100 Reasons To Love Market Square Park
by Amber Ambrose, Lauren McDowell, Lauren Patterson • August 31, 2020
Celebrating 10 Years and Countless Memories
The current version of Market Square Park has been a long time coming. Since the founding of Houston in 1836, this patch of land has played plenty of roles, but the ones we celebrate in 2020 mark it as the heart of a neighborhood, a catalyst for rebirth, a tranquil greenspace in the center of Downtown and an activated space full of life and culture. There are as many ways to describe it as there are ways to love it, but just for fun—and in commemoration of its 10th anniversary—here are 100 reasons to love Market Square Park.
#1-5—A rich history that follows the ups and downs of Houston itself.
The abridged version:
- It’s located just blocks from Allen’s Landing, which is also known as the birthplace of Houston.
- For a full century, it was home to four different city halls and open-air markets.
- In the 1960s, it transformed into another hub: A parking lot for Downtown partiers looking for a good time in the surrounding nightclubs and restaurants.
- The Junior League of Houston was instrumental in helping transform it back into a green space in the 1970s.
- This area of the city did not fare well in the oil bust of the 1980s, nor did the square, which meant it was ripe for a comeback when the reimagined park was unveiled in August of 2010.
#6—Plenty of shade on a warm spring or summer day.
#7-9—Picnic space galore: Soft grass, an open lawn, endless possibilities.
Perfect picnic scenarios—
Option 1: Start at Phoenicia. Fill your basket with goodies like cheese, cured meats, house-made pitas, fruit, hard-to-find international sodas (or juices) and red-pepper dip. Bike or walk less than a mile to Market Square Park, spread out your blanket and enjoy under the shade.
Option 2: Let Niko Niko’s do all the heavy lifting. Order at the window, grab a seat at one of the tables and enjoy. You can’t go wrong with a chicken & spinach gyro.
Option 3: Grab to-go from multiple restaurants within a stone’s throw and make it a progressive picnic: Frank’s Pizza, Barnaby’s, La Fisheria, Bravery Chef Hall, Batanga and Hearsay are just a small sampling of your choices that are within a block of the park.
Important note: Outside alcoholic beverages are not allowed inside the park, though they can be purchased at Niko Niko’s and enjoyed onsite.
#10-29—The people, companies and organizations that brought the idea of Market Square Park to life:
A successful public space both reflects and informs the community surrounding it.As the center of Houston’s Historic District, Market Square Park needed to represent the city’s past while also serving the modern needs of a thriving, diverse Downtown community. This task could only be met with the right group of people leading the charge, and the following contributors made that vision a reality:
Park project spearheads: The Downtown Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ #3, City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Houston Downtown Management District and community stakeholders made the park possible through funding, planning and project management.
Lauren Griffith Associates, a Houston-based landscape architect, led the design, with Ray + Hollington Architects, Kerry Goelzer and Tribble & Stephens consulting on the project. Together they designed an active, urban green space that represents the city’s future and acknowledges its past historical significance.
Since reopening in 2010, the Houston Downtown Management District, led by President Bob Eury, has operated the park on behalf of the City of Houston.
#30-49—Best event space ever.
A handful of special, public events helped bring the park to life, curated by Downtown District’s Angie Bertinot, director of Marketing & Communications, and a small team of uber talented events professionals.
Grand Opening Neighborhood Shindig, August, 2010
Among the highlights of this magical day and evening were the plate breaking to honor Niko Niko’s kiosk (instead of a traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony) and then-Mayor Annise Parker’s remarks about Market Square Park’s status as a perfect park. “It has history, it has green space, it has food, it has places for the pets, it has places for kids to play, it has art—this is going to be the heart of this area—and the events that we do here are going to be that heartbeat!”
Houston’s 175th Birthday Bash, August, 2011
Celebrating one century and three-quarters, it was a hot but special day as revelers gathered at Market Square Park to cheer on the founding of the city itself. There were tunes from the High School for Performing and Visual Arts jazz band, a performance by an interactive theater company about the founding of the Bayou City, $1.75 gyros from Niko Niko’s, $1.75 birthday cupcakes and plenty of Saint Arnold beer on tap. At the end of the program, everyone gathered for a massive My Houston Is Here photo op as part of a citywide campaign celebrating Htown’s bday.
