Bar Beat

Neat: A Best Cocktail Tour of Downtown Houston

A classic sazerac
A classic sazerac Photo by Carlos Brandon
Get in loser, we're going downtown.

You've been working all week, and this is your night out. Maybe it's a birthday or an anniversary. Maybe it's just Thursday and Friday was taking too long. Whatever the occasion, whatever the excuse, you're going out.

You've got more than a few good options in this city. EaDo is fun, but it's not a food trucks and patio beer kind of night (you wore your good shirt). Washington has potential, but waiting 20 minutes for a $20 drink just isn't what it used to be. Midtown? You were too old for Midtown the day after you celebrated your 21st birthday at Howl at the Moon. No, tonight is a downtown kind of night. You know downtown. That weird neighborhood with one-way streets where you lose all sense of direction. Where finding parking is actually the third circle of hell — but don't worry, it's 2018 so you can skip the nightmare and take an Uber.

For several years downtown Houston has quietly been transforming itself into the city's most exciting destination for, well, everything. Downtown was once a sports destination, and the city's only home for high society entertainment. That is, the ballet, the theater, etc. But outside of an Astros game or a rare trip to the Symphony, most Houstonians rarely ventured into downtown for their weekend entertainment. It was where they worked, not where they played.

Today that's all changed. Between the development of Discovery Green and the rejuvenation of areas like Market Square Park, downtown Houston is finally the urban destination Houstonians have long dreamed of. From incredible restaurants, to a thriving nightlife, even beautiful public spaces for concerts and events; if you're not spending your best nights out in downtown, you're not doing it right.

This list will walk you through the perfect night out in #DTHTX, one drink at a time.

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Age of Oaxaca
Photo courtesy of Xochi
Age of Oaxaca - Xochi - 1777 Walker

Adjacent to the aforementioned Discovery Green, in the posh lobby of the Marriott Marquis, sits the crown jewel of Houston fine dining. Xochi has been named Texas' best new restaurant by Texas Monthly, and was a 2018 James Beard semi-finalist for best new restaurant.

The Age of Oaxaca is just one of the Xochi bar program's many incredible mezcal cocktails. An original concoction of Oaxaca mezcal, bourbon, Peychaud bitters, charred tortilla agave nectar, muddled orange, and cherry. This dreamy cocktail is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palette. The muddled orange plays excellently against the classic American bitters, while the bourbon and mezcal surprisingly complement each other's boldness, finishing with that characteristic mezcal smokiness. A promising start to any night out.

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Leather Elbows from Boomtown Coffee
Photo by Carlos Brandon
Leather Elbows - Boomtown Coffee - 300 Main

If you plan to be out past your bedtime, you may need some help getting to the finish line. There's nothing wrong with a little late night caffeine boost to keep the party going strong. The good people at Boomtown Coffee know a little something about caffeinating Houstonians. They've been Houston's premiere artisan roasters for years, and their Heights coffee shop is an institution.

After recently buying out the previous ownership of downtown's The Honeymoon Cafe, Boomtown relaunched the concept as a their second self titled brick and mortar. Despite having lost its most recognizable feature (the Honeymoon sign in the window), the cafe manages to maintain much of its original charm.

Boomtown Main St. is part artisanal coffeehouse, part turn of the century cocktail lounge. One noteworthy addition to the cocktail list is the Leather Elbows. Despite its unfortunate name it is a delightfully energizing combo of rye whiskey, cold brew coffee, and sweetened condensed milk. A boozy play on a Vietnamese coffee, the Leather Elbows is rich, velvety, and just sweet enough to satisfy without slipping into frappucino territory. The perfect pick me up to keep you awake until last call.

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The Redheaded Stepchild
Photo Courtesy of Reserve 101
Redheaded Stepchild - Reserve 101 - 1201 Caroline

What's the old adage about mixing liquors? Who knows, who cares. The night is young and you've committed to paying the baby sitter overtime so stop worrying about it.

The third stop on this tour de force is a small cocktail bar just two blocks from Discovery Green, in the shadow of the Four Seasons Hotel. Reserve 101 is a hidden gem among Houston watering holes. A true whiskey bar and craft cocktail lounge on the corner of Dallas and Caroline.

The cocktail list is rotational, changing with the season to keep things fresh. Currently available on the menu is the Redheaded Stepchild. A truly impressive whiskey cocktail that can best be described as the improbable offspring of a whiskey sour and a glass of sangria. Bourbon meets apricot cordial, a splash of pineapple juice, and a topping of port wine to create a refreshing summer drink that doesn't skimp on the liquor.

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Sazerac from Hearsay Market Square
Photo by Carlos Brandon
Sazerac - Hearsay Gastro Lounge - 218 Travis

You've nearly made it. One last stop on this carousel of spirits and mixers. If it's nearly last call and you've found yourself still on your feet within stumbling distance of Market Square Park, then you're in luck. Stumble on into Hearsay for the night cap of all night caps.

Hearsay is downtown nightlife in a nutshell. Amazing food, historic location, roaring twenties vibe, and a liquor selection that will make you wish you came sooner. Once inside, don't bother with the menu. Ask you bartender to make you a sazerac.

The sazerac is America's oldest cocktail. A product of New Orleans in the mid 19th century. This is a take on the original whiskey cocktail — whiskey, water, bitters, and sugar. The modern sazerac recipe calls for rye, absinthe, sugar, and Peychaud bitters. Served up with a garnish of curled orange peel, this is a cocktail reminiscent of smoky lounges full of would be novelists and starving artists. A taste of American greatness from the streets of the Big Easy, and a perfect end to a night on the town.
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Houston Press contributor Carlos Brandon is a freelance writer, blogger, and self proclaimed Houston hip hop historian. He contributes to various publications and can usually be found haggling with food truck cooks or talking politics on the METRO Rail.
Contact: Carlos Brandon