Houston is a city of constant change. Urban sprawl, wide-open zoning laws and a transient population define and redefine Houston in the blink of an eye. This couldn’t be truer or more visible than in the way that Houstonians eat and drink.
Only a scant five years ago, Houston could credit itself with only one truly serious cocktail bar. But since its opening, the city has managed to squeeze in a decade’s worth of evolution, its tipsy pendulum tracing an arc from studious expertise to kitsch revival. The result is a varied explosion of good places to drink.
Though Houstonians hold tight to traditions, we revise them to suit the whims of a changing city, and build new ones that we embrace as if had been ours all along. We’ll still while away hours at picnic tables with icy buckets of cheap beer to keep the Texas heat at bay, but we’re also home to a robust craft beer scene chock-full of local options. We’ll always demand good Margaritas (now sometimes made with thoughtfully sourced mezcal, which is as much political statement as it is a libation), but we also sip cocktails made with clarified milk. And where once a handful of expense-account-only wine lists existed, a scene of forward-thinking sommeliers is curating lists full of options that—a few years ago—might have been considered obscure.
But while what Houston drinks may be changing, the way it drinks is very much staying the same. Dive bars will always meet requests for “whiskey and a beer” with the casual, unspoken assurance that you’re in the right place. All the old standbys do have a blender, and will always be obliged to make a couple of frozen drinks. Cocktail bartenders will gladly explain the difference between French and Italian Vermouth, but will always hand over a Lone Star, too.
What do you call our ever-changing mash-up of Vietnamese beer joints, wine counters, tiki bars and “charity saloons”? Well, we don’t really care what you call us, as long as you don’t call us late for supper. Or happy hour, for that matter. —Nicholas Hall