Food & Drink

The Houston Cocktail Bucket List

Published On 01/06/2016 Published On 01/06/2016
Alex Gregg/Anvil Bar & Refuge

With a bar on nearly every corner, drinking your way through Houston is easy (albeit a bit rough on the ankles). But before you go full loco on all things boozy, you’ll want to at least make sure you’ve taken down the city’s finest essentials. Hint: at least two of them are margaritas, because again, this is Houston.

Julie Soefer Photography

The Brave

Anvil Bar & Refuge

Address and Info

Montrose

The bar that forever changed how Houstonian’s drink keeps things fresh with seasonal menus and their alluring “100 list.”  But you haven’t lived, or more accurately, flirted with death, until you’ve had Bobby Heugel’s 2009 classic, “The Brave.” Made with Heugel-approved mezcal and blanco tequila -- plus amaro, spiced liqueur, bitters, and a flaming orange peel -- the daring and stiff-as-hell cocktail is not for the timid.

El Big Bad

Jalapeño margarita

El Big Bad

Address and Info

Downtown

Mind-numbingly good house-infused tequilas and fresh juice margaritas are the standouts at this spunky gastro-cantina. And when you add fiery jalapeños to the mix, the drinks also become mouth-numbingly good. Get yours on the rocks or mixed with blueberry, strawberry, cucumber, and cilantro infusions. Whichever way you go, the strong drinks mean fun times will be had by all.

Julie Soefer Photography

Mint julep

Julep

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Washington

Drinking your way through the decadent history of the South through a meticulously crafted lineup of cocktails is only half the fun at Alba Huerta’s temple of tinctures. The other half is eating your way through classy snacks like oysters, lobster rolls, and smoked fish deviled eggs. Start your lap of luxury tour off with the bar’s chipped iced, powdered sugar-dusted Julep, splashed with Four Roses and Bonded JW Dant bourbons, turbinado sugar and mint. Then move on to the spiced varietal, cocktails like the Cherry Bounce, or screw it, a healthy pour of Pappy.

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House old fashioned

Moving Sidewalk

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Downtown

Hand-carved ice, liquid nitrogen-chilled glassware, and homemade bitters & syrups are just a few of the delicious things at sexy cocktailery helmed by beverage director Alex Gregg. The program is constantly evolving with freak-out-worthy cocktails like the late Anna Nicole Smith, a cocktail that morphs from a classic White Lady into Corpse Reviver #2 as absinthe melts in it). But you must start with the reliably great and perfectly poised house old fashioned, complete with a hand-chiseled, crystal clear cube of ice that adds just the right amount of chill.

Lei Low Bar

Mai Tai

Lei Low Bar

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Heights

Okole Maluna! Get yourself to this tastefully cheesy island-style drinkery to suck down fancified tiki drinks housed in showy drinking vessels complete with hula girls, naked mermaids, and FIRE. Not to mention the ceramic cup that’s fashioned into a open-mouthed, bloody shark. But the best way to soak up the vacation vibe is through Lei Low’s collection of seriously excellent Mai Tais (including the most classic version on tap).

Kirsten Gilliam

Boiler maker

Johnny’s Gold Brick

Address and Info

Heights

The guys behind Grand Prize Bar and Moving Sidewalk teamed up with powerhouse restaurant group Treadsack (of stars like Down House, D&T Drive Inn, Kipper Club) to open this vintage joint that serve classics from Tom Collins and Gimlets to Cuba Libres. But perhaps most intriguing is their cocktail-in-a-shot-glass, the boiler maker. The mini whiskey and maraschino cherry cocktail comes with a sugar-rim, Angostura-dipped orange, and Lone Star chaser for good measure.

D&T Drive Inn

Frozen shandy

D&T Drive Inn

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Heights

Sure, this is a beer cocktail from a beer garden, but whoever said beer cocktails weren’t worthy? Seriously, who said it!?! Since the majority of this lovely city’s weather is so hot your nipples still haven’t stopped sweating, this frozen fan favorite -- a mix of housemade lemonade, PBR, and bitters -- is the only way to get through a Houston summer.

Julie Soefer Photography

A classic frozen or overproof margarita

The Pastry War

Address and Info

Downtown

Take the traditional cóctele up a notch at this totally cool mezcaleria from heavy-hitters Bobby Heugel and Alba Huerta. The bar pays serious attention to the small-batch agave spirits they house, only selecting those from family-owned distilleries the duo has personally visited. The frozen marg is picture perfect. As is the no-joke strong, 55% proof Tapatio margarita. Both are made with Persian and key limes and your choice of mix-ins like habanero and serrano or grilled spiced beet.

