Category Archives: Drink

Frozen Happy Hours – the Secret to Surviving (and enjoying!) Houston’s Hot & Humid Summers

Hello AAMers!  We are so excited to host you in just a few short weeks!!!  Are you getting amped?  Some things you should know … you might have heard some things about Texas recently on the news … wild fires , drought, record heat – it’s true, you should pack some extra deodorant and don’t forget your swim suit.  Summer has hit our fair city early.  And while we’re big fans of air conditioning here, we also still know how to enjoy patio happy hours even into the hot and humid hundreds.  Answer: frozen drinks.

Background: I asked my Facebook buddies what are the must-do drinks for out-of-town guests. More than 75% of the responses included frozen drinks.  And, that, my friends is how this post became what it is.  Of course, you don’t have to take my Facebook friends’ words … the Houston Press also covered the subject a couple months ago. And included other tasty frozen treats like frozen martinis, bellinis, hurricanes and white Russians!  Check out their blog here: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/2011/03/eight_alternatives_to_frozen_m.php

Pack your sunscreen and seersucker and I’ll meet you on the patio. Just remember: brain freezes are no fun … drink slow.


photo courtesy of Matthew Wettergreen

Under The Volcano [Rice Village]
I have to agree with the two or three friends who nominated Volcano – it’s always a place I take out-of-town guests. It has character – think eclectic tiki Island with attitude – it also has a great enclosed back patio as well as covered front patio. Keeping with the theme – get the frozen Cuba Libre [rum & coke]. It’s like the adult coke icee. Also worth mentioning the [not frozen but extremely wonderful] Strawberry Basil Margarita and what I will nominate as the best Bloody Mary in Houston.

The Flat [River Oaks/Montrose]
Nominated by more than one person as the best in Houston, The Flat is a must stop for a frozen mojito. Jamaican empanadas, great back patio and apartment atmosphere with some eclectic art thrown in – The Flat is a casual stop you can pass hours at without realizing it (and where’s the harm in that?)


photo courtesy of Boheme’s facebook page 

Boheme [Montrose]
Speaking of frozen mojitos….I’m so glad someone else nominated Boheme for their version of this yummy concoction. I’ve written about Boheme previously on this blog for their wine. It would seem a bit biased if I sang their accolades again. But hey, when you’ve got it, you’ve got it! They’ve recently expanded their back patio and noshing menu, too.  Their walls boast work from local artists, the playlist is run by the bartender’s Pandora preference … it’s your local neighborhood coffee, wine & more spot.

 
photo courtesy of El Patio’s facebook page

El Patio [Midtown]
Throw caution to the wind at this Midtown staple. In the words of my Facebook friend on her El Patio frozen ‘rita nomination … “It’s a one-two punch. One, you’re woozy, two, you’re out. Plus, they’re tasty and cheap.” El Patio is festive – music is always playing … and so are the mariachis.

El Tiempo  [Greenway Plaza, Washington, Montrose]
While my first choice is not always a margarita (I know, I know … I’m going to have my Texan card revoked), it is my first choice at El Tiempo – their frozen sangria swirl margarita is, as they say, “The Bomb” … but as with El Patio, Texan margaritas are not for the faint – one you’re good, two you’re down.


photo courtesy of MK Campbell

Little Woodrows [Midtown]
I discovered Little Woodrow’s frozen mimosas by sheer accident.  On a day when a friend and I were off from work and craving a patio and some cerveza , we hit the brakes driving by Woodrow’s and thought – that’ll work. We spent the next three hours catching up and catching some rays while the rest of the world worked away.  It was a mini-vacation.  And while it started as a “oh, let’s try that frozen drink in the machine,” once we started on the mimosas, they flowed freely the rest of the afternoon.

Mam’s House of Ice [Mobile]
Mam’s is not a bar, nor do they sell alcoholic beverages.  They will keep you cool and keep with the frozen theme.  Mam’s is a local fave serving “New Orlean’s Style Snoballs” – it’s a local legend. This is not your typical crunchy sno-cone, Mam’s are soft fluffy snowballs complete with 50 flavors … yes, even Tiger’s Blood. They’re usually stationed in the Heights but keep an eye on their twitter and Facebook for hours and location updates.

So there you have it….my Facebook family’s list of must-sip chilly libations to melt away the day.  I hope you’ll find some time to check some out.

Houstonians – any other suggestions to share with our AAM friends on the best frozen finds in our city? Comment below and let us know!

