The Road to Zagreb, one of many Slivovitz cocktails at RDG + Bar Annie.

If liquor were a family, vodka would be the beautiful, popular daughter, and slivovitz would be the bespectacled great-uncle from the old country.

In fact, if you know this Eastern European plum brandy at all, it’s probably courtesy of a bar mitzvah, bris, or Polish restaurant. But that’s about to change, thanks to bar manager Chris Frankel, a Houston fixture who made his name at Anvil and Underbelly before moving on to RDG+Bar Annie, where he’s mixing up a couple of slivovitz cocktails. 

Frankel enjoys serving dowdy liquors in swanky bars. “It’s a big part of what makes this so fun,” he says, stirring me a cocktail called The Looking Glass. Combining slivovitz, cherry brandy, sake, and passion fruit, this spirit-forward, dry drink is best savored with Bar Annie’s great appetizers—I suggest the popcorn shrimp, which may be the best I’ve had. The other featured drink is a Plum Collins, a refreshing variation on the Tom Collins to which slivovitz lends a subtle, sweet plum flavor. Ask for one of Frankel’s off-the-menu creations too, the Road to Zagreb, a grapefruit cocktail accented by orangey Amaro Montenegro, sweet maraschino liqueur, and a light plum flavor in the finish. 

Of course, a magician like Frankel has more than slivovitz up his sleeve. The Alhambra, a dirty martini made with sesame and olive oil-infused gin, Fino sherry, and Pineau des Charentes (a French aperitif), is something only Frankel, a self-styled “ethnic food nerd” and wizard of fortified wines and infusions, could come up with. 

The Galleria area hasn’t exactly been the center of Houston’s craft cocktail scene. But thanks to its new bartender, Bar Annie is now a destination for aficionados of original, well-made libations. Stop by next time you leave the Apple Store thirsty.


Road to Zagreb

This cocktail takes its name from the exotic Balkan ingredients Frankel likes to make it with: Maraska, a Croatian slivovitz; Luxardo, a Croatian cherry liqueur; and Amaro Montenegro, a citrusy Italian bitter from Bologna named for Elena, a 19th-century Montenegrin princess.

  • 1 1/2 oz slivovitz
  • 1 barspoon maraschino liqueur
  • 1/2 oz Amaro Montenegro
  • 1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice, shake hard, then fine-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a small grapefruit wedge with a sage leaf threaded through it.

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