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Cool circus-themed pop-up bar spins carnival fun at favorite Montrose restaurant
From sports bars to tiki bars, Houstonians have plenty of choices for themed drinking establishments. One new bar has found a different source of inspiration.
Saint Julian’s Social Club has begun a three-month pop-up that’s temporarily occupying the Quiote space within The Toasted Coconut. Named for St. Julian the Hospitaller, considered to be the patron saint of hotel keepers, carnival workers, and murderers (among others), the bar pays tribute to carnivals, fairs, and circuses.
The project unites bartender Ben Mowbray (Grand Prize, The Toasted Coconut, etc.) with chef Rob Mungle (Outlaw Dave’s, Red Dwarf). Friends for more than 20 years, the duo tell CultureMap they’ve long aspired to open a concept where Mowbray could develop the bar program and Mungle, who’s won chili and gumbo cookoffs, could serve his slightly offbeat take on bar food.
Mowbray explains that he met performers like magicians and trapeze artists during his time performing standup comedy. He developed Saint Julian’s to honor their work ethic.
“The way they worked their asses off to stick their landings was so impressive to me,” he says. “That carnival concept came to me as a way to celebrate those people and give them a place to relax and feel received.”
Inside the intimate, 14-seat space, customers will find decorations like streamers, posters honoring famous carnival personalities, and other artifacts. The highlight is a giant wheel that customers can pay $5 to spin in order to win prizes such as drinks and swag — the top prize is currently three rare bottles of Citadelle Gin. As Mowbray explains, spinning the wheel illustrates a lot about Saint Julian’s approach.
“When you want to spin the prize wheel, we bring everybody together. It’s your moment in the sun,” he says. “What I really like is the way that vibe brings everybody together. It’s a small place. You’re going to get to know people. You’re going to have some laughs in here.”
Also providing laughs are Mowbray’s candy-infused cocktails. The menu features drinks made with spirits such as Sour Gumball-infused gin, Skittles-infused tequila, and vodka sodas in five flavors — Watermelon, Green Apple, Double Bubble, Skittles, and Lemon Head. Yes, he can also serve a limited selection of classic, non-candy infused drinks, but what’s the fun in that?
“If you’re worried it’s going to be too strong or too sweet or too childish, it’s not. It’s just a very refreshing way to have a vodka soda or gin and tonic,” Mowbray says. “The candy is not any stronger than it is in a flavored vodka. To my mind, it’s a better flavor. You’re drinking a Skittles vodka soda that takes like Skittles.”
Mungle contributes food items such as crawfish etouffee, Frito pie made with pineapple chili, flatbreads, and French toast. He’s also developed a dish he’s calling “candy sushi” — a Rice Krispie treat topped with a Swedish fish, Mexican sour candy, and a wasabi peanut that’s wrapped in a Fruit Roll-Up.
“We’re doing weird fun plays on candy and food,” Mungle says. “There’s nothing healthy in here. That’s what we want to do.”
Saint Julian’s will celebrate its grand opening this weekend (August 10-12). Going forward, it will be open Wednesday-Saturday from 6 pm until midnight. As the concept evolves, Mowbray plans to add performers to the mix such as magicians, jugglers, maybe even a fire swallower.
Quiote will return at some point, but the space belongs to Saint Julian’s through Halloween. That should be enough time to determine whether people like drinking at a carnival-themed bar.
“There’s a real chance people are going to think it’s goofy and silly and they want no part of it,” Mowbray says.
“What I’d like to do is prove this concept is successful. If we make a little bit of money, we’ll set it aside and keep looking for our own shop.”