Stirred and Shaken: Sangria at Sassafras

The sangria at Sassafras isn't a science, it's an art.
The sangria at Sassafras isn't a science, it's an art.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

We were traversing the dark back streets of northwest Houston in search of Sassafras — not the leaves, but the bar. At night, the area around 5022 Pinemont seems old, forgotten and a little broken. “Are we going to get stabbed or shot?” my companion joked. It wasn’t very funny, but the surroundings made the bar and its pleasant patio, bordered by plants, seem even more like an oasis when we found it.

The regulars, many of whom are bartenders themselves, stop in for the usual boilermakers and other bar staples. “If you’re ever in the mood for shots, there’s always Jägermeister and Fireball, and it’s always chilled,” said our bartender.

The surprise, though, is that one of the most-ordered cocktails is that garden party staple, sangria. There’s a red and a white at Sassafras daily. The recipe is ever-changing, because the beauty of sangria is that it is flexible and the ultimate way to use leftover wine.

It would be too easy to spend the whole night playing pool at Sassafras.
It would be too easy to spend the whole night playing pool at Sassafras.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

The twinkling, metallic fringe hung along the top of the bar and the red lights that shine down behind it give Sassafras a vaguely disco vibe. Undoubtably, the prize possession here is a pillow propped on a shelf with Patrick Swayze’s face on it. I wonder how many people have offered to buy that pillow.

On the night of our visit, folks at The Eat Retreat food trailer out front were dishing out French dip sandwiches, pizza and nachos stacked high with braised beef, chicken, cheese, fresh jalapeños and more.

Red Sangria at Sassafras

Sangria is the ultimate way to use wine leftovers and doesn’t rely as much on proportions and specifications as on flavors. Here are elements Sassafras used on the night of our visit. For those who need proportions to feel comfortable, there’s a basic recipe and sangria tips at the Kitchn website. 

Really, though, the fun of sangria is starting with a bottle of wine and adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that until it tastes good. Check what’s in your liquor cabinet to see what can be substituted before you run to the store.

2013 Vina Borgia Garancha (which also serves as the house red wine)
El Presidente brandy
Paula’s Texas Orange Liqueur
Orange juice
POM Wonderful Pomegranate Cranberry Juice
A touch of crème de cassis
Mixed fresh fruit, like cherries, grapes and pineapple chunks
Top off each glass with Wycliff California champagne


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