If you haven't been to Big Star Bar but think that Mike Marquez looks familiar, it may be from one of his previous gigs in Houston. A California native, Mike has been in Houston off and on for about 20 years, working in establishments such as Emo's, the Vatican, and Griff's. In fact, he's been bartending in Houston for so long that he has established at least one "groupie" for whom he has been opening Lone Stars and pouring drinks for 18 years.
But tending bar hasn't been his only gig. He's a self-proclaimed jack of all trades with jobs ranging from magazine owner to art director to prop master. Although he has an edgy look, Mike has the same traits as all great bartenders: an easy rapport with patrons¸ intriguing stories about his many ventures, and drinks at the ready before regulars even open their mouths. Under the ceiling covered in Jäger labels, Mike whipped me up an old-school Surfer on Acid as well as his signature margarita while we chatted.
What the best part of bartending? Freedom.
In three words, describe your bartending style. A little surly.
If you could ban any drink from bars, what would it be? Anything and Red Bull. It lets people drink more than they should or can. It keeps them up when your body's natural reaction is to go down and people can't gauge their drinking. They think just because they are still awake that they aren't drunk.
Other than your bar, what's your favorite bar and what do you order? I like Absinthe. I don't drink so...probably soda water with cranberry and a lime. In my drinking days, it was Jack Daniel's. Then I graduated to Jameson.
Is there anything behind your bar that is unique and that you might not find at other places? It's pretty standard. We don't have a bottle of Galliano. Pretty much just a regular dive bar. Nothing fancy.
Fill in the blanks: Someone walks in and orders a ____________. You think, ____________. God, I could go so many places with that. There's so much that ends up with "douchebag." Okay...something about 21-year-old kids ordering Manhattans makes me think "too many Dean Martin movies." But, I guess that would be a martini.
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Is there a recipe you'd like to share? Actually, yes there is. I make a margarita with no sweet and sour, just fresh-squeezed lime, lemon and a splash of cranberry. (When asked about the proportions, Mike said, "I just feel them. I don't measure anything." )
Visit Big Star Bar Mondays through Fridays from 4 to 9 p.m., and Mike will serve up your beverage and, if you're lucky, an entertaining story.