The small town of Bryan, Texas began in the 1860’s along the nearby railroad. Unlike other agricultural towns, Bryan offered a prospering merchant trade that continues to flourish. The rapid growth of the towns economy attracted many immigrants, mainly Italian, German, and Czech, to lay their roots. The town also became a main exportation center for the abundance of nearby agriculture.
In 1929 the first luxury hotel was built to serve the growing community. The LaSalle was the tallest building standing at 7 stories showcasing a dining hall, coffee shop, and ballroom to accommodate 100 guests. The LaSalle was a staple of the downtown hub until the late 1950’s, when it was converted to a nursing home. By1975 it was closed to the public as the once booming downtown epicenter became less populated.
Additional prominent buildings along the main street were the Carnegie Library, founded in 1902 after a generous donation from Andrew Carnegie and served Bryan until 1969. The Carnegie Library is still the oldest Carnegie Library in the State of Texas. Joining these grand buildings, historic landmarks line the downtown strip offering entertainment to the travellers and residents. Among these landmarks were the Queen and Palace Theaters.
Built prior to 1914 and remodeled in 1939, the Queen Theatre was a main entertainment feature until the 70’s, when it too fell victim to the dwindling activity of Main Street. The Palace Theatre was constructed as the City Hall in the early 1900’s but later followed the success of the Queen and was renovated into a movie theater. Among the heritage of the downtown stands the Grand Stafford Theater. Built in 1910, The Stafford, as it is endearingly referred to now, was originally known as the Dixie Theater. Entertainment and music would swirl among the doorways of these majestic buildings in this enterprising location.
So what caused the despair to this once vibrant strip of business and society?
As the years went by, the nearby community of College Station, just 4 miles away, was going through its own prosperous boom around the Texas A&M University. In addition, the 60’s brought shopping centers, such as Townshire and Manor East Mall, closer to the spreading residential communities. The proximity challenged the pull of the once thriving Downtown Bryan. With this decline, many of these rich historical businesses closed down. However, the late 80’s sparked dreams of breathing new life into the formerly prosperous area.
Today, the revitalization of Downtown Bryan is evident with the remodeling of the LaSalle Hotel and many other buildings. Numerous storefronts, and restaurants continue to open annually. The grand glory days of Bryan are here again for the communities of Brazos County.
Let’s stroll down Main Street and explore all it has to offer:
In 2000, the LaSalle Hotel was reintroduced to the community as part of the National Historic Hotels of America. It boasts 55 guest rooms, along with a business center, the LaSalle Hotel is home to the newest bar to Downtown area. Located on the first floor of the LaSalle, is the newly opened Downtown Elixir & Spirits Company, the second venture for successful owner of the West End Elixir, Dustin Batson. Dustin and long time local friend, Bill Allen, have collaborated on this newest endeavor to offer over 100 custom craft cocktails with made from scratch mixers, and local craft beers from the Brazos Valley. Coming soon will be the addition of a gourmet menu with Cajun flare. Dustin is a veteran and both Elixir establishments are proud to be predominantly Veteran run. If the frequently packed house of the West End Elixir is any indication of his future prosperity in Downtown Bryan, The Downtown Elixir is sure to be the newest Hot Spot! The live music tradition of the LaSalle courtyard will continue. After all, it was made famous in The Front Porch Song by Texas favorites Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett. And speaking of famous, the LaSalle is notorious for its ghostly guests that enjoy the hotel too much to leave. The Downtown Elixir & Spirits provides undertones of its haunted history with a satirical nod in the double meaning of their bar title. Whimsical touches can be seen throughout the bar and in the ouija board logo. They will offer murder mystery dinners at a later date for a frightfully fun evening.
Steps away from the LaSalle courtyard is another hot spot of BCS, the Proudest Monkey. This hip spot offers up some of the best tacos in town. Their great success has also produced another neighboring business with their recent opening of All the King’s Men, serving up mouth-watering brisket and smooth Texas Bourbon to wash it down.
The revitalization of Downtown Bryan has cultivated an array of antique stores and art galleries, even the locally owned yoga studio and tea house, Om Grown.
The local coffee shop, Harvest, is the best place in Bryan to get an excellent cup of coffee. The quiches are quite tasty too, but make sure to try the slow brew or Harvest Latte. A trip through Bryan will not disappoint. New restaurants and bars, such as RX Pizza, featuring handmade dough for the hottest pizza, and the authentic Czech Kolache Capital are mingled amongst long-standing favorites of the community.
