As the car reaches the crest of the eastbound 610 Loop overpass high above the Gulf Freeway, I am confronted with an utterly unexpected sight: immense refineries to the east and south, their cracking towers like organ pipes strung with Christmas lights, huge smokestacks billowing steam and petrochemical funks into the cold north wind. The sodium vapor streetlights give the steam an orange glow. I turn down Highway 225 toward Pasadena. This is where Houston's work is done and its real wealth created, miles away from the green grass of the polo club and the posh boutiques of the Galleria.
Just south of an immense tank farm I spot an eight-story, eight-sided tower and turn off the highway toward the glowing red letters that spell Ramada (114 South Richey, Pasadena, 713-477-6871). Sure enough, I see a bar on the top floor. An elevator carries me to the Fiddler's Lounge. I can see a gigantic refinery complex through its glass curtain walls.
Bartender Tawna Jiamalva has worked at Fiddler's for ten years, so I ask her for the bar's special drink. After a bit of questioning, she pegs me as a man in need of a Mind Eraser. I concur. Jiamalva tells me to drink it through the straw quickly, in one breath if possible. The drink is cold, mild, a touch sweet and makes me appreciate the view even more.
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The Mind Eraser at Fiddler's Lounge:
1.5 ounces Smirnoff vodka
A dribble of Kahlúa liqueur ("Just to add a touch of color," says Jiamalva.)
A splash of club soda
A splash of 7-Up
Pour over ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass.
The New Year just got better here in Pasadena, atop the city's "only full-service hotel."