Rachel Graves is exactly the kind of bartender you want to see after a long day, when all you want to do is sip on an unpretentious drink while relaxing in a casual, laidback bar, like The Usual. Born in Hawaii, Graves later moved with her family to California before finally settling in Houston in 1989. When I asked her how she liked Houston compared to the other places she has lived, she responded: "It's humid." I couldn't have summed up this city better myself.
Unfailingly friendly and on top of things, Graves was quite calm until I inquired about her dog. She suddenly livened up like a proud parent and even brought out pics from her phone for me to see. A tiny Corgi mix with short legs and a big smile, Ralphie is truly as cute as she had claimed. "I bring my dog here a lot," she told me. "He runs around the patio and patrols. He's the manager and the greeter. We're even thinking about getting him a T-shirt that says 'Management,' and when anyone starts trouble at the bar, we'll tell them to take it up with management. We're a very dog-friendly bar." I think drunk people would probably get a real kick out of trying to explain their inane actions to a dog. Can you put a security camera on that action? Because I think we might have some YouTube gold right there.
I asked Graves to mix me up something special, and she produced a shot that was very reminiscent of a hurricane. The as-yet-untitled libation is a mix of vodka, triple sec, peach and a splash of cranberry. Though Graves loves a good hurricane, her taste generally runs more toward beer. "I love a good stout," she said, reaching for a can of Buried Hatchet to show me. Come have a shot and a stout with Graves this Sunday when The Usual hosts a luau benefiting the Texas Surfrider Association. With live music, food and door prizes, this promises to be a good way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.