It is fitting that Upper Kirby shares its name with entrepreneur John Henry Kirby, Texas’s first multi-millionaire, because business in the district is booming. Once a pass-through kind of place for those on route to River Oaks on the north, West University to the south, Montrose to the east and Greenway Plaza to the west, Upper Kirby is a wallflower no longer.
“There are some beautiful mid-rise options in the area,” said realtor Becky Davis. “And although Upper Kirby is still growing, the management district is working to make sure that the growth is managed well and that the charm and walkability of the area remain intact.”
The distinctive red phone booths that pepper the district were the brainchild of the Kirby merchants’ association in the 1980s, a nod to Upper Kirby’s initials. Once functional, they now serve as light boxes for the streetscape.
About 20,000 people call Upper Kirby home, whether they are the original owners in 1950s neighborhoods like David Crockett, or empty nesters and established professionals who are moving into the new multi-family developments. In recent years, the area’s leadership worked to move utilities underground and widen sidewalks on major thoroughfares.
What at first might appear to be a residential street—albeit one with really cool houses—turns out to be Gallery Row (Colquitt off Kirby), a collection of high-end art galleries that often have openings at the same time. Moody Gallery (2815 Colquitt St.) is one place to start with its focus on Texas artists. On your honor, you should visit the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council Goodykoontz Museum of Girl Scouts History (3110 Southwest Freeway) to learn a little more about the history of the 100-year-old organization.
The art deco Alabama Theatre (2922 S. Shepherd Drive) opened in 1939 with a showing of “Man About Town” starring Jack Benny. Now a Trader Joe’s, the space retains its historic façade, as well as the inside balcony, along with new faux movie posters like “The Best Little Storehouse in Texas.”
The Forum of Civics Building and Gardens (2503 Westheimer) was originally built as a county school in 1910. Given by the Hogg Estate to the University of Texas in 1939, it was purchased shortly thereafter by the River Oaks Garden Club. They’ve done right by the Forum, as evidenced by its 1988 inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
A hit with all ages, Levi Park at 3801 Eastside Street is located just south of Richmond Avenue between Kirby Drive and Buffalo Speedway. Since its debut in 2017, families flock there for the green space and provided games and equipment. There is also Tai Chi and other classes, as well as a variety of performances and movie nights. For the more sedentary, enjoy their free publication rack and comfortable seating.
One visit to McGonigel’s Mucky Duck’s (2425 Norfolk St.) and you’ll be hooked—especially if you like your music venues on the intimate side and have a hankering for Welsh Rarebit. Bob Schneider and Kelly Wills are semi-regulars and there’s also an open mic night if you can summon enough liquid courage to participate.
At Cactus Music (2110 Portsmouth St.), shop for CDs, vinyl and eight tracks, then stick around for free beer and in-store performances by local acts and touring bands. Sketch comedy and live music share top billing at the Music Box Theatre, (2623 Colquitt), where an undersized performance space just gets you that much closer to the action. The Mercury Chamber Orchestra (3100 Timmons Ln, Ste. 201) was started twenty years ago by four friends as an intimate chamber ensemble performing a wide repertoire of music on period instruments. It’s not fussy, but really enjoyable.
On Saturdays, the Urban Harvest Farmers Market, (2752 Buffalo Speedway) offers beeswax candles, pickled quail eggs and goat cheese amongst a myriad of other goodies.
Wondering what that red caboose is in the middle of Upper Kirby? It’s Mark’s Barber Shop (2711 Kipling St.), where the gentlemen from River Oaks have been coming for a haircut since 1986.
Be it challah French toast or fried chicken, the food at the Avalon Diner (2417 Westheimer) has been an Upper Kirby tradition since before it was the UK. Veteran server Ronald Williams says it is the atmosphere that makes it a must-eat.
Who cares if you love Bilbo Baggins. You will definitely love the Hobbit Café (2243 Richmond Ave.). The Hobbit-themed décor takes a backseat to the avocado burger, black bean nachos and Key lime pie.
Grace's (3111 Kirby Dr.) has become an area favorite with its American/Italian fare and friendly service. Part of Johnny Carrabba’s restaurant offerings, Grace’s is named for Carrabba’s late grandmother, Grace Mandola. Tip – order the Maw Maw Pork Pot Roast. Nearby is Mia’s Table (3131 Argonne St.) another Carrabba offering with a casual, family-friendly vibe.
For Indian food, look no further than the Indian-fusion Pondicheri (2800 Kirby Drive), where both lunch and happy hour do a brisk business. You can also get their curries by the quarts for takeout.
At The Davenport (2117 Richmond Ave.), a low-key vibe and martini are the order of the day, while next door at McElroy's Pub you can get your Guinness fix and look for obscure songs on the jukebox.
At Kuhl-Linscomb (2424 W Alabama St.) it’s the staggering range of items—from fine china and furnishing, to makeup and dog treats—in every price point that makes this a shopper’s paradise. The design and lifestyle store is a compound of five different buildings over two city blocks with 100,000 square feet of display area.
Fashionistas everywhere celebrated Tootsie’s (2601 Westheimer) move to the West Ave complex in 2011. There’s now 35,000 square feet of space in the designer clothing store, a team of stylists, and an in-store runway lest any of your new purchases give you the urge to sashay.
Sometimes vintage store can be a euphemism for grandma’s (unedited) closet. But at Cheeky Vintage (2134 Richmond Ave.), the carefully curated selections have earned the store national notice as one of the best vintage spots in the country.
The queen of American silver, Phyllis Tucker who owns Phyllis Tucker Antiques (2919 Ferndale Place), has set a table for the actual Queen (Elizabeth II). Shop for hollowware, flatware, purses and jewelry as well as one of a kind 18th and 19th century novelties.
Winston Churchill would have been right at home at the Cigar Emporium (3514 S. Shepherd Drive), a small shop where a walk-in humidor and wall units display their considerable wares. Don’t know your Burgundy from your Bordeaux? Let the staff at Houston Wine Merchant (2646 S Shepherd Drive) get you up to speed. Weekly wine tastings and reasonable prices are other enticements.