Casa Rodriguez opened in 1978 and is still a Tex-Mex Must in the region, as well as Margie’s, famous for their delicious diner-style burgers. The old-fashioned sandwich shop with homemade desserts and breads, Must Be Heaven, is a fan favorite among the nearby businesses. From the casual gourmet American cuisine of Maddens to the authentic Italian pizza and calzones of Papa G’s Pizzeria you surely will have your pick of places to eat.
Owner of Caffe Capri, Rami Cerone, established his restaurant after graduating from A&M in ’95, right as the efforts for the revitalization was just getting underway. He describes his restaurant as affordable casual Italian cuisine with a creative menu and wine list. He consistently is voted the Best Italian food in the area, and I can concur to Caffe Capri’s deliciousness. Due to their growing market, he plans to expand their balcony in the near future.
No downtown would be complete without a good old pub to serve as a local watering hole. Murphy’s Law offers up an Old World atmosphere and plenty of worldly beers from the Irish pub staple of Guinness to a nice selection of Italian and German imports. If a cold pint works up your appetite, the adjacent Bavarian Brauhaus will not disappoint. The German cuisine pays homage to the rich ancestral culture that helped to build Bryan. Can anyone say Prost! Dessert is not far away with The Chocolate Gallery, featuring beautifully crafted gourmet chocolates and delectable desserts from ice cream to cupcakes.
No trip to Downtown Bryan is complete without stops to two local favorites, The Village Café and Downtown Uncorked. The Village Café is somewhat chameleon as a restaurant and coffee house during the day and a live music and special event venue at night. Numerous local artists and photographers showcase their work along the walls. Next door is the lively Downtown Uncorked Wine Bar. Their cozy setting beckons you to follow their motto of “Life’s Fast…Uncork…Sip Slow”.
With their vast selection of wines and beers, it can be difficult to make a selection, however their knowledgeable staff will point you in the right direction. Locals and tourists alike have sent many a nights sipping a fine vintage at Uncorked with friends, including the bar owner, Melba, whose friendly disposition are quite welcoming. And what pairs better with wine than their delectable cheese plates, tantalizing desserts, and delicious flatbread pizzas.
However, if gourmet cuisine is your desire, just a short jaunt off the Main Street is Christopher’s World Grille. Christopher Lampo is an executive chef that blends his global travels with creative recipes to highlight the experiences and cultures that “remind him of his happy places.” His wine list pairs as beautifully with his menu as the décor of the 100 year-old renovated ranch house that is now his award winning, 5-star restaurant. This is casual elegance at its finest and worth the visit.
According to Abigail Noel, marketing coordinator for The Downtown Bryan Association, the revitalization efforts began over ten years ago and is continuing to gain momentum. Fourteen new businesses opened in 2017 alone with more designated for 2018. This next year will focus on increasing the residential options in the downtown area, along with the addition of more retail and office space. Currently there are 75 residents living in the vibrant downtown community with plans to more than double its residency.
Two more successful restaurateurs in the Brazos County decided to open second locations in the downtown area in 2017. Ronin Cooking, known for its elegant farm-to-table cuisine, now occupies the newly renovated Icehouse On Main in Bryan. They preserved the original rustic aesthetics but created a more modern feel with an open-air kitchen and evolving seasonal menu. Blackwater Draw Brewing Company gained fame in their first location along the popular Northgate in College Station and is finding similar notoriety among the Downtown Bryan scene. It is a full scale brewery specializing in unique craft brews. In fact, it is Bryan’s largest brewery. Fun games and even yoga classes focused around beer enjoyment all compliment this fun taproom.
Other great places to find a nice cold beer are the Bavarian styled brewery and beer garden, Bryan-College Station (BCS) Zoigl Brewery and funky musical joint, The Revolution Café & Bar. Opening in January of 2017 BCS Zoigl Brewery was conceived by a group of friends that wanted to collaborate over something that brings everyone together: craft beer. Serving as a community brewery where artisan brewers can collaborate with minimal investment, new and exotic beer styles are abundant at BCS Zoigl Brewery.
The Downtown Bryan Association purchased the Queen Theatre in 2010 and a resuscitation effort began. She is now scheduled to be reopened, coming this May 2018, as a performance house and single screen movie theater. The Queen remains a popular engagement spot for the locals. The other theater from that era, The Palace, was converted to an open-aired moviehouse and amphitheater. Retro classic films and frequent events often take center stage from their weekly free concerts in June to their monthly First Friday concerts. First Fridays are sponsored by Downtown Bryan and attract residents and tourists to partake as the Downtown Bryan becomes alive with street musicians, magicians, food vendors, and local artists encouraging the public to lounge a bit with friends, or catch one of the free live music acts at the Palace and Grand Stafford.
