Having opened Anvil Bar & Refuge nearly a decade ago, Bobby Heugel was the preeminent architect of Houston’s emerging drinks scene. With a now-storied “100 List” of classic cocktails, the bar has since racked up accolades as one of the country’s best, earning no fewer than six James Beard Award nominations.
Since then, Heugel has also become an influential voice in the national spirits scene, championing producers with a clear narrative and a connection to place. With the opening of The Pastry War in 2013, he debuted a carefully curated collection of tequilas and mezcals.
More recently, Heugel’s focus has shifted back in the direction of cocktails. Earlier this year, he debuted the formal Tongue-Cut Sparrow, located just above The Pastry War; in addition, he partnered with chef Justin Yu, formerly of Oxheart, to open Better Luck Tomorrow, a bar and restaurant in Houston Heights with a casual, neighborhood feel. Despite their many differences, each of these venues benefits from Heugel’s careful attention to detail, which has set the standard for a growing roster of Texas-based cocktail bars.
So what does Heugel do when he’s not concepting a new drinks list or visiting distilleries? Here, he takes a stab at our Lookbook Questionnaire to share his strangest hobby, the first time he ever got drunk and his go-to drink in a cocktail bar—and in a dive. —Lizzie Munro
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Best thing you ever drank:
I once got lost in Texas’ dry Hill Country, at the peak of summer, during a drought, without my own water for an entire day and walked I don’t know how many miles until I found a highway. The water at the end of that story was the best thing I ever drank.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Ever had to siphon gasoline?
First time you every got drunk:
I grew up in a very conservative family, so when I started bartending, booze was entirely new to me. A liquor store owner who had become a regular at the bar I worked invited the bar crew over to his house one night and busted out the best wines from his collection. I returned them all to him in a few hours in less-than-original form. I’ve loved wine ever since.
If you had to listen to one album on loop for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I’ve always hated this question. Sorry. This honestly sounds like cruel torture.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I enjoy accessing restricted rooftops with great views in Houston and drinking wine.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Don’t give, do favors or love if you will consider the recipient to be indebted to you afterwards. This is the spirit of hospitality, but at times in the past, I clocked that sentiment out after each bar shift and didn’t allow it to be a bigger part of my personal life. This industry can teach you so much about life if you open yourself to the lessons.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
I decided to answer this question last because I thought something would come to me as I filled this out. Nothing did. I don’t spend much time trying to make weird cocktails; there are too many great classics to concentrate on. I do spend a lot of time telling my staff, “Fuck no,” about their weird drink ideas, however.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Getting lost in a city. And I mean completely lost.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
The second order from the same person for a Bailey’s Margarita.
Your favorite bar:
Bar Track in Tokyo is my favorite bar in the world. The highballs are outstanding, and the music (because of the exceptional system it is played on in a tiny room) is incredible.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
The sandwich at the end of that day in the Hill Country.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
In a good cocktail bar? A Martini. In a shitty cocktail bar? Whisky, rocks.
I tend to go to wine bars where I don’t have to pick anything. I drink what they tell me to.
In a dive bar?
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Sleeping in, delivered fried rice, then a nap and afternoon sex.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
The shit somebody else spilt on the list before you took that menu back from them and then handed it to me.
The last text message you sent:
An eye-roll emoji.