Behind the Bar: Finding a Good Feeling at The Nightingale Room

Categories: Bar Beat

How do you measure a successful night out at a bar?

That answer usually depends on the question of why you're going out in the first place. Some nights you hit the bar so that you can have a good time with friends. Some times the agenda is to make new ones. Other times you just want to dance or sing or cry. Everyone has their reasons for going out and their measure of success. Mike Criss, co-founder of The Nightingale Room, wanted to make a place that he would visit if he was going out.

"If I could go see a live show and have an awesome tasting drink too, I would feel like I would win double," says Criss in the above interview.

That does sound like a good night out.

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The 5 Best Happy Hours in Memorial City

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Photo courtesy of Vallone's
Vallone's plump and tender meatballs are one of the restaurant's most popular items.
If you love happy hour as much as we do, you'll love this new series. We're taking a look at the best happy hours in town, 'hood by 'hood. To narrow it down, we're focusing on the spots with the best deals on not only drinks, but eats, too. From upscale eateries serving bar bites and half-priced wine to dives with cheap beer and burgers, we've got it all. See the complete list at the end of this post

This week, we're moving to the 'hood of Memorial