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Hundreds drink, snack and toast to Houston nightlife while riding the downtown rails

4th annual Rails to Restaurants in downtown Houston

HOUSTON – Hundreds of Houstonians rode the rails Monday while getting to know the sights, sounds and eats of Houston nightlife; It was all part of Rails To Restaurants, an event organized by the Houston Greeters, in partnership with METRO and in recognition of Citizenship Month.

The event kicked off on the south deck of the University of Houston Downtown, giving attendees a snapshot of the evening to come with free food, drinks and entertainment. 

Attendees were treated to light bites and cocktails by Red Ox Grill, Lucky's Pub, Beam Suntory, Saint Arnold Brewing Company and Asian Market Thai Restaurant while getting checked in and mapping out itineraries.

A welcoming speech was given by immigration attorney and former Houston City Councilmember, Gordon Quan, who is also the spokesperson for the Houston Greeters.  Afterward, CEO of METRO Tom Lambert addressed the crowd.

Quan said the Houston Greeters wants to get people more familiar with the city and is encouraging them to use the METRORail system. 

"A lot of people don't realize the revitalization of downtown Houston and the light rail system.  In the future, we need to be looking at mass transit as a viable means of transportation. And so we do this annually as a way to entice people to come downtown, ride the train, have a good time and see the nightlife that we have," Quan said.  "You know in Houston, for a while, there was a reputation that we were considered a boring city with no life, and when people come down and do this, they say 'Wow, we didn't know that you can get around like this and there are all of these different clubs and activities!'"

Quan said in recognition of Citizenship Month, organizers wanted to show how wonderfully diverse the city is in so many different ways.

"We have all types of food from different parts of the world, music and Zumba," Quan said. "We want people to get out of their comfort zones and try something new."

And trying "something new" was, simply, taking advantage of all of the great staples the city already has to offer, starting with BBVA Compass Stadium, home of the Houston Dynamo.

Participants first boarded the light rail and took a short ride to enjoy a block party at the stadium, with  more treats set up on the steps. Bites were provided by Ninfa's, El Tiempo's and Levy's restaurants, but not to worry, an on-the-spot workout class by Fit Mix Zumba had the "snackers" burning calories while chowing down.

BBVA Compass VP of Operations Paul Byrne says he was excited about the event and plans to make the block party "bigger and better" next year.

"We expect next year's event to be an even greater success with the support of the BBVA and plans to double the number of collaborators. Its a great way to meet new people, explore Houston and preserve the environment," said Myra Johnson, event organizer and Houston Greeters Board Member.

And if the taste buds were not satisfied enough by the food at the stadium, the tasting ride began.

Participants loaded up once again on the METRORail and hopped on and off as they headed to dining establishments along Preston and Main streets.

At first, it was a bit of a disappointment because at the first stop, the Honeymoon Cafe, participants were turned away by employees who said they had "no knowledge" of the planned event.  A second business, Henke Pilot, initially agreed to provide a food buffet for participants, according to organizers, but instead only offered half-price drinks.

But other restaurants more than made up for the glitches with the first two as participants were treated to samples at Bovine and Barley, Moonshiners, the ever-popular Bombay Pizza and The District Bar & Bistro, which was named a crowd favorite.

The District served participants tasty hush puppy appetizers, and huge glasses of red and white wine, while encouraging people to rest in the relaxing atmosphere.

The restaurant, which opened the Preston location within the last week, serves what they call Urban American cuisine.

"We have pastas, burgers, salads, a wonderful selection of appetizers, we also have a daily soup of the day.  We want people to not have to go out to different places for meal selections.  We want them to come to The District," said Deran Denton, partner manager. "The idea is to have really good food at a really good price in a nice ambiance where you think 'Wow, this is a neat place, I like coming here!' You can come down and you can be dressed in your shorts or your suit."

Denton said there is something for everyone at The District.

"We probably have the best patio in downtown.  We welcome people to come over to have coffee, or sit on our couches and have a glass of wine, relax after five and wind down.  Get on the Wi-Fi.  We're just trying to make everything available."

This was the 4th annual Rails to Restaurant event, and organizers say the number of attendees and participating businesses continues to grow yearly.

Overcast skies, but no rain as predicted, did not put a damper on the evening.  At the end of the night, smiles were aboard the METRORail as attendees headed to their final destinations -- home -- in the city that has something for everyone, and most of it can be found in downtown Houston.

The Houston Greeters are hoping to have businesses flourishing along the rail line as Houston prepares to host the Super Bowl in 2017.

Nycole Hutchens contributed to this report.