On Sunday, August 14, Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in downtown Houston is celebrating its sweet sixteenth birthday party. As is appropriate, that means birthday cake (made by Fluff Bake Bar’s Rebecca Masson), ice cream floats (made by Cloud 10 Creamery’s Chris Leung) and, of course, sweet, sweet beer. The special kegs to be tapped include Freetail Elijah Craig 12 Coconut La Muerta, Brash Pussalia, Nebraska Vanilla Fathead and Deschutes Abyss. VIP tickets are sold out, but the general admission festivities start at noon.
Leung’s beer floats sound especially interesting. Manager Joshua Justice says the most unusual option will be No Label’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Time stout with blue cheese ice cream. If that sounds a little too wild, there will also be No Label’s Nightmare on 1st Street imperial pumpkin ale with malted barley ice cream. “Reactions to the blue cheese one have been aghast, but I’ve never had anything bad from Chris,” said Justice. “The things that have been ‘out there’ from him have been the things I’ve liked the most.”
It’s an appropriately lush celebration for a craft beer bar that predates most others in Houston. Flying Saucer has been supplying patrons with some of the best suds since long before it was trendy. Every available inch of the upper walls and ceiling is covered with the special plates (or the “rings of honor”) that are given to “UFO Club” members after they buy 200 different beers. Anyone can be a club member after paying an $18 fee, and they’re also treated to a beer party with their friends when they earn a plate.
According to Justice, some patrons have five or more plates. At that point, they’re called “MOUs” or “Masters of the Universe.” It’s indicative of the loyalty that Flying Saucer customers have to this longtime watering hole. “There aren’t many of us who have been in downtown this long,” he pointed out. “Vic & Anthony’s has done a really good job, and Pappas [Bar-B-Que]. That’s about it. Sixteen years here is like 40 years in River Oaks or Upper Kirby.”
With its 85 taps, approximately 150 bottled beers and unpretentious atmosphere, nothing about Flying Saucer seems canned (so to speak), but it actually is part of a chain. The downtown Houston bar and restaurant was one of the first established by a company that now has 15 locations across five states. “Yeah, we’re a chain,” said Justice, “but we work very, very hard to be the best, regardless. We have a very good program above us with Shannon [Wynne], Keith [Schlabs] and Larry [Richardson], who founded Flying Saucer. They’ve given us the tools so we can run this with its own individual identity.”
Located right on Main Street, it predates METRORail and had to withstand years during which the rail line was constructed right in front of the entrance. Actually, with new buildings going up and drainage work in progress, there’s construction going on around Flying Saucer even now.
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It has also withstood the ebbs and flows of the downtown social scene. “Friday and Saturday night is an entirely different monster than it was ten or 12 years ago,” says Justice. “It’s people reading, ‘Oh my gosh! Downtown is a thing again.’ Two years ago, if you came down here, you knew what you were doing. Now, it’s people walking in with this wide-eyed wonder. ‘We went over here and over here! Where should we go next? It’s awesome!” Justice credits the opening of several new bars at Main and Congress over the past three years, like OKRA Charity Saloon, Moving Sidewalk and Bad News Bar, for helping make downtown a popular nighttime destination.
Some beer lovers may never have visited Flying Saucer before because of concerns about available parking. Justice shared some tips. “At the corner of Texas and Fannin is the Episcopal church. All four sides have parking. Circle it twice. It usually has parking — until everyone reads what I just said. There’s a ton of street parking and a good service lot at Prairie and Main. It’s huge. It costs to park there, but it’s never full.”
It’s even free to park on Sundays, so there’s no good reason not to help one of Houston’s best beer bars celebrate its sweet sixteenth.