It’s a sedate Wednesday night at Moving Sidewalk and a bartender is explaining a cocktail garnish that was in flames moments ago, sending up a tongue of impressively tall blue fire. “Alex hates lime wheels. The only way he’d let us use them is if we set them on fire. He liked that.”
The “Alex” in question is Alex Gregg, co-owner of Moving Sidewalk and he has thought about lime wheels enough to have a “5 Reasons Why Lime Wheels Are Useless” list at the ready. (“They don’t have flavor, don’t add aroma, aren’t that pretty, are a waste of valuable lime juice and I’m growing increasingly anti-garnish.”)
“I don’t like lime wheels either,” declared my companion. “I had one fall off my glass and roll under someone else’s table once.”
Moving Sidewalk is a sparse, cavernous space — functional, comfortable and decidedly not fancy. The cocktail menu is often kitschy and fun — the counterbalance that assures guests this isn’t one of those pretentious cocktail bars, despite an obsession with the details. It reflects whatever Gregg’s obsession is at the moment, and right now, it’s daiquiris.
The menu is designed like a 1960s airline pamphlet, à la Pan Am with a touch of Braniff. Flavored daiquiris are “Arrivals” and daiquiri variations are “Departures,” appropriately enough. The way to start this journey, though, is with a classic daiquiri.
Ordering a daiquiri is one of the fastest ways to evaluate a bar. It’s only three ingredients: lime juice, white Cuban rum and a sweetener. If the bartender screws that up, it’s time to switch to whiskey.
Made correctly, a classic daiquiri is like a scale played on a perfectly tuned piano. It’s natural. It’s easy. It’s one of those drinks you order and then wonder where it went. Of course, you drank it. You drank it all. You drank it like a thirsty man drinks water in the desert. And you need another.
The sweetener is usually simple syrup, but Moving Sidewalk’s house daiquiri, named “Clear Skies” to fit in with the menu theme, employs lime cordial. On the first taste, for a heartbeat, it seems as if it’s about to lean too far to the sweet side. Then the lime juice does its work and pulls it into balance. The sensation of the tart tug on the tastebuds is like the safety restraint on a roller coaster.
If you want a flaming lime wheel, though, you’ll have to get the We Don’t Need No H2O. It’s one of the “departures”: aged rum, Becherovka (an herbal liqueur from the Czech Republic), Drambuie, orgeat, lime juice and Angostura bitters served over ice in one of those goofy margarita glasses shaped like a cactus.
It’s icy, with more heft than a classic daiquiri thanks to the allspice-like character of the Angostura.
It’s even icy enough to lend someone enough courage to face summer in Houston. The cool cave of Moving Sidewalk is a good place to take refuge — daiquiri in hand, of course.
Updated, 6/10/2016, 7:35 a.m.: Gregg generously shared the recipes both the basic house daiquiri and "Clear Skies".
Moving Sidewalk's Basic House Daiquiri
2 oz white rum (currently pouring Caña Brava)
1 oz fresh like juice
1/2 oz simple syrup ("super" simple syrup made two parts sugar to one part water)
Shake, strain, serve in a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lime wheel, uh I mean, wedge.
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2 oz white rum (also Caña Brava)
1 oz clarified lime cordial (see below for note)
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
Shake, strain, serve in a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Note: the lime cordial is available for purchase at Moving Sidewalk. It's $8 for a 12-ounce bottle which will likely last an individual through several cocktails.