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Photo by Sergio Trevino

A new retro-styled, Mexican-inspired bar and nightclub is coming to downtown. La Diabla Retro Bar will open next Thursday, December 15, in the former Boomtown Coffee space at 300 Main Street.

Created by La Calle owner Ramon Soriano and his business partner Fernando Villegas, La Diabla builds on La Calle’s reputation for bringing the flavors and atmosphere of Mexico City to Houston. Just as all three locations of La Calle serve street style tacos in a vibrant atmosphere, La Diabla will pay homage to Mexico City pop culture icons of the '80s and '90s through art, music, and, of course, food and drink.

“We are serious about fresh ingredients, Mexico City, music, and good times,” Soriano said in a statement. “We are '80s guys, and we love the way the music of that decade is connecting with a new generation. La Diabla is bringing the tastes and sounds of our youth back again in ways that can feel both nostalgic and new, all at the same time.”

Portraits of Mexican pop and rock icons such as Juan Gabriel, Thalía, Luis Miguel, and others will adorn the walls. Other design elements include TVs that will show music videos and a 30-foot long, 8-foot tall bar that will display La Diabla’s selection of agave spirits such as tequila and mezcal.

Turning to music, bands will perform every night La Diabla is open. Thursdays will feature balada, described in a release as “soft, romantic Latin pop,” with more uptempo Latin pop on Fridays. Latin rock will keep the party going on Saturday nights. In between sets, DJs will spin tunes that match the night’s theme.

An extensive selection of cocktails and other boozy beverages will also puts revelers in the proper state of mind. Expect La Calle favorites like margaritas, piña coladas, and micheladas along with mojitos and four flavors of Mexican candy shots. An extensive selection of tequilas and caguamas (32-ounce bottles of beer) will also be available.

While La Calle specializes in tacos and tortas, La Diabla will serve three flavors of flautas: chicken, carnitas, and papa con queso (potato with cheese). They’ll be wrapped in corn tortillas and fried.

Photo courtesy of Whiskey Riot

Pour more than 200 varieties of whiskey for an unforgettable holiday gift

Raise a Glass

Give the gift of whiskey this holiday season with tickets to Whiskey Riot, coming to POST Houston on April 15, 2023.

From whiskey connoisseurs to the "whiskey curious," everyone is invited to this massive tasting event, which boasts more than 200 varieties of whiskey for attendees to try.

All types of whiskey will be available, with representation from the large historic bourbon houses of Kentucky — like Four Roses and Heaven Hill — to local Texas distillers with products made right here in the Lone Star State.

The event runs 4-7 pm that Saturday, with VIP ticket-holders gaining early admission for an extra hour of sampling.

General admission tickets are $90 and VIP are $160, but early birds can score $85 general admission if purchased before December 31.

Grab your tickets here, and delight the whiskey lover in your life this holiday season with a once in a lifetime experience.

Photo by Emily Jaschke

Sports fans took their sipping seriously for The Tailgate's cocktail competition

Cheers, Y'all

Amid all the sports stars, tasty bites, and valuable silent auction items, guests at the recent CultureMap Tailgate event had a very important job: vote for the winner of the Sippin' Drippin' Cocktail Content.

Sponsored by Dripping Springs Vodka, the competition pitted five favorite local bars and bartenders against each other to see who could mix up the best vodka-based cocktail.

Photo by Emily Jaschke

Bosscat Kitchen & Libations served the Halftime Adjustments.

And the competitors were:

  • Will Burdette from Bosscat Kitchen & Libations, serving the Halftime Adjustments: vodka, Luxardo Maraschino cherries, butterfly pea tea, simple syrup, lemon juice, and starfruit.
  • Bradley Toubman from Dish Society, serving the Game Thyme: vodka, fresh juiced pear, clove and cinnamon simple syrup, and thyme.
  • Kaitlynn O’Brien from Loch Bar, serving the Lavender Rose: vodka, crème de violette liquor, fresh muddled watermelon, and lemon juice.
  • Edgar Cruz and Mauro Cisneros from Doris Metropolitan, serving the Bougie Lemon Drop.
  • Vince Campos from B.B. Lemon, serving the Hail Rosemary: vodka, rosemary-infused syrup, Aperol, elderflower liqueur, lemon, and sparkling water.

