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Punch drunk love: From Natachee's to Pass & Provisions, Houston bars bring back cocktail batches in a bowl

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Slideshow
Darla, punch, November 2012
Mongoose’s Cobra Koolaid is always in a crystal bowl at the end of the bar, and it's always $5 a cup. Photo by Darla Guillen
Rienzi Punch Party, October 2012, Caroline Cole
Rienzi's punch party featured classic recipes as interpreted by Mongoose versus Cobra bartenders. Caroline Cole Photo by Kim Coffman
Darla, punch, November 2012
Rienzi Punch Party, October 2012, Caroline Cole
Darla Guillen, head shot, column mug, November 2012

Maybe it’s a reaction to the lengthy craft cocktail-making process or just a plebeian alternative to pricey intoxicants. For whatever reason, bowls of punch are reappearing all around town and imbibers are seeking them out.

Hey, even if you’re not familiar with 18-century art or literature, you can still get in touch with that era's drink of choice. 

With a place that has “punch” in its name, you can be sure that Natachee's Supper 'n' Punch has a list of refreshing mixes to sample. From Maw-Maw's Mellowrama Punch with rum and pineapple to The Ol' One-Two Punch with Pimm's, lemon and cucumber, at $5 a cup you can taste all of them.  

There's a little place just out of town,
Where, if you go to lunch,

They'll make you forget your mother-in-law
With a drink called Fish-House Punch

So goes the Fish-House Punch rhyme. It’s unclear when the first cup was served (either mid-18th or mid-19th century, it’s anyone’s guess), but what’s for certain is that it's one of America’s classic punches, and one on which mixologists build when creating their boozy batches. Rum is the base, with cognac, peach brandy and citrus rounding out the list of standard ingredients.

The Fish-House Punch and a few other classics are always on hand at Mongoose versus Cobra, who contributed bowls of the spiked fruit juice to Rienzi's recent punch party. Mongoose’s Cobra Koolaid is always in a crystal bowl at the end of the bar, and it's always $5 a cup. It was added as a happy hour option for those who want to stop in for an after-work drink and need it stat. A recent version was made with gin, orange juice, lime juice, lemon juice, Peychaud's bitters, ginger liquor and prosecco.

“It’s the fundamental American way to imbibe,” Gregg says. “It’s one of the most traditional drinks, and it’s conducive to sharing, too.” 

It only makes sense that a Caribbean restaurant would carry a strong traditional rum punch. Stop in to Reggae Hut Cafe to hear live music or watch the game while indulging in jerk chicken and plantains. They also offer a non-alcoholic fruit punch for designated drivers. 

Those who are already regulars at The Pass and Provisions’ bar know to ask what the punch of the day is. With daily concoctions surprising patrons’ palates and refreshing pre-dinner guests, bar manager Alex Gregg and staff frequently change up the recipes.

“It’s the fundamental American way to imbibe,” Gregg says. “It’s one of the most traditional drinks, and it’s conducive to sharing, too.”

I tasted the Eleanor Tinsley Punch made with white rum, Aperol, lemon, orange, grapefruit and bitters. In proper punch prep fashion, Pass uses oleo sacrum (oil and sugar extracted from citrus peels). It had a dry finish that subdued the spicy, citrusy fruit flavors. It's no wonder guests come in specifically to sample the punch of the day.

Although the bowls of fruit-scented boozy goodness can be spotted around town, they are also easy to make at home. It’s all about balance, so as long as you keep the right proportion of sweet to bitter, you might even come upon some of your own cocktail creations. Plus it’s all really easy if you just follow the punch rhyme: “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.”

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