Seeing Reid McGraff at the Alden-Houston's a+ bar and grille -- an affable and friendly bartender, but with a certain polished bearing -- you'd never guess he'd ever tended a less elegant bar. Asked about his past positions, he mentions Hotel ZaZa, House of Blues, Warren's Inn and City Streets. Wait, what?
"You know where 610 and Richmond meet, right across the street from Best Buy? Back when I started about 20, 25 years ago there was a nightclub there called Cooter's, and then later when it closed down it reopened as City Streets," he says. City Streets, for anyone who did not attend a bachelorette party in the 1990s, was a club so large it had several themed mini-clubs inside. "I was over there for a long, long, time. One night I was there until six in the morning, with a long checkout, inventory, and then we had to practice the dance routines that we'd all do two to three times during the evening. Once they put all that into one shift, I was done."
Before we can get our minds around the choreographed dance routines, McGrath sets a perfectly pink watermelon margarita in front of us. A sip brings a veritable explosion of sweet, tart flavor. "The watermelon puree was made fresh today by Chef Hight," says McGrath. "He'll bring me all sorts of items. Just whatever he has that is seasonal, whatever inspires him. There's nothing like having those fresh ingredients."
McGrath says Chef Hight's kumquat-infused syrup makes good gin or vodka tonics. "The Hendricks gin, being infused with cucumber and rose petals, is a very delicate gin. With a splash of tonic, you're not overpowering any of the flavors, with just a little of the kumquat from the syrup. Let's just say when you drink it you feel like you should be sitting poolside, but in a way that you feel there should also be a polo match going on."
McGrath says the drinks menu depends on what's in the fridge. "Whatever's fresh is going to influence our cocktails. Sometimes the chef will come make drinks, if he's inspired...He did a jalapeño jelly... it had all the flavor of the jalapeño without the heat, it's a beautiful, beautiful thing. Well, you take that jelly and put it in a margarita with some salt and it makes a beautiful jalapeño margarita. At my fingertips today I have fresh watermelon puree, blackberries, mint. I did a mint-infused simple syrup, which makes for a much prettier presentation on a mojito, when all the mint isn't crumbled up."
After being behind the bar so long, what keeps it fun for McGrath? "There's absolutely no telling who you're going to meet, who you're going to meet again, or what's going to happen. After 22 years, it's still great. I lot of the people I've met along the way and worked with are still in the industry. It's just neat that I keep running into the same people. There's nothing like that familiarity. We all just hand each other the same $100 tip back and forth."