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Anvil Bar & Refuge


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#1 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 11:19 PM

So if you haven't heard yet, Anvil Bar & Refuge has finally opened in Houston, on Westheimer about 3 blocks from Montrose. Its been going about 2 months now but I only just finally made it down there this last Monday...apologies for the delay in the writeup but quite honestly I've spent the intervening time trying to internalize the place.

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.


Edit: Spelling

Edited by thirtyoneknots, 22 May 2009 - 11:33 PM.

Andy Arrington

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#2 Kerr.

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 09:28 AM

I'm now a regular here. The place is incredible & their knowledge of history & cocktails is unsurpassed.
big, big thumbs up on the place.

#3 bmdaniel

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 04:12 PM

I would go as far as to say that this is the most important place that has opened in Houston from a culinary perspective in at least the time I've been back here (3 years), and maybe in Texas altogether.

#4 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 24 May 2009 - 12:12 PM

I would go as far as to say that this is the most important place that has opened in Houston from a culinary perspective in at least the time I've been back here (3 years), and maybe in Texas altogether.

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Wouldn't argue with that a bit getting people to think of mixed drinks as a culinary art is not an easy feat...these guys have their work cut out for them but definitely seem up to the task.
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#5 Bill Miller

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 08:30 AM

We will be in Houston all next week--will definately fit this place in!!
Cooking is chemistry, baking is alchemy.

#6 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 09:13 AM

We will be in Houston all next week--will definately fit this place in!!

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Hah, I would almost say don't go til late in the trip lest you find yourself going back every night! In all seriousness it seems that opening time at 5pm is the time to go if you want to be able to visit with the staff more...we were able to do this the entire night but on a Monday. I would imagine it gets much more difficult on a weekend as the business picks up.
Andy Arrington

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#7 Kent Wang

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 02:17 PM

I haven't been yet but have heard good things from everyone I know. I certainly will drop in on my next trip to Houston.

Andy, I sure hope you're right that this will cause more good cocktail bars to open up around the state.

Do you think the name Anvil has anything to with getting hammered?

#8 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 09:22 PM

I haven't been yet but have heard good things from everyone I know. I certainly will drop in on my next trip to Houston.

Andy, I sure hope you're right that this will cause more good cocktail bars to open up around the state.

Do you think the name Anvil has anything to with getting hammered?

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Apparently that pun frustrates Bobby somewhat but I think it's kind of amusing in a cheeky way. Doesn't help with the image they are trying to project so I can understand the source of frustration.

As far as the rest of the state, we have quite a ways to go and the guys at Anvil seem extremely aware of the fact that they have to educate their customer base to a greater or lesser degree (usually greater) and so the list is down-to-earth and the drink I saw made most was a whiskey sour with egg white and a mist of Angostura on top...they aren't trying to beat people over the head with things like infusions or off-the-wall flavor combos although they are equipped for that as well when the need (and appropriate customer) presents itself. Perhaps the most interesting drink (out of many interesting drinks) was a mix of Chamomile-infused Pisco and bianco vermouth in wet Martini preportions with orange bitters. The highly innovative and distinctive take on a concept that is mostly noted for the subtlety of it's differences in variation* really sort of summed up the experience for me.



*For an idea on how many variations there are on the formaula of Spirits+vermouth+bitters, head over to the Spirits & Cocktails forum and browse the Stompin' Through the Savoy thread.

Edited by thirtyoneknots, 26 May 2009 - 09:25 PM.

Andy Arrington

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#9 bmdaniel

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Posted 27 May 2009 - 10:57 AM

I haven't been yet but have heard good things from everyone I know. I certainly will drop in on my next trip to Houston.

Andy, I sure hope you're right that this will cause more good cocktail bars to open up around the state.

Do you think the name Anvil has anything to with getting hammered?

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Apparently that pun frustrates Bobby somewhat but I think it's kind of amusing in a cheeky way. Doesn't help with the image they are trying to project so I can understand the source of frustration.

As far as the rest of the state, we have quite a ways to go and the guys at Anvil seem extremely aware of the fact that they have to educate their customer base to a greater or lesser degree (usually greater) and so the list is down-to-earth and the drink I saw made most was a whiskey sour with egg white and a mist of Angostura on top...they aren't trying to beat people over the head with things like infusions or off-the-wall flavor combos although they are equipped for that as well when the need (and appropriate customer) presents itself. Perhaps the most interesting drink (out of many interesting drinks) was a mix of Chamomile-infused Pisco and bianco vermouth in wet Martini preportions with orange bitters. The highly innovative and distinctive take on a concept that is mostly noted for the subtlety of it's differences in variation* really sort of summed up the experience for me.



*For an idea on how many variations there are on the formaula of Spirits+vermouth+bitters, head over to the Spirits & Cocktails forum and browse the Stompin' Through the Savoy thread.

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They do plan to open more places (in Houston), but not necessarily all cocktail focused.

#10 Kevin72

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 12:25 PM

Holy crap I love this place. Like Hugo's when it first opened or Feast, or Dolce Vita and Da Marco, I nearly wept when I went here the first time because we have absolutely nothing like this in Dallas.
The level of individual attention you get from the bartenders and their insistence on quality without compromise is so heartening.