The Honeymoon

Coal Miner’s Daughter

Honeymoon Cafe & Bar

Address and Info

Downtown

The guys behind Boomtown Coffee teamed up with the dudes behind Lei Low, Bad News, and Grand Prize Bar (among others) to bring us this Big Easy-inspired hangout that’s part coffee house, part cocktail bar, and part amazing. That being said, your drink should be part coffee, part cocktail, and part amazing, too. Enter the Coal Miner’s Daughter, made with toddy cold brew, Four Roses bourbon, lemon, and honey. Simple, stiff, and refreshing AF on a humid Houston day.

Grand Prize Bar

Something frozen

Grand Prize Bar

Address and Info

Museum District

Because when you can get one of the city’s most fully loaded, crazy good frozen cocktails in a grungy, two-story bar complete with a rooftop, pool table, and kick-ass jukebox, you do that. Go for whatever sneakily strong drink is churning in the frozen machine at the moment, whether it be a gin and prickly pear number created for a special pop up dinner or a knock-you-off-your-stool strong mango marg that you smash through a tamarindo straw.

Down House

Big Ol’ Bloody Mary

Down House

Address and Info

Heights

A cocktail bucket list wouldn’t be complete without everyone’s favorite brunch drink. This bigger, badder, boozier morning goodness comes packed with seriously spicy house mix and a beer chaser. And since more is better, the manly Mary has a fried chicken wing amuse-bouche, which kind of makes you wonder why you just don’t order a six-pack of bloodys for brunch and call it a day.

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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston writer who prefers when we drinks come with chicken wings and flames. Share your bucket list adventures with her @BrookeViggiano.

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1. Anvil Bar & Refuge 1424 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

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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2. El Big Bad 419 Travis St, Houston, TX 77002 (Downtown)

El Big Bad describes itself as a "feisty" cantina and we agree. This downtown tex-mex spot not only has the eats, but also specializes in infused tequilas so you can get your drink on. Come by for happy hour every from 3pm to 7pm when cocktails and margaritas are $3 off.

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3. Julep 1919 Washington Ave, Houston, TX 77007 (Washington)

Julep's got an old-school, punky Southern charm that's soaked in bourbon, just like you'll be after a few masterfully crafted cocktails and cold seafood dishes from former Pass & Provisions Chef Adam Garcia. Housed in an industrial 1880s uniform factory, the space features a gorgeous copper bar and a sophisticated back porch. There are masterful odes to the bar’s namesake drink, but the list runs on into a boozy Southern history book with classics born in the region and a seasonal lineup that plays with Southern inspirations.

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4. Moving Sidewalk 306 Main St, Houston, TX 77002 (Downtown)

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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5. Lei Low Bar 6412 N Main St, Houston, TX 77009 (The Greater Heights)

This tastefully cheesy drinkery offers up fancified Tiki drinks – think top-shelf rums and liquors splashed with things like bitters, Herbsaint, ginger beer, and lemongrass. Suck them down out of showy drinking vessels complete with hula girls, naked mermaids, and fire.

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

The guys behind Grand Prize Bar and Moving Sidewalk teamed up with powerhouse restaurant group Treadsack (of stars like Down House, D&T Drive Inn, Kipper Club) to open this vintage joint in the Heights. Perfectly poised concoctions crafted by mastermind Leslie Ross include a stellar frozen marg and Tom Collins among eight other classics (all 10 are $8 a pop). And just an FYI: there are also house picklebacks.

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7. D&T Drive Inn 1307 Enid St, Houston, TX 77009 (The Greater Heights)

D&T Drive Inn has a unique menu of shared plates and sandwiches (like stuffed cherry peppers and a beef stew po' boy), plus a fantastic beer selection and a spacious beer garden-esque patio.

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8. The Pastry War 310 Main St, Houston, TX 77002 (Downtown)

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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9. The Honeymoon Cafe & Bar 300 Main St, Houston, TX 77002 (Downtown)

The guys behind Boomtown Coffee teamed up with the dudes behind Lei Low, Bad News, and Grand Prize Bar to bring us this Main St hangout that’s part coffee house, part cocktail bar, and part awesome. The kitchen impresses with breakfast and lunch dishes like oyster BLTs and beignets, while the bar slings serious coffees and libations – all made with top flight ingredients, of course. It’s like living in NOLA, but without the stank of Bourbon.

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10. Grand Prize Bar 1010 Banks St, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

This grungy two-story bar in the Museum District features rooftop access, a pool table, jukebox tunes and whatever sneakily strong drink is churning in the mixer at the moment. It's got a Jekyll and Hyde-like personality that’s half serious cocktailery, half low-key dive bar, and the happy hour deals are always great.

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11. Down House Houston 1801 Yale St, Houston, TX 77008 (The Greater Heights)

Down House serves up beautifully presented, seasonal eats alongside craft beer and specialty coffee drinks. This spot is an especially good choice for brunch: Big Ol’ Bloody Marys are on hand, ready to help you wash down a giant kimchi burger.

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