New Big Casino Bar Opens in Downtown Houston by Former Batanga Owner

Opening bars and restaurants in downtown Houston is a gamble, made even riskier in the aftermath of the pandemic.

But the owners of the old Batanga, which quietly closed last year in downtown’s historic Market Square district, have decided to play their game with a new bar at 908 Congress. This week saw the large casino bara lounge bar opened by Brian and Ianne Fasthoff, located in their once-bustling Pan-Latin restaurant and bar on the corner of Travis and Congress.

For the name of the bar, the Fasthoffs delved into the history of the neighborhood. The building, founded in 1886, once housed the Big Casino Saloon, a bar and gambling hall that, along with other saloons in the 900 Congressional block, flourished until Prohibition.

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The Fasthoffs have completely revamped Batanga with a modern look, a new sound system (and DJ booth), and clean-lined furniture and seating in the main room dominated by a new onyx bar that shines from below. One of the most inviting aspects of the property, the patio bar has been enhanced with a 16-by-10-foot LED video wall for watching sports. The owners have hired Andy Adams, formerly of the Hungry Like the Wolf restaurant and bar, as manager.

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The bar lineup, under the direction of Megan Hill, formerly of 1751 Sea and Bar, features themed cocktails such as Casino Royal (vodka, gin, Lillet Blanc), High Roller (gin, herbal liqueur, raspberry, lemon, and egg white), Upping the Ante (mezcal, Campari, Italian appetizer, chili, and orange liqueur), Hot Streak (tequila, curacao, lime, ancho-chipotle syrup, and grapefruit soda) and Double Down (tequila, curaçao, hibiscus syrup, cucumber, lime, and bitters).

Chef Ben McPherson of BOH Pasta consults on a food menu that includes shared plates (truffle fries, honey whipped ricotta and grilled fries, pretzel bread, chicharrones with caviar crème fraîche, tuna sashimi tostadas, deviled eggs, smoked fish dip and corn dog mini sausage), and other bites such as chicken skewers, clam casino and sandwiches (burger, grilled cheese, chicken club, and shrimp roll). Brunch and happy hour dishes are in preparation.

Instead of stopping after Batanga, which operated for nearly 10 years, the Fastoffs decided to loop downtown.

“Anytime you open a restaurant, it’s a roll of the dice,” said Brian Fasthoff. “But with the new downtown nightclubs, we wanted to capture some of that excitement.”

The Big Casino Bar, 908 Congress, is open Wednesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Greg Morago writes about food for the Houston Chronicle. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Send him topical tips at [email protected]. Listen to him on our BBQ State of Mind podcast to learn more about barbecue culture in Houston and Texas.

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