Though I had long seen it described as a wine bar, I never considered Market Square stalwart La Carafe to be one. Of course, I had not been in a quite a while. I knew it as a comfortable place for date night, quirky and cozy and something extremely unique for Houston; housed in an 1850s era structure, it had a setting that felt historic.
But, there is truth to its description as a wine bar, and one that is a little different in a welcome way. OK, the stemware is industrial and a little small, there is no fancy Enomatic-like system, and the bartender might have a knowledge of wine limited only to operating a corkscrew as mine was on a recent visit, but La Carafe has a well-chosen wine list with enticingly low prices. Two key attractions in a wine bar. There are about twenty wines served by the glass. The whites run from $6 to $9, with an average price of about $7 per glass, while the reds are a bit higher, priced between $7 and $9 and averaging about $8 a glass. This is especially nice, as even house wines at most places now begin in the two-digit range.
It’s not just the low prices that are an attraction at La Carafe, but the wines are more interesting than you might expect, especially if your tastes run more toward the Old World as do mine. There is a German Riesling, Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano in Italian), and even a Muscadet among the whites. A Bordeaux, a Spanish Tempranillo from the Rioja producer LAN, a Cotes du Rhone from the terroir-driven importer Kermit Lynch, Bibi Graetz's Tuscan Sangiovese under the Casamatta label, are a few of the Old World reds, while an easily likeable Pinot Noir from Hahn Estates and a Petite Sirah were a couple of the New World offerings. The ever-changing list also included a couple of sparklers, a tawny port and a rosé. It’s a fun wine menu that can pair well with a visit to the theater or opera. Or, just to take the edge off after work.
Of special note for students and the under-employed, the drinkable house red and white are just $2.50 during happy hour from 4:00 to 7:00 each day. There have beers, too, of course, including four on tap, and the jukebox is still filled with jazz, classic renditions of the Great American Songbook and the earlier years of rock that make for a relaxing complement.
813 Congress (between Travis and Milam), 77002, (713) 229-9399