A Chat with Curtis Weeks of Monnalisa
Photo by Sarah Rufka
The confusing maze of the new CityCentre development on the Westside leaves one totally unprepared for Hotel Sorella's beautiful, modern Monnalisa bar. But if you ask bartender Curtis Weeks, the bar might be just a bit too beautiful.
"A lot of this stuff is art-driven and not functionality-driven. We had really pretty glass doors on here behind the bar, but they aren't here anymore because someone had them open and was bending down, and I walked by and, bam! I hit my head on one, and I cracked the glass. And the funny thing was, the girl who left it open had just said that it was a hazard. I don't know if the designers had designed a bar before, but I'm pretty sure they had never bartended," Weeks says. "But at night we open the doors to the pool, get the fire going, it's a very cool vibe. It's a pretty place to be. It's not a typical Houston neighborhood bar."
The bar's eponymous signature drink is made with blackberry-infused vodka sitting in large decanters behind the bar. Unfortunately, the busy weekend wiped out the stock, and the new infusions aren't quite ready yet. "We've been making them in big batches because we served 75 on Thursday, over 100 on Saturday, but we were running through all our vodkas, and they each have different characteristics and they're just a little but different every time," says Weeks. "We're trying to find just the right one. We've been using the Citadel, infusing it, but it takes at least seven days to take the color and flavor." He makes three iterations of the drink to try, each a slightly different shade and consistency and threading the delicate balance between sweet berry and a hint of tart. "Do I consider myself a perfectionist? Yes."
Even though Hotel Sorella and Monnalisa have been open less than a month, Weeks isn't new to the game. "I've been bartending since 1991. I started in college, working at Westside Tennis Club for beer money, and I was making a lot more money than I was ever used to having so I just stuck with it," Weeks says. "This is my first job at a hotel--I thought it would be more corporate and stuffy, but it's not. The guys are really cool. The owner of CityCentre has a stake in the hotel, and it's great because they're treating it as a community. Everybody's working together. I think we're going to start doing something with RA Sushi the first Thursday of every month, where we have live music in the courtyard down there, with drinks and stuff. We've gotten a lot of people from Westchase and from Katy saying, 'It's about time!' There's been nothing to do out here without going all the way to the Galleria."
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