Welcome to Eating...Our Words' Bartender Chat, in which we sit down with local bartenders and get to know their style. Whether they're slinging beers or mixing complex cocktails, bartenders are our buddies and confidants, but we're turning the tables and the camera on them to find out what they're passionate about and what makes them some of Houston's best.
When Lowbrow opened in October, people touted it as a new Montrose neighborhood bar, and that's essentially what it is, though I've heard the intent was to create more of an eatery than a drinkery. The food is quite wonderful, but the ample porch and great cocktail menu has led most to consider it a bar first and a restaurant second.
Adding to the bar reputation are the creative and chill bartenders who hold down the fort every evening, mixing drinks and cracking open many a Lone Star for the hipster clientele. Tommy Samson ("Samson like you like to keep your swimming pool...no P in there.") is one of those relaxed guys behind the bar who's just as comfortable making unique cocktails as he is serving up a shot and a beer.
Here, Samson makes us an Unusual Mule cocktail and chats with us about art, classic cocktails and falling in love with Houston.
How long have you been bartending? Since 2007. I like to drink, and I got out of the Marines, and I was like, it's easy money while I go to school. I'm at U of H studying art and art history. I went there to study fine art, but the idea of having everything you do critiqued all the time...it's no fun anymore. And everyone wants to be the next Ansel Adams.
Who's your favorite photographer? Cindy Sherman. I just saw her exhibit in Dallas last year. It was fucking awesome.
How long have you been at Lowbrow? I came for the soft opening, and I met Omar [Afra, the owner of Lowbrow], and I was like, "Hey, I helped open Voodoo Queen, and I like to make drinks..."
If you weren't bartending, what would you be doing? Art-ing. I like all of it, especially stuff in public spaces. That was one of the last classes I took. I'm specifically interested in public art here in Houston. I moved away for a while, then I came back, and I realized Houston is my home. I don't want to go anywhere. I like the whole "Fuck You, Houston's Awesome" thing. Finally everyone has a sense of pride in it.
Where do you drink when you're not at Lowbrow? I like Grand Prize and Voodoo Queen. And I find myself at Poison Girl a lot.
What do you order? I've been chasing the Old Fashioned lately. I don't know who makes the best yet, but I've been trying a lot. That's usually the first round. But then, from there, it's a Lone Star and a shot of whiskey.
If you could drink with anyone -- living, dead or fictional -- who would it be, and why? I just want to say Abraham Lincoln for some reason. He seemed like a pretty cool dude. A big, tall man. He worked really hard. We'd drink some whiskey.
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What's one thing about bartending that people might not realize? We'll get to you as soon as we can. Each order needs to be made with an amount of love. I'm like, I know you just want two Lone Stars, and I can get that to you, but don't worry about it. Just have a good time.
What's one of the craziest things you've seen working at Lowbrow? We had a twerk party one night. Someone put on music, and everyone just started twerking in the middle of the place.
What's a trend you see happening in cocktails or bartending? It seems like a lot of cocktails are looking back at the "old school" ones. I didn't really give a shit about Old Fashioneds until someone told me to try one. I didn't even realize that it's like the cocktail version of ordering a steak somewhere. Like, you would go somewhere because of a specific drink as opposed to a specific bartender. That's why I go to Poison Girl. They make a really good one.
What's your favorite ingredient to use? Right now, it's cucumber, like in the Unusual Mule.
I call it the Unusual Mule, because on the Hendrick's bottle it says, "Please enjoy the unusual responsibly."
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SHOW ME HOW
Here's how it's made:
The Unusual Mule a handful of mint 2 lime wedges 3 cucumber slices 1.5 oz simple syrup 1.5 oz Hendrick's gin ginger beer
Muddle the mint, lime, cucumber and simple syrup in the bottom of a tall glass. Fill glass with ice. Add gin and shake until ingredients are well mixed. Strain into glass filled with ice. Top off with ginger beer and garnish with mint, cucumber and lime.