The time has come to reveal one of the more poorly kept secrets in Houston's restaurant community. Treadsack, the Heights-based restaurant group that opened Johnny's Gold Brick, Hunky Dory, Foreign Correspondents, and Bernadine's in 2015, has another project in the works.
Anyone who's visited Foreign Correspondents may have noticed the space next door that appears to be connected to the restaurant but is obscured by paper over its windows. Now that the four openings are behind them, Treadsack CEO Chris Cusack, director of restaurant operations Benjy Mason, and bar director Leslie Ross are ready to talk about that space, which is set to open on Leap Day.
"This is a bar project that Leslie and I have been working on for a little over a year," Cusack tells CultureMap. "It’s called Canard. That is the French word for 'duck.' It also means rumors . . . I feel like a lot of Leslie and my working relationship has involved some sort of story or some sort of rumor. We thought it would be a pretty funny acknowledgement of that."
Ross developed the cocktail menu for Johnny's and the three restaurants but hasn't worked regularly behind the bar at any of them for longer than a week or two after opening. That all changes at Canard, which will mark her fulltime return to bartending and serve as a showcase for her most creative ideas.
"This bar was pretty much the carrot at the end of the stick when I came over to Treadsack and what we knew was going to be the four openings that we managed to do last year," Ross says. "I feel like I’m even more well-rounded than I was when I came into this . . . It was hard. I cried a lot. Not because it was bad, but that’s what it’s like to work that hard and care that much."
Turning to specifics, Canard will offer its patrons a variety of experiences.
At the high end, the bar's cocktail menu will feature Ross's elaborate concoctions, such as one named The Lyan & The Unicorn after a bar in London that Ross admires. Originally developed for the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition, the drink takes its inspiration from the game cricket and features a tea tincture with capsaicin and "sugar cubes" that are actually compressed young coconut jelly.
Similarly, the Belladonna cocktail mixes two types of vermouth with absinthe and a layer of crème de violette for a milky, opalescent appearance that's sure to cause anyone who sees it to ask "what is that?"
In addition to the elaborate house cocktails, the bar features some pre-made cocktails that can be served quickly. Labeled "optics" after antique devices for serving measured liquor pours that Ross and her boyfriend Frank Krockenberger collect, the cocktails will be displayed in bottles behind the bar. Ultimately, aged verticals of cocktails or spirits could be served via the optics.
"The way the cocktails will be set up is all about hosting and hospitality. The guests come first," Ross says. "Nobody wants to wait 10 minutes for a cocktail. That’s ridiculous."
On the more casual end, the bar will also serve as a place where people who are dining at Foreign Correspondents can have a vodka and soda before or after their meal. Prices will be reasonable, too. A draft menu proposes $8 highballs and cocktails that top out at $14.
Instead of having a huge back bar, Canard will feature a good/better/best version of popular spirits that the bartenders are passionate about. The key will be hiring people who match Ross's outgoing, vivacious personality and are willing to learn the intricacies of both the cocktails and the spirits. If it all comes together, the result should be a level of personal service that will help set Canard apart.
"There’s going to be measures put in place where the guests can interact with the bartender, and the bartender is there to be a true host and show people a good time," Ross says. "As much as we know people like to watch us make these things, they also like to talk to you. I’ve never worked at a bar that didn’t have a guest who wanted your attention and to spend time with you. That’s part of what makes bartending so great."
As Mason notes, the ultimate goal of all this work is make Canard a place for people to spend time with their friends, and he thinks Ross is uniquely skilled to make that happen.
"Leslie comes up with crazy awesome cocktails, and that’s really fun and exciting," Mason says. "But she also has bartended for a really long time, has this deep breadth of experience bartending in all kinds of bars, and understands what the idea of a bar is: a place people go to have fun and drink with their friends."
When the group first announced Johnny's, Ross described the cocktails as "taking haute couture and making it ready-to-wear," does that make Canard the haute couture cocktail bar?
“It’s the haute couture after-party," Cusack says.
“Everything fun happens at the after-party,” Ross quickly adds.