Two veteran Houston bartenders and close friends have joined together to open a new cocktail bar that's a little different than any other place in the city. Anvil owner Bobby Heugel and his roommate Peter Jahnke, an Anvil veteran who last captured public attention as the chef at last summer’s LÜNCH pop-up with Master Sommelier David Keck and pastry chef Jillian Bartolome, have joined forces to open a new bar called Tongue-Cut Sparrow.
Named for a Japanese fable about friendship and hospitality, Tongue-Cut Sparrow aims to emulate the formal cocktails bar that Heugel and Jahnke have encountered on their travels in Europe and Japan. Located directly above The Pastry War in what used to be the VIP lounge for the nightclub Tonic, the intimate space only has room for 25 customers.
Announced on Friday via Instagram after being quietly assembled over just seven weeks, the new bar will hold invite-only friends and family service this weekend. On Wednesday, the bar will begin a soft opening for walk-in customers. Hours will mimic The Pastry War, although Heugel will also make it available for private events.
“It’s a place you come to treat yourself to an experience that we’ve thought about every step and tried to make it special,” Heugel tells CultureMap. “That means when you come in you get hot towel service, you get complimentary bar snacks. The staff is dressed formally. There’s a seat for you. When you pay your check, your receipt comes with candy. (There’s) a lot of attention to a lot of details that are outside of the actual drink.”
Since it will only serve seated patrons, half of the bar’s seats will be available by reservation, which it will begin taking February 8. The other half will be available for walk-ins, but the space’s highly limited capacity — per requirements of the City of Houston Fire Marshall — may make it difficult for everyone to who wants to try Tongue-Cut Sparrow to experience it right away.
“We’re trying to be modest about this and not build too much hype,” Heugel says. “That’s the last thing we want to do. That’s a big challenge figuring how people can feel appreciated and still only accommodate 25 people at once.”
Those who manage to get a seat will find a menu of 16 classic cocktails, four house cocktails, and a selection of beer and wine. The back bar will offer 140 spirits. Table service will be provided for the floor seating around the space’s fireplace. While it sounds like it could be expensive, Heugel says that all cocktails will be priced at a reasonable $12.
“I think it’s a bargain. I don’t think there will be an experience with the type of service you’re getting will only cost $12 per drink,” Heugel says. “We’re not saying we’re as good as the Savoy in London or bars we’ve been inspired by in Japan, but we’re a third to half the cost of the bars we’ve striving (to emulate).”
Heugel and Anvil bartender Alex Negraza will work at Tongue-Cut Sparrow with Jahnke (who will serve as general manager) until the time comes to open Heugel’s project with Oxheart chef Justin Yu. Negranza will serve as the bar manager for that still unnamed concept, which is set to open later this year in the former Dry Creek space on Yale.
“My focus is on the place in The Heights. It’s more ambitious and working with Justin is an incredible opportunity,” Heugel says. “This is something Peter is overly qualified to run and manage. He’ll run the show as soon as we get the place in The Heights open.”
Until then, patient patrons will find the trio, along with a couple of other bartenders, working at the new space. At a time when glitzy nightclubs are having a moment in Houston, Tongue-Cut Sparrow should find an audience with people who appreciate a quieter, more intimate experience.
Tongue-Cut Sparrow, 310 Main Street; Wednesday 4 pm to 12 am; Thursday through Saturday 4 pm to 2 am; firstname.lastname@example.org for private event inquiries; reservations available beginning February 8 by calling 713-321-8242 between 3 pm and 5 pm.