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A New Downtown Houston Restaurant Channels Its Roots as a Pre-Prohibition Drinking Destination

Once home to a gambling and drinking haunt in the 1880s, Big Casino Kitchen + Bar revives some of its old building’s history in a modern way

The Big Casino Kitchen + Bar’s dining area features glitzy lights, a roped off private dining area, and a bar with a sneak peek into the kitchen.
The Big Casino Kitchen + Bar aims to be Downtown’s newest swanky hangout.
Danny Nguyen

Batanga, the tapas restaurant in Downtown Houston that shuttered last July after a decade, has gotten a second life as a new upscale, restaurant, bar, and lounge that harkens back to its roots as a city drinking destination and hangout spot.

Once home to the Big Casino Saloon, a pre-Prohibition bar and gambling hall that was founded in 1866, the aptly named Big Casino Kitchen + Bar opened in July at 908 Congress Street. The restaurant, located next door to the bar AngelShare, offers a lively lounge area with a 30-foot-long lit-up bar and an outdoor space equipped with a 16-by-18-foot video wall, perfect for watching the latest game, and one of the largest patios in the Downtown area.

Ravioli topped with crab meat and tomatoes, plated over a sauce.
Big Casino Kitchen & Bar serves dishes inspired by Texas, including a crab and corn ravioli.
Jim Veal
Fried crawfish beignets topped with green onion and plated with powdered sugar and a sauce.
Crawfish beignets are a perfect snack to share.
Jim Veal

Owner Brian Fasthoff, who also owned Batanga, says some of the tapas theme remains at the new restaurant. Chef Ben McPherson, owner of wholesale pasta company BOH Pasta, has developed a menu of sharable dishes inspired by Texas cuisine, including pollo asado skewers, crawfish beignets, and tenderloin tips plus larger entrees, like Big Casino’s summer corn and crab ravioli and a Room Service smash burger. Though weekend brunch likely won’t launch until the fall, Fasthoff says the restaurant already offers plenty of reasons to imbibe.

Megan Hill, formerly the director of the shuttered 1751 Sea and Bar, has shaped the drinks menu, which includes wine, beer, and several gin-based cocktails, like the Casino Royal, made with vodka, and Lillet Blan, and the High Roller, a blend of gin, herbal liqueur, raspberry shrub, lemon, and egg white. And themed events occur weekly, with live DJ sets starting at 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, plus steak nights on Sundays and Wednesdays featuring 6-ounce filets or 16-ounce rib-eyes, served with smoked gouda mac and cheese, and salad, for $25. Yacht Rock Night, a time when bargoers dress up in sailor-themed customers dance into the late-night to 70s and 80s hit, has also been particularly popular, Fasthoff says.

A martini glass topped with a bubble.
Cocktails are a vital part of Big Casino considering its history.
Jim Veal

And it all comes with a dose of history. Though Big Casino’s space is certainly modern, hints at its history are revealed in old photos of Congress Street, which was once filled with horse-and-buggies, before transforming into a Red Lights District filled with bars and casinos that later got shut down by the Prohibition era, says Fasthoff.

The Big Casino Kitchen & Bar is open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturdays, and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.