Maybe it's the fact that since September 25, 1912, the area has officially been dry, but West 19th Street in the Heights isn't exactly Houston's best place for a bar crawl. Yet Alli Jarrett is no stranger to changing the face of the neighborhood's downtown. As the Harold's owner puts it, "When we started, there were a couple of chain restaurants and Revival Market [in the Heights]." Perhaps the opening of Harold's Tap Room on Thursday, May 19 will signal another new trend for the neighborhood: craft cocktail bars with a local bent.
The 1,300-square foot space that Jarrett previously owned as Heights General Store is adjacent to Alli's Pizzaria and down the stairs from Harold's restaurant. The original Harold's in the Heights, a men's clothing store that Jarrett says dressed three presidents for their inaugurations, closed in 2011. The new Tap Room pays tribute to the store's onetime owner Harold Wiesenthal's 61 years in business not only in name but in a bar and tables decorated with suit fabric encased in acrylic, designed by local artist Alberto Bonomi. Comfy leather seating is another old-school touch, but much of what defines Harold's Tap Room is decidedly modern.
All but one of the eight beers on tap is brewed in Houston, including two from the Heights' own Town in City Brewing Company (a porter and a pale ale), but what's more significant is the other eight taps. Those are devoted to cask wine, still uncommon in Houston. The four reds and three whites and a rosé are mostly domestic, including a trebbiano grown in Texas at Bingham Family Vineyards and bottled by Duchman Family Winery.
Bar manager Lauren Muse created a cocktail menu that's heavy on house infusions and syrups as well as Texas-made soda pop. The Summerthyme Sangria pictured above combines house sangria with thyme-raspberry-and-mint-infused vodka, ginger ale and lemon-lime soda. Thread the Needle introduces fire from the start with a rim of Tajin and Flamin' Hot Cheetos, then adds house Michelada mix, Corona Extra, a side shot of lemon-basil vodka and an optional "splash of spicy elixir for extra heat." Muse will also make drinks to order using fresh ingredients in a cocktail for two called the Double Feature.
With Harold's chef Antoine Ware manning the kitchen, it's no surprise that as Jarrett puts it, "Now we're a bar that happens to have really atypical bar food." Not that it sounds that way on the surface. After all, there are wings and pretzels, but those wings are coated in local honey and Valentina hot sauce, while the pretzels are crafted by Slow Dough Bread Co.
The country ham plate above is centered around house-cured meat served with butter, cane syrup, pimento cheese and biscuits. But it's not all handcrafted elegance—there are also Redneck Sliders, King's Hawaiian rolls fried with Bologna, American cheese and yellow mustard. Thin crust pizza is made next door in Alli's wood-fired brick oven.
OK, it's unlikely that West 19th Street will ever become the site of a bar crawl. But that may be all the more reason to get comfy at Harold's latest addition.