Next up in our look at the list of CultureMap's 2014 Tastemaker Award nominees are the best bars. From classic cocktails to craft beer, from dimly lit, romantic establishments to . . . well, dimly lit industry hangs, Houston's growing bar scene offers a diverse array of options. As it should be.
Different bars cater to different clientele and different occasions. The bar where we celebrate closing a big deal at work may not be the same place we mourn the significant other who got away.
It's that ability to turn even the most mundane happy hour into an unforgettable night that unites all of our nominees. Check one out soon. Regardless of your mood, they're ready to assist.
What's left to say about Anvil? In the five years since it opened, drinking in Houston has become immeasurably better. Now, it's almost impossible to imagine a high-profile bar or restaurant opening without a bar stocked with a diverse spirit selection and cocktails made with freshly squeezed juices.
Anvil alumni have spread through the city, raising the levels of quality and service at any number of places. Still, the original remains a dependable place for well-made drinks, and, as anyone who tries to get in on the weekend finds out, it's as popular as ever.
Just as Anvil raised the standard for cocktails in Houston, 13 Celsius raised the standard for wine bars (and wine drinking in general). From its cozy space in a historic Midtown building, 13's appealing list of offbeat varietals and extensive by the glass offerings made it safe for people to drink wines they hadn't tried before.
Need a date idea? Belly up to the bar, ask Adele what's interesting and split a cheese plate.
Both owner Mike Sammons and manager Adele Corrigan are so knowledgeable about their products and so helpful at introducing customers to their new favorite wine that they both earned Best Sommelier nods.
Need a date idea? Belly up to the bar, ask Adele what's interesting and split a Dairymaids cheese plate. If your companion isn't impressed, move on to the next one.
Camerata isn't even a year old, but it's already become an essential destination for oenophiles. Credit that to advanced sommelier David Keck and his staff, who can happily share the details of every wine on Camerata's list with their customers.
The staff knows more than just vintages, styles and what a wine tastes like. They can recite facts about individual wine makers and growing techniques. The constantly changing by the glass list means that even frequent guests find something new to try.
Just as Down House has become an essential part of the Heights dining scene, D&T Drive Inn, a craft beer ice house from the same ownership group, has become a laid back, friendly alternative for people who want a good beer selection without being scolded for ordering the "wrong thing." The staff can't be too snooty when one of the most consistently appealing drinks on the menu is a frozen shandy made with low rent Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The staff can't be too snooty when the most consistently appealing drinks there's a frozen shandy made with low rent Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The food menu, a Southern-influenced mix of sandwiches and shareable snacks, makes Down House a comfortable spot for a casual dinner.
With its fire marshal imposed capacity issues behind it, Bad News has become one of the city's top places to spend a couple hours lingering over cocktails with friends. Unmarked, dimly lit and expansive, the space has a low key atmosphere that's perfect for quiet conversation, and the bar staff is equally at home mixing a drink from the bar's menu or a classic.
When standing on the patio and watching both pedestrians hop from bar to bar and the METRO rail pass below, the dreams that these new downtown openings will become permanent fixtures seems likely to become reality.
Grand Prize's greatest strength is that way it fulfills different roles for different people. For the post-college crowd, it's a hipster dive with plenty of cheap, cold PBR and Lone Star available. For locals, it's a quiet happy hour spot that offers the prospect of an inexpensive, tasty dinner courtesy of Sandy Witch Sandwich Company. For a certain segment of Houston's service industry, Grand Prize is simply a home away from home — the bar that folks gather at after their shifts have ended.
Regardless of what brings a person there, Grand Prize's staff treats everyone like a regular with efficient service even in the face of a hectic Saturday night crowd. No wonder it remains so popular.
Potent drinks, a great craft beer selection and a tidy food menu of tempting snacks all contribute to Mongoose versus Cobra's status as Midtown's best bar. Developed by 13 Celsius co-owners Ian Rosenberg and Mike Sammons, this place provides a respite from the Midtown party scene while still providing an atmosphere that feels both upscale and welcoming.
Credit the bar staff for maintaining that tricky balancing act. When it hasn't been claimed, the upstairs lounge provides a secluded spot for private conversations.
Although part of The Pastry War's mission is to educate its customers about the variety of agave spirits on offer — think sotol and mezcal and small batch tequilas — it's the way those spirits come alive in cocktails that's the real revelation. Discover the joy of a smoky, complex mezcal margarita made with The Pastry War's signature blend of Persian and key limes and spiked with a little green chartreuse.
The combination of the Dia de los Muertos-inspired decor and the raw enthusiasm that bartenders Bobby Heugel and Alba Huerta have for agave gives the bar a lively energy and welcoming atmosphere that sets it apart from some of the more serious cocktail spots around town.
The Original OKRA Charity Saloon brings together some of Houston's most high profile bar and restaurants owners who've created a space that served as both a beachhead for the boom of new concepts in and around Market Square and a way to give back to the community. Both missions have been a success — the bar regularly contributes $20,000 to a different worthy cause each month, and the new bars along Main Street have become one of the hottest blocks in Texas.
The space, which dates back to the 1880s, is one of the most beautiful in Houston.
Like Grand Prize, Poison Girl adeptly serves a wide variety of people. During happy hour, one can find young professionals enjoying the massive whiskey selection. Later in the evening, regulars fill the backyard and drink craft beer (or Lone Star).
Either way, the pinball tables always beckon, and the camaraderie that exists between the staff and Poison Girl's loyal patrons in undeniable. Really, what more can anyone ask from a neighborhood bar?
The winning bar will be revealed at the Tastemakers gala event May 8. Tickets are on sale now.