Stuart Humphries tends bar at Tongue-Cut Sparrow now.
Stuart Humphries tends bar at Tongue-Cut Sparrow now.
Photo by Kate McLean

Cocktail Therapy: Stuart Humphries of Tongue-Cut Sparrow

These days on the block of 300 Main, it's hard to tell which law offices are actually inhabited by lawyers and which serve drinks— but that's half the fun. On first try, it took a moment to realize the server with her headset on and not now finger in the air wasn't a host; but, in fact, a secretary.

Tongue-Cut Sparrow doesn't need a big blinking sign to lure; nah, its reputation of well-crafted drinks and nostalgic décor are breadcrumbs enough. But in case you need a hint; find the best Mezcal joint in town, walk to the back, then up the staircase and into the transportive space of service by bow-tie. That's where you'll find Stuart Humphries, who, six years ago, began his bartending career by serendipitously stumbling into a gig at Anvil Bar & Refuge.

The pressure was on to find a source of income; he was unhappy in college and had just dropped out.  One month into working as a food runner at freshly opened Underbelly— one month into working in the restaurant industry entirely, Humphries was noticed by Bobby Heugel who offered him a job tending bar down the road. At 24 years old, he began training to bartend at the highest level, in the fourth largest city in the United States.

Humphries dipped his toes into the hyper-focused world of craft cocktails; shortly after deciding to take a step back to work at Hay Merchant, where he learned about service and how to operate the drafts.

A year later, a slot opened up again at Anvil. Now armed with confidence that this is what he wanted to do, he returned. At the time, the bones of its extensive training program were just put into place. He remembers running around, tasting spirits out of a straw during the blind 50; "you'd never think to try some of these on their own, our minds were blown."

Around the same time, a lot of Heugel's key personnel began working there; Terry Williams (Director of Operations at Better Luck Tomorrow) and Alex Negranza (Director of Operations of The Pastry War and Tongue-Cut Sparrow) to name a couple. "It was a really fun staff—we worked hard, played hard, and ate well."

The boot camp of memorizing cocktails and learning new ingredients, "was the hardest thing I had done up until my life then. Now, [the training] is five times as hard." He remembers it fondly though as one of the best experiences of his life.

A little after two years, and with a new relationship on the horizon (he and Meghan Jump, a teacher development specialist for elementary math in the Houston ISD, will be married this November), Humphries decided to make a change. "Anvil takes the forefront of your life when you work there, the amount of energy both physically and mentally needed is a lot. Balancing that with a healthy relationship with a girl who is a school teacher, who works opposite hours, is tough."

Exiting Anvil, Humphries worked as the bar manager at The Pass & Provisions for the past three years. "Working with two phenomenal chefs, in Seth and Terrance, hyper-driven individuals, two of the most brilliant cooks I've ever encountered, was an amazing experience." Earlier this summer when P & P closed to remodel, he says it felt like a natural time to move on.

"I missed the bar life, I missed bartending."

Humphries looks natural crafting an elaborate garnish for the cocktail at hand. "Before I worked in the service industry I had insomnia, depression— once I started working in the industry, I've never been happier."

You can find him crafting drinks Wednesday through Saturday at Tongue-Cut Sparrow; he'll even custom tailor your sips to what you're feeling in the moment.

"Self Starter"

1 1/4 ounce Tanqueray
3/4 ounce Cocchi Americano
1/2 ounce Ivy Mountain Peach Brandy
1/4 ounce Giffard Apricot
2 bar spoons Absinthe
Lemon peel garnish, cut like peacock feathers

Stir all ingredients with ice until chilled, strain into glass, garnish with lemon. A treat from start to finish, the peach brandy lingers, lingers, until a happy finish of Absinthe announces itself.  A beautiful cocktail in a beautiful place is something to be savored.

Also, cool to note, the Ivy Mountain Peach Brandy is a new release from Houston's own Morgan Webber and his new spirits company, Indianola Distilling Co.

And the hard candy delivered in a crystal dish with the check is a classy touch— not the kind Nana kept by the door for years at a time.

Shot of Advice: Do something that makes you happy.  Find joy in what you do.

So pristine in presentation and flavor— the Self Starter.
So pristine in presentation and flavor— the Self Starter.
Photo by Kate McLean

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