Houston's gin temple

Houston’s hottest new restaurant pours positively mad cocktails

Houston’s hottest new restaurant pours positively mad cocktails

MAD pimiento cocktail
The Pimiento features a blend of heirloom peppers. Photo by Eric Sandler
MAD te verde cocktail
Pouring the Te Verde cocktail. Photo by Eric Sandler
MAD paella cocktail
The paella cocktail is garnished with a shrimp. Photo by Eric Sandler
MAD pijo de miel cocktail
The Pijo de Miel features gin that's been aged in honey-lined bottles. Photo by Eric Sandler
MAD Chris Morris
Chris Morris prepares to serve his nitro carajillo. Photo by Eric Sandler
MAD pimiento cocktail
MAD te verde cocktail
MAD paella cocktail
MAD pijo de miel cocktail
MAD Chris Morris

Although it’s only been open for two weeks, MAD has quickly emerged as Houston’s hottest new restaurant. The Madrid-inspired establishment from BCN chef Luis Roger and owner Ignacio Torras has captured people’s attention with its lavish interior, creative cuisine, and imaginative cocktails.

While Roger’s modernist techniques — noodles made of broth, a tomato that hides a cheese and pesto salad, etc. — are already earning plenty of raves, both he and Torras wanted cocktails that could match the food’s creativity. They turned to BCN manager Jerry Argüelles and bar director Chris Morris to create the program.

“I absolutely love gin,” Morris tells CultureMap. “I’ve said for many years that Houston needs a gin palace. They’ve kind of loosened the chains and let us go crazy to preach the juniper gospel.”

Argüelles developed BCN’s signature gintonics — elaborate gin and tonics with multiple garnishes served in oversized balloon glasses — but he wanted to move beyond that at MAD.

“Over there, we just do the balloon gin and tonic with different seasonal flavors,” Argüelles tells CultureMap. “Over here, we want to play a little outside of that. If there’s a cool glass we want to use, we’re not married to the balloon glass. I’m also interested in a savory influence.”

Argüelles found a fitting partner in Morris. While he may be best known locally as the whisky expert at the late, lamented Hunky Dory, Morris also considers himself a “ginvangelist,” having represented Texas in the finals of Bombay Sapphire’s prestigious Most Imaginative Bartender competition.

“When you look at the cocktail menu at BCN, they’re classically Spanish gin and tonics,” Morris says. “The gin and tonic program here uses the tonic as a vessel for creativity. It’s not the same as using garnishes and adding a bottle of tonic to it. We’re doing very measured amounts; we’re using gin and tonic as a vessel for creative cocktails.”

For example, consider the Pimiento gin and tonic. As Morris explains it, most pepper gin and tonics would start with a pepper-forward gin and a standard tonic, but that’s not how things work at MAD.

“In this case, we’re using a big savory gin. Instead of just putting things in a glass, we’re making a juice blend of heirloom sweet peppers, mango, orange, and lime, we shake that up, then add tonic,” Morris says. “It has a lot more color and vibrancy than just gin, ice, and garnish.”

Morris drew on his competition experience for the Pijo de Miel cocktail. It starts with Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat gin, which is a barrel-aged, honey-forward spirit. MAD then ages it in honey-lined bottles for five days to round out and emphasize those flavors. The cocktail is prepared like an Old Fashioned with housemade bitters and garnished with some honeycomb.

Priced at $22, it might be one of Houston’s most expensive drinks, but the premium price means diners receive a cocktail made with an unusual spirit that’s been carefully treated to maximize its deliciousness. Details such as proper glassware and a crystal-clear oversized ice cube also ensure that a customer feels like the drink offers decent value.

The Te Verde seems perfectly designed for Instagram. Suntory Roku gin from Japan gets infused with ginger, lime, and matcha. Served in a tea kettle with dry ice, the drink produces “steam” while delivering the green tea’s signature bitter notes.

Even dessert gets a creative cocktail. The carajillo — a blend of espresso, Liquor 43, and ice — gets updated as a nitro version that’s served from a canister. It has the same creaminess as cold brew coffee “with booze,” as Morris notes.

Of course, MAD’s gin focus doesn’t mean patrons can’t order their favorite classic from off the menu. If a customer wants an Old Fashioned or a vodka soda, Morris and his team have all the ingredients on hand to make one.

“My drink philosophy has always been: any version of a drink you order from me, I want it to be the best version of that drink you’ve had,” Morris says. “If you want a Cosmopolitan, I’ll find a way to make a really great Cosmopolitan and make sure you have a good time.”