Once again, Anvil Bar & Refuge has been recognized by its peers as one of the best bars in the country. On Tuesday, the bar on Westheimer that's widely credited with launching the craft cocktail movement in Houston earned four semifinalist nominations in the Spirited Awards that are given out annually at the Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans.
Now in its ninth year, the Spirited Awards recognize the best in cocktails worldwide. A panel of 100 industry experts evaluated 2,000 applicants to select the 10 semifinalists in each of 24 categories. Anvil's nominations include Best American Bar Team, Best American Cocktail Bar, World's Best Cocktail Menu and World's Best Spirits Selection.
"It's cool when stuff like this happens," Heugel says. "I always feel like it's a combination of an honor and feeling a lot of pressure at the same time."
In addition, Anvil co-owner Bobby Heugel picked up a nomination for American Bartender of the year, and sister concept Julep is a Best New American Cocktail Bar nominee. The bars, which are part of the Clumsy Butcher group that also includes Underbelly, are the only nominees from Texas in their respective categories.
Anvil is no stranger to the awards. It earned two semi-finalist nominations last year, and Heugel has been nominated before, too. The nominations put Anvil at the same level with high-profile cocktail bars in other cities like Employees Only in New York, which was featured prominently in the documentary film Hey Bartender, as well as San Francisco's Trick Dog and The Aviary in Chicago.
Heugel says he appreciates the accolades but also recognizes the challenge it poses for Anvil's staff in terms of meeting the high expectations customers bring to the bar. "It's cool when stuff like this happens," he says. "I always feel like it's a combination of an honor and feeling a lot of pressure at the same time."
Of the nominations, Heugel says he's most proud of the World's Best Spirits Selection, because he's been worked with Anvil general manager Terry Williams and assistant general manager Jessey Qi to increase the bar's selection by 200 bottles in the last year. Some of them are "rare and exclusive" releases that haven't been available in Texas before.
In addition to improving its selection, Heugel plans to make a few physical changes as well. Anvil will close for approximately 10 days in July to replace the "Home Deport supplies" that Heugel and co-owner Kevin Floyd used to build the bar. The improvements will keep Anvil looking sharp for the years to come.
While Julep's nomination suggests Clumsy Butcher is pretty good at opening new concepts, don't expect anything new from them soon. Heugel credits Julep's success to the work of co-owner Alba Huerta and the bar's staff. Besides, the famously busy Heugel is ready to slow down a bit.
"I'm completely exhausted and really enjoy bartending full time," Heugel says. "I really don't anticipate opening another bar any time soon . . . Making Anvil better is our focus this year."
The Spirited Awards will be presented July 18.