Bartender Chat: Nathan Wells of Beaver's
This week, we paid a visit to Beaver's to meet bartender Nathan, or "Dollar Wells," as he's called. It was pretty dead at 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday as I sat at the bar, beautifully littered with several rocks glasses filled with different-colored concoctions. Nathan tells me they're making some last minute changes, tweaking the new cocktail menu that was introduced on Wednesday. A highball glass is placed in front of me containing a new creation called "Gin & Jam." It's sweet but tart and really does taste a little like preserves. It's the kind of drink that would get me in trouble.
Pretty new to bartending, Nathan enjoys continuously learning, although he admits that drinking at home now isn't really cheap. "I don't get a handle of Kentucky deluxe and two two-liters of coke anymore," he says. Nathan's got a relaxed demeanor, an infectious laugh and just wants to make you a cocktail you'll really like.
Where are you from?
I'm from the Northwest side of Houston near Cypress. I went to St. Thomas High School, so that's how I started coming down inside the loop and ended up living here. It was great to be able to walk to a restaurant or something after school.
How long have you been bartending?
Just since last April. I started here as a dishwasher, like one shift a week; I just really needed a job. They needed a bar back and I was like, "I can do that." I just kept picking up shifts, and then they one day they needed a bartender, and I said, "Well, I can make the drinks..."
How do you like it?
I love it. I actually like making the drinks; it's not just mindlessly popping beers open. And I get to create my own drinks. Not too long ago I competed in Bombay Sapphire's Most Inspired Bartender contest and got to make up my own cocktail. They were looking for something strange so I made a drink with African blue basil, simple syrup, radish juice, lime juice and gin. It tasted good, but I think it would have done better if radishes didn't smell so bad.
How would you describe the bar's aesthetic?
I wouldn't say it has an Austin feel, but a lot of my friends that have come in say it's got an Austin vibe to it. I say it has a distinctly not-Washington feel to it. It's nice because the food is so good. It's not the kind of stuff you'd expect to see in a low-key restaurant. And we've got the great cocktails, too. You can come in wearing a T-shirt and flip-flops. There's none of the pomp and circumstance, but you get quality food.
How would you describe the crowd?
Kaffir lime syrup fresh off the stove.
Extremely varied. I see people like me and I see much older...okay, we've got a regular that comes in here almost every Friday. He's 80-something. He always gets the wings and a beer and then goes home. And about six years ago, this was an icehouse filled with pool tables. Every once in a while, someone will walk in with a pool cue over their shoulder with a confused look on their face. Occasionally we'll have people wander over from Sawyer Park. They'll sit at the bar and say, "all these drinks are really expensive..." and I tell them it's because they're more complicated than vodka soda. A lot of people don't realize the thought and effort that goes into these cocktails. We juice our lemons and limes fresh every morning and make our own syrups. I don't mind explaining myself.
What cocktail do you make the most?
The Forecast, definitely. People really love the habanero-infused vodka. When I first started bartending, I didn't realize you should wear gloves when handling habanero. I learned the hard way. People ask "Oh, did you touch your face?" and I'm like, "no... worse...I went to the bathroom..."
Do you have a specialty or a cocktail you pride yourself on?
Well, this week we're rolling out a new cocktail menu. We usually change it every three or four months; we like to use whatever is fresh and in season. It's cool because each bartender has their own drink on the new menu; everyone got to contribute. I'm a big fan of the Manhattan variation I put on the menu. It's gonna be a great winter cocktail; it'll really warm you. It has a ginger liqueur called Domaine de Canton, French sweet and dry vermouth, bitters and rye whisky. I'm really proud of it. We're calling it the Marquis Manhattan, like Marquis de Sade.
On your off-days, where do you go to get a drink or dinner?
A place that does great cocktails and dinner is Stella Sola. It's the kind of place you have to wear slacks to, and I don't usually like to go to those kinds of places, but it's so good. Dropping by for beers...I'll go to Darkhorse, Jimmy's Ice House, Shiloh...I go to Liberty on the weekdays. It gets a little too busy on the weekends for my taste.
What's one thing that would make Houston a better city?
Better public transportation. When I lived east of 45, I could walk to work in an hour, but to take the bus, it would take two with all the transfers. I guess they don't want people going directly from the 5th Ward to Washington...or it just seems that way to me. That's the only reason to have so many transfers. I don't have a car anymore, so I pay a lot of attention to these things now.
What is one thing men should never do?
Wear girl's jeans.
Beaver's is located 2310 Decatur, just South of Washington. Happy hour runs Tuesdays through Fridays from 4-7 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m. They knock $2 off all cocktails on the menu and offer great $5 small plates. It's perfect patio weather, so go say hi to Nathan and try one of the new cocktails.