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A dive bar lover’s paradise with vintage design and fun cocktails is coming to the fore

Matt Tanner wants to bring “all these places that are going” to life in Houston.

The 36-year-old bartender – who previously spent seven years as beverage director for the Pappas restaurant group as well as a bartender at Anvil – not sure how long dive bar favorites such as Lola’s Depot, Blue Lagoon Club and Warren’s Inn will stick around. Some of his favorites – Kay’s Lounge and Alice’s Tall Texan – have already closed permanently.

Today’s opening of EZ’s Liquor Lounge in the Heights aims to recreate, preserve and bring dive bars into modern times, Tanner said.

He and a team of Agricole Hospitality partners, who operate coltivare restaurant across the street, are behind the 3,600-square-foot bar filled with checkerboard floors (a nod to the Shiloh Club, another dive into the heights), faux wood walls, and sufficiently of neon signs to make the EZs look like a floating spaceship in a residential and increasingly expensive stretch of The Heights.

Matt Tanner behind the bar at EZ’s Liquor Lounge.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

The pandemic delayed the opening at 3302 White Oak Dr., but Tanner said that was also a blessing. This gave the team nearly two years to scour garage sales, estate sales, antiques, and Etsy.

However, EZ’s Liquor Lounge isn’t just a facsimile of a dive bar. Tanner had dreamed of owning a bar since he was 21, he said, and it’s filled with personal touches. Here’s a preview below.

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A cowboy statue at EZ's Liquor Lounge.

A cowboy statue at EZ’s Liquor Lounge.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

Alice’s Tall Texan Cowboy Statue

The pandemic shut down many Houston classics, including one of Tanner’s favorite dives, Alice’s Tall Texan, which had been open for nearly 40 years.

A statue of a scrawny cowboy with legs seemingly as slender as Slim Jims is one of the Heights bar’s most memorable pieces. Tanner said he bid in the “lower four figures” to bring the coin to EZ.

A chart in the shape of the state of Texas shows the location of EZ's Liquor Lounge in Houston.

A chart in the shape of the state of Texas shows the location of EZ’s Liquor Lounge in Houston.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

Texas shaped table

This table is inspired by a much larger table that was inside Kay’s Lounge, a popular dive on Bissonet that closed in 2016.

Tanner had his uncle make the Texas-shaped table, which is made from a pecan tree that had fallen on his cousin’s ranch outside Austin, and it took about eight months. In true Houston fashion, he said it turns out his uncle’s best friend’s mom knew Kay.

A corner dedicated to former baseball player Nolan Ryan is displayed at EZ's Liquor Lounge.

A corner dedicated to former baseball player Nolan Ryan is displayed at EZ’s Liquor Lounge.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

Nolan Ryan Sanctuary

The Lone Star cold beer neon sign at the EZ Liquor Lounge.

The Lone Star cold beer neon sign at the EZ Liquor Lounge.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

Nolan Ryan, whom Tanner idolized growing up, is a Lone Star legend who has his own sanctuary behind the bar at EZ’s.

There’s a photo of Ryan, who was playing for the Texas Rangers, hit Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox in a game nearly 30 years ago that has been immortalized by baseball fans nationwide. The bar will annually celebrate the date of the fight on August 4, when the Texas native beat his opponent, who was 20 years younger.

The shelf also includes memorabilia commemorating Ryan’s time as an Astros player and a painting a friend picked up at a garage sale.

The vintage fridge at EZ's Liquor Lounge.

The vintage fridge at EZ’s Liquor Lounge.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

Old refrigerator

This broken refrigerator, adorned with stickers with a John F. Kennedy cutout above, has a long history.

According to Tanner, the refrigerator came from his Uncle Brad’s former colleague, Buddy, who got it from his mother’s bar in Galveston, which opened in 1955. It was used to store beers, which the men shared at their warehouse job until Buddy got cancer. It then stayed with Brad on Lake Austin for years before Tanner inherited it.

Today, the refrigerator is used as a self-service water station; if you open it, there are mannequin heads inside.

Lone Star cold beer neon sign

Tanner took his Pudelpointer Greta on a road trip to South Dakota, where they went pheasant hunting. On their way back to Houston, they stopped in Edmond, Okla., to pick up this neon Lone Star cold beer sign he found on Craigslist for $300.

People have already joked that the sign hung above the only pool table along White Oak Drive in the heights.

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Decorative Budweiser beer mugs at the EZ Liquor Lounge.

Decorative Budweiser beer mugs at the EZ Liquor Lounge.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

Budweiser Holiday Mugs

Patrons will notice a long row of ornate Budweiser holiday steins hanging from the ceiling above the bar.

Tanner’s friend gifted him the set, which includes a mug from every year since 1980 and belonged to his friend’s father-in-law before his death. He says he’ll continue to add mugs to the collection – it’s a Budweiser tradition to release one every year – and there’s a plaque honoring his friend’s stepfather that will hang on the wall.

Gin and tonic at EZ's Liquor Lounge in Houston.

Gin and tonic at EZ’s Liquor Lounge in Houston.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

Cocktails

“Houston is hot the majority of the year,” Tanner said. “I just wanted frozen drinks all the time.”

From gin and tonics to slushy iced drinks, half the cocktails are served in icy beer mugs that feel like lifting a (refreshing) 5-pound weight.

The Hillbilly Highball at EZ's Liquor Lounge.

The Hillbilly Highball at EZ’s Liquor Lounge.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

Tanner is serious about serving cold drinks. The bar’s eight freezers – which he says are three times as much space as at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen – are an important part of his affordable bar program and the temperature is set at minus four degrees.

Old fashioned dulce de leche is $15, but most drinks hover around the $10 price tag.

An EZ Dog at EZ's Liquor Lounge.

An EZ Dog at EZ’s Liquor Lounge.

Jon Shapley/staff photographer

Food

Tanner said he and his business partners wanted a food menu that reflected the dishes they loved.

Chili cheese, onion dips and chili are just a few of the nostalgic items available at EZ to help soak up all the gooze, said Tanner, who joked that he remembered eating summer sausages, cubed cheddar, mustard and pickles growing up but wanted “something better than Hillshire Farm.
After tasting about 40 hot dogs, they chose four for the menu. Some are topped with queso and there is also a vegan option.

Chili Pies are their version of Frito Pies, where they let customers choose their choice of fries and chili, including a vegetarian option that uses daal.

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