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A Houston bar stands up to New York and Los Angeles' best in national awards — thanks to a star bartender

News_Anvil Bar and Refuge, exterior, patio
Anvil is now a three-time semifinalist for a Spirited Award. Photo by Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
Bobby Heugel Anvil May 2013
Anvil co-owner Bobby Heugel also picked up an individual nomination for American Bartender of the Year.  Photo by © Julie Soefer
Alba Huerta Julep
Heugel says Alba Huerta would be his nominee for Best Bartender.  Julie Soefer Photography
Pastry War Houston bar
Esquire magazine named The Pastry War one of America's best bars. Photo by © Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
News_Anvil Bar and Refuge, exterior, patio
Bobby Heugel Anvil May 2013
Alba Huerta Julep
Pastry War Houston bar

Anvil Bar & Refuge has earned two semi-finalist nominations in the Eighth Annual Spirited Awards, which recognize ""the year’s best bars, bartenders, writers, experts and more." The bar itself is in the running for Best American Cocktail Bar honors, and co-owner Bobby Heugel picked up a nomination for American Bartender of the year.

Both Heugel and Anvil are the only Texas nominees in their respective categories, which are heavy on big names from the East and West Coast. Other names Houstonians might recognize are Austin's Half Step, which picked up a nomination for Best New American Cocktail Bar, and Los Angeles' Harvard & Stone, where Houston native Yael Vengroff landed after her stints at Grand Prize, Mongoose versus Cobra, etc . . . 

A panel of judges selected the 10 nominees in each category who will be cut down to four finalists next month ahead of the awards ceremony at the Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans. Although this year is Heugel's first as an individual nominee, Anvil has made the final four each of the past two years. Is 2014 the year it joins fellow Clumsy Butcher concept Underbelly in taking home a national award?

  "I don’t really know how to measure what Anvil does nationally. When we opened Anvil, we were really just trying to serve cocktails to Houstonians."   

"Do I think we’ll win? I have no idea," Heugel, fresh off an "inspiring" visit to Mexico, tells CultureMap. "I don’t really know how to measure what Anvil does nationally. When we opened Anvil, we were really just trying to serve cocktails to Houstonians.

"I don’t think anything’s changed about that. I don’t know how you compare Anvil to cocktail bars in New York or anywhere else."

Yet, Heugel says he's flattered by the recognition. "It’s an award that’s determined by our peers and people we really respect. People who represent the best of cocktails across the country."

As for his individual nomination, Heugel attributes it to the amount of time that he's spent tending bar this year. "I’ve averaged 40 hours a week or more behind the bar (this year), he says. "I really love bartending. With all the things we’ve done in the past five years, it’s been hard to do that . . . I always want to serve people drinks. I’ve really enjoyed that about the last year."

Still, Heugel has another suggestion for a more deserving Houston bartender. "In my opinion the best bartender in the country is Alba (Huerta). She is so much better at bartending than I am," he says. "If I could switch my name out for hers on the list, I’d do it in a heartbeat."

Huerta and Heugel have been so busy thanks to The Pastry War, the downtown agave bar that Esquire magazine picked as one of 2014's best bars. The combination of margaritas, tamales and Day of the Dead decor has helped fuel the growth along the 300 block of Main Street. 

Perhaps the upcoming opening of Julep will raise Huerta's profile to the point she earns similar national recognition.

"I’m really exciting about Julep being a platform for everyone involved," Heugel says. "Being able to build a bar to match who she is as a person is really exciting. I’m just happy we got to do that."

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