I attended the Houston Rodeo BAr-B-Cue Contest for the first time this year, simultaneously knowing exactly what to expect and not having any idea what to expect. What happened was, fittingly, something in between. I saw lots of people slurring and "walking." I also had a much better time than I figured, and now I want to go back with my wife and no kids next year.
There, I had a Jack and Coke (thanks, Jack Daniels tent), and I swear it was the first time I had a Jack and Coke in at least a decade. It was fun for a few hours to feel like I was back in college throwing down the easiest two-ingredient drink of all-time. But that was it for me. I remembered what too much of Mr. Daniels and Ms. A-Cola does to me. I was good.
A day later, I had the opposite experience, sitting at the hushed mahogany-toned bar at Tongue-Cut Sparrow. As jazz played softly around me, I sipped Bobby's Martini. I thought: Yeah, now I'm good.
Bobby's Martini, so named because its bar owner Bobby Heugel's favorite martini, is made with two gins—you'll certainly get Fords as one of them—and vermouth. It's heavy on the juniper, so it has that quintessential gin bite. Simple, but ahhhhh.
But the beauty of Bobby's Martini is in the presentation. It'll take a few minutes for a bartender to begin crafting it, so relax and chat with the person next to you. When it arrives—with a twist of lemon—in a custom made wood base with a bowl of pickles (olive, onion, gherkin), you'll feel like there's only one drink that matters at Tongue-Cut Sparrow, and it's the very one in front of you.
I had the same feeling months ago when dining at Squable, another Huegel concept in collaboration with James Beard winner Justin Yu. On Squable's drink menu, there's a cocktail called Terry's Martini (Terry is general manager Terry Williams). That has Fords and Hayman's Royal Dock Gin, plus vermouth, an olive, and a slightly different custom base with a small jar of pickles. A chilled glass came with it, too, keeping the remainder of the drink cold, and when my martini was low, my server came by to pour in the cold stuff. That kind of presentation and service is just one reason Squable is one of my favorite restaurants in Houston.
Huegel also has decided to start doing cocktails at another collaboration with Yu, Penny Quarter, with former Coltivare beverage director Sarah Crowl taking the reins of the bar. The cocktail menu there includes a riff on an old fashioned with sarsaparilla, a Japanese highball, a couple rum drinks, and a fun agave beverage with apple and tarragon (plus some spice, if you want it). There isn't much gin on the menu—just with a strawberry infusion in a drink with Bitter Bianco. Oh well, I'm there for sure, but maybe there'll be a Sarah's Martini down the line?