UPDATE 1/30: Bobby Heugel tweeted late Wednesday afternoon that they've decided to leave my beloved crooked AC vents as is in Ninfa's main dining room, and the dropped ceiling, too. "Paint only fixes to main dining. Anti-unnecessary Ninfas changes!" he wrote. And I've learned that Jim Herd's Collaborative Projects, who did the Underbelly/Hay Merchant complex as well as Cuchara, will shepherd the refurbishment.
I got pretty nervous when I ran into Anvil owner Bobby Heugel and he told me work to overhaul the original Ninfa's on Navigation interior and systems started today.
Like many Houstonians, I grew up with the rickety, no-right-angles dining rooms at the sacred Tex-Mex restaurant, which grew higgledy piggledy as the founding Laurenzo family found more and more success.
I've always loved the lopsided air conditioning ducts that crawl across the walls, and even the unfashionably dropped ceiling. It all just feels like home to me.
But sometimes home needs a new roof, and that's what's about to happen now that Heugel's company has taken on management duties at Ninfa's on Navigation for owner Niel Morgan. "I don't want to be known as the guy who changed Ninfa's," Heugel told me ruefully, "but that roof is going to come down some day soon if we don't do something."
It's not just the roof. The vintage 1949 plumbing system for the kitchen will get changed out, and those dropped ceilings will disappear in favor of exposed rafters. "We've got to get rid of the tangled nest of wiring above the ceiling," said Heugel. And yeah, the interior air conditioning ducts that have always amused me so much will be going, too.
Other than that, the dining room will get a new coat of paint. The familiar old multicolored lanterns will stick around, though, hanging from those newly exposed rafters. I can kiss the crazy Rube Goldberg Ninfa's roofscape goodbye, though. I always felt obscurely proud pointing it out to out-of-town visitors.
I just hope that a few lumps and bumps are left once the dust settles. It's fine for the Laurenzos' palatial new El Tiempo — now rising directly across the street — to be all perfect and everything, but the raffish imperfections have always been part of Ninfa's on Navigation's special charm. I hope the coming duel of the side-by-side Tex-Mex titans leaves a few of those venerable rough edges unsmoothed.
Heugel assures that the changes will be done "in the spirit of preservation" — and that the restaurant will remain open during the refurbishment.