Lauren’s Garden Dedication and September 11 Memorial, September 2016
A commemoration of Lauren’s Garden, an art installation in the park honoring the life of Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, who died on United Airlines Flight 93, marked the passage of 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11. As a celebration of Lauren’s life and a remembrance of all those lost that day, the Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation developed a Sept. 11 Essay/Scholarship Contest to give high school students the opportunity to research and write about how the event changed the course of our nation. The winners were recognized at this commemoration ceremony.
Cello Fury Performances
“Rocking out” and “cellos” don’t always go together, unless of course, you’re talking about Cello Fury—a quartet from Pittsburgh featuring three classically trained cellists and a single percussionist. Debuting in Houston at Market Square Park in 2012, they always attracted huge crowds and have been a guest at park events multiple times in the last decade.
Fewer things are more gratifying than sitting on a blanket, munching on snacks on the soft green grass of Market Square Park’s lawn (or in a camping chair, if your hips need more support) and yelling “BINGO!” This sleeper hit is one of the only outdoor bingo games in the United States and has been one of the park’s most popular recurring events to date. The success is due to great partners such as Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Bingo MC John Mills McCoin and music curators Fistful of Soul.
Sounds like a metaphor for 2020, right? It may well be, but it was also one of the wackiest, most memorable Market Square Park events of the last decade. Drama between wrestlers (they all have unique storylines), actual wrestling and smack talking meant tons of live entertainment unfolded during this bigtime match. Can’t pass up mentioning a few of our favorite characters such as Texas Lonestar, Top Banana and Hot Flash (aka menopausal mama).
The Sounds of Louisiana’s Best Musicians
Music and live performances have always been a big draw, and some of Louisiana’s finest have played their hearts out in the park over the years, including legends like John Cleary, Bonerama, Pine Leaf Boys, Walter Wolfman Washington, Steve Riley and Corey Ledet.
A Night at Market Square
A block party to be remembered, this neighborhood event series offered a view into the future of what Market Square could look and feel like on a regular basis. Twinkle lights, lawn games and an energy of optimism and opportunity set the stage for the exciting chapter of growth, development and activation that followed.
“I love the bingo nights in the park. It’s a great way for friends or family members to get together and do something low-tech. It’s also fun to be able to picnic Downtown while you play. Bonus is having Niko Niko’s there if you forgot food.” —Betsy Denson, park visitor and Houston resident
#51—Four-legged friend(ly) too!
Dogs have played a central role in Market Square Park since its two dog runs were dedicated to Holly Anawaty in 2011 by then-mayor Annise Parker. With one for large dogs (taller than 15”) and another for small dogs (15” and below), each enclosure comes with access to water to keep the pups hydrated as well as water features that keep them entertained.
Both dog runs were dedicated in the name of Holly Anawaty, a Houstonian deeply involved in many civic efforts and proud dog mom to Bessie and Pete. She passed away in 2006, but friends and family helped raise funds to make the Bark Park a reality, working closely with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.
#52—Flower beds bursting with color year-round.
#53-56—Plenty of places to sit and enjoy a quiet conversation with a friend:
Umbrella-shaded tables and chairs on the plaza.
Blankets sprawled out on the soft grass on the lawn.
Mosaic benches overlooking peaceful fountains on three sides of the park (and one on the fourth side in front of the dog runs, sans fountain).
The edges of the water feature surrounding the “Points of View” sculpture.
#57-58—Acting as a magnet, rallying point and programmed with frequent, thoughtful events, Market Square Park has been a catalyst for lasting economic growth and development.
“Market Square Park has been a huge influence on all the local businesses and residents. Their work to get businesses and locals to interact through programming is amazing. What used to be a space that was an afterthought has been a great destination for residents and others alike. Concerts, bingo nights, street markets and their movie series are just a few examples. They have done a fantastic job.” —Brian Fasthoff, owner at Batanga
“For me, Market Square Park is a green oasis among the concrete and glass that once defined Downtown Houston. The park can be a place to relax and enjoy quiet time among the trees and fountains, or it can be a place to celebrate with live music, shopping, and throngs of people. The renovation of Market Square Park marked the resurgence of Downtown living, and I view it as the anchor for new residential and commercial entities here. (It’s the rug that ties the room together.)” —Shannan Eades, Downtown resident and park supporter
#59-61—Convenient parking options:
FREE street parking on Sundays!
Easy-to-find street parking on most days.
Easily accessible lot and garage adjacent to the park at 800 Preston at Travis.
#62—Well-maintained and cared for by the Downtown District Street Team.
#63-67—Because it feels like one of the places in Houston where you're living in a big city and taking it all in:
Closing your eyes and listening to the whirring traffic.