Being a popular tour stop for many college rock inspired bands, some Texas greats also graced the stage of The Stafford, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Earl Keen. It comes alive every First Friday with a free line up of musicians eager to rock the house.
From monthly events larger yearly festivals, Downtown Bryan delivers to the public’s desire for fun, food, and friends. Perhaps the most well-known event in Bryan is the Texas Reds Steak & Grape Festival. This popular event began in 2007 to celebrate the beef and wine industry of Bryan, honoring Bryan’s nearby Messina Hof Winery and quickly became a Brazos County must do! The entire downtown area closes its streets after the final weekend of this festival as tents host wineries across Texas, along with breweries, craft vendors, and plenty of local artists and live music guaranteed to create a vibrancy among its culture. So mark your calendars for this year’s Texas Reds Steak & Grape Festival Event September 28-30th.
Downtown Bryan is not just about restaurants, bars, and shops though. Law and real estate offices are speckled between the storefronts and event centers from the historical Astin Mansion to the hip Square One Event Center offer beautiful venues for weddings and parties. Open every Saturday the Brazos Valley Farmers Market, reflects the areas agricultural past. With many cultural activities from dining or shopping, to music and cocktails, the revitalization efforts of Bryan will not disappoint.
Bryan College Station Golf Courses
Pebble Creek Country Club
Home to a pleasing parkland-style layout designed by Ken Dye, Pebble Creek Country Club winds artfully through gently-rolling well-forested land. At just under 7,000 yards, this 25-year-old private course is known for sharp conditioning, traditional shot values and family-friendly recreation in and around its 40,000-sq-ft clubhouse. www.pebblecreek.cc
The Campus Course at Texas A&M
After complete renovations in 2013, The Campus Course at Texas A&M University has evolved into one of the most unique daily-fee courses in the state. Course architect Jeff Blume (a 1989 Aggie grad) lovingly shaped “strategic quirkiness” as an homage to classic-era courses like National Golf Links in this 7,000-yard layout that sits in the shadows of Kyle Field. www.tamucampuscourse.com
Miramont Country Club
Situated on one of the finest pieces of property in the Brazos River Valley, Miramont Country Club’s 7,174-yard pristine Robert Trent Jones Jr. design takes full advantage of rolling terrain and acres of mature oaks. While wide-flashed bunkers and plentiful lakes and native areas make Miramont visually intimidating, generous landing areas make the 10th-Best Course in Texas (according the Dallas Morning News) quite playable. The palatial, European-inspired clubhouse is just as stunning as the lush 18-hole course, expansive practice area and four-hole Family Course. www.miramont.cc
Texas A&M Traditions Club
For alumni and devotees of all things Aggie, Traditions Club is the luxury playground of their dreams, complete with maroon and white golf carts and a well-appointed clubhouse filled with masterfully-curated tributes to the university’s deepest campus traditions and finest on-field achievements. Surrounding by a booming residential enclave, this acclaimed 7,121-yard championship course designed by Jack Nicklaus and Jack Nicklaus II, Traditions Club is also home to a vibrant resort-caliber swim center with aquatic features for every member of the family and cozy outdoor bar and casual dining space.
The City Course at Phillips Event Center
Formerly Briarcrest Country Club, Bryan’s Phillips Event Center welcomes group social and corporate outings of all kinds. After a complete renovation in 2014, the well-appointed clubhouse and grounds are perfectly suited for golf outings, weddings, quinceaneras and large business functions.
The golf course is well maintained and still a treat to play after four-plus decades. A straightforward design, this 6,678-yard track requires keen strategy off the tee and straight drives if you want to take advantage of the shorter holes. With water on half the holes, you’ll find there’s a premium on placement and plenty of situations in which driver isn’t always the best play off the tee. The 430-yard, par-4 eight hole requires an approach shot over water, making it one of the most challenging holes on the course, but the short-par-5 18th is one of the most strategic holes on the course. With a creek crossing the fairway at 245 yards out, the 510-yard hole puts the risk/reward proposition right in your face. Another favorite is the short par-4 10th. At just 300 yards, there’s a temptation to drive it long, but the Pro Tip says lay up with your 190-yard club to avoid running into the water hazard right of the landing area.
The clubhouse features HD Golf Simulators that may be used by the hour. The Quarry Bar & Grill features a contemporary, upscale sports pub environment with stylish gathering spaces indoors and out. This trendy eatery specializes in casual dining and a rich array of cocktails. Learn more about this unique property at www.phillipsevents.com.
Story By Kristi Grosse
Golf feature By Karl Mickelson