When it comes to cocktails, Houston has come a long way in the 10 years since Anvil opened. Back then, restaurants like The Queen Vic or Beaver’s could stand out just by offering cocktails; now, even chain restaurants use fresh juices and name brand spirits in their drinks.
That just means that restaurants have to work a little harder to stand out. Creative flavors, custom infusions, seasonal ingredients — these are the elements that demonstrate a restaurant takes its drinks as seriously as its eats.
Many of the establishments on CultureMap's Top 100 serve first-rate cocktails — consider these the best of the best.
Two years into its existence, Nancy’s is as well known for its creative beverage program as its signature Nancy cakes and reel-to-reel tape deck. Bar manager Kristine Nguyen and her team offer a selection of house cocktails, maybe of which balance out their flavors with amaro, as well as a rotating selection of classics.
CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Bartender of the Year winner Sarah Troxell may be spending most of her time at The Toasted Coconut these days, but she still oversees the cocktails at this intimate Montrose restaurant. Three daily cocktail specials are the only choices on the printed list (they’re all worth ordering), or the talented staff can whip up just about any classic.
Every meal at BCN should start one of the restaurant’s signature gintonics — elaborately crafted cocktails served in oversized glasses that match different gins to tonics that enhance specific flavor characteristic. At MAD, the cocktails are even more elaborate with gin-based cocktails that utilize techniques such as custom juice blends and infusions to create drinks that are as memorable as the ultra-stylish interior.
1751 Sea and Bar
This Heights-area seafood restaurant is so gin-obsessed that it’s named after the British Gin Act of 1751 and features over 120 gins on its back bar. Beverage director David Maness’ offerings include the usual gin and tonics and martinis, of course, but he even riffs on a gin-based tiki cocktail.
Former Kitchen 713 chef James Haywood leads the bar program at this eclectic downtown restaurant. His creations range from subtle sips like the Pillars of Optimism, a gin and tonic with amaro, to more hard-hitting options like the signature KulturePunch, which delivers a boozy kick courtesy of four kinds of rum.
Better Luck Tomorrow/Squable
As one would expect given the pedigree of its owners, both of Bobby Heugel and Justin Yu’s Heights establishments take their cocktails seriously. At BLT, look for menu staples like the Salty Cat (gin and grapefruit) as well as more eclectic concoctions like the recently-introduced Mole & Maguey, a savory sip that features epazote-infused mezcal with mole port. Squable’s menu features creative spins on classics such as the Terry’s Martini that uses two kinds of gin and two kinds of vermouth to achieve a properly balanced flavor.
Agricole Hospitality takes its cocktails seriously. At Coltivare, that commitment manifests itself in seasonal ingredients and an extensive selection of non-alcoholic options. Indianola benefits from sharing space with Miss Carousel, Agricole’s ambitious cocktail lounge that serves drinks to match any craving. Co-owner Morgan Weber’s obsession with whiskey means that both establishments feature one-off barrel selections that can’t be tried anywhere else.
Arnaldo Richards’ Picos
Few restaurants as are as committed to featuring a wide range of agave spirits as this Mexican restaurant in Upper Kirby. Beverage director Monica Richards, daughter of chef-owner Arnaldo, has personally selected a number of exclusive tequila barrels that can only be consumed at the restaurant. Of course, the signature Perfect margarita, served in a shaker, remains one of the city’s very best examples of its style.