The sports fans made their favorite known, with Loch Bar's Lavender Rose winning the title.

Founded by brothers Gary and Kevin Kelleher, Dripping Springs Vodka is dedicated to the art of distilling world-class products in small, 50-gallon batches.

The Kelleher brothers founded Dripping Springs Distilling on the premise that they wanted to distill world-class products in small batches, with a primary focus on quality ingredients and a refined taste profile.

Handcrafted without compromise, Dripping Springs Vodka is micro-distilled 20 times in copper pot stills. It is then mixed with pure, mineral-rich artesian spring water from the Texas Hill Country before a final clarifying, slow filtration through Swedish activated charcoal.

Photo by Kirsten Gilliam

Ben Berg’s intimate new speakeasy turns up with live music, Havana vibes, and premium prices

feel like fredo

Ben Berg has a knack for creating something out of nothing. Just as he relocated a staircase inside The Annie Café & Bar to create room for his intimate supper club Turner’s, he’s transformed a storage closet at The Annie into Emilia’s Havana, a new speakeasy-style bar that will open this Friday, October 28.

Described as an intimate, 50-seat lounge, Emilia’s Havana channels the spirit of a 1950s Cuban club. Meals at Emilia’s will feature live, “bossa nova style” music from an in-house band plus DJs who keep the party going until 2 am on Friday and Saturday nights.

“When presented with this small space by my landlord, which was formerly a storage closet, my immediate thought was to create an intimate, speakeasy-style lounge with live music every night,” Berg said in a statement. “This is something I feel Houston is still really lacking.”

As he did for both Turner’s and his Italian restaurant Trattoria Sofia, Berg turned to Julep’s James Beard Award-winning bar owner Alba Huerta to create Emilia’s cocktails. Priced at $30 each, they include upscale variations on the Cuba Libre, daiquiri, el Presidente, and the mojito. Bottles of wine and spirits are also available.

Pair those drinks with a tidy menu of shareables that includes two different caviar preparations — traditional with blinis, creme fraiche and egg or a more creative spin with potato chips and meyer lemon-saffron mascarpone — along with A5 wagyu tartare, lobster and corn empanadas, and a Cuban sandwich made with duck confit and raclette instead of the traditional roast pork and Swiss.

Other aspects of the concept remain a bit of mystery. Berg isn’t releasing any photos of Emilia’s interior “to allow for an element of surprise for future guests,” according to a representative. Although a sign at the entrance encourages patrons not to take photos, expect to see images soon enough on social media platforms like Instagram and Yelp.

One thing that isn’t a mystery is Emilia’s premium pricing. Diners who wish to attend the early seating of 7-9:30 pm commit to a per person minimum $100 food and beverage spend, a $50 entertainment fee, and a 22 percent service fee for a total of at least $183 per person. The later seating of 10:30 pm-12:30 am comes with a minimum $150 food and beverage spend for a total price of at least $244 per person.

“You are going to pay a premium for your seat, but I am positive that this is a space where everyone will be able to really let loose and enjoy that nostalgic Havana vibe and unique bossa nova style of music that most people have only seen in the movies,” Berg added.

Emilia’s is open Wednesday and Thursday from 7 pm-12:30 am and Friday and Saturday from 7 pm-2 am. Submit reservation requests via the lounge’s website.

Photo by Mikah Danae

New Heights neighborhood bar opens with cool cocktails and vintage, 'weird' vibe

Don't call it a dive (yet)

The wait for the Heights’ new neighborhood bar has come to an end. EZ’s Liquor Lounge is now open next to Coltivare at 3302 White Oak Dr.

Photo by Mikah Danae

EZ's Liquor Lounge is now open in the Heights.

Located in a former bicycle shop, EZ’s pays tribute to the casual neighborhood bars that Agricole Hospitality partners Ryan Pera, Vincent Huynh, and Morgan Weber enjoy patronizing. To bring EZ’s to life, they partnered with bartender Matt Tanner, whose resume includes lengthy stints at Anvil and Pappas Restaurants.

