Alex Gregg takes his classic cocktails very seriously. At Moving Sidewalk, the new downtown cocktail bar from Gregg and his partners, Ryan Rouse and Brad Moore, Old Fashioneds and Negronis are poured over large, hand-carved ice cubes as crystal-clear, and as timeless, as the highball glasses they’re served in.
“Hand-carved ice dates back to the 19th century,” says Gregg, who finds himself spending an hour each day just carving. “Ice-making technology is new. Before, bars would buy entire blocks of ice and break them down—this is where the saying ‘a chip off the old block’ came from.”
In Houston, Gregg is leading the charge to a new ice age, explaining that ice is far more than a coolant. It can affect a cocktail’s mouthfeel, viscosity, dilution, and more, and he thinks that the serious bartender should look at ice as an ingredient. “It is as much a creative decision as it is a practical one,” he says. “It also looks awesome, and presentation is an important factor.”
Part of the reason his hand-carved ice looks so awesome is its crystal clarity—something that can only be achieved by using filtered and conditioned water, and then slowly freezing the ice over a three-day period (rapid freezing produces cloudiness).
It’s such a laborious process that some bars around the country are adding a surcharge when extra hand-carved ice is requested. For the time being, however, that’s not happening at Moving Sidewalk. “I’m personally doing all the ice, so it’s my labor,” says Gregg. “If that’s what it takes to make the drink the way it should be made, so be it.”