The bulldozers are hard at work this week leveling the Montrose Kroger, known to most old school Houstonians as Disco Kroger. Grocery store by day, after-hours mecca at night, for decades Disco Krog served those nocturnal inner loopers in search of after-hours cigarettes and much, much more. Legend has it that specific aisles became designations for the type of hook-up being sought. It was grindr before the internet.
But perched atop a building across the street, Cody’s Bar & Grill was enjoying its own glorious run. Its dual terraces provided expansive views of downtown while inside music pulsated from a stage backlit by the glimmer of Houston skyscrapers. The audience had no choice but to be mesmerized, though with the right band, the music did its part too. It was, after all, the room where Kirk Whalum got discovered.
At the height of these carefree days, the late Kellye Gray phoned to offer me a spot in her band for a week-long stint at this airborne establishment. That call set me on edge. The club. Her. A band I didn’t know. But of course I accepted.
By then Kellye had a huge draw, which meant that every show was a standing-room-only event. You only had to see her perform once to understand why. Kellye’s vocal chops ran the spectrum from Janis Joplin to Billie Holiday with enough nuance to inhabit the space between. The sets reflected this range. A blazing be-bop tune followed by an achingly slow blues with non sequiturs into R&B and Brazilian music. She’d angle this pastiche of styles around a ballad, usually a duet. These heart-melting torch songs were her secret weapon. Afterwards, I’d look around and see people crying. And not a peep during the song either, even the bartenders would stop mixing drinks. But as soon as the last tears hit the candlelit tables, she’d be back to something frenetic, as if the previous moment never happened. Her fans loved it.
I returned to play with Kellye the following summer for a nine-week, six-night-a-week engagement. I did this while teaching a business calculus course at U of H. Thankfully that class was in the afternoon because I never got home before 3am.
Cody’s and I saw a lot of each other that year. Maybe too much, but I’ll never forget the experience. Nor will I ever forget her. Kellye made a huge imprint on my life. Sadly she died of cancer in 2019.
Here are some photos I took of the Disco Kroger destruction this week. Cody’s resided on the top of a 1950’s-era building on the adjacent corner that was torn down in 2014. It’s replacement is the towering glam condo that dominates most of the photos. Once they clear the lot, they’ll start building a new multi-use center (residence and shopping) that will span two city blocks including the recently demolished strip center along Westheimer that housed my favorite little used book store, Half-Price Books. Oh progress, what a mess you make.
A final note about the store. The nickname, as it turns out, is not unique. Atlanta has eight similarly branded Krogers including their own Disco Kroger as well as a Murder Kroger and Stinky Kroger too. Georgians have us beat in the naming department. I’ve always wondered what Kroger corp thinks about all of this. I hope they embrace it.
PS Keep Montrose Weird