This last week, while on vacation in Houston, I had the opportunity to finally check out Anvil Bar and Refuge. Anvil is the creation of Bobby Heugel, one of Forbes’ 30 under 30: Food and Wine, and is one of, if not the best bar in town for cocktail nerds like myself. Anvil focuses exclusively in prohibition-era cocktails made from scratch with homemade infusions, fresh juices, fresh garnishes, and a great selection of spirits and liqueurs. In addition, Anvil also offers a fantastic selection of micro/craft beers on tap, usually including a cask conditioned beer.
The space now occupied by Anvil was previously a tire shop. The walls have been stripped down to bare brick, and the whole space has a sort of vintage, weathered look. It reminds me of an old blacksmith or butchers shop. On one side of the room is the bar. It is very long and wraps around the far corner of the room, and has room for about 25-30 seats. On the opposing side are booths and small tables, with a decently sized open area between them. Total capacity for the bar is around 60 seats.
The bar top is weathered steel with nice rolled edges, so it feels very comfortable. The foot rail is an old train track from 1952, and the back bar shelving is vintage pallet racking, that has been cut off to an appropriate shelf depth. When a trip to the restroom is in order, you walk through an old, heavy, wooden cooler door that was previously in a butcher shop. Above the door, in an alcove, are hundreds of old wine bottles, sitting in a rack and gathering dust. The whole place has an air of both the past and the present. It is a very cool space.
Anvil prides itself on a pre-prohibition era style of bartending. Their menu is relatively small compared to many other classic cocktail bars that I have been to, yet it contains a variety of drinks to suit most anyones taste. It also changes on a seasonal rotation, so there is usually something new to be found.
As soon as we seated ourselves at the bar, we were greeted and given large glasses of ice water, excellent service which more bars should attempt to emulate. For our first round, both Kate and I ordered from the menu. I had the Tin Pan Alley, a blend of hazelnut infused bourbon, lime and orgeat, served over crushed ice and garnished with a trio of roasted hazelnuts. Kate had the Waltzing Matilda: gin, sauvingnon blanc, lemon, passionfruit and house ginger beer, served in a tall glass and garnished with a wedge of lemon and a sprig of mint. Both drinks were delicious.
For our second round, we deviated from the menu and ordered a Sazerac and a Rye Manhattan, of which we were informed that rye was always how they served their Manhattans. These drinks, while good, fell a little bit short of the previous two. My Sazerac came to me garnished with a beautiful strip of fragrant lemon, but the anise flavors from the absinthe rinse were almost non-existant. It was still very delicious, but missing some of those aromas that I really enjoy. Kate’s Manhattan was served in a nice coupe glass and garnished with what I presumed to be a house brandied cherry. The Manhattan is the drink that really fell short for us. It was just a little bit thin in flavor. I’m not really sure why, but it just wasn’t up to the standard that I would expect of Anvil. Worst of all, the Manhattan was several dollars more than our other drinks. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
I didn’t get a chance to try any of the beers, but most are priced between 6 and 8 dollars a pint, which seems a little high to me. All in all, I was still very impressed with Anvil and everything that they have going on. If you are in Houston, or even just visiting, it is worth checking out. Cheers!