It's hard to believe that Underbelly and Hay Merchant were operated without a structured cocktail program until last summer. But it took a special mixologist to change that. Westin Galleymore was raised in the industry, and though he tried to escape it, the pull was simply too powerful. We sat down with him to learn what brought him from being a kid killing time in a restaurant kitchen to the man whose tipples pair with Chris Shepherd's James Beard-winning cuisine.
Where are you currently working and how long have you been in the industry?
I am currently working at Underbelly, behind the stick, and working behind the scenes at Hay Merchant. I’ve been in the industry for eight years. You could say [I've been in the industry] my entire life—my dad was a chef and restaurant owner [when I was] growing up and my mom was a flight attendant. She would work red-eyes.
She would pick us up from school and drop us off at my dad’s restaurant and some of my earliest childhood memories were sitting in a back office of the restaurant and running around the kitchen. As long as I could work in a restaurant, I have been.
So you were truly born into it.
It is in my blood. I tried to run away from it as fast and as hard as I could. Whenever I decided where I wanted to go to school I said to myself, “I’m going to out of state. I don’t want to be anywhere near this restaurant!” I went to Ole Miss for a political science and economics major, decided to do a double major, I wanted to be a lawyer. Every summer I came home and said, “Dad, I need some money,” and he would reply, “You should start working again.”
I started waiting tables and made decent money, and one summer I came home and I thought I could make more money bartending and got behind the bar. After that I got in to the wine side because my dad was a sommelier.
One day we were having lunch off Westheimer and my dad asked me if I had ever been to Anvil, and I had no idea what that was. We walked in and I was just hit with the smell of absinthe and citrus. I saw the backbar and was awestruck, [and] witnessed them making the cocktails and knew this is a bar, this is what bartending is all about.
I was set on Anvil since that first day I walked in. Got a résumé together and dropped it off at Anvil, and decided I wasn’t going to go to another semester of school. I worked there for two years. I left this past December and got on board with One Fifth with Chris Shepherd and helped open that up. They realized how much fun they were having with booze so they decided to bring it to these two places, Underbelly and Hay Merchant, and gave me a fancy title.
How did you discover mixology?
After the first time I went to Anvil, I took a menu home with me. I tried making those cocktails not knowing the recipes for the cocktails. I picked up a few cocktail books and started reading and learned a lot of technique just through books, the rest was ample training, which was pretty intense. I took 14 months. Whenever I got to Anvil they said it was a six-month training program, I thought I’d knock it out in no time, but it took me 14 months. I initially set the record for the longest training.
Is there a specialty cocktail that you put your twist on? What goes into it?
I love a Gimlet. I will base a lot of drinks off of that backbone: gin, lime, and sugar. I love simple, three-ingredient cocktails. Take, for example, a classic martini: gin, vermouth, bitters. You can just change that in the slightest way and make it intense enough to make a new drink. That’s a lot of fun. Respecting the classics will get you very far with creating new cocktails.
What are your favorite off-the-clock haunts?
Eating-wise you can almost always find me getting something here [Underbelly] or Coltivare. If I do go for drinks, I tend to go to Lei Low—it is fantastic and I think the guys over at Johnny’s Gold Brick are some of the unsung heroes of the Houston bar industry. =Justin Ware does phenomenal job heading that crew. Rich Bailey has really come into his own. They’re great guys and they change their cocktail menu every single month. Poison Girl is also a Montrose staple that I run over to whenever my shifts end.
Where do you see the industry headed 10 years from now?
People are leaning to what we’re doing over at Hay Merchant: fast, easy, easily executed service and drinks. By doing that on draft, you cut out the build of the cocktail, but at the same time I’m thinking it’ll be geared towards bars having good cocktail and spirit programs and more neighborhood bars. You’ll still have your destination bars that’ll make you say “wow,” but for the most part, you’ll have more neighborhood bars.
What neighborhood would you say is igniting the bar scene?
Montrose. Just because Anvil is the mecca for Houston cocktails. Main Street in downtown, they have something phenomenal going on. There are just a whole slew of great bars down there, Moving Sidewalk for instance; I think Alex Greg is right on par with every national, if not global trend.