Although it's been open for less than three months, The Pastry War (310 Main), the Clumsy Butcher's latest concept that focuses on mezcal and tequila, has already been listed by Zagat as one of the 19 hottest bars in 11 U.S. cities. Local accolades only confirm that The Pastry War is a hot, happening, blooming bar. But while it has a lot of attractive elements, not everything about it is hot.
Let's talk about what's hot first:
The Pastry War exudes warmth, hospitality, and vibrance -- all products of its tasteful décor. Together, its decorative elements provide a nice snapshot of Mexican culture.
Tin lights give off a soft light, a huge, mural stamped with iconic Mexican images adds color to the space, and framed postcards and photographs of the scenes and people of Mexico immerse visitors in the culture of the United States' southerly neighbor. The backsplash of the bar made of azulejo (painted, glazed tiles) makes you feel like you're at a nice residence or restaurant in Mexico.
• Offering small-batch tequila and mezcal, in 1/4 ounce and 1 1/2 ounce pours. Let's give it to the Anvil guys -- most bars in Houston are not stocked with obscure, limited-production tequilas. The Pastry War was designed to offer this to Houstonians, and the mini-portions with mostly friendly prices encourage us to explore and try these neat spirits.
• The "patio" setting, indoors The bar's entry is surely the setting of countless double-takes -- as you walk inside, you're suddenly transported outside via clever decoration that makes guests feel like they're on a terrace in some little Mexican pueblo. A beat-up wall with colorful "windows" provides the scenery for those that opt to sit on the "patio," with string lights overhead adding a festive touch.
• The music mix I once heard that Bobby Heugel hand-picks the songs that play at Anvil. I don't know if this is the case at The Pastry War, or if the music lighting up the place is the result of an all-too-perfect Latin-music Pandora station, but man, oh man, is the music good. The Latin beats invigorate the place and the people, which encourages more tequila, which makes for a party, and... you get the picture.
Now, on to the "not hot" list:
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• The big chalkboard sign behind the bar that lists all the things that they "are proud NOT to serve." So many things are not hot about this sign. Apart from being obnoxious and condescending to tequila brands, and more importantly the people who drink them, the fact that The Pastry War went to so much effort to call attention to itself and its commitment to not being mainstream by not serving that stuff just makes it seem like another mainstream bar, begging for attention.
• Omitting Sauza, Jose Cuervo, and Don Julio tequilas from the list of offerings Everything the bar gained with the beautiful Mexican setting went tumbling down when The Pastry War chose to not include these products at their bar. Why? Because in Mexico, you're hard-pressed to find a national who does not like, regularly drink, or favor one of these three brands. Talk about alienating potentially fantastic clients who would have felt at home otherwise!
• The sangrita Sangrita is a wonderful companion to silver tequila, as many silver tequilas have a hint of pepper in them. This hint of pepper is well complemented by the spices (read: chili pepper) found in sangrita. One big problem: The Pastry War's sangrita is super-sweet. It tastes like a combination of fruit juice with tomato paste and sugar. Blecch.
• Their re-invention of the paloma Some things are made to remain untouched. The paloma, a cocktail far more common than a margarita in Mexico, is one of them. You would think that a bar that specializes in tequila, the main ingredient of a paloma (it is just mixed with grapefruit soda), wouldn't try to re-invent the wheel of the quintessential Mexican cocktail using the quintessential Mexican spirit. But, The Pastry War tried to re-invent it by making it with sotol, grapefruit beer, lime, agave, and salt extract. In cases like these, a classic outruns a creative spin on a classic.
• The price of tepache Whether offering tepache, a fermented drink made of the rind and flesh of pineapple, is hot or not is still up in the air. What's not up for discussion is the price at which it's sold at The Pastry War, $8: not hot. In Mexico, tepache is the poor, poor, poor man's drink, typically sold street-side and costing only a couple of pesos (less than a dollar). Poor man's drinks should be served at poor man's prices!
Even though some parts of The Pastry War are not hot, the bar has enough hot stuff going on to keep me going back for more. But do you think they'll mind if I bring my own sangrita?
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