Data Visualization

The 10 Most Interesting Things We Learned from This TABC Map

This map showing gross receipts for Houston-area bars is the coolest thing we've seen this year.

By Katharine Shilcutt Research by Ian Wells January 27, 2015

We'll get to this in a second.

The first map-based visualization of data is often credited to physician John Snow, who plotted incidents of cholera on a map of Soho during the London cholera outbreak of 1854. A pattern was suddenly revealed, showing a cluster of cholera outbreaks around a water pump on Broad Street. Further investigation uncovered that the well underneath the pump had been contaminated with fecal matter from a nearby cesspit. People stopped using the water pump and well as a result, and the cholera outbreak was halted in its tracks.

The map that local engineer Ian Wells put together this week showing the city's busiest bars, restaurants, and venues (at least those with a mixed beverage license) as of December 2014 probably won't save any lives, but it's certainly more visually arresting than any map we've seen lately—an easy way to see, at a glance, where the big money is being spent (at least on liquor) in Houston these days.

Wells used publicly available data from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on gross receipts (i.e., the tax that's "imposed on the amount received from the sale, preparation or service of mixed beverages and from the sale, preparation or service of ice or nonalcoholic beverages that are sold, prepared or served for the purpose of being mixed with an alcoholic beverage and consumed on the premises of the mixed beverage permittee") to generate a map showing how much local drinkers spent in Houston bars during the month of December.

"They just provide taxes paid," says Wells of the TABC's data on liquor sales, "but since the tax is flat you can back out the revenue they paid the tax on from it." You can see the map yourself above, which is worth a long perusal. But if you're just here for the quick hits, these are our 10 favorite bits of knowledge gleaned from the data visualization.

1. The Toyota Center makes bank

Naturally. Between the concerts and sports events at the downtown venue, the Toyota Center is far and away Houston's biggest "bar" when it comes to gross receipts, which tallied over $1.4 million last month alone. Credit swanky in-house establishments like the Red & White Wine Bistro and/or how much you're paying for those vodka cocktails to get you through whatever concert your significant other has dragged you to. You'd think the bombastically outsized Reliant Stadium would have pulled in more in December, what with the Texans doing so well (ahem), but you'd be wrong: Aramark, which runs its concessions, only tallied $890,170 in December.

2. The Richmond Strip is outperforming Washington Avenue

It's no great secret that Washington Avenue ain't what it used to be when it comes to bars and nightlife—not that we're complaining. The area has settled into a more mature scene, with sturdy icehouses like Liberty Station and Beaver's holding things down while elegant newcomers like Julep are further transforming the street. But what's surprising is that the Richmond Strip—which, by any account, hasn't been "happening" since at least the early '90s—currently hosts a spate of bars, restaurants, and other establishments that are pulling in more alcoholic beverage sales than Washington Avenue is, with a total of seven spots that tallied over $100,000 in gross receipts in December. Compare that to only six along what was very recently the hottest nightlife destination in town (though to be fair, Hughes Hangar and Kung Fu Saloon, which both reported gross receipts over $320,000, are two of the city's biggest bars at the moment). Maybe the Houston Business Journal is correct, and Richmond is on its way back to prominence again.

3. Bombshells is the greatest breastaurant you've never heard of

All this talk lately about Twin Peaks and Hooters and Bone Daddy's and Tilted Kilt and Bikinis, and does poor Bombshells ever even get a mention? According to its massive sales in December, it's one of the best-performing restaurants in the city, scantily-clad waitresses aside. Folks must need a lot of booze to wash down Bombshells' Defcon 3 Hell Cat wings, Allied chicken penne alfredo, and stealth bomber burritos—at least at the south Houston location, which talled nearly $350,000 in gross receipts last month.

4. Travelers to our city need a lot of cocktails to get through a visit

How else do you explain the fact that some of the biggest "bars" in the city are hotels and our two airports? Four Families—the conglomerate of restaurants that provides concessions to Hobby Airport—recorded $648,333 in gross receipts in December, while Brazos Concessions, which handles the booze at Intercontinental Airport, reported only $324,927 (leading us to believe that you just don't have time to drink before your flight after getting through the hellish security line at IAH). Meanwhile, The Woodlands Marriott on the Waterway pulled in $560,912 in gross receipts in December; the Houstonian amped it up with $730,274; the Omni did $711,390; the Hotel Zaza brought in $741,761; and the Hilton Americas downtown outperformed them all with $914,605.

5. The key to being the best strip club is a heliport

We're sticking with the heliport—not the cheesy outdoor pool that looks like it was transported from a Gulfton courtyard apartment complex in the '70s nor the intensely creepy "shower room"—at gentlemen's club St. James Restaurant & Cabaret in north Houston, which outranked most of the city's bars and restaurants and all of our other strip clubs with gross receipts of $353,938 in December alone. Maybe folks aren't spending money drinking at IAH because they're simply helicoptering next door to the St. James instead...

6. Steakhouses sell a ton of martinis

Some of the biggest revenue-generators on this map are steakhouses, which honestly shouldn't surprise anyone. It didn't surprise us, but we still had fun ogling the giant red circles hovering over big-baller spots like Vic & Anthony's ($514,815), Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse ($554,161), Pappas Bros. Steakhouse ($620,536), and pretty much every Perry's across Houstonia. When you're already splashing out on USDA Prime steaks, you may as well splash out on it all, right?

7. those 25-cent martinis are not affecting brennan's bottom line

Clearly, as the Midtown warhorse pulled in $479,342 in gross receipts in December. Similarly, other old-school Houston haunts that cater to the moneyed set are not hurting despite a constant influx of new blood, such as Tony's ($347,425), Mark's American ($208,143), and Ouisie's Table ($207,977).

8. Houstonians love to golf and drink

The gross receipts at Top Golf in Katy are the biggest example of this natural pairing, tallying a staggering $549,357 in December. Gross receipts at local country clubs back it up, with the River Oaks Country Club pulling in $397,900, the Houston Country Club pulling in $293,718, and Lakeside Country Club pulling in $225,350.

9. Midtown remains the city's booziest corridor

You really have to zoom in on the blocks between Hadley, Bagby, McGowen, and Louisiana to make out individual bar names, so thick with red circles is the city's current nightlife destination. Just remember, Midtown: Shepherd Plaza, the Richmond Strip, and Washington Avenue are all waiting for you on the other side. See you at the crossroads.

10. You've probably never heard of the biggest bar in the city

With nearly $480,000 in gross receipts this past month, Escapade 2001 is officially the city's biggest bar in terms of alcohol sales. Never heard of it? That's because it's off the Eastex Freeway near West Mt. Houston, in a part of town most people may never venture into because there's already a Taqueria Arandas and a Luby's and a La Michoacana and a Domino's near you so why else would you make a pit stop here? (Also—and this is a big maybe—it could be because you're one of the city's many yuppies who keep The Dogwood's gross receipts in the $462,000 range each month). Regardless, Escapade 2001 and its sister establishment, Stampede, raked in nearly $700,000 in gross receipts last month—this despite a giant banner on its website stating that Escapade is "proudly serving Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Corona" which are, sorry, two of the worst soft drinks known to man. Regardless, Escapade 2001 boasts four clubs in one, free nightly shows with acts ranging from cumbia to norteño, banda to corridos, and even its own iPhone app—so it's clearly doing something right. We should probably pay them a visit, and so should you.

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