Thursday, July 16, 2009

Anvil - Houston's best bar

The problem with cocktails

I rarely drink hard liquor. But when I do, I want to taste it.

Perhaps that is why I never understood vodka -- booze without flavor. Or fruity rum drinks -- booze disguised to taste like fruit and sugar.

The sad fact is that most Americans who drink are not drinking for the flavor. They want a buzz. They want to lower inhibitions and meet people. Or just get drunk.

So I stopped going to bars. When I want to drink, I want an artisinal gin or small production American whiskey. I want it neat. I only want a little. I want to focus on it. So I drink at home. Alone.

Until now.

Anvil - temple to the cocktail

Anvil is not really a bar. It is a temple devoted to the art of the cocktail.

The priests behind the counter do rituals. The rituals take some time. You have to wait a while before you drink.

Last night, the man behind the counter selected an old-fashioned glass. He inspected it. And then he began to assemble. He carefully stirred some rye with large ice cubes. Slowly. Then he strained the rye into my glass. He poured absynthe over a small spoon letting it drizzle slowly into the drink. He carefully rubbed lemon peel around the outside. He occasionally sniffed the drink to check his progress.

He asked me whether I wanted the lemon twist in the drink. It looked so stylish that I said yes. I detected a slight grimace. Wrong answer.

The sazerac is America's first mixed drink, from pre-Prohibition New Orleans. It tastes like a liquor, not fruit juice. I was amazed by the quality of the rye. It was accented -- not disguised -- by bitters, absynthe, and a slight essence of lemon peel.

It reminded me of the product of a great sushi chef. No sugary sauce. No fried bits. Just high quality fish with wisely chosen accents.

Next I ordered an old fashioned. He prepared it with the same ritual and care. I felt honored.

Every drink comes with a large glass of water. The point is not to drink alcohol because you're thirsty. The only point of the alcohol at Anvil is flavor.

And Beer?

I can't imagine ordering anything at Anvil other than a cocktail.

But last night, another local blogger told me that he was a beer fan. "Where," I asked "can you get the best beer in Houston?" I was surprised at his answer:


I never noticed any beer at Anvil. Yet apparently, it has an excellent selection of small-production beers on tap. Just as importantly, Chris said, they swap out the taps frequently. He explained that this prevents the beer from becoming stale. He told me that Anvil respects the beer better than anywhere else in town.

Maybe I will try a beer at Anvil someday -- after I work my way through Houston's best selection of American whiskey:


JWarren14 said...

I too am a HUGE fan of Anvil, but where do you suggest is the best place to park? I always struggle to find parking where I am worried about getting towed.

Good write up!

rsicnhou said...

There's parking across Westheimer. See link below for better view of parking areas.

anonymouseater said...

Yeah, the map helped me find a spot. Plus, I went early at 5. When I left at 6:30 the lot where I parked was full.

Carlie Fairchild said...

Love Anvil. Love, love, love. Rather than ordering off of the menu we usually tell the bartender what flavors we love and/or hate and have him surprise us from there. We've never once been disappointed (and I'd argue that we're pretty picky people!). :)

Travis said...

Damn. When we were in Houston for the 4th of July we tried to go to Anvil on the recommendation of a friend of mine. We got there, saw a line out the door, and two ditsy blonds in low cut tops, tiny denim skirts, and 'hooker heels' holding hands and giggling playing frogger trying to cross Westheimer at 11pm. We decided it wasn't our scene and moved on to another bar. I'll have to try again next time i'm in Houston.

melissa said...

Unfortunately you do get the Midtown club drippings on the weekend, but they don't usually stay too long. As for the line, they try to keep the number of people in there to a reasonable level so that they don't end up serving more people than they can give a quality experience. The line usually moves fairly quickly IME.

Veganish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veganish said...

(sorry, compulsive editing required!)

See, I want to go to Anvil to check it out, heard pretty much good things from Houston's food and drink bloggers, but it's bits like that lemon-twist-with-grimace thing that stop me.

There is a certain grace implied by the sophisticated reputation Anvil is pursuing, yet even all the generally positive experiences I've read include some small mention of base snobbery.

I will probably still head over there some early evening and let the pros tell me what to drink :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah there definitely is snobbery at Anvil but what is really disconcerting is that friends of the bartenders are given more attention than those who are not in the "scene" and are just there to have a drink. Most bartenders in this type of environment know how to give attention to each guest fairly equally, not just their friends.

Frugalista said...

I have been reading about this bar in 002 Magazine and online at Yelp and have heard very good things abut this place. I haven't been yet because there's a lack of parking, at least from what I've seen when I pass by it, but will be checking this out very soon. Thanks for write up of this.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the best drinks in Houston but certainly nowhere close to the best bar - bad location & too many douchey types there.

Jealous Bitch said...



I am from San Francisco and have been DYING, worried I wouldn't be able to find the good spots here.(Because I know Houston has good food). You guys are LIFESAVERS, I love you!

Anonymous said...

The wife and I dropped by Anvil on Saturday night. At 7 pm, it was packed with a very diverse crowd. We got mojitos, which, upon reflection, may have been a poor choice. They paled in comparison to the mojitos at Indika.

bryansk69 said...

What a big disappointment this was. I was very unimpressed with the service. After reading some reviews in the local society magazines & a referral from a friend i was interested in checking it out. I went there with two other friends early on a saturday evening, the place was half full. We sat down at a table and waited 15 minutes before one of us decided to go to the bar to ask for the drink menu. After deciding one of my guests politely went back to the bar to order our drinks. They were out of some of the beers (understandable) but decided on another selection. It was like pulling teeth to get the bartender to place our order. After one drink we decided to leave based on the bad vibes from the bartender. Paying was painful also as we felt like we were at the bartenders discretion when he would like to help us. For a place run by the people who created it I'm very disappointed. In this economy it's amazing you would get this kind of service from a new establishment. Such a shame as I think it's a nice concept. I will not go back.