Basking in the surrounding cityscape.
Watching the birds milling around the fountains.
Catching side glances at the couple enjoying an alfresco date night in the plaza.
Admiring the twinkle lights over the lawn, people-watching on a breezy fall evening.
#69—Easy BCycle access:
With a dock in the corner of the park, BCycle makes it easy for anyone to get around on two wheels. How does it work? BCycle is a bike-share program with docks strategically placed throughout the city. Grab a bike at any dock (Market Square Park or not), unlock the bike using your credit card—the fee is $3 per every 30 minutes of use—a smartphone app or an RFID card. There are monthly and yearly memberships available with various perks of each. When your joyride is over, simply find a docking station and return the bike for the next rider to start the process all over again.
#70-73—Provides a great rallying point:
For UH-Downtown students looking for a place to relax and gather in a comfortable greenspace.
For Downtown office workers enjoying a moment of sun and breeze on their lunch breaks, stretching their legs and getting some exercise.
For families from different parts of Houston meeting up for an outside dinner where the kids can enjoy the freedom of the lawn on a cool spring evening.
For friends gathering for a night of revelry on Market Square and Main Street.
#74-77—Market Square Park and the surrounding neighborhood offers excellent backdrops for photos.
Need inspo for Insta? Here are a few ideas inspired by actual photos on Instagram.
Pastels and mosaics make for a pop of color and a feeling of good vibes all around. Check out the multiple mosaic benches and pick a favorite (or a few favorites) to snap your new headshot.
Feeling more down-to-earth? Like, literally? Make sure to visit in the spring to get down, but not dirty, for the coveted “flowers blooming beautifully in the background” shot at one of the stunning, well-manicured beds around the park.
Iconic, loud, beautiful, vibrant, massive. It’s not a description of your Instagram profile (though perhaps it could be), but of the Houston Is Inspired mural at the corner of Travis and Preston. Created in 2013 by graffiti artist Mario E. Figueroa, aka, GONZO247, it’s been a staple of Market Square, Downtown and the city at large for seven years as well as the location of innumerable photoshoots.
Texas’ biggest mistletoe makes an appearance just in time for the holiday photo ops and well...smooching ops, if that’s something that interests you (and your smooching buddy). The 150-foot ball of festive greenery twinkles with golden lights and is hung from a candy-cane-striped pole for full effect. Check out #XOmistletoe for real-life photos and inspiration for your future photoshoot.
#78-79—It’s a perfect park to find, foster and celebrate love.
Nena and Sean Lamb were the first (and only, we think) couple to be married in Market Square Park after winning a vow contest held at Saint Arnold Brewing Company. The holiday-themed wedding unfolded magically on December 8, 2012. Here’s the story, in Nena’s own words.
Saint Arnold had a vow contest and Sean and I had been talking about getting married anyway, and we decided to enter it. I wrote a big paragraph and Sean had one vow, ‘I promise to love you more than I love beer.’ We made it to the finals and they chose our vows. We were notified on November 24 with a ‘Save the Date’ Bishop’s Barrel #1, which was delivered by someone from Downtown District and someone from Saint Arnold.
They planned everything, I just had to buy a dress. The park was set up with an aisle, and the wedding was at night. It rained that morning and the groundskeeper was being really sweet and making it so that the water had dissipated so I wouldn’t be walking in mud. It ended up being perfect. The entire city of Houston was invited to my wedding and there were chairs set up for our families. We got to take great photos and they played Love Actually afterward in the park. The weather was perfect; it wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t too cold.
We went to Warren’s afterwards. There’s nothing like going to Warren’s in a wedding dress. Everyone was so excited—we had drinks bought for us left and right.
Sean and I, on our anniversary, when the mistletoe is there, like to go up and do a selfie underneath to recreate our first married kiss. It’s a nice legacy to have. It was perfect for us as a couple. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
While there’s only been one officially sanctioned Market Square Park wedding in the last decade, there’ve been countless romances, engagements and meaningful moments between couples within its boundaries. Here’s one from Gracie Padron Steimle:
I first arrived in Houston in 2016 after joining the team at Houston Grand Opera. Our office was inside the Wortham Center so my boss welcomed me to the city by walking me to lunch at Market Square Bar and Grill. After that, it became an easily identifiable little landmark on my completely foreign map of Downtown. I'd sit on the benches to read, enjoy the restaurant for lunch, and search there first for parking on nights out. Six months later, I was on a date with the man who would eventually become my husband.
