Sangria at Sassafras: A Refreshingly Delicious Drink In a Refreshingly Unexpected Locale

Bartender Eric Salzman learned to love sangria during a semester in Spain, and is spreading the love at this neighborhood dive bar.

By Catherine Matusow February 20, 2017 Published in the March 2017 issue of Houstonia Magazine

0317 on the table pour sassafras bar drink sangria lxynba

Sassafras bartender Eric Salzman

Among the auto shops and used-furniture outlets and industrial buildings of unknown purpose along Pinemont Drive on the Near Northwest side, behind an exterior so unassuming many surely miss it, there’s an interesting little neighborhood bar called Sassafras, with a hipster edge.

The place owes its existence, more or less, to chance: Co-owner Brandee Boyle lives around the corner and, a couple years ago, heard that the building, which had housed an ice house, was available. “Within the week we had the keys,” she says.

The bar’s aforementioned edge is less surprising when you consider its pedigree: In various combinations, its four owners—Boyle, Carrie Oliver, Charlie Fernandez and prominent local barman Brad Moore—also own Grand Prize Bar in Montrose and Big Star Bar in the Heights.

It is a spot with loyal regulars, a pool table, a jukebox, a patio and, most days, a food truck. But if those are all to be expected, the wine list, surely, is not. Most dives don’t offer Rieslings and Malbecs by the bottle.

Bartender Eric Salzman, former beverage director at Shade and current server at Coltivare, is responsible for that wine list, as well as the red and white sangrias whose large glass dispensers sit on the bar, at the ready. Both versions—packed with fruit, not overly sweet, lightly effervescent—are knockouts.

Salzman learned to love the drink during a semester in Malaga, Spain. “There’s no rules for sangria,” he explains. “Some are boozier, some are lighter. Some sparkle, some don’t. Some are fizzy, others aren’t. Sometimes the fruit is on the side.”

To make his white sangria, which is especially refreshing this time of year, Salzman uses a base of  La Fiera Pinot Grigio, the bar’s house white, as well as any other (white) bottle that’s around and open. To that he adds rum, elderflower and lemon liqueurs, and mango nectar, with a topper of inexpensive sparkling wine and plenty of fresh fruit.

Over the winter, Boyle took the white sangria off the menu, thinking customers wouldn’t mind going without during the cooler months. That lasted one day. “There was an uproar,” she says. “We’re serving it year-round.”

Recipe: White Sangria

Use Salzman’s recipe, adapted here for the home bartender, and make a pitcher for your next party.

  • 2 bottles Pinot Grigio (he uses La Fiera)
  • 1 cup Cana Brava white rum
  • 1/2 cup Paula’s Texas lemon liqueur
  • 1/2 cup St-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 2 cups Knudsen’s Mango nectar
  • 6 cups chopped fruit 
  • (1 green apple, 2 mangos, 1/2 pineapple, 6–8 strawberries,
  • 1/4 honeydew)
  • Sparkling wine


Combine all ingredients but sparkling wine and let marinate for at least 6 hours; overnight is best. Pour over ice; add a few spoonsful of fruit; top with sparkling wine; serve.

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