Super Bowl LI

Downtown Houston Has Undergone a Dramatic Tranformation Since the Last Super Bowl

The last time the Big Game came to town, downtown offered tourists a bunch of nightclubs… and not much else. What a difference a decade makes.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen January 26, 2017

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1. Market Square Park

A thoughtful 2010 redesign made this historic park a destination, offering regular movie screenings, bingo nights and local markets on the lawn, not to mention a Niko Niko’s outpost hawking the city’s favorite Greek gyros.

2. Art Blocks

Three blocks of Main Street comprise Main Street Square, a unique pedestrian enclosure that’s been enlivened by several large-scale public art projects. Pass through by foot, bike or METROrail to view the immersive color experience of Color Jam Houston, the cultural flair of Saludos and the functional whimsy of Trumpet Flower. 

3. Discovery Green

Houston’s state-of-the-art urban park is always chock-full of events, activities and art. Wake up with free yoga, catch a concert, take a lap on the outdoor ice skating rink, or stroll under the promenade of LED light flowers of the Enchanted installation.

4. Houston Is… Mural

Adjacent to Market Square Park, this psychedelic explosion of civic pride by artist Gonzo247 is a testament to the qualities that make the city great.

5. Hearsay Gastro Lounge

With two convenient locations downtown, this glitzy hotspot offers everything from post-work happy hour to date night to Sunday brunch.

6. Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

The most impressive place to pray for a gridiron victory might be this ultra-modern house of worship, designed by architecture firm Ziegler Cooper to replace its neighboring, century-old predecessor and dedicated in 2008. 

7. Avenida Houston

A new pedestrian-friendly dining corridor has arisen along the Avenida de las Americas—look for lively patios along the George R. Brown Convention Center replacing the formerly bare thoroughfare. Among them: Kulture, Marcus Davis's elevated paean to the food and music of the Southern-Afro-Carribean diaspora; Landry's revamped take on Italian fare at Grotto; and Bud's Pitmaster BBQ, a Southern-style 'cue joint with an upscale atmosphere.

8. Conservatory

On a chilly day, there’s something inherently appealing about an underground gathering space—not least when it's a beer garden that also houses four popular food stalls, including perennial favorite Melange Creperie.

9. Public Services

A couple of design tweaks and a beautifully curated menu of wine and whiskey has transformed the turn-of-the-century Houston Cotton Exchange building into downtown’s most genteel spot for a drink. 

10. Pastry War

Nope, no patisserie here—just to-die-for margaritas, tequila and mezcal (plus tamales and chips-and-queso, obviously) from sustainable Mexican producers, served in a colorfully laidback space.

11. Nightingale Room

This intimate space is one of the best spots for live music, with performances Tuesdays through Fridays. On other nights, come for low-key cocktails and classic vinyl records. 

12. Boots 'N Shoots

Hey, maybe this is your first rodeo, and you want to get the full experience. You’re in luck with this, downtown’s first Lone Star–themed bar, which is lock, stock and loaded with true Texas whiskeys. 

13. Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

This Houston dining institution debuted downtown in 2015 with old-fashioned steakhouse fare in appropriately swank surrounds. Go ahead, try to walk past the meat case and then order a salad. We dare you.

14. Jackson Street Barbecue

Frankly, all barbecue should be served in a giant red barn, just as God and our Texas forefathers intended. This collaboration between ’cue expert Greg Gatlin and restaurateurs Bryan Caswell and Bill Floyd brings down-home country goodness and to-die-for ribs to the heart of downtown. 

15. Phoenicia

Sure, it’s a grocery store, but it’s a grocery store with an enormous pita bread conveyor belt, meats roasting on spits, and its own satellite café, MKT Bar, known for its popular steak night, craft beer lineup and guest DJ appearances. 

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