We went to the Alley for a play then walked over to the park for dinner. He held my hand for the first time by the fountains. We came back dozens of times afterward. A year later, we got engaged and were planning on starting a family in a few years. I wanted to start my own company so I gave up my car to save money and would have the bus drop me off right by the park to meet with my clients in the Theater District.
Now that the pandemic and our new baby keep me away from Downtown, I miss our times at Market Square Park the most. I can't wait to take my kids to movies and events on the lawn when the weather is fair.
#80-84—Diverse array of permanent art installations created by talented artists:
Nestled on the park’s southwest border, vibrant, hand-painted ceramic tiles cover a fountain flanked by similarly adorned colorful benches. Artist Malou Flato created the piece for the park in 1991 and expanded her work in 2000. Using impressionistic scenes of the original market, the work is meant to evoke the feel of Market Square during the late 19th and early 20th century.
A longtime contributor of art to the park, Paul Hester’s historic and contemporary photographic images of Houston are baked into industrial tile that lines the concrete walls of Richard Turner’s Historic Walkway. Hester’s newest creation is a sculpture of the city’s skyline in steel cutout form, installed along the fence of the dog park.
Ketria Bastian Scott
Lauren’s Garden, located off Congress Street, invites quiet contemplation with an open seating area, landscaped grotto, and peaceful waterfall. To create an intimate space for the memorial dedicated to victims of 9/11, artist Ketria Bastian Scott was commissioned to create “organic poetry.” In collaboration with the landscape architect Lauren Griffith, Bastian Scott designed the waterfall to cascade down a stepped wall into a shallow pond of rocks and boulders. Cast bronze pieces on either side resemble vine-like, gnarled trees that reach out toward each other in what the artist calls “a gesture of endurance, strength and hope.”
In 1991, the park became home to Points of View, an abstract sculpture from artist James Surls. The name references both the tips of treated pine jutting out at different points of the painted steel, and the sun’s direct light bearing down on the sculpture itself. A small, sleek square fountain grounds the sculpture where it sits in the southern portion of the park.
Artist Richard Turner paved a literal path to discovery of the city’s history with his History Walk near the park’s northwest edge in 1992. Using salvaged masonry materials from historic Houston buildings, Turner alternated sections of brick and concrete with various tiles placed in haphazard positions within larger squares.
#85-96—THE best dining and drinking options in the city:
Sip and savor at Historic Market Square
Whether you’re toasting to the 10th anniversary of Market Square Park or celebrating another special occasion, these restaurants and bars are perfect spots to dine and drink Downtown. Many offer outdoor seating or other accommodations for COVID-19 safety precautions—guests are encouraged to check online or on social to confirm hours and capacity.
Cozy atmosphere at La Carafe
As the oldest bar in Houston*, La Carafe is an unassuming treasure that was on the scene long before Market Square Park was developed. Extensive wine and beer lists and a romantic feel make this quaint bar ideal for intimate dates. Low-key jukebox tunes, a functioning antique cash register and beautiful balcony views are notable parts of the La Carafe experience.
La Carafe is located in the historic Kennedy Bakery—the oldest commercial building in Houston. It was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and became a Texas Historic Landmark in 1980.
Address: 813 Congress
Tailor-made drinks and suits at Char Bar
Known for its martinis among young Downtown professionals, Char Bar leads a quirky double life: it's also home to the Duke of Hollywood Tailors who perform alterations and shoe shining on-site. Historic and nostalgic, the interior decor includes old photographs and fabric scraps collected over the years.
Address: 305 Travis
Familiar diner fare at Barnaby's Cafe
Looking for a lunchtime spot with salads, sandwiches and hearty burgers? Try Barnaby’s Cafe, a funky Downtown diner across the street from Market Square Park. Opened in 2012, the restaurant is one of six Barnaby’s locations whose namesake is the owner’s lovable sheepdog, featured in interior artwork and doggie-themed signage.
Address: 801 Congress
Pan-Latin inspired vibes at Batanga
With a sprawling 3,600-square-foot brick patio decked out with umbrella-covered seating and twinkle lights, Batanga is a hotspot for tapas and cocktails in Downtown. Lively Latin music and bold pan-Latin flavors turn what was once an 1880s saloon into a vibrant al fresco atmosphere.