“When we started talking about what EZ’s could be, even before we had a name, we were pretty dialed in on what a neighborhood bar could like filtered through our lens,” Weber said on a recent episode of CultureMap’s “What’s Eric Eating” podcast. “We’re not opening a dive bar. Maybe 30 years from now it will be considered that, but I do feel like that’s one of those names that’s earned over time.”

While EZ’s isn’t a dive bar, it does have a vintage feel thanks to Tanner, who traveled Texas and beyond looking for old advertisements, neon signs, and other artifacts. Highlights from the collection include the tall Texas statue from iconic Heights dive bar Alice’s Tall Texan, a self serve water tap installed in a ‘50s era fridge that belonged to Tanner’s uncle, and a shrine to baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

“It would start at one small thing. This would be cool to put into the bar. Next thing you know, you find yourself at an estate sale across town to pick up one item,” Tanner said on the podcast. “It’s just the most random, nonsensical thing out there that is a lot of fun to do.”

“If it’s weird, it gets considered,” Weber added.

While the partners had a good time decorating the space, Tanner devoted just as much attention to the cocktail menu. The 14 house cocktails include staples such as a margarita, mule, gin and tonic, and Old Fashioned. Other choices include a freezer martini, nitro Irish coffee, two frozen drinks, and a dulce de leche Old Fashioned made with bourbon, bitters, dulce de leche, dark sugar syrup, clarified lemon juice, and clarified milk.

The bar’s food menu also embraces the neighborhood theme. Snack on dishes like queso, pickled jalapeño onion dip, or pimento cheese. Those looking for something a little more substantial may opt for chili, hot dogs, or chili dogs.

“When we set out to open our version of a neighborhood bar, we knew we wanted it to be a place that people want to hang out day or night, with something for everyone,” Tanner added in a statement. “Our hope is for EZ’s to be that go-to, comfortable place where you come to watch sports, play games, and be with friends.”

Courtesy of Loose Cannon

New rum-lovin', nautical-themed bar sails into Spring Branch with frozen daiquiris and Caribbean vibe

daiquiris ahoy!

Landlubbers rejoice. A new, nautical-themed bar has sailed into Spring Branch.

Lei Low owners Liz and Russell Thoede have partnered with Houston bar empresario Brad Moore (Grand Prize, Big Star Bar) and his partner Camella Clements to open Loose Cannon in the former Might As Well space at 8518 Long Point Rd. The new bar intends to blend the come-as-you-are atmosphere that’s made the location a neighborhood favorite for decades with a focus on well-executed, mostly rum-based cocktails.

Courtesy of Loose Cannon

A look inside Loose Cannon's nautically themed bar.

“It has similarities to the Heights when we opened Lei Low,” Russell Thoede tells CultureMap. “It’s an older, established neighborhood that needed some updated businesses.”

To be clear, Loose Cannon isn’t a tiki bar. It doesn’t have signature design elements like thatch walls or tikis, and the drinks will be a little simpler than what Lei Low offers.

“When a chef opens a second restaurant, it’s usually a burger joint or something easy,” Thoede says. “That’s what we were looking for — something a little less complicated.”

Inside, the renovations center around a nautical theme. Customers will find walls adorned with items such as ship’s wheels. Maritime-looking art chrome accented lights help illuminate the space.

“That dark wood kind of reminded me of the inside of a boat, an old pub,” Thoede says. Later, he adds that his goal design-wise is to “Give you the feel of a bar that would be in the Caribbean. A lot of resorts have a fisherman’s pub or rum shacks that have a fisherman’s vibe.”

Cocktails start with rum-based classics such as a frozen daiquiri — inspired by the one served at Havana’s famous La Floridita bar — a frozen hurricane, and a classic Painkiller. The signature Loose Cannon is a French 75 variation made with Jamaican rum, cognac, lemon juice, simple syrup, and cava. Inspired by a drink he encountered in Martinique, Thoede’s rum punch blends rhum agricole with guava juice, lime juice, orange juice and a splash of angostura bitters.

