In Houston, the idea of an enduring tradition is more than an oxymoron; it’s a mystery of faith. A city where the saying, “Here today; gone tomorrow,” exemplifies both the best and worst of Houston’s entrepreneurial spirit; Houston often seems like a city without history. So it’s out of fear for jinxing it to the phantasmal cityscape of Houston bygone, when I hesitate to call House of Pies (HoP), a Houston tradition.
Nevertheless, as it advertises on the paper place mats which adorn its tables and booths, Houston’s House of Pies has been serving up numerous varieties of its namesake, along with other standard diner fare 365 days a year, for over 40 years.
On any given night, drunken clubgoers, starving students, law enforcement officials, cougarish oil baronesses, dolled-out drag queens and to paraphrase the inimical Marvin Zindler, “whoever else makes you happy,” descend on an unassuming and somewhat dingy mid-century modern bungalow in the Upper Kirby district to act out what is arguably the greatest people-watching show on Earth.
Good food and service (I say good and not great because depending on how altered your state of mind is when you’ll probably go, subtleties such as good and great will be lost on you anyway) is sort of a moot point at House of Pies, but something that they in any case do, even if only out of an unwavering sense of responsibility to maintain the mythos of the American diner.
Perhaps a throwback to the past, or simply part of a concerted effort to keep the never-ending parties of guests moving through, House of Pies kindly reminds patrons that a minimum order of $2.40 an hour is required for table service; and so it was on the recent night after moving back to Houston when I gleefully made a visit to the House. Enter Dawn.
Dawn is a waitress at House of Pies, but more importantly–she is a Houston sensation and one of the thousands of reasons why making a visit to HoP is the Houstonian equivalent of a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca.
Literally embodying the spirit of what makes so many of us (although not me!) Houstonians, Dawn will tell you that she came to Houston from Philadelphia for the weekend in 1979; “borrowed” some clothes from a department store; became a stripper; and has been here ever since.
As much of a fixture as the list of year-round pies, Dawn has worked at HoP for nine years, and will make you a believer in two things: at House of Pies anything goes; and what happens at House of Pies, stays at House of Pies (well, more or less).
“A couple of weeks ago, it was packed in here and a bunch of cops were eating when this 60 year old woman walks in. She pulled up her shirt; pulled down her pants and gave everyone in the place a full view of her other set of lips. That has to be one of the crazier things I’ve ever seen in my time here. The cops told her not to do that again.”
If you come in more than a couple of times, Dawn will remember your name, but you might not remember her because her hair is constantly changing. I asked her what the deal was with all the wigs.
“Well I used to work out a lot and I still skate about 10 miles everyday. I hated paying money to get my hair done, for it to get all sweaty in the Houston humidity, so I cut it off and now I have a drawer full of wigs. It’s fun to be able to change your hair up and my boyfriend likes it, but eventually I think I’ll grow my hair back out.”
As I became acquainted with Dawn over a special order she helped me craft, I tried to pry a few HoP secrets out of her, such as when’s the best time to eat and when’s the best time to people watch. She insisted that the best time to eat at HoP is, “when I’m here,” to which I could hardly protest (Wed. through Sun. 11p.m. – 5a.m. in case you were wondering), and as for the people-watching she said, “oh c’mon–it’s gotta be Friday and Saturday nights; but otherwise all the gay holidays…Mardi Gras; Gay Pride…you know.” Dawn advises people watchers to arrive at 2a.m. before all the bar and clubgoers pour in and it becomes difficult to get a table.
With its colorful food-themed wallpaper and lit-up pie list which is reminiscent of a ’70s slot machine, House of Pies seems like an improbable location for the various castes and characters of Houston to meet under one roof, much less for the founding of Compaq computers (who would have thought?). This is the place where you should take your friends out to eat when they’re in town and you want to show them an authentic Houston experience. Heck, this is the place you should take yourself out to eat when you want an authentic Houston experience. I did; and then I knew I was home.
House of Pies
3112 Kirby Dr.
Houston, TX 77093