Address: 908 Congress
Chic gourmet concepts at Bravery Chef Hall
A 9,000 square-foot food hall, Bravery Chef Hall is located at the Aris Market Square—a 32-story luxury high-rise located directly across from Market Square Park. Five distinct restaurant concepts are housed in Bravery Chef Hall: The Blind Goat, BOH Pasta & Pizza, Cherry Block Craft Butcher + Kitchen, KOKORO Sushi and Yakitori, Bravery Wine Bar, Lockwood STN, and Secret Garden Coffee & Cocktails.
Address: 409 Travis
Drinks on the patio at Secret Garden Bar
Housed in a transformed greenhouse in the 2,000 square-foot backyard patio space at Bravery Chef Hall, Secret Garden Bar offers coffee and handcrafted cocktails in a whimsical urban garden setting. It can be accessed from Bravery Chef Hall and from a separate entrance on Main Street.
Address: 409 Travis
Greek to-go at Niko Niko's
A sister location to the Montrose flagship, this walk-up window cafe in Market Square Park has grab-and-go Greek classics like gyros, kebabs and hummus as well as various coffees and breakfast pitas. There are multiple outdoor seating areas within the park where patrons can sit to enjoy their meal.
Address: 301 Milam
Friendly faces at Warren's Inn
The ‘Cheers’ bar of Houston, Warren’s is a favorite local hangout among Downtown regulars and industry workers. Its bright turquoise exterior is hard to miss, and its longtime, strong-cocktail-crafting bartenders contribute to the charm factor for this relaxed dive bar across the street from Market Square Park. If you’re at a loss for what to order, go for their martini.
Address: 307 Travis
Kick back at Kanaloa
Chill on island time at this fun, colorful tiki bar. With fruity cocktails and ample patio space, Kanaloa offers a tropical experience right in Houston’s historic Market Square. Its inventive menu features Korean-Mexican fusion food that enhances the bar’s exotic feel.
Address: 311 Travis
Grab a slice at Frank's Pizza
Craving New York-style pizza? Frank’s offers giant slices and whole pies with signature hand tossed and scratch-made dough. It also serves wings, burgers and salads along with limited beer and wine—the perfect stop to fuel up before or after a walk at the park.
Address: 417 Travis
Tequila o’clock at El Big Bad
This rustic two-story gastro cantina known for creative taco flavor combos sits within walking distance of Market Square Park on the corner of Travis and Prairie. El Big Bad is a casual Tex-Mex restaurant and tequila bar that serves infused tequilas, specialty margaritas and craft beers.
El Big Bad is the world's largest infused tequila bar and serves 70+ varieties of infused tequilas made in-house, ranging from sweet and savory to herbal and spicy.
Address: 419 Travis
#97—A beloved space for Downtown residents, business owners and supporters to enjoy for years to come.
“When I landed in Houston in the early ‘70s, the Market Square neighborhood was my go-to destination for fun. I opened a business across the street from the park in the late ‘70s and watched the park go through several changes, each an improvement. I also live in the area, so Market Square Park has been the center of my Houston life for over 40 years. Sometimes I cannot believe the positive changes to this neighborhood that I have witnessed. I'm proud to have been a part of this.” — Dan Tidwell, Downtown resident, Market Square Park champion, co-founder of Treebeard’s
Treebeard’s in Market Square Park
For over 40 years, Treebeard’s was a Market Square staple at the corner of 315 Travis, reliably serving up one of Houston’s most comforting plate lunches every weekday. Not only did the Louisiana-inspired food bring in the locals, so did the atmosphere, which felt lived-in, loved-on and down home. We’ll miss eating The Rookie: an off-menu combo of red beans, rice and sausage nestled next to their famously buttery shrimp etouffee on the upstairs balcony, watching the comings and goings of Downtown Houston traffic. But before you start the second line down Travis, be comforted in the fact that Treebeard’s is only leaving this one location—its original spot—staying put in four additional locations Downtown, with another outpost opening in Spring Branch soon. Stay hungry for that cornbread, meatloaf, butter cake and gumbo—they’ve got plenty more to serve, just not at 315 Travis.
He was a good boy
Curled up in the park
Watched over us all
With nary a bark
But wind, rain and sun
Mean his tenure is done
It’s time that dear Buster
We loved hosting Buster for the last decade, courtesy of artist James Philips, but 2020 marked his last hurrah. May he enjoy comfortably napping in retirement as he recalls all the fond memories of his time greeting pups and humans on Market Square Park’s west lawn.
100 Fill in your own reason(s) here and let us know why you love Market Square Park on social media. Find us at:
@MarketSquareHou on Instagram and Twitter
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