New Orleans exterior, uber-classy interior.
A slice of New Orleans-reminiscent architecture is an unlikely but welcome sight in Houston’s downtown Skyline District where the towering Warren’s Inn exterior is hard to miss with its green, painted brick and wrought iron second-floor balcony. Established in 1978, the Houston dive bar feels like a throwback inside and out because that’s exactly what it is, ranking as one of the oldest dive bars in the city (alongside sister bar La Carafe). The early days of Warren’s Inn included a celebrity sighting or two, Liberace said to have not only visited the bar but also Trousdale’s home at one point.
The current Warren’s Inn location alongside Market Square Park is the second home for the Houston dive bar, the original location at 316 Milam Street demolished under controversial circumstances. Founder Warren Trousdale long held that he was harassed by Guardian Savings, new owner of the Warren’s Inn building at that time, before the building was torn down without a permit and without Trousdale’s consent in 1988.
Trousdale’s sister, Carolyn Wenglar, who took over ownership of the bar upon Trousedale’s passing, moved the business later that year to the current Market Square Park location, complete with the bar’s signature neon signage still seen today. Before Warren’s Inn moved in, the Houston dive bar’s current home served as past bars and restaurants over the year and is said to have at one time housed a gentleman’s establishment that could be the source of the interior gazebo that still commands one wall of the Warren’s Inn space.
Wenglar still owns and operates Warren’s Inn in addition to nearby, reportedly haunted Houston dive bar La Carafe. Little has changed over the years inside Warren’s Inn, the decorations both inside and out hardly touched over the decades by Wenglar and her staff. Most of the key features that can be seen within the current incarnation of Warren’s Inn actually date back to its original location, most of the fixtures part of the post-demolition move.
The Warren’s Inn signature feature is no doubt the twisted neon above the front door that depicts the name of the bar on either side of a large illuminated sign reading “Warren’s.” The signage lines a curved, metal awning that sits above the front door, additional small signs on either side of the door again proclaiming, you guessed it, the name of the bar.
Inside, the space feels more like a classic, old school tavern than it does a true dive bar, ornate, deep red wallpaper paired with classic brown tables and red-padded chairs. Brown shingles add a bit of divey appeal predominantly over the bar but also in spots along the Warren’s Inn walls. Intricate flourishes can be seen throughout Warren’s Inn, from the lighting fixtures along the ceiling to the wood frames that surround massive mirrors atop exposed brick walls. Of course the classic bust sculpture in the corner of the space only adds to the Houston dive bar’s ambiance.
The bar itself is small, a three-sided counter that juts out just slightly into the main room, leaving most of the space to low tables. A backlit piece of stained glass flanks the bar to one side, mixed in with the odd framed photo or Budweiser Clydesdale display. Behind the bar, red lights illuminate shelved liquor bottles, again playing up the tavern-style, red and brown palette that permeates Warren’s Inn. There are hints of a dive bar here to be sure, including a vintage cigarette machine and mirror-style beer signage, but Warren’s Inn fits well with its downtown Houston location, giving off the vibe of a classic watering hole unchanged but well-maintained.