Last year was rough for Texas bars. Many great ones, including those in Houston, have been forced to drastically change due to the pandemic and Governor Greg Abbott’s orders to temporarily close. Some bars didn’t survive. On a more positive note, some new bars managed to open and survive, despite the problems. One of those is Eighteen36, at 2221 West Alabama. It opened at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has not only survived but continues to grow.
Eighteen36 is located in a building that operates as a collaboration between the namesake cocktail bar and Bellaire’s Roadster Grill, which shuttered in 2017, but the Greek and American classic dishes have new life in this venue. The varied food menu means that there’s a dish to complement almost anything on the varied cocktail list.
Josh Saphier, an experienced bartender who has worked in cocktail programs across the country — including a four-and-a-half year run at the prestigious Mastro’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills — oversees the bar program. The drink list is meticulous and ambitious by design. In fact, Saphier said that one of his goals is to be recognized by organizations such as Tales of the Cocktail, which has an annual awards program.
The variety of cocktails is expansive and includes three categories of daily drinks, to-go options, kits to take home and the “Innovative Cocktail” list featuring 10 drinks ranging in price from $11 to $15. In addition, there is a full selection of beer and wine, along with a well-rounded spirits list. Houston Food Finder was invited to visit and try some of the drinks.
There are creative references to pop culture, like our first drink of the night, Glass Case of Emotion. It is named after a scene from the movie Anchorman and is a skillful, balanced potion of green chartreuse, Venezuelan rum and sherry. The Diplomatico Venezuelan rum used is an excellent choice, as its soft flavor does not dull the herbal qualities of the chartreuse. The cocktail is topped off with orange juice and Topo Chico, making it a crisp drink light enough to enjoy anytime, day or night.
A good old-fashioned is a must-have at any bar, and Eighteen36 offers the Smoked Cherry Old Fashion. This play on the iconic drink is made with Maker’s Mark Bourbon, both chocolate and cherry bitters, and uses Luxardo cherry syrup in place of sugar, giving the drink a dense mouth-feel. The drink is smoked under glass in front of the guests giving an added flavor and aroma, as well as visual appeal.
The six drinks that comprise Eighteen36’s Signature Cocktail selections are either $11 or $12, and a few frozen options are included. One non-frozen drink example is The Old Sparky, with gin, bitters, lemon juice and Cynar. The rich drink includes a little levity thanks to the glass rimmed with Pop Rocks. It’s not just fun, but functional; the candy lends a little more sweetness and a crackling sensation.
Running from $12 to $15, Eighteen36 also has a menu dedicated to the classics, filled with familiar names such as The Last Word, Paper Planes and Penicillin. It is easy to find something for all guests to enjoy. The preparation truly shines with the barrel-aged Vieux Carre and Boulevardier, two boozy cocktails mellowed out thanks to nine weeks of resting.
Eighteen36 is open Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. The bar hosts private mixology classes, too, for groups from six to 10. Learn how to make three cocktails from a list of 12 choices such as Old Fashioned, Aviation, Mai Tai and Black Manhattan. Visit the class page for more information.