Bars across Houston have taken advantage of changes in TABC regulations that allow them to operate as restaurants provided they meet certain guidelines. In recent weeks, bars such as Julep, Two Headed Dog, and Reserve 101 have all reopened for service.
Starting Wednesday, November 11, the city’s most celebrated cocktail bar will join their ranks. Anvil Bar & Refuge, the Montrose establishment widely credited with bringing the craft cocktail movement to Houston, reopens for business this evening, owner Bobby Heugel tells CultureMap. Hours will be limited for this week with more normal hours (typically 4 pm-2 am) starting next week.
In addition, Tongue-cut Sparrow, Heugel’s formal cocktail bar, will temporarily relocate from its home above downtown bar The Pastry War to the former Penny Quarter space next to Anvil beginning on November 25.
Anvil has changed some of its procedures in response to regulations designed to limit the spread of COVID-19. Most importantly, all service will be seated; as at a restaurant, an employee will guide customers to a table where a server will take their orders. Of course, masks are required for all customers when not seated at their tables.
While interior seating will be limited, Anvil has claimed three parking spots for a newly expanded patio that will give it outdoor seating for the first time. The bar has always offered food along with its drinks. It will supplement those items with Pastry War’s popular tamales.
For Tongue-cut Sparrow, seated service has always been the norm. Its elevated service experience, including hot towels on arrival and candy with the check, will continue in the new venue.
As Heugel explains, he didn’t want to take this step. Anvil has always been a bar, and he intended for it to stay that way.
“I think it’s important to note we’re caving. We’re deciding we have to pivot to restaurant service, because there’s not enough direction politically on the future,” Heugel says. “We were really proud of not making that choice and trying to do the right thing and trying to be patient.”
Although Texas Governor Greg Abbott allowed bars across the state to reopen, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has not permitted them to do so, citing the continuing threat posed by the coronavirus. With the number of cases on the rise, Hidalgo has not indicated when she might allow Harris County’s bars to reopen. That lack of clarity made reclassifying as a restaurant necessary.
“There’s no information coming from the county or the state level about how we’re supposed to plan for the future,” Heugel says. “We’re taking the only option on the table.”
Another reason Heugel says he feels more comfortable about opening is that the procedures in place at both Squable and Better Luck Tomorrow have demonstrated that employees can work safely without contracting coronavirus.
Heugel acknowledges the experience will be different. No one can say when the days of customers standing three-deep on a Saturday night might return. Still, he knows some people will appreciate the new vibe.
“I joke that the less crowded Anvil is now a reality,” Heugel says. “If that was keeping you from visiting, you have everything you ever wanted.”