Praising the Bar

Meet the Lady Who Lives in an Ice House

Just 10 days after Mack’s Icehouse closed down, Ann Herbage moved in. Now the bar counter remains at center stage.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen March 31, 2016 Published in the April 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Ann Herbage, amateur artist, collector, traveler and retiree.

Image: Scott Doyle

Sitting on an unassuming corner of the East End, the building looks like any other old-school, no-frills neighborhood ice house—blank cinderblock walls, windows covered in metal bars, and strips of fluorescent lighting under the low-slung roof. But it’s been a while since last call. In fact, someone lives here now.

The bar formerly known as Mack’s Icehouse has been the home of Ann Herbage—amateur artist, collector, traveler and retiree—for more than two years. Herbage previously resided with her husband in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse loft in the First Ward, which also housed his collection of automobiles. After he died, she decided to look for a smaller space in the East End, but had trouble finding something affordable.

Then her realtor found Mack’s for sale as a commercial property and suggested it as a residential possibility. Herbage loved the space and decided to go for it. But first: “I attended the last night they had music here, which was tejano and conjunto, so that was great fun,” she says. “And then we closed on the building the next day. And 10 days after that I moved in.”

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The ladies' room in the ice house got a makeover when Herbage moved in.

Image: Scott Doyle

Originally, Herbage planned to renovate the 3,000-square-foot place, but after estimates came in high, she decided to make do. The bar counter remains the focal point of the open space. A few screens in one corner create a bedroom, while a hot plate, microwave, toaster and two fridges make up the kitchen.

Herbage did make some changes, of course. She eventually took out the corner stage, much to the displeasure of the kids in her extended family, who loved using it for their own impromptu performances. And the ladies’ room got a makeover. One stall became a closet and another a shower, while the third kept its commode. The result is a little unorthodox, to be sure, but it’s as spacious as the master in any suburban mansion. (The men’s room functions as a guest bathroom—appropriately, as Herbage loves to entertain—and storage closet.)

As for the rest of the home, the best way to tell which room you’re standing in is by paint color. The main living area is pink; the kitchen’s red; and the laundry room, left intact, is the same vivid orange as the old bar. Throughout, there’s mixed and matched furniture, along with her collections of treasures.

“I was used to living in an unconventional place where I could just kind of decorate with abandon,” she says. “Even if I had a conventional house, I would not have conventional style.”

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The bar counter remains the focal point of the open space.

Image: Scott Doyle

Herbage uses the wide window ledges running along the building to display vases, jewelry and other knickknacks made of colored glass—anything that will catch the light. The bar itself holds trays full of assorted wine and margarita glasses. Overflowing bookcases and pieces of art, meanwhile, are everywhere.

The unusual setup, Herbage says, works for her, even if she does have to deal with the occasional odd visitor. “I’ve lived here two-and-a-half years and I’m still getting customers for the bar,” she says. “But I have to say, everybody who has stopped by has been extremely nice. Even when they’ve had a few beers.”

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