Of course, the bar is stocked with other spirits necessary for standard classics, and it will continue to serve beer to cater to regulars who’ve been going there since it was Robbie’s. That’s a tradition Thoede wants to respect.

“That location has been a bar since the '60s. It’s a part of the community,” he says. “We’re not coming there to change or gentrify their bar. We just want to prolong the tradition of a good, neighborhood bar.

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New legislation would let Texas say no to puppy mill sales statewide

no more mills?

A Texas legislator has introduced a bill to help animals: On December 2, Representative Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) filed HB 870, which would help put an end to puppy mill practices by requiring that pet stores can sell only healthy animals from shelters or rescues.

Pet stores across Texas would no longer be allowed to sell puppies or kittens from unscrupulous, out-of-state puppy mills, protecting pets and consumers -- similar to laws that have already been enacted in a number of cities across Texas.

Patterson previously filed a similar bill, HB 1818, in 2021. And as he notes in a statement, the law would affect only one major retailer: Petland.

"Out-of-state puppy mills store puppies in poor conditions, take them away from their moms too soon, and truck them hundreds or thousands of miles across the country to be sold in retail pet stores,” Patterson says. “There’s a reason why only one of the top 25 retailers still sells dogs from these conditions. I’m proud to once again file HB 870 to provide the necessary restrictions to protect pets and their owners."

If passed, HB 870 would not preempt local ordinances. Instead, the law brings consistency across Texas’ largest counties – those with a population of 200,000 or more – primarily suburban and urban areas.

In 2022, Dallas, Houston, and New Braunfels all passed ordinances like HB 870, demonstrating the need and support for a statewide law, says Stacy Sutton Kerby, Director of Government Relations at Texas Humane Legislation Network, a nonprofit group that advocates for animals and has been involved in prior efforts.

“While 14 cities across Texas have passed retail pet store ordinances, millions of Texans are still vulnerable to the deceptive business practices used to sell puppies sourced from inhumane puppy mills. All Texans deserve to be protected from buying sick, defective puppies,” she says.

During the 87th legislative session in 2021, HB 1818 received huge bipartisan support but couldn’t get past the finish line before the session ended.

“There is widespread support and momentum for this policy," Kerby says. “We are excited to work with Representative Patterson again on this issue. His early filing of the bill shows his dedication to halting the puppy mill pipeline into Texas and alleviating the burden on shelters of having an overwhelming number of healthy, adoptable pets in need of loving homes."

Canada's favorite coffee and doughnut shop opens second Houston location

More Tims for H-town

Canada’s favorite coffee and doughnut shop will expand its Houston presence next week. The city’s second Tim Hortons will open December 16 in northwest Houston at 5312 W Richey Rd.

Founded in 1964 by NHL legend Tim Horton, the coffee shop is well known for its freshly brewed coffee and other beverages such as lattes, juices, and teas. Customers can pair their drinks with a range of sweet and savory bites such as breakfast sandwiches and muffins. Doughnuts come in a variety of flavors, including the signature Timbits doughnut holes.

The appealing menu and friendly service have allowed it to grow to 5,000 locations worldwide, with over 600 in the U.S. Tim Hortons made its Houston debut in late August with a location in Katy.

A grand opening celebration begins at 5 am on December 16. The first 50 customers will receive free coffee for a year. Expect prizes, food samples, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Once open, the store’s hours of operations will be 5 am to 8 pm daily. Customers may order via dine-in, drive-thru, or an app that features a rewards program for frequent diners.

Tim Hortons partnered with Houston's CSM Group, which operates Popeyes locations in Texas, Kansas, and Missouri. CSM Group CEO Ali Lakhany told the Houston Chronicle in March that his company plans to open 30 locations across the Houston area, including 10 in the first three years.

“We’ve received such a warm welcome from the Houston community since our grand opening in Katy earlier this year,” Ekrem Ozer, president of Tim Hortons, U.S., said in a statement. “We’re excited to continue to grow our presence in this community and get to know more Houstonians with the opening of our Richey Road restaurant.”

CultureMap Wine Guy Chris Shepherd reveals the ultimate holiday 'death match' party game

wine guy Wednesday

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.

