5 Must Do Things near the University of St. Thomas

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Link-Lee House, University of St. Thomas | Photo: Ed Uthman

In our series of Must Do Things Around Greater Houston, we take a look at Houston’s vast array of neighborhoods and communities to bring you five fun, tasty, and enticing reasons you should give each a visit. This campus edition takes a closer look at the city’s hottest colleges and universities.

Named after St. Thomas Aquinas and founded in 1947 by the Basilian Fathers, the University of St. Thomas is the city’s only Catholic university. The charming campus is located in the Neartown District, and with vibrant hoods like Montrose, the Museum District, and Midtown all within reach, there is no shortage of fun to be had close by.

Note: For the purposes of this list, the area near the University of St. Thomas is bound by Westheimer/Elgin to the north, Bissonnet to the south, Dunlavy to the west, and Main to the east.

5 Must Do Things Near the University of St. Thomas

  1. Explore the University of St. Thomas campus – Influential architect Philip Johnson is responsible some of the most beautiful aspects of the campus. In 1957, Johnson designed the University of St. Thomas Academic Mall, a modern, minimalist space flanked by symmetrical buildings of classrooms that face one another. The lawn is anchored by the Doherty Library at one end and the Chapel of St. Basil at the other, representing the dual methods of human knowledgereason and faith. The chapel itself, also designed by Johnson and completed in 1997, is quite beautiful. With no artificial light inside the main section during the daytime and candlelight at night, it provides a serene, meditative space for reflection. Don’t forget to check out the historic, neoclassical Link-Lee House, the labyrinth outside the chapel, and the current Theology department, located in the childhood home of Howard Hughes. Click here for directions.
  2. Eat morning, noon and night – Start with the addicting “wings and waffle” or “katfish and grits” at the beloved a.m. institution, The Breakfast Klub (even if there’s a line, it’s worth the wait). Newer to the scene, but just as popular, is pancake paradise Snooze, an A.M. Eatery. For a laidback meal good any time of day, it’s gourmet sliders and 4-minute fries at Little Bigs, tacos at Tacos A Go Go, or a Southern feast at Natachee’s Supper n’ Punch. Then there’s hot-from-the-oven pies at Piola and seriously good ramen at Jinya Ramen Bar. The area also plays home to a number of fantastic, more elegant dining options, with UchiUnderbelly, Pax Americana, Hugo’s, Brennan’s of HoustonArtisans, Holley’s Seafood & Oyster Bar, and BCN Taste + Tradition being among the best in the entire city.
  3. Spend the day at Menil Campus – This picturesque, 30-acre slice of the neighborhood houses the prized Menil Collection. Built in 1987, the landmark art museum exhibits the collection of John and Dominique de Menil, one of the largest private art collections in the in the country, with approximately 17,000 pieces depicting everything from surrealism and pop to Byzantine and tribal African works. With the goal of making art accessible, admission is free, though donations are welcome. Two satellite galleries, the Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall and Cy Twombly Gallery, further enrich the experience. As does the Byzantine Fresco Chapel and famed Rothko Chapel; the latter of which provides a tranquil, contemplative environment for people of all faith. On the plaza outside the chapel, the Broken Obelisk monument stands in memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Pack a picnic and park yourself on the tree-shaded lawn, or visit Bistro Menil, where you can unwind with a glass of vino, mussels, and truffle fries.
  4. Get caffeinated – Late nights and early mornings call for some caffeine. On Westheimer, Blacksmith brews mean Greenway Coffee roasts alongside what is probably the best sausage, egg, and cheddar biscuit in town (it’s good with marmalade and crème fraîche, too). Expand your coffee horizons and channel the science lab at Siphon Coffee, where the unique siphon method adds remarkable flavor to your regular cup of joe. At the hip Black Hole Coffee House, it’s all about the easy-going vibe and cajeta caramel lattes made with goat’s milk. And at Double Trouble Caffeine & Cocktails, you can get your beans with a side of booze, with some excellent “troublemaking” cocktails mixed in with Greenway brews.
  5. Take a study break – Let off some steam at one of the many Houston watering holes in the area. You’ll find all walks of life at Grand Prize Bar, an industry hangout complete with a rooftop, juke box, billiards table, and constantly rotating frozen drink machine. Stiff drinks and great happy hour prices make it an absolute destination. Head to The Harp—“Houston’s friendliest Irish pub”—for all sorts of weeknight specials, from Tuesday Ping Pong Night to Trivia and BBQ Wednesdays. On the strip along Westheimer, there’s all-star craft beer pub The Hay Merchant and cocktail haven Anvil Bar & Refuge. Over at Brooklyn Athletic Club, you’ll find bocce courts and Pimm’s Cups next to a lineup of craft beer and wine, plus excellent pub grub like beef short rib mac-and-cheese and pulled pork sliders. And if you want to truly zone out, hit the Cezanne Jazz Club located above Black Labrador. Open on Friday and Saturday nights only, the listening room discourages conversation to let the smooth blues and bent notes shine.