I wasn't sure how my schedule for the evening was going to turn out so a friend (who had been before) and I showed up at opening (5pm) and took our seats at the bar. The interior is of a quasi-industrial look with lots of neat little touches: the foot rail is a recycled Houston railroad track, and the bag hooks under the bar are old iron rr spikes. The space is clearly old (apparently started as a tire shop) and the way they've stripped it down to show the original brick really sets the place off in an authentic fashion. Our bartender, Sebastian, seemed quite proficient and capably made our first round...all from high quality spirits, many of them hard to source in Texas, fresh juices, and mostly house-made syrups and other touches mostly absent from what passes for a cocktail scene in our state.
After the first round eGullet member and Anvil manager Robert Heugel (Bobby) came over and we began a discourse that lasted til close and it was really fortunate that the friends I was with were also interested in cocktails, because most people's eyes would have glazed over a few minutes in. He made us the rest of our drinks for the evening as well as answering my million questions about all the spirits I was floored to see behind a bar in Houston...Anchor Genevieve, Tanqueray Malacca, Old Potrero, Rittenhouse Rye, the list goes on. We were also priveledged to get to take a gander at their Kold-Draft ice machine, said to be one of the first (if not #1) in the state. For those not obsessed with cocktail minutiae like ice quality, Kold-Draft is more or less the Rolls-Royce of bar ice, setting the standard all other bar ice must be measured against. The measures taken to baby the tempermental unit in the Houston heat was quite fantastic and is just one of the many behind the scenes touches that most folks would never even notice--but is integral to the concept of the place.
The drinks were fabulous (and extremely reasonable for the quality--most were $8-9), setting a new standard for excellence in cocktails for Texas. What was great was not only the profligate use of somewhat unusual ingredients like infused pisco, raw eggwhite, orange bitters, and aromatic mists, but the very real pleasure of watching the extremely personable staff walk folks who came in without any idea of what the place was through their drink options until finding something they would enjoy. As a bartender who tries the same thing quite often, I know how difficult this is to do effectively, and from my vantage point they seemed to have no customers who were disappointed past the first wary sip of the foaming glass set before them.
And speaking of foam, while cocktails are clearly and undeniably the primary focus of Anvil, their beer setup is second to none, with twelve individually regulated taps (highly unusual) and a small but carefully selected wine list as well. Having the opportunity to visit with and sample the wares being offered by Bobby, Kevin, Sebastian, and Justin was a true treat, and while they ably demonstrated their ability to wow even this avowed cocktail nerd, they also showed a deft touch with classic formulae and ingredients in a way to make them accessable to even the most dedicated "apple martini" drinker, provided they approach the place with an open mind.
I could write pages more about this place, which is now officially the coolest bar I have personally visited, but it would be far better for folks to check it out themselves. If you live in Houston, there's not much excuse, and if you don't (like me), it may be time to plan a trip. I know I'm already looking for excuses to make the trip, and I'm recommending the place to practically everyone I meet. This place is destined to become a Houston classic, and hopefully will help elevate the bar and cocktail scene not just of our largest city, but of the rest of the state as well.
Edited by thirtyoneknots, 22 May 2009 - 11:33 PM.