Hard to believe that it’s been over five years since the Original OKRA Charity Saloon kicked off a movement that turned the blocks around downtown’s Market Square into a nightlife destination. On Friday and Saturday nights, people from all over Houston head to Main Street for drinks at places like Bad News Bar, The Pastry War, and Public Services.
On April 13, two veteran bartenders are adding to the mix with The Cottonmouth Club. Located at 108 Main St. in the former home of Barringer Bar, Cottonmouth unites Reserve 101 owner Mike Raymond with his longtime friend Michael Neff, a veteran bartender with extensive experience in both New York and Los Angeles.
The duo have spent four years developing the concept for Cottonmouth, which they’ve described as “the least cocktail-y cocktail bar we could come up with.” What does that mean?
“It means we don’t want to be dicks about it,” Neff tells CultureMap. Specifically, they want to push back against the stereotypically arrogant bartenders who might exhibit dick-ish behavior by looking down on customers who don't know as much about cocktails and their ingredients as they’ve been trained to.
“I don’t want to write stuff on my menu and people not know what it is. I’ll explain it,” Neff says. “It’s not because they’re dumb; it’s just not their job to know. I want people to explore what we can do in a glass without feeling stupid. I know we’ll do it. Hopefully, people will like it.”
A customer-friendly attitude is just one part of the way Cottonmouth wants to create a different kind of bar experience for its patrons. On CultureMap’s “What’s Eric Eating” podcast, Raymond said they’re inspired by certain aspects of New York in the ’70s, but that doesn’t mean cocktails named after bands or songs. It’s more about an attitude.
“That kind of a vibe of at any given time you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Raymond says. “There could be live music, there could be performance art. We don’t know, and we’re ok with that. We’ll just let it all come together.”
In terms of what’s in the glasses, expect 10 or so of Neff’s original creations that are based on housemade ingredients. He’s creating his own sodas inspired by the flavors of Coke and Sprite to provide for a fresh take on highballs like a Jack and Coke.
The drinks will get more complicated upstairs in what the partners are calling a “reverse speakeasy.” Designed to be an event space for everything from brand activations to guest bartenders, the focus will be on delivering an enhanced experience that also has a vaguely ’70s vibe.
“The inspiration for upstairs is a green room that Led Zeppelin just left,” Raymond says. “The party is still going on, but the band just left. You’re hanging out, it’s relaxed, but it’s a little bit elevated. This has a certain grit to it. Upstairs is a little more posh. I think people will have fun with it.”
Neff still has responsibilities across the country — he spent Wednesday night working a pre-opening party of the Los Angeles location of legendary New York cocktail bar Employees Only — but he expects to spend at least two weeks a month in Houston behind Cottonmouth’s bar. So far, he likes what he’s seen of the Bayou City.
“I really like the enthusiasm of the people in the bars here, and I like the diversity of them,” Neff says. “I’ve fallen in love with four of your dive bars.”
No one will confuse The Cottonmouth Club with a dive bar, but hopefully the feeling will soon be mutual.
The Cottonmouth Club, 108 Main St.; open daily from 4 pm to 2 am.