–Mandy Graessle, AAM 2011 Houston Hospitality Subcommittee member

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Houston Happy Hours via Train

We don’t have the L or a subway … we have the METRORail. It’s pretty new to us – just 7 years old. But if you’re going from downtown to Midtown, the Houston Museum District, Hermann Park, the Texas Medical Center, or Reliant Park, the Red Line is the bees knees (right now we only have one line – the Red Line, but in the future the Houston rail system will definitely grow).  Here’s a local’s guide to how I rail jump [note: cops do troll the cars, just buy a pass – it’s only $1.25 each way for 3 hours.] So, for let’s say $2.50 – $3.75 in transportation [that’s cheaper than gas, parking or a taxi] you’ve got one heck of an evening. Here are some suggestions of libation hot spots along the Red Line rail line, with METRO as your friendly DD for the evening.

 Voice at Hotel Icon – the rail doesn’t go to the Houston’s famed Anvil bar but, have no fear, you can still get a Bobby Huegel [one of this year’s James Beard nominees] designed cocktail. Bobby contributed a few stellar sips to Voice’s cocktail menu – my fav being the Vesper. Did I mention Wednesdays the martinis are just $1. Gotta love recession pricing. Side note:  Voice is located inside Hotel Icon. The name says it all – it’s iconic; like a blast from the past. Kudos on décor and history.

Hearsay – I still say ‘that fab new place” even though it opened a couple years ago. I love Hearsay. Again, located in a historic building – its predecessor had stories of hauntings  I only hope are still true. [I love a good ghost story!] Hearsay has an old world, almost prohibition feel; tall brick ceilings, secret opulence, great cocktails but tucked away in an unassuming and easy-to-overlook store front.  And a good menu. Confession: I took a pic of the Vesper ingredients off Voice’s menu and showed it to the bartender at Hearsay – perfect replicate.

Market Square: If Extreme Makeover: Home Edition did city lots – Market Square would take the cake. For years, this block stood dark and historic. A mainstay for the downtown lunch crowd but one would tread lightly after dark. But then, almost a year ago, voila! The transformation was complete. You could [and should] just spend an evening in Market Square. The famed Treebeards lunch is a southern must but they close at 2:30pm. So what is one to do for happy hour? Check out their Facebook page for live music updates. Stroll thru the park, then grab a glass of wine at one of the oldest haunts in Houston, La Carafe, but bring cash, they don’t play that plastic business. Then head across the street to Warren’s Inn – a true watering hole where the mixers are only for color, not to flavor your drink. If you do happen to partake in one too many at Warren’s, Frank’s Pizza is stumbling distance and another Houston staple.

Onwards, Soldiers!

Main Street Square [between Walker & Dallas]

Flying Saucer – Don’t order a Miller Light here… with 240+ beers at least venture outside your country [or maybe go hyper local with a Houston brewed Saint Arnold]. Check out the wall for their fire sales for hourly specials.  And, AAM friends, even though you won’t be in town long enough, you can make like a local and sign up for the UFO Club because let’s face it, you’ll be back and who wouldn’t want to be known as a Beerknurd?!

McGowen [between Bremond and Dennis]

Barcadia – a serious newcomer at just months old, you can show off your PacMan skills on any number of vintage arcade games or maybe pinball is more your thing? Sundays you can sport your championship skeeball jacket. Think a rockabilly Dave & Busters but smaller – with loads more attitude.

Leon’s – this is where I first ran into blues legend, Little Joe Washington, completely unbeknownst to me … smoking in the back alley. He played me a few songs. And the rest is history. Since my first loner visit to Leon’s I was hooked. The old narrow bar with low-hanging chandeliers, the piano, the bad plumbing [since remodeled] and the old phone booth out front – it’s the people that make Leon’s. Belly up to the bar and enjoy the characters.

Reef – Sure, Bryan Caswell has been written up in every magazine imaginable … so really what else can I add? Oh, the happy hour wine menu. Sit in 3RD BAR’s glass walls, order the scallops and enjoy some of the best food in Houston … nay, the country.

Ensemble [between Holman & Winbern] aka my favorite block in Houston

Continental Club – This unassuming building brings the best boogie-woogie in Houston. Local and touring artists call Continental home; from old school county to 70s disco; a Beatle’s cover band to local Texas rock. Stop in for cheap Lone Star or a backyard party – this is Houston.

Mink – In size, it’s a hole-in-the-wall; in personality, it’s a mansion. Choice wines, good beer, local music and good décor … you’ll have to shimmy your way down the narrow bar but it’s still one of my fav hangouts. There late? Check out the Backroom for live music in an upstairs attic-like atmosphere.

Big Top – Vintage Toys? Circus? Vinyl booths? Rockabilly band? Check. Warning: Big Top doesn’t open ‘til 9 but it’s totally worth the wait. Grab a couple tacos next door at Tacos A Go Go – they’ll even deliver if your  bar stool’s too comfy to leave.

