Seeing the city

A walk through Houston's neighborhoods can reveal all kinds of good surprises

Jovan Abernathy is an international marathoner and owner of Houston Tourism Gym. To claim your free tour, contact her at info@tourismgymhtx.com

Let's talk gentrification or shall I say improving to conform to middle-class taste. (I looked it up) Wait this sounds like a trick. That depends on who is telling the story. So, I'll tell you my story of gentrification.

As always, this story starts with a walk. This time in Rice University. My foot steps onto the cinder path. I can hear the pebbles underneath my feet. The trees were swaying and the sky was blue.

I had run this path so many times during marathon training. I remember running into regulars that I used to wait on at a local restaurant. I used to see Julie every Saturday on this path. She once told me that her favorite part to training for her own half marathon was seeing "Flower Man."

I had never met him, but he was somewhat of a legend. They called him "Flower Man" because the flowers that he used to adorn the basket on his bicycle. I smile to myself and continue my walk.

From Rice University, I walk through the Museum District before boarding the light rail. I believe that was about 4 miles already, but whose counting? I'm looking for something special today. I'm not stopping until I find it. I step off the Metro at the Ensemble stop.

As soon as I step onto the platform, I knew I was in a different world. I could already see that this neighborhood was full of surprises. I was definitely not in Rice University anymore. I stand in one spot and look all around me. Without even moving, I could see the culture. Ensemble Theatre. Breakfast Klub. Double Trouble. And a number of murals.

I walk over to the Ensemble Theatre to get a better look. Just my luck. It's not open, but I could see a description of the theatre. Apparently, this is Houston's first professional African American theatre. It produces it's own in house shows. What's coming up next? Freeda Peoples and Pipeline. We will have to come back to that. On to the next.

As I walk along the Metro rail, I see Double Trouble. I've heard of this place. It's a coffee shop that serves cocktails and opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 2am. Bring your computer or bring your dog. I walk to the end of the street and turn the corner towards the Breakfast Klub. I have to push through an unexpected line of people.

"How long have you been in this line," I ask the closest person to me. "I've been here since 8 a.m." I look at my phone. 11 a.m. How good can it be? He hands me a menu. Wings and Waffles and Catfish and Grits. I think it's worth it, but not right now.

From driving by on the street, I noticed there was an impressive black and white mural of Barack Obama. I think now is a great time to finally get that picture I've been wanting. I move past the crowd to cross the street. I wonder who the artist is. It looks like it could be Icy and Sot (the Iranian brothers who painted the black and white mural in Graffitti Park) I look for a name….Reginald Adams. I proudly look at my photo. Time to keep moving.


I walk to Truxillio. I heard that there was a brewery here called Under the Radar. As I walked down the street, I looked at the old wooden houses that lined the street. It always gives me a good feeling to see old houses.

What's on the left? The Buffalo Soldiers Museum. I had no idea that Houston had one of these. In fact, I don't even know what a buffalo soldier is. That's why I bring my phone with me. The buffalo soldiers were African American soldiers charged with keeping white soldiers safe from American Indians. They were called buffalo soldiers by the Indians because they were strong and built to last making them hard to kill just like a buffalo. That goes on the list to must visit too.

I find Under the Radar a couple of houses down the street. If it were not for the hanging tea lights and and the picnic tables. I would have missed it. I go to the bar and look over the menu. Dirty Blonde. Radar Love. Midtown Bock. Mid Frequency IPA. I'm an IPA girl, so I place my order. I savor my first taste. It's a winner. I finish my beer and time to keep it moving.

I'm still on Alabama St. Just over the bridge, I see a red brick house. It's a little different from all the other houses near it. There is a lot of sculptures in the front yard. Because it is time for me to be curious, I don't hesitate to go in. This house is called the Gite Gallery. It's owned by Lloyd Gite. Through his many travels to Africa, he developed a love for Afro-Cuban art. He now shares this art with the public. African masks, Colorful paintings, Tribal sculptures are among his offerings. I'll let you in on a secret. Lloyd Gite was a journalist before. Around his gallery, there are many photographs he has taken with celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and even Rosa Parks.

