bask in neon lights. In a way it embodies an entire generation: the image-obsessed millennial dreaming of halcyon days, in search of the perfect pastel background and also the feeling of being a kid again. Sure, bars across the city have followed suit by installing slides and mixing up Capri Sun cocktails, but nowhere is the concept more obvious, more prevalent, or better executed than here.

One recent evening a group of coworkers found themselves in the most coveted seat in the house—an oversized floral couch set against an exposed-brick wall bearing yet another oft-photographed neon sign, a Talking Heads lyric: “It’s not… yesterday… anymore…”

Over a pile of Parmesan truffle fries and happy hour cocktails, they pondered the meaning of the phrase. “It’s like, it’s tomorrow now,” one posited. “Ahh,” the others sighed. For a moment things made sense. As they drained the last of their drinks and stood to leave, one—the only one of the bunch without an Instagram account—made a closing proposition: “So, should we selfie?”

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