In this week's column, he shares his favorite way to win more wine. Take it away, Chris.

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If you’re looking to throw a killer party — one that’s unforgettable — I have an idea for you. It doesn’t have to happen during the holidays, but it will make your holiday party more fun. Let me introduce you to Wine Club Death Match.

My friend Ellen Hur, whose classmates at graduate school first started this game, introduced Wine Club Death Match to us here in Houston a few years back. It’s a game that combines things that I love — tasting wine, talking to friends, talking about wine, and, as part of a little friendly competition, you can win the ultimate prize, more wine!

“I had heard about Wine Club Death Match and thought it sounded really fun,” Ellen explains. “I started playing with a few friends in our little New York City apartments, back in 2007 or so. We liked the idea that we could entertain ourselves without having to go out all the time. Plus, if you weren’t too discerning, which we were not, or if your friends had good taste in wine, you could grow a decent wine collection pretty quickly.”

Here's how it works:

  • Every person who comes to the party is asked to bring two bottles of the same wine that fit the night’s theme (more info on that below) and the night’s price point (e.g., each bottle must be under $25).
  • When each guest arrives, one bottle is immediately stored out of sight, and the second bottle is put in a paper bag and labeled A through Z (or however you want to distinguish the covered bottles from each other).
  • As the party goes on, guests taste each wine (responsibly) and keep their own notes about which bottle they like the best.
  • Once everyone has tasted — or the tasting portion of the party is over — everyone votes for their favorite bottle. The host takes the ballots and tallies them up for the big reveal.
  • The person who brought the bottle that gets the most votes is crowned winner of Wine Club Death Match and wins the entire stash of the second bottles that have been stored away. If you have 10 people at the party participating in WCDM, the winner takes home 10 bottles of wine. Not too shabby!
  • Spend the rest of the party lobbying the winner to give you your favorite bottle (or two) as a consolation prize.

We’ve played with our friends a few times, and it’s a fun, unique way to bring a little extra excitement to a party or gathering. It’s an automatic conversation starter. Plus, there’s a lot of strategy involved. If you’re fighting to the death (or, in this case, fighting for all the wine), you’ll need to have a game plan to take home all the spoils.

A few of my favorite themes:

  • Region + Grape/Varietal or color + Price Point is always a good theme (Oregon Pinot Noir under $30, South American reds under $27, French rosé under $20, Spanish Cava under $25, or my least favorite option— Gewürztraminer from anywhere in the world at any price point—not my favorite varietal)
  • Wine from a region you didn’t know made wine.
  • Wines mentioned in music lyrics
  • Wines from a vineyard named for a person

The beauty of this game is that it’s flexible. Want to pair the tasting wines with a specific dish and make it a more hearty affair? Go for it! Want to go all champagne and deal with the consequences later? Do it! Want to tell everyone to bring magnums? Why not? Want to bring the concept to more of a dinner party atmosphere? Cool. Have fun with it, and learn something.

Let me make a few suggestions to optimize your Wine Club Death March:

  • For WCDM to operate most optimally, the sweet spot is 8-12 guests. If you live in a city like NYC, you must consider how you are transporting all the wine home. For example, 12 bottles on a subway is tough. Luckily, 12 bottles in a Houston Uber is much more doable.
  • That being said, make WCDM yours! If you want a bigger party, go for it – you can have two winners, or be creative about how to divvy up the winnings and how to make sure everyone can taste the wines.
  • Set the price point based on your guests. If your guests are bigger spenders who want to bulk up their cellars, you can have a higher price point. But I think everyone would love a solid stash of $20-$30 wines.
  • Go heavy on the apps. Even small tastes of wine can add up.
  • The wines for WCDM are for tasting, not imbibing during the party, so have other drinks available – especially if you have guests who aren’t participating in the competition.
  • Water should be plentiful, and ride shares are a must.

Let me know how this works out for you. Invite me!

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Contact our Wine Guy via email at chris@chrisshepherdconcepts.com.

Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. He recently parted ways with Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that currently operates four Houston restaurants: Wild Oats, GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Georgia James. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund.