Food & Drink

12 Houston Bartenders You Need to Know

Published On 07/27/2016 Published On 07/27/2016
Leslie Ross
Leslie Ross | Julian Basjel

Leslie Ross


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Working as everything from a dive bar cocktail waitress to hand-selling a portfolio of boutique spirits, Leslie spent her time conquering Houston's best cocktail bars and restaurants. She’s now the HBIC and bar director for the Treadsack group, where she oversees six unique concepts, including her own badass bar, Canard. You can find her there with her team, stoked about their latest menu, Cocktail Exotica -- their take on Tiki with lots of French spirits, over the top garnishes, and really complex and fun flavor profiles. Be sure to ask her where the name of her specialty cocktail (below) came from because the story is pretty cool and this rockstar is knowledgeable as hell.
Specialty cocktail: “Absinthe & The Sisters Henriod- an incredibly approachable and refreshing cocktail featuring Pernod Absinthe, Celery Cordial, Celery Shrub, Celery Bitters, Canard's House Parfait Amour, topped with Rosé Champagne served in a Pontarlier Absinthe glass, complete with edible Parfait Amour and celery seed absinthe spoon.”
Where she drinks when she’s not working: “I like to keep it simple when I'm not at Canard. I love seeing what they have got going on down at Alex Gregg's bar Moving Sidewalk, especially when Shannon is there! And sometimes, when the stars align just right, you can find most of us at Grand Prize Bar with a cold Lone Star and a shot of Green Chartreuse.”
What she loves about Houston: “Our adopted slogan is FYHA ( F**k Yeah Houston's Awesome) and I couldn't agree more. I really feel that Houston is in this perfect point in time. Our food and beverage community is the strongest it has ever been, and there is just so much talent in this city! I'm proud to live and work in a city that has as much to offer as Houston!”

Jessica Johnson | Wooster’s Garden (edited)

Jessica Johnson

Wooster’s Garden

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One of the fastest (and coolest) cocktail bartenders in the city, Jessica pulls off double duty as General Manager and full-time bartender at the high-end & high-volume cocktail bar, Wooster’s Garden. Somehow, she even manages to make friends with all her guests as she works on a six drink stack.
Specialty cocktail: “Bells & Whistles - Cordial of Carrot-Tarragon-Coriander shaken with Grapefruit Juice. Catch the recipe on her blog”
Where she drinks when she’s not working: “Public Services. There's just nothing like sitting on an art-deco couch, listening to decade music, while enjoying a glass of bubbles and brandy.”
What she loves about Houston: “The access to food from so many different nations. Dim sum for lunch, biryani for dinner, fajitas for second dinner!”

Tommy Ho | Alex Negranza

Tommy Ho

Anvil Bar and Refuge

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Houston born and raised, Tommy has been in the service industry nearly a decade now. For the past two years of said decade, he’s been keeping patrons quenched at the be-all-end-all of Houston cocktaileries, Anvil. His dedication to the craft shows in every concoction he dreams up and you swiftly take down.
Specialty cocktail: “Currently on Anvil's summer menu, which just debuted, I've developed the Peddling Fiction, a refreshing blueberry and rum cocktail with hints of spice.”
Where he drinks when he’s not working: “Whenever I have a little time off, I like to head downtown and visit Nightingale Room, Moving Sidewalk, Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar and Public Services.”
What he loves about Houston: “I love that Houston is a diverse melting pot. I constantly get the opportunity to learn new things from people of all walks of life.”

David Perez | Isis Berruete

David Perez

Lei Low

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This Houston Heights native got into bartending through beer, which eventually catapulted him on an adventure through cocktails and into the world of Tiki. A self-proclaimed big history nerd and the beachbum, you can find him as the head purser at Lei Low, sharing his passion for flavor and rum one tiki-fied cocktail at a time.
Specialty cocktail: “Song Bird - an exotic themed drink which includes Ed Hamilton Jamaican pot still black, Zaya Gran Reserva, Maraschino liqueur, Campari, Grapefruit juice, Lime juice, Donn's mix #2, and Bittercube's Jamaican #1 bitters.”
Where he drinks when he’s not working: “Where you drink in Houston when not working? Public Services for a fine glass of sherry. Mongoose versus Cobra to sip some ale.”
What he loves about Houston: “Houston is my home. It feels like we've both grown up together. All the changes in the city are bittersweet but it's never lost its spirit to me. Running through the bayous, eating pupusas at a gas station, finding a tiki bar in an unassuming shopping strip, going to chinatown for dim sum, sweating your weight off during the summer are all reasons (among others) why I love this city. It maintains its character and diversity even through all the changes and growth it's going through.”

Laurie Harvey | Jack Opatrny
Alex Gregg | Courtesy of Moving Sidewalk

Alex Gregg

Moving Sidewalk

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Alex is a bartender of 16 years and hometown boy (yes, we’ll count Galveston as hometown) with some serious pedigree. After sharpening his skills at Anvil and winning a bunch of competitions and awards, he now owns Moving Sidewalk and Ice Age, a hand-cut ice company that he started with fellow bar guy Aaron Lara. You can find Alex at the bar being totally stoked about their new summer menu, which is dedicated to the venerable Daiquiri, and continuing being the man with collaborations throughout the city. Like the collaboration cocktail that Alex worked on with Sean Beck featuring Sotol, Moving Sidewalk's Strawberry Basil Soda, a few other things and some hand cut, perfectly clear cocktail ice from Ice Age that’s currently available at Hugo’s.
Specialty cocktail: “The Watermelon Daiquiri on the menu is probably my favorite. Its super simple, and straight forward, comprised of Cana Brava White Rum, our house made Clarified Lime Cordial, Fresh Lime Juice, and a Cold Process Watermelon Syrup. The only problem with that one is drinking less than three.”
Where he drinks when he’s not working: “Poison Girl, Grand Prize, Anvil, Lolas, Little Dipper, Houston Watch Co.”
What he loves about Houston: “The food. All the food. Also our diversity. The food is diverse too. Did I mention food? ( I say this as I recently stopped eating out every day... ).”

Mike Criss | Julie Soefer

Mike Criss

The Nightingale Room

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A jack of all trades, Mike Criss is a former accountant, Anvil alum, and live music enthusiast who now owns and tends The Nightingale Room. He’s from Los Angeles, but we won’t hold our jealousy against him.
Specialty cocktail: “Inconceiva-Bowl at The Nightingale Room. It serves 3-4 people, and we set it on fire. It’s made with overproof dark Jamaican rums, Falernum, lime, honey and house made grenadine.”
Where he drinks when he’s not working: “They are a lot of great bars in Houston. One my favorite places is Poison Girl. It’s perfectly divey with an awesome whiskey selection.”
What he loves about Houston: “Houston has some of the most talented and hard working people that are willing to push things forward. It's a large city with small town feel. It's an awesome place.”

Brad Stringer | Kirsten Gilliam Photography

Brad Stringer


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After honing his skills as a private bartender and at hot hangouts like Boheme and Johnny’s Gold Brick, Brad’s now the owner/operator at his new beach dive, Daiquiri Time Out (DTO). He’s dead set on introducing Galveston to classic, island-style cocktails made with fresh juices and house-made syrups, so check it out for a refresher course.
Specialty cocktail: Pineapple Daiquiri: Plantation Pineapple, pineapple, lime, sugar; and Zombie on tap: Plantation 3 Star, Eldorado 8 year, Plantation overproof, lemon, lime, pineapple, passion fruit, bitters, turbinado.
Where he drinks when he’s not working: “Houston Watch Company, Moving Sidewalk, and Johnny's Gold Brick. They all offer expertly crafted cocktails in a relaxed atmosphere.”
What he loves about Houston: “I recently moved to Galveston, and I love the island feel. The locals are supportive and ready for the cocktails we're introducing.”

Anna Wilkins | Rachel Szitas

Anna Wilkins

Eight Row Flint

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Four years in the business set up Anna for her current sitch, slinging whiskey-fueled cocktails at the popping Eight Row Flint in the Heights.
Specialty cocktail: “Recently I've been working on a cobbler, which I call Peche D'ete that features peach jam and cognac.”
Where she drinks when she’s not working: “Whenever I'm not working, you might find me sipping on a cocktail at Anvil or enjoying the patio weather at Henderson Heights on Washington.
What she loves about Houston: “I think my favorite thing about Houston is that, even though I've lived here practically my whole life, I am constantly surprised by new places that I stumble upon. It's exciting to know that there will always be new discoveries to be made while living here.”

Justin Ware | Kirsten Gilliam Photography

Justin Ware

Johnny’s Gold Brick

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Justin has a history in the hospitality industry dating back to 2008, when he had his humble start at local sports bar while attending Texas A&M. He’s made his way through fine dining serving and bartending, wine sales, management, and even has some kitchen work under his belt, but his true passion lies in cocktails with creativity and flavor. After staging a few shifts at Anvil and being a part of the opening staff at Julep, this talent moved to the affordable craft cocktailery JGB, where he is general manager and master cocktail creator. But his swag doesn’t stop there. He loves himself a good challenge, so much though that he was a national finalist for Diageo's World Class competition.
Specialty cocktail: “Currently on the menu is 'The Upward Swing.' which includes Espadin Mezcal, lemon juice, house made sweet pepper jam and Pale Ale with a salt and cayenne rim. Very Michelada inspired.”
Where he drinks when he’s not working: “I enjoy making my rounds at local cocktail bars, Lei Low, Bad News Bar, Moving Sidewalk, Anvil, Houston Watch Co and Ninja Ramen (yes for the ramen and an awesome cocktail or Asian beer) are among my most frequented. I love trying new cocktails people put out and seeing some of my peers whenever possible.”
What he loves about Houston: “The multicultural nature of most people. Houston is a very food and drink driven city therefore most people who are interested in the craft side of cocktails are very open to strange and different things.This makes our job much easier to make interesting cocktails. Another of my favorite parts of Houston is that the Houstonian population is friendly as well as incredibly welcoming. Southern hospitality at its finest!”

Mike McMullin | Christy Bankston

Mike McMullin

The Pastry War

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Mike’s a fourth generation Texan, though that’s not to say he’s stayed put in Texas. He’s lived in seven different states over the course of his lifetime. Ask him about it as he’s teaching you the intricacies of mezcal at The Pastry War.
Specialty cocktail: “A Blackstrap daiquiri, which uses Blackstrap rum instead of white rum.”
Where he drinks when he’s not working: “You’ll find me at Bad News Bar, Moving Sidewalk and Lei Low.
What he loves about Houston: “The haters, the hustlers, the Quaids and The Drells.”

Robby Cook

Barringer Bar

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Born and raised in Houston, Robby has been behind a bar for over 16 years. Two years ago, he and his wife Chieko opened Barringer Bar, where the old-school, Houston-centric vibe is just as cool as the flawlessly executed classic cocktails. You can catch Robby and his wife Tuesday through Saturday nights either behind the bar or hosting while there crew of amazing bartenders serve up delicious classic libations using fresh juices and top-notch technique.
Specialty cocktail: The Bitter Fool: gin, Punt e Mes, Campari, lemon, and house-made orgeat syrup (a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and rose or orange flower water). The luscious bitter cocktail was one of Robby’s favorites he devised for Campari week this year, and you can now find it on the regular menu.
Where he drinks when he’s not working: “Most Mondays you will find me at Pastry War sipping on Mezcal. One of my favorite bars in Houston that has one of the biggest Mezcal selections in the country.”
What he loves about Houston: “Houston is my hometown, my city! It is a huge diverse melting pot of a city where you can find just about anything you can dream of if you just look. It also retains a wonderful southern charm and hospitality and can feel like a small town at times.”

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1. Canard 4721 N Main St Ste B, Houston, TX 77009

Canard in Heights is the first concept from Treadsack’s bar director, Leslie Ross, so it should surprise exactly no one that it boasts an extensive lineup of incredible cocktails. The vibe is intimate, with only 50 or so seats, lush, French-smooched accents, and the tincture queen herself impressing with impossibly good concoctions, from a beautifully done Old Fashioned to seasonal drinks backed with chartreuse, vermouths, ports, bubbly, and special touches like essential oils, delicate adornments, and house-made sodas. With neighbors like Treadsack’s Foreign Correspondents and Morningstar, this newly developed strip is one of the coolest new destinations in the Heights.

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2. Wooster's Garden 3315 Milam St, Houston, TX 77006

This totally chill craft cocktail and beer garden is rocking 49 brews on tap. It also comes fully loaded with an incredible lineup of fancified cocktails featuring touches like fresh-squeezed juices, infusions of fruit smoked with wood chips from repurposed whiskey barrels. The barkeeps pull out all the stops here, with showy concoctions that range from the bittersweet and robust to the tropical and Tiki.

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3. Anvil Bar & Refuge 1424 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006

This ever-evolving, cool-as-hell industrial Montrose space offers up expertly crafted, spirit-forward cocktails made with house-made sodas, infusions, liqueurs, and even flames. Make your way through the bar’s “100 list,” a refreshed library of classic drinks the barkeeps think everyone should try at least once in their lifetime. Speaking of the bartenders, all of them are highly trained and skilled, and many Anvil alums have gone on to open their own bars.

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4. Lei Low Bar 6412 N Main St, Houston, TX 77009

Houston’s only tiki bar, Lei Low is a breath of fresh, tropical air in what is an otherwise drab Sunset Heights strip mall. Beyond the tax office and the convenience store is a colorful drinking den that serves house-made carbonated coconut water and flavors its cocktails like the Balinese Room #2 or the Polynesian Rainbow with made-from-scratch syrups. Though rum is the spirit of choice at Lei Low (“RUM” is even enshrined in all its neon sign glory behind the bar), you can of course order bourbon drinks, gin drinks, and, of course, flaming coffee grogs.

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5. Moving Sidewalk 306 Main St, Houston, TX 77002

The late Goro & Gun was transformed into this sexy cocktailery that flaunts liquid-nitrogen-chilled glassware and an "emotional beverage guide" for the indecisive. Are you happy and perhaps overly optimistic about your new lady friend? A French 75 should do the trick. Something on your mind? Looks like you’re taking a beer and a shot to get you out of your funk!

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6. The Nightingale Room 308 Main St, Houston, TX 77002

Cozy up with a date or a group friends at Nightingale, a small live music venue downtown playing everything from jazz to house. They also have a quality selection of vinyl that they spin for casual listening on weekdays. Whether you're grooving the night away or chatting in a booth, this comfy spot will keep you happy for hours with fresh cocktails and bubbly, plus a list of shots you might want to peruse if you need a confidence boost before hitting the dance floor.

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7. DTO (Daiquiri Time Out) 2701 Market St, Galveston, TX 77550

Owned and operated by Brad Stringer, who used to whip up drinks at local favorites such as Boheme and Johnny's Gold Brick, Daiquiri Time Out (DTO) is the beachy dive you didn't know you needed. You'll find classic, island-style cocktails that are the perfect fit for this Galveston watering hole and are crafted with fresh juices and house-made syrups. Be sure to order one of their specialty daiquiris (duh), like the pineapple daiquiri with Plantation Pineapple Rum, pineapple, lime, and sugar.

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8. Eight Row Flint 1039 Yale St, Houston, TX 77008

Eight Row Flint is a modern Texas icehouse in the Heights featuring over 100 whiskey selections (and named after the heirloom corn first used to distill whiskey in the US). To pair with your whiskey flight or bourbon on tap are tacos via food truck, located on-site, and delivered to your post at the bar. They offer five kinds of tacos, chips, guacamole, and of course, queso. And while the whiskey is the star of the beverage program -- and you should definitely drink it -- Eight Row Flint appeals to the non-whiskey drinker with 16 beers on tap and a larger selection in bottles, as well as craft cocktails served shaken, stirred, or frozen. And if you’re feeling fancy, their “Cheap Thrills” is a $3 whiskey shot, offered (and suggested) alongside a High Life for just $1 extra.

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9. Johnny's Gold Brick 2518 Yale St, Houston, TX 77008

Johnny’s Gold Brick is the golden mean between dive bar and sophisticated cocktail lounge, trading luxe décor for ivory booths, chartreuse walls, and wooden accents. What Johnny’s Gold Brick lacks in pretension it makes up for with a stellar beverage program that combines stripped-down, classic cocktails with eccentric libations found on a rotating monthly specials list. Perennial beverages include Moscow Mules, Gimlets, and a frozen margarita that comes with a float of Big Red, the gold standard of bubblegum-flavored sodas.

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10. The Pastry War 310 Main St, Houston, TX 77002

Seventeen Mexican beers join vintage tequila on the menu at this cantina, named after the French and Mexican war. While you won't find any pastries, you will find flavored agave spirits and spirits with worms, scorpions, or other insects. Strings of tea lights, colorful stained glass, and vibrant murals line the wood-paneled ceilings and walls and you'll always find a crowd packed around the colorful backlit bar.

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11. Barringer 108 Main St, Houston, TX 77002

Barringer quite literally takes your drinking experience to new heights: on the list of performances at this downtown speakeasy-style spot are aerialist shows. They also feature live music and DJs that contribute to the energy in the space, which is punctuated by antique furniture and light fixtures. Sip on a craft cocktail from their house or classic menu, like their signature drink, The Barringer, made with whiskey, Dry Curacao, simple syrup, and lemon.