Back out on the street, I see that I am approaching Emancipation Ave. I turn left. I came out today because I wanted to check out Project Row Houses. For those of you who don't know, Project Row Houses is a row of Shotgun Houses that have been repurposed into galleries. Each home has its own theme and is created by a different artist.

Project Row is much more than that. This 30 building campus also serves as an incubator for black business. NuWaters is a co-op that sells organic fruits and vegetables to the Third Ward Community. This produce comes straight from the NuWaters farm. Step in and listen to the manager, Carmen tell light hearted stories of how to keep rabbits out of the garden.

Next door, you will find Crumbville Bakery owned by Miss Ella. Miss Ella, who greets everyone with a hug, specializes is cupcakes stuffed with cookies. With favorites like her strawberry cookies called Cookie Minaj, carrot cake, and banana pudding, its easy to see why its hard to keep stocked.

I'm in the shotgun houses now. I saved them for last. Some of the exhibits have an overtone of frustration. Some have a note of inspiration. I came to the last house. When I opened the door, the first thing I saw was a sign on the wall with the instruction to elect my Third Ward hero. There were small pictures on the wall of people of the neighborhood. Beside each photo was their name and something special about them. I walked the wall and looked at each picture before coming to the last. I stopped in front of it and read the note: "I elect Flower Man as my Third Ward hero."

I could feel the goosebumps forming. I came out looking for something and I found it. I left the house in an energetic comptemplation.

Back to the gentrification issue. When I think gentrification in Houston, I think about Third Ward. There has been much controversy over the changes that are being made. I, personally, like to focus on the positive changes. Project Row Houses does much for the community. They purpose to bring voice and community to Third Ward. I say that they have done just that.

By the way, Flower Man, whose real name was Cleveland Turner, was a gardener who worked in River Oaks. He was also an artist who kept not only his bicycle colorful, but his front yard too. He used art to celebrate his sobriety. When he passed, the neighbors came to his house to claim their own Flower Man original work of art.

WEEKEND GETAWAYS

The best places to visit in San Antonio

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

One of the great mysteries of Houston life is that so many locals don't take better advantage of San Antonio. Not only is the Alamo City a cultural jewel with more than 300 years of history proudly on display, it is also a strikingly modern city with chic boutique hotels, innovative restaurants, and some of the best shopping in Texas.

In a time when cities across the world are starting to feel numbingly the same, San Antonio has kept its identity. What's travel if not a chance to experience some place unique?

Where to eat and drink

Eastside Kitchenette

After a long period spent renovating its 1906 building, this project from owner chefs Jenn and Jeff White debuted in January with a comforting menu melding the best of Southern and Hill Country cuisine. The dishes — catfish, meatloaf, and even spinach artichoke dip — certainly appeal to traditionalists, but Eastside doesn't exactly deliver home cooking. That catfish is stuffed with sweet blue crab, the meatloaf comes with a side of black garlic broccoli, and the bacon Parmesan streusel topping the dip was never in a Junior League cookbook.

Jet-Setter

The newest player in the downtown bar scene is literally underground, giving it an exclusive speakeasy vibe. Still, once revelers descend the steps, it's clear that its head is in the clouds. Taking style cues from midcentury airports, the lounge has vintage vibes without looking like a Mad Men set. The cocktails are fully contemporary, using ingredients from destinations all over the world.

Lala's Gorditas
The owner of this Southside restaurant, Steve Pizzini, is San Antonio restaurant royalty. His aunt Ernestine Pizzini Chapa founded Teka Molino in 1938 before father Herman Pizzini launched Taco Hut in 1958, and both quickly rose to become some of the Alamo City's most beloved concepts. That's a lot to live up to, but Pizzini rises to the occasion with extravagantly overstuffed gorditas, shatteringly crisp puffy tacos, and deep caramel flan baked every day.

Swine House Bodega
This downtown sandwich shop is serious about its sourcing, using only ethically raised breeds from area farms. For owner Joe Saenz, it's not just a matter of being a responsible global citizen. Pasture-raised meats also taste better, a fact readily apparent in the Swine House's New York-style subs and biscuit sandwiches. Be warned that the shop is only open weekdays for breakfast and lunch. What better excuse to extend a weekend day trip?

Continue reading on CultureMap to find out the best places to shop.

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