T’afia – famed Top Chef contestant Monica Pope’s brainchild, t’afia has a killer happy hour but is worth a stop at anytime. Of course, Houston embraced her before her fame. Monica here bleeds local – and the community supports her the same.   t’afia is like dining at your mom’s house … but more style … and dare I say better food 😉

Museum District [between Ewing and Binz]

Hotel Zaza – Monarch – I wrestled with whether to start or end our rail hop in Museum District. After all t’afia’s happy hour is a must, while Monarch’s scene just isn’t there ‘til after 10. It personifies after-hours glam … jeans or sequins … end your eve on their fantasy lit patio; find a dark deco corner inside; grab a glass of chompers … the adventurous book a room and take the bottle to the pool.  Either way, Monarch makes a perfect finale to your rail adventure – whether you make it back to where you started or not.

–Mandy Graessle, AAM 2011 Hospitality Subcommittee member

Wine on a Dime

AAM 2011 attendees – you are going to love “wining” about Houston. Locals – let us know your favorite wine spots.

For me personally, like everything in my life, I prefer to sniff out the ‘value.’ The dollar reigns supreme and so does the vino at these establishments.

Bar Boheme

307 Fairview [ corner of Taft ] in Montrose

This little quaint coffee and wine bar suits its name. A casual venue filled with art and sculptures from local artists where you might imagine the next artist renaissance being imagined in a dark corner of the patio.  Everyday from 4-7 pm Boheme pours $4 glasses of ‘house’ wine. I say ‘house’ because it’s whatever is open, pretty much. AND $4! If you have a more refined pallet, they also have a great selection of bottles lining the walls. Extra treat: Sunday it’s happy hour all day. And Thursdays are Cultured Cocktails benefiting a different local arts group each week.

Block 7 Wine Co 

720 Shepherd Dr, Houston, TX 77007 in Heights/Washington Corridor

While it seems B7 has brought in some higher end product, I can usually still find a glass around $7-$9. But why would I do that? Order the bottle. It’s the same price as if you order 2 glasses. I can usually snag a great find for $25. And there’s no corkage fee. The staff always picks out a gem for me. I love this venue for its history. It used to be an old hardware store and when the owners transformed it into a wine bar and retail shop, they kept a lot of the same architectural pieces and some furniture. Check out the retail space for some original beams and hardware drawers used for the cash area. There’s usually a great old vice grip hanging around there, too. Double points for live music on Sundays, free Saturday tastings and happy hours 4-7pm with $5 glasses of wine and appetizers.

Sambuca 

Photo from Christine Tremoulet flickr.com/photos/bigpinkcookie/2681958317
909 Texas St, Houston, TX 77002 in Downtown

Another fabulous happy hour and located in the heart of downtown: This dinner club boasts $5 glasses of wine and 1/2 off appetizers til 7pm in the bar area. And stay for the live music every night and dance the night away.

13 Celsius 

Photo courtesy of Katherine Shilcutt http://www.flickr.com/photos/kshilcutt/419123622

3000 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004 in Midtown

Located off the beaten track, 13 has my heart. Sadly, they usually get my wallet, too. They’ve introduced happy hour specials for between $5-$10/glasses and they have some great nibbles. My weakness, however, is the sparkling shiraz. One of only 2 places in town, to my knowledge, to find some [Sonoma Wine Bar is the other and Spec’s Liquor Store]. The killer deal is Sunday’s though when all open bottles are 50% off! Snag a table at their interior patio and it feels like you’re in a little French country café – or so I imagine, since I’ve never actually been to the French countryside. Bonus: the fortune cookie factory next door contributes to an absolutely heavenly scent throughout the whole neighborhood!

State Bar 

909 Texas St Ste 2A, Houston, TX 77002 in Downtown

State Bar remains one of my stalwarts for happy hours – be you in a wine mood or martini mood. It’s hidden around the corner and up the stairs from Sambuca in downtown Houston. Exposed brick walls, old leather sofas and a great wrap around bar ooze the history of the bar – once connected to the famed Rice Hotel where JFK spent his last night before his assassination in Dallas. Snag a seat on the awesome patio & laugh at everyone stuck in traffic from 3-7 pm while you sip your $4 glass of house wine.

Cha

810 Waugh Dr. Houston, TX 77019 in Montrose

New to the scene, this retro champagne bar [Houston’s only champagne bar] is located in a little strip mall next door to Jack In The Box and is unassuming and perfect for a quick sip. Happy hour specials aren’t the usual house wines but start at just $5/glass or $20/bottle. The back party room is very Mad Men meets Austin Powers, but on gorgeous Houston spring days, I like to climb up to the patio and try to steal a comfy spot while watching the progress on the new Whole Foods construction across the street. And don’t worry about running to Jack In The Box, the bites at Cha are stellar.

–Mandy Graessle
AAM 2011 Houston Hospitality Subcommittee member