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Tastemakers: Bar Bludorn

The hospitality team behind Bludorn and Navy Blue is investing in the Memorial neighborhood with their latest concept, Bar Bludorn.

Article by Gabi De la Rosa

Photography by Lauren Holub Photography

Originally published in Memorial Lifestyle

As any Houstonian will tell you, the city's famed restaurant scene is primarily focused within the 610 Loop. So, it is exciting to see a lauded restaurant group decide to open a restaurant in the suburbs, even if the 'burbs are just a 20-minute drive down the road from the city's most prized eateries. 

This is the case with Bar Bludorn, the latest concept from acclaimed hospitality mavens Aaron Bludorn, Cherif Mbodji, and Victoria Pappas Bludorn. Now open in the former Jonathan's the Rub location on Gaylord, Bar Bludorn is a full circle moment for Aaron, as it was one of the first restaurants he ate at when visiting Houston with Victoria. The couple knew that they eventually wanted to open a restaurant in the Memorial neighborhood, where Victoria grew up. When the opportunity finally presented itself at the right time, the team jumped on it. 

"We weren't planning on this at all, and the first time the (former) Jonathan's the Rub space came up, we actually passed on it. The week we were opening up Navy Blue, we got the call that it was available, but I was focused on our new restaurant, and I wasn't in the headspace to raise money or think about another concept," says Aaron. "We ended up coming around – the three of us had a conversation about whether or not we should do it, and we eventually said yes. We weren't going to come across another opportunity to be in a space like that, tucked into a neighborhood like that – it was too perfect to pass up."

The vibe of Bar Bludorn is an upscale tavern meets neighborhood restaurant. With seating for 100, dark wood paneling, and a comfortable atmosphere, the team's vision for the restaurant is a place where friends and family can meet over a leisurely meal, or colleagues can enjoy a casual drink at the end of the day. 

Bludorn Hospitality alum Alexandra Peña is the executive chef at the new eatery. As she has risen through the ranks from opening Bludorn to becoming executive sous chef at Navy Blue, Peña has proven her culinary expertise and ability to lead a team. Developing their staff and watching them grow within the company is one of the pillars of Bludorn Hospitality – they agree that they don't just hire cooks; they hire chefs who are looking to grow. 

"I remember meeting Alexandra at a socially distanced meeting when we opened Bludorn in 2020," says Victoria. "She was so excited and had a positive attitude. At that time, I really hoped that she was the real deal, and it turns out that she is."

Aaron and Alexandra collaborated on a well-rounded menu with creative and beautiful dishes to ensure guests would return time and time again. Although there are no carryovers from Bludorn or Navy Blue, there are iterations of the calling cards chef Bludorn is famous for including dishes with seasonal ingredients, oysters, and housemade pasta. Diners can look forward to steak and fish options, fried chicken, and sandwiches, including a Reuben on housemade marble rye with wagyu short rib instead of brisket. 

Fabio Pontes, once again, worked his magic on the innovative cocktail menu. With an emphasis on bourbon, the Bar Bludorn cocktails have the same flavor and quippy names as those at Navy Blue and Bludorn but with an appropriate sense of place to Memorial. The wine list, curated by Molly Austad, highlights unique wine producers from California, Oregon, and Washington doing exceptional things in the industry. 

As they did with their last two restaurants, the team at Bar Bludorn is looking forward to connecting with the Memorial community. Highlighting local purveyors on the menu, being an active part of neighborhood farmers' markets, and supporting the local community is part of their identity.

"One thing that we have realized over the years is that whenever we give to the Houston community, we get it back tenfold," says Aaron. "It makes us feel like we are a part of the neighborhood, and Houston is one of those cities that thrives on that."

From the menu to the beverage program and the placemats and decor, everything at Bar Bludorn is thoughtfully curated for success. Although Bludorn and Navy Blue have racked up critical acclaim, including two James Beard Award nominations, Bar Bludorn is an example of a team taking the lessons they have learned from their collective history and trying to be the best at what they do.

"It is amazing that we get these accolades," says Cherif. "But I always tell our team that when it comes to celebrating, the moment you say 'congratulations,' it becomes a thing of the past. We need to stay locked in for what is ahead and what we can achieve together."

"We have to think about the neighborhood and the people we will be serving, because the space and where it is, gives the inspiration to everything" – Aaron Bludorn 

"There will always be a shared DNA between the concepts, but they will change over time because restaurants should always be evolving. If we don't evolve, we get stagnant, and I will get bored – you don't want a bored chef in the kitchen" – Aaron Bludorn 

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