Few CultureMap stories have resonated with readers more strongly than 2014's Secrets of the TABC Report series. Spread over a series of three articles in 2014 that used the Mixed Beverage Tax Receipts data published by the State Comptroller's Office to expose a few of the hidden truths behind dining trends, the columns remain topics that readers most frequently ask me about.
Despite requests to bring the column back, I never wanted it to become stale. Recently, new trends have emerged that made it seem like the right time.
A note on the name: although the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission isn't responsible for sharing this data with the public, the "TABC Report" moniker is a piece of restaurant industry jargon that reflects its connection to liquor sales. All establishments that serve hard liquor are included in the report; bars and restaurants that only serve beer and wine — a list that includes places like Underbelly, Uchi, and Oxheart — are not listed. This article primarily considers the July 2016 data published last week, but it also includes data from other reports when its relevant.
Before diving into the data, keep in mind that liquor sales don't take into account costs such as rent, ingredients, and labor. A bar or restaurant could have low liquor sales and still be doing well financially, or have high liquor sales and still be struggling. Still, people in the restaurant industry use these numbers as a benchmark to compare how their business is faring relative to its peers. With that, let's dive in.
River Oaks District is booming, and Steak 48 is leading the way
If the luxury cars out front and the constantly packed bar weren’t sufficient evidence of its success, Steak 48’s sales in July attained a level that even Houston’s most successful restaurants don’t reach in December, which is the month when holiday celebrations take restaurant earnings to their highest point of the year. The almost 14,000-square-foot steakhouse reported approximately $627,000 in sales. To put that into perspective, consider the following:
- The next two highest revenue steakhouses, Pappas Bros. on Westheimer, and Vic & Anthony’s, combined for about $689,000 in sales, or roughly 10 percent more than Steak 48 sold by itself. Pappas Bros. December sales of $604,000 correlate more closely to Steak 48’s July performance.
- The four Clumsy Butcher cocktail bars — Anvil, Julep, the Pastry War, and the Nightingale Room — reported approximately $478,000 in sales. Six of the seven Treadsack concepts (less D&T Drive Inn) reported $389,000 in combined sales.
- With $339,000 in sales in June and $55,000 in sales in May (during its soft-opening and preview events), Steak 48 has already sold over $1 million of alcohol in less than three months.
While Steak 48 is clearly leading the way at the luxurious mixed-use development, the other restaurants in River Oaks District are also performing well, especially compared to their peers in other Texas cities. The iPic Theater reported $256,000 in liquor sales, while its siblings in Austin and the Dallas suburb of Fairview reported $118,000 and $106,000.
In Houston, Toulouse had alcohol sales of $146,000, and its sister restaurant Taverna reported $111,000. As points of comparison, Toulouse’s Dallas outpost had $85,000 in sales, and Taverna’s Austin and Fort Worth locations reported $60,000 and $48,000 respectively (the Dallas location only serves beer and wine). Even Hopdoddy's $66,000 in sales ranks third among the company's eight locations behind the two Austin outposts. Clearly, their parent companies should be happy with the decision to open in Houston.
Going forward, I expect Le Colonial's luxurious upstairs lounge to cut into Steak 48's numbers (at least a little bit) and propel it into second place in the District. It's probably too small to earn over $600,000 in a single month, but the first few months will be worth tracking.
Houstonians love patio bars
Houston’s summer weather may be unpleasant, but Houstonians seem to love drinking at bars that offer lots of outdoor space. In a number of inner loop zip codes, patio bars are leading the way. No wonder even popular establishments like Pub Fiction and Royal Oak are remodeling to add more outside seating.
In Midtown (77004), Axelrad reports $261,000 in sales. In 77006, which combines Montrose and Midtown, the top four highest selling bars — The Dogwood ($431,000), Little Woodrow’s ($330,000), La Grange ($261,000), and Irish Cowboy ($242,000) — all use outdoor space as part of their appeal. The pattern holds true in the Heights (77008) where Cedar Creek ($193,000) and Eight Row Flint ($168,000) are two of the top three.
Of course, Kirby Ice House, the Upper Kirby bar with a massive backyard, has captured plenty of its customers’ dollars. Its July sales of $372,000 are impressive, but that’s down from $484,000 in May and $431,000 in June, which demonstrates that even the most popular patio bars are somewhat weather dependent.
Nightclubs are back
For those inner loop zip codes where patio bars aren’t at the top, a nightclub probably is. While the idea of loud music and the velvet rope will never appeal to some people, overall, Houstonians can't wait to dance the night away. In 77002, Clé’s Vegas-style glitz generated $532,000 in sales, which is good for the fourth most liquor sales of any licensed establishment in Houston. That's a lot of bottle service! No wonder the owners are already working to transform a former church into another nightclub called Spire.
Elsewhere in Midtown, Rich’s ($158,000) and VrSI ($132,000) are also performing well despite only being open a few nights per week. In downtown, Boots ‘N Shoots reported sales of $177,000 only puts it behind Vic & Anthony’s, The Flying Saucer ($202,000), luxury hotels, and sports and concert venues like Minute Maid Park and Revention Music Center. The Commoner/Boulevardier twins reported $99,000 in sales while only being open for 10 hours per week on Friday and Saturday nights.
On Washington Avenue, three nightclubs rank in the top five: Kung Fu Saloon ($437,000), Dallas import Concrete Cowboy ($241,000), and Aura ($223,000). Maybe Hughes Hangar should have tried to stay open a little longer to catch the area's resurgence.