"A dime of cotton money," a Houston native told me the year I arrived in town from the enchanted island of Manhattan, "is worth a dollar of oil money." Indeed, it was cotton and not oil that fueled the building of the Houston Ship Channel. At the turn of the last century, fully one quarter of all the cotton grown on the planet passed through Houston on its way to the textile mills in the Carolinas, Britain and Russia. That socially superior cotton money was made on the trading floor of the 1874 Cotton Exchange Building located at the corner of Franklin and Travis streets. (For more information, see this week's Dish.)
Today, I enter the Cotton Exchange Bar (808 Franklin, 713-236-0499) through an awning-adorned side entrance and a one-story ride on that newfangled device, the elevator. Apart from the handsome bar in the middle of the trading floor, the room looks very much as it does in 19th-century photographs. I order a classic cocktail that has disappeared almost entirely in the United States: the mint julep. Bartender Kenneth Kwon makes one up for me.
The Cotton Exchange Bar's Mint Julep:
1.5 ounces Maker's Mark bourbon
A sprig of fresh mint
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Muddle the mint leaves in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass, fill the glass with ice, then add the whiskey. Simple. And pure as a dime of cotton money.