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Cocktail Therapy: Tate Drennen of Sterling House

Tate Drennen in the midst of a craft.
Tate Drennen in the midst of a craft.
Photo by Kate McLean

Tate Drennen spider-armed his way through the bartending world, collecting any and every bit of intel he could.

“What's a bar back and do they make money?” That was the pill the new-to-Houston Ohio native took, and down the rabbit hole he went. Ten years later he’s putting his stamp on the menu at historic-house-turned-bar and kitchen, Sterling House.

After four months of bar backing at the high-energy venue Stereo Live, he raised his hand at the opportunity to cover a shift on the patio during the LGBT Houston Splash event. Drennen was the highest ringing bartender that night.

After a few years on the oar at the lively club, his hungry nature and fascination with the different facets of bartending had him picking up shifts when and where he could. “I wanted to be able to do everything.” Over a number of years in Houston's bar community, Drennen seasoned himself while building the credibility needed to call the shots.

Now he bartends and serves as general manager at Sterling House, not to mention has a healthy amount of hands in different projects.

Purchased in 1905 by Texas Governor Ross Sterling, it wasn’t until 1999 the house was moved to its current location, 3015 Bagby. The bones of Sterling House have seen quite a few pass over its threshold; M.D. Anderson lived across the street, a young Howard Hughes around the corner, and now, Sunday Funday warriors take up residence there.

“It’s poetry in motion to walk into a craft cocktail bar when it’s slammed with three or four hundred people, and there are five bartenders, all on the same wavelength, crafting these beautiful cocktails in a very short period of time,” Drennan says. His philosophy avoids pre-batching cocktails, preferring to pick up the pace in order to keep drinks à la minute. “My whole entire existence revolves around crafting.”

Interestingly, they’re about to throw a new riff down on the speakeasy with what they call an “unlocked menu.” Guests will have to find a way to score the secret password from downstairs bartenders in order to unlock the hidden cocktail menu upstairs. One side of the menu will feature cocktails made with Davos Brands liquors (Aviation American Gin, TYKU Sake, Astral Tequila.) The other side: a flight of rosemary cocktails all different colors; blue, red, green, yellow, purple, pink, as well as a “boba” Martini line.

Sterling House definitely knows how to have fun with the space. Think Trap Bingo and “Sun’s Out Guns Out,” Labor Day activities, Drennen explains while smiling at the thought of more creative events down the pipeline.

“The Lucky You”

1 1/2 ounce Jameson Caskmates IPA
1/4 ounce St-Germain
1/2 ounce rosemary simple syrup
1/2 ounce Mathilde Peche
1-1 1/4 ounce Lemon juice
Rosemary sprig
Splash of Chartreuse

Line the coupe with rosemary and add a good splash of Chartreuse, seasoning the glass. Set on fire. Shake the rest of the ingredients with ice and then double strain into the glass.

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The first scent of torched herbals perks the senses while the next taste is welcomingly bright.

Shot of advice: Pay attention to people who don’t clap when you win. Keep your eyes open. If you want to become a bartender it’s like school all over again. Flash cards, research, it never ends.

I do feel lucky.
I do feel lucky.
Photo by Kate McLean

Sterling House is open Monday to Friday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday noon to 2 a.m.

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