Local Foods owner Benjy Levit has transformed the upstairs lounge of the now-closed, iconic restaurant Benjy’s into a swanky new wine bar. Lees Den, which opens on Thursday,April 7, is slated to be a quaint getaway in the city, with a speakeasy entrance, creative seasonal eats, and an assortment of rotating wines by the glass.
Led by wine director Chrisanna Shewbart and executive chef Maria Gonzalez, guests can enter the 1,000 square-foot space through Local Foods Market or sneak through a side door of the building to enjoy an assortment of hard-to-find wines, cocktails, and small plates and entrees.
The menu lists creative concoctions, like Benjy’s Hurricane Popcorn, a combination of Korean red pepper salt, chocolate-covered peanuts, popcorn and other snacks sourced from the market; a flatbread served with pistachio-whipped goat cheese and date jam, Texas sesame ginger meatballs with peanut drizzle, black rice arancini stuffed with mozzarella and served over duck fat pesto, and “caviar butter milk bread,” made with Japanese milk bread, smoked trout roe, and European-style butter.
Entrees include a Roasted 44 Farms “steak and potato,” with sliced sirloin served over potato puree, and a “midnight pasta,” with tomato sauce, Calabrian chilies, and olives. Cocktails include a Spring Thyme Spritz, with a peach and thyme vermouth, and a champagne cocktail made with a brown sugar cube and house bitters.
Customers can also purchase bottles of wine at Local Foods Market’s second-floor bottle shop downstairs, with no corkage fee.
The space, which also features a covered patio, can fit around 60 guests and aims to create the welcoming atmosphere of a “serene, tropical treehouse,” with luxe chartreuse green velvet seating and wood highlights, chosen by designer Brittany Vaughan of Garnish Designs, according to the release.
The name “Lees Den” is particularly significant to Levit, according to a spokesperson. Not only is it a play off of Levit’s mother’s name, Lee — it’s also the name of a now-closed Chinese restaurant in Houston that he and his mother used to frequent. “Lees” is also a wine term, referring to the dead yeast cells and particles that remain in a wine after fermentation.
The wine bar is at least the second renovation Benjy’s old space has seen following its closing in March 2020. The downstairs space was first converted to create the Local Foods Market, which now offers groceries, counter service, and a selection of organic wines on its second floor.
Lees Den will be open from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Reservations are suggested via Resy but walk-ins are welcome.