"Wine Lists in Gay Bars Don't Have to Be Bad": Montrose Beverage Director Hal Brock Shakes Things Up

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Of all the nightlife hotspots in Montrose, Boheme on Fairview might have the most diverse crowd. Even on a chilly evening in February, you'll find a balanced mix of gay and straight couples, singles (men and women), and a preponderance of young southeast Asian expats who, like many Houstonians, come for the cozy patio bar.

It's no surprise that the clientele at this smart cafe and bar is a cross section of the city's anatomy, mirroring the heterogeneity that makes it such a great place to live.

The only thing that seems out of place is its ambitious wine program.

"When I was single and I was going out in Montrose," said Boheme beverage director Hal Brock (who's now in a relationship), "I couldn't understand why no one at a gay bar could write a good wine list."

Everyone was drinking "Bud Light or Red Bull and vodka," he noted woefully. "We gays are so smart and we run so many industries. Why is it that we can't write a great wine list?" he asked rhetorically with a proverbial wink.

Brock has only recently unveiled his new wine list at Boheme, where he became a manager in September 2014.

There were 66 wines on the list by the bottle and a whopping 21 wines by the glass when a Houston-based wine writer visited earlier this month.

Beyond the city's fine-dining scene, Houston restaurant-goers are hard-pressed to find such a wide selection.

The by-the-glass prices range from $6 to $12 and while the most expensive bottle is a Pinot Noir from Burgundy producer Domaine Bretagna ($141), there was a generous smattering of wines priced between $40 and $50 in all categories -- white, red and sparkling.

"We sell mostly red wine," said Brock, "and $40-$50 is our sweet spot."

Like many newly arrived food and wine professionals, Brock moved to Houston in 2010, lured by a vibrant restaurant scene that seemed to weather the recession better than most.

Houston first took note of his talents when he worked as a spirits specialist and assistant manager at Anvil in 2012-2013.

A short stint selling wine for a major Texas distributor led to a newfound interest in all things vinous, and between sales calls, Brock found time to complete his Level I studies with the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Today, his impressive, value-driven list at Boheme stands virtually alone in the Montrose gay bar scene, where most venues still omit the producer name and list the wines by grape variety ("Chard, Sauv Blanc, Cab, Merlot" etc.).

Currently, he revises his list every week and new wines appear with each update.

Does Boheme's wine program represent a new trend in gay bar wine culture? Probably not.

But in a city where diversity and progressiveness are bywords of urban living, it's great to know that wine lovers have so many wonderful options at their fingertips -- gay or straight.

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