Cocktail pop-ups come and go. Whether prompted by a visiting bartender from out of town or the introduction of a new spirit to Houston, these events typically only draw the most devoted drinkers. However, The Pastry War has something a little more unusual planned for Wednesday night that should attract a wider audience.
Led by owner Bobby Heugel, the staff at the popular downtown mezcaleria will recreate the entire menu from Mexico City's La Cucaracha Cocktail Club, which flourished as a place American tourists could go to get a drink during Prohibition. After falling into what he calls an online "wormhole" of vintage cocktail menus, Heugel tells CultureMap he was immediately drawn to La Cucaracha's menu with its promise of "English-speaking personnel" and "fancy cockroach" logo.
"I had heard of the La Cucaracha Cocktail Club before, but I couldn’t remember why. It turns out the reason was because it created the Mexican Firing Squad, which is a classic cocktail we’ve had on the menu at Anvil for five years," Heugel says. "Frankly, in a lot of ways it’s really cute. First of all it’s in English in a foreign country, which is extremely rare, but the English is not always perfect. There’s funny things like maraschino is misspelled the way you’d say it in Spanish with a double 'r.' You’ve got a Pisco punch with no Pisco."
As the staff investigated the menu and began figuring out proportions for recipes, they turned up both hidden gems and a couple of clunkers. Of those, Heugel says he's most excited about the Mexican 75, which blends Citadelle gin with vermouth, apricot liqueur, pineapple juice, and grenadine. Fans of the French 75 cocktail will immediately notice the absence of champagne in the Mexican version served at La Cucaracha, but Heugel promises the drink is "so good" that it will probably find a spot on the Pastry War's permanent menu.
On the other hand, Heugel calls the Blue Moon — an Aviation-style cocktail of gin, creme de violette, and absinthe — "awful."
More than any specific recipe, Heugel says he enjoyed the process of reading the menu and thinking about how drinks like the Clover Club, which was originally developed in Philadelphia, made it to Mexico City without the aid of the Internet or media devoted to drinks and dining.
"Would someone pass someone else a cocktail book? Would someone tell someone what a recipe they had at another bar was like," Heugel says. "It’s almost like cocktail recipe telephone where over time it morphed into this other thing."
Heugel also noticed that drinks with similar ingredients are spread out on different parts of the menu so that they don't appear to be too similar. He made similar decisions when Anvil opened and says he feels a connection to those bartenders from the part.
"We’re just 80 years apart, but it’s the exact same job. You can feel the decisions they made, the order they put the drinks in, why they put them in that order, the diversity," he says
The events kicks off when The Pastry War opens at 4 pm. Getting there early is probably a good idea. In addition to the drinks, the bar has printed up 100 T-shirts with the "fancy cockroach" logo, and they're sure to go quickly.