Juliet’s retro movie theater façade, complete with a lit-up marquee, a ticket window, and a concession stand. Image: Juliet
AS with a hide-and-seek gamehalf the fun of dining at some of the city’s trending hot spots is finding them. A wave of new restaurants and cocktail bars has opened in Houston that mimic the speakeasy-style concepts that have long been popular in New York City, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. These establishments may not look like much at first, but a deeper dive reveals much to be desired—a lackluster exterior with zero curb appeal makes way for a ritzy dining room or a glamorous cocktail bar.
One of the restaurateurs joining in the latest trend is James McGhee, owner of the famous Candy Shack daiquiri bars and the newly launched Juliet, a modern speakeasy dining concept cleverly hidden on Westheimer Road in the Galleria area.
“I was inspired by Beauty & Essex in Los Angeles, which has a functional pawn shop at the entrance with a full-service restaurant hidden behind it,” he says.
His plans for Juliet included several similar ideas. “I wanted to build out a real laundromat but nixed the idea after I found out how much the equipment costs,” he laughs. As a serious film buff, he decided that a mock movie-theater entrance would be fitting. “My goal at Juliet is to surprise people,” he says. And surprised you will be—if you take the restaurant at face value.
At first glance, Juliet appears to be nothing more than a movie theater in the corner of a retail strip. The sprawling restaurant lies through double doors beyond the lobby, and it packs in a private dining room, an eye-catching bar, and more than 2,000 square feet of patio space centered around a live oak.
For his first full-service restaurant, McGhee drew inspiration for the design of the space and the menu from his travels worldwide, noting that he wanted to bring some of the exciting things he had tasted and experienced to Houston. “I traveled to Dubai and went to a restaurant which served a steak covered in 24-karat gold,” he says. “Nobody was doing anything like that in Texas, so I put it on the menu at Juliet.” While he wouldn’t go so far as to say that Juliet is a steakhouse, he shares that the restaurant is fun and vibey, reflecting modern interpretations of different foods.
Since opening its mock movie theater doors in February, Juliet has welcomed eager diners wanting to get the whole scoop on this curious concept. As expected, photo ops are plenty, but it’s got substance. Go forth, and venture in; then, share the secret with your closest friends.
In a city fraught with retail-strip restaurants, it can be refreshing to find a unique destination built out unlike anywhere else in the city and tucked away from the chaos of the outside world. Check out Houstonia‘s picks of some of the city’s best-kept-secret restaurants and bars.
5857 Westheimer Rd, Ste P
While it may look like this cinema plays all of the old classics, there is only one feature presentation here: Juliet. Beyond its retro movie-theater façade, complete with a lit-up marquee, a ticket window, and a concession stand, Juliet is an upscale, modern American restaurant boasting old-Hollywood glam. Film stills adorn the walls; the movie-inspired menu sections off into Preview, Main Event, and Co-Stars; and instead of bread service, guests are given bowls of popcorn when they are seated. Curated by beverage experts Ladies of Libation, the cocktail program features dreamy drinks worthy of a photo. And save room for the credits: Juliet touts a spherical chocolate dessert with dulce de leche and bourbon caramel that will make you want to return for a sequel. Just please don’t ask when the film will be shown.
1344 Yale St
No need to double-check the address—if you pull up to Savoir in hopes of dining at Patton’s, you’ve reached your final destination. The intimate, 38-seat steakhouse is a true hideaway, located behind Savoir’s bar and through a speakeasy-style entrance. The high-end concept differs from its casual-chic counterpart in its Old World design and elevated steakhouse menu featuring prime cuts of steak and an extensive wine list. Guests can indulge in an elegant Waldorf salad, followed by a New York strip sourced from Colorado’s Gable Cattle Co. Dimly lit and romantic, the L-shaped space offers cozy corners in which to dine and an exclusive bar with six highly sought-after seats. While Patton’s is out of sight (in more ways than one), the restaurant serves as the Heights neighborhood’s only dedicated steakhouse, making it all the more enticing to seek out.
1300 Lamar St
Downtown’s posh Four Seasons Hotel houses two wonderful food-and-drink destinations: the lobby bar, Bayou & Bottle, and Toro Toro, helmed by celebrity chef Richard Sandoval. But it also boasts an ultra-exclusive cocktail bar tucked beyond a mock bookcase and completely hidden from guests. Bandista, the hotel’s new 20-seat bar, is an upscale speakeasy — one that requires a secret numerical code to enter. Once inside, patrons can experience the bar’s innovative cocktail program, including libations poured over dry ice and presented in vintage glassware. There are rare spirits, with pours priced as high as $8,000, and cocktails large enough for couples to share. A seat at the bar allows guests to witness all of the thoughtful preparation that goes into crafting drinks, but the intimate space boasts a comfortable lounge area, affording dazzling nighttime views of the city. Bandista is reservation-only, with guests receiving a confirmation by text and instructions on where to meet to be escorted up.
5353 W Alabama St #102
What appears to be a comic book store on the outside is an omakase-only dining experience in Uptown, appropriately named Hidden Omakase. The multicourse experience is precisely that: an experience from start to finish, and with only two seatings per night, it is one of the hottest chef-led dinners in town. Upon entering the front door, guests find themselves in a dining room anchored by a large, wraparound sushi bar with only 14 seats. In the center of the room, chef Niki Vongthong and her team of skilled sushi chefs prepare course after course, hand-delivering pieces of 11-day aged fish, Wagyu nigiri, noodle bowls, and more to each diner. The fixed menu leaves no room for changes or substitutions, but guests can choose from an entire a la carte menu of add-ons, including hand rolls and foie gras, should they be hungry for more.
518 W 11th St, Ste 500
With only 10 seats inside a narrow, 400-square-foot space, Kanpai Club is one of the most exclusive drinking places in H-Town. Those in the know can access the bar through a shared door located inside Hando, its sister hand-roll restaurant, and partake of craft cocktails, martinis, sake, beer, and wine. As a perk of being right next door, guests can order many of Hando’s small plates, including Brussels sprouts, edamame, and Wagyu gyoza. Visitors looking for a nightcap can also score heartier eats like chicken karaage and curry fries from the late-night menu, served from 10 pm to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 11 pm to 2 am Friday and Saturday.
5120 Washington Ave
Nestled among the lively bars along Washington Avenue is a pastry shop featuring glass cases stocked with macarons, cakes, and sugary concoctions. Upon further investigation, visitors will realize that there is much more to the innocent storefront beyond an unassuming pantry door. A large, dimly lit, speakeasy-style cocktail bar, Sugar Room, lies through the passage. The swanky bar with 1920s-inspired decor transports you to the Prohibition era, when hidden bars were more necessity than luxury. Head-turning cocktails are reason enough to linger around, but if you’re not a drinker, there is also a hookah on the patio.