From BIG oil to NASA, industry has long defined the United States’ fourth most populous city.
So has its flat-as-a-pancake, car-clogged sprawl, where the international airport is more than 30 kilometres from Downtown’s CBD and construction and traffic are constants. But Houston is nothing if not welcoming. When it gets a moment in the spotlight, the city shows its best self as an ever-evolving, pull- up-the-bootstraps place that embraces eccentricity and hard work.
During the past year, Clutch City (it’s a Houston thing) hosted two of the country’s premier sports events: the Super Bowl and the World Series. The former ushered in a new wave of hotels, bars and restaurants, especially in Downtown, which rivals the Montrose neighbourhood in terms of hipness. Some large corporations are moving beyond the CBD, too, bringing development to suburbs such as The Woodlands (near the home of ExxonMobil’s expansive campus), where you might just have your next business meeting. And it’s business as usual these days, despite the record-breaking floods delivered by Hurricane Harvey in August.
Here are the best places to lay your head...
Luxury: Four Seasons Hotel Houston
A seven-figure renovation in 2016 injected fresh life into this pre-eminent hotel. Ceilings were removed in the lobby to create a lofty “living room” space and the new lobby bar and grill has two golf simulators.
Business facilities Communal tables with docking stations on the third floor provide a quiet spot to work or host a meeting.
Wi-fi Basic is free; premium is $US18 (about $24) per day.
Food and drink Quattro’s wine bar serves small plates and antipasti. Book The Cellar private room to close an important deal. The livelier Bayou & Bottle in the lobby dishes up more casual fare – lobster tacos, steak frites and burgers – and you can order a Dr Pepper Old Fashioned at the bourbon-centric bar. Room service operates 24/7.
Fitness and wellbeing The 24-hour gym has treadmills, spin bikes, free weights and a view of the heated pool. Classes run several times a week and personal training is available. The new spa has treatment rooms and a nail bar.
Run route Make your way west down Lamar to Buffalo Bayou Park for kilometres of trails and stellar views. Ask the front desk for a map.
Coffee nearby There’s a grab-and-go counter in the lobby from 6am (7am on weekends) or try gourmet market Phoenicia across the street.
1300 Lamar Street, Downtown
Classic: The St Regis Houston
Built by a Texan billionaire socialite as the Remington Hotel in 1982, the 232-room St Regis is in one of Houston’s more upmarket enclaves. Standard guestrooms are the largest in the city, with thick towelling robes, Pratesi linen, Illy espresso machines, leather furniture and bedside charging stations. The suites and rooms on the top two floors come with butler service.
Business facilities A lounge with PCs and a printer is available and the boardroom meeting space has a private entrance.
Wi-fi Basic is free; premium is $US11 (about $14) per day.
Food and drink Dine at the upscale Remington Restaurant or have a drink in The Remington Bar, where Harry Spitzer, who’s been tending the bar for 25 years, can make you a tequila-zapped Bloody Mary. Take afternoon tea in a separate lounge where a harpist plays.
Fitness and wellbeing Just off the mezzanine-level outdoor pool, the exercise room has Life Fitness machines and free weights. The spa offers facials and massages and each locker room has a sauna.
Run route The concierge can provide a map of a few two-to-four-kilometre routes, the longest winding around stately mansions.
Coffee nearby Pint-sized Bebidas is a half- hour walk away but it’s a worthy stop for coffee and smoothies.
1919 Briar Oaks Lane, River Oaks
Houston isn’t really a pedestrian- or public-transport-friendly place, as much as the city would like to be. Hire a car with GPS to navigate the sprawl or use ride services such as Uber, which has no shortage of drivers. Allow extra time for rush periods (about 7am to 10am and 4pm to 7pm on weekdays).
Boutique: Hotel Zaza Houston
ZaZa’s co-owner once described his hotel as “The Phantom of the Opera meets George Clooney meets Versace meets [American economist] Alan Greenspan”. If that sounds a bit much, wait until you see the lobby’s zebra prints and koi pool below a surrealistic image of fashion designer John Galliano on horseback. That vibe flows through to the 315 guestrooms, including top-floor suites with panoramic views. The Museum of Fine Arts is across the street and Downtown is easily accessed via MetroRail or the hotel’s longhorn-adorned shuttle. It’s quite a departure from the property’s first life as the Warwick, which hosted Princess Grace of Monaco.
Business facilities There’s a small business centre with two Macs, a printer and brasserie-style tables, as well as multiple tech-capable meeting spaces. Most impressive is the Imagination room, on the 11th floor, with large picture windows.
Wi-fi Complimentary throughout.
Food and drink The recently revamped Monarch Restaurant serves lamb “lollipops”, Creole crab cakes, steak and fish. Take a seat on the terrace for views of the Mecom Fountain. Room service is 24 hours.
Fitness and wellbeing A compact gym with cardio and weights equipment is near the courtyard pool, across from the spa offering facials and four-hand massages.
Run route Nearby Hermann Park has a scenic three-kilometre loop that winds around a golf course.
Coffee nearby Bosta Kitchen whips up the classics, plus specialties such as Japanese pour-overs and Vietnamese iced coffee.
5701 Main Street, Museum District
Cutting-edge: Hotel Alessandra
Natural light fills this built-from-the-ground-up newcomer that has a modern yet whimsical feel. Accommodation ranges from the king-size Traditional Room to the 21st-floor Presidential Suite, which has a private patio, floor-to-ceiling windows and two ensuite bedrooms. All rooms have a Nespresso machine and an iPad on which to order 24/7 room service or request a free ride in the hotel’s Maserati.
Business facilities Event halls on the third floor can host up to 300 but the winner is the top-floor, 10-seat Autre Boardroom, complete with a verandah.
Wi-fi Speedy and complimentary.
Food and drink Bardot, the hotel’s bar, is a good spot for a quick bite or cocktail. For dinner, the tasting menu at 65-seat Lucienne, which has a wall of windows, might include caviar or foie gras.
Fitness and wellbeing The fifth-floor gym has cardio and weights machines. It’s adjacent to the spa – try a HydraFacial – and the sunny outdoor pool.
Run route Buffalo Bayou Park, eight short blocks to the west, has multiple trails to explore. Houston’s bike-share program, BCycle, has a kiosk nearby if you want to head out on two wheels.
Coffee nearby Boutique espresso bar Prelude Coffee and Tea, in the glass atrium of the 609 Main office tower, serves killer espresso-based drinks and intriguing tea options, such as matcha lattes. On the menu are artisanal doughnuts and brisket-stuffed kolaches.
1070 Dallas Street, Downtown
Top image: Four Seasons Hotel Houston