New Restaurant Owners Think Tequila, Tacos and Cocktails Are the Keys to Success in Midtown Houston

As reported last week, Cook & Collins has closed. Spare Key, the under-the-radar craft cocktail bar on the second floor, is temporarily closed for remodeling but will reopen the evening of Wednesday, February 17.

Subdued Cook & Collins was a tricky proposition for bar-centric Midtown. However, the two men who plan to open a new restaurant there think they have a concept that will work for the area.

Keith Doyle and chef Adam Puskorius have joined forces to create Stoked Tacos & Tequila. Puskorius went to college at the University of Houston, and helped open a Chicago location of Eddie V’s steakhouse. While there, he was inspired by Big Star, an open-air taco place. It’s the most casual of the restaurants owned by star chef Paul Kahan’s One Off Hospitality Group.

“There’s a lot of foot traffic in Midtown, which you don’t see in Houston a lot,” said Puskorius. “So I felt like it would be a good spot. We’re definitely going to put our own spin on it, though.”

They’re in the process of remodeling the space to give it a more open patio. Puskorius said, “We’re ripping [the patio coverings] out, getting all-new patio furniture and brightening it up. We’re going to whitewash the brick a little bit and have some cool new signage going up.” Doyle said they got “a big arrow” sign for Stoked, and a new Spare Key sign is going up on the outside of the building.

Doyle also said the building will be repainted and string lights will be installed. Overall, it sounds as if Stoked Tacos & Tequila will be a brighter, more colorful space than it was before. In addition to a dine-in restaurant, Stoked Tacos & Tequila will feature a to-go window to serve passersby who just want a quick bite on busy nights.

Spare Key’s Chris Frankel will effectively be acting beverage director although there will be bartenders downstairs as well to keep up with the crowd.

The change in ownership may actually be the best thing ever to happen to Spare Key. With no sign out front, the cocktail bar in its stripped-down setting had a subtle existence as a hidden gem. While that’s all well and good for patrons in the know, it’s not so great for creating a bustling bar environment.

Doyle and Puskorius are already in the process of upgrading Spare Key’s aesthetics and visibility, which is why the bar is closed until next week. “We didn’t want to mess with Spare Key too much because Chris [Frankel] is doing such a good job there. We had a meeting and brainstormed, not on rebranding it, but to give it a little facelift. We met with the designers and got a really good idea on what to do with that spot. Chris seems super-pumped about it.”

As far as the food goes, Doyle and Puskorius say the focus will be local and organic. They are planning to source ingredients from purveyors in the area that include Gundermann Acres, Atkinson Farms, Black Hill Meats, Covey Rise Farm and Vital Farms for eggs.

On the menu: tortillas made fresh in-house, pork tacos al pastor, tacos filled with grilled Mexican cheese and avocado pico de gallo, braised beef red mole short rib tostadas and ancho chile barbecue rub smoked brisket tacos.

Of course, anyone who has hung around Midtown on a Friday or Saturday night knows that the environment can be — well, intense would be a nice word for it. In the evenings, Stoked Tacos & Tequila will fit into Houston’s “party central,” but intends to have a door guy and a hostess at all times to maintain “that restaurant feel.” Doyle said, “We want to do volume [business] but control that volume as well. We want that energy, but we don’t want it to devolve into a madhouse." 

Good news for people looking for a calm downtown lunch, though: Doyle and Puskorius say Stoked Tacos & Tequila will be open from 11:30 a.m. until midnight Sundays through Thursdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, hours will be extended to 2 a.m. Stoked Tacos & Tequila will be closed on Mondays so that everyone can recuperate.

The new restaurant concept is tentatively expected to be open by the end of March. 

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