On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Michael Neff, owner of The Cottonmouth Club in downtown Houston, joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss the state of the bar industry. Neff has been a tireless advocate for commonsense regulations that will allow bars to operate safely during the pandemic.
The conversation begins with the duo sharing a chuckle about Neff's roasting on a recent episode of Last Week Tonight. From there, the discussion takes a more serious turn as Neff explains why he chose not to take advantage of changes in TABC regulations that would have allowed The Cottonmouth Club to operate as a restaurant. The bar reopened briefly in June, but it won't reopen again until Neff thinks it's safe for him and his staff to operate with a sufficient quantity of customers necessary to be profitable.
The problem, as he explains, is that operating the bar at very limited capacity with parties seated at separate tables doesn't achieve the atmosphere he wants for The Cottonmouth Club.
"I'm not delivering what you paid to go to a bar for. I'm not delivering any version of, I'm having a great time. Any version of, I feel like I'm closer to people. I think about that," Neff says.
"We don't just sell cocktails. We sell feelings. If I can't provide those feelings, even if it's just me as a bartender saying, 'hey, Eric, nice to meet you.' If I have to yell that from across the room, it just doesn't have the same effect."
Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Matt Harris discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Crawfish & Noodles opening a second location at The Houston Farmers Market; chef Lance Fegen opening a new restaurant in the Heights; and the sale of The Original O.K.R.A. Charity Saloon to its long time general manager.
In the restaurant of the week segment, the hosts discuss their recent meal at Kanau Sushi, the new restaurant in Midtown where chef Mike Lim (Roka Akor, Tobiuo Sushi & Bar) leads the kitchen. Expertly seared wagyu beef, elegantly plated cold dishes, and a decadent uni toast all lead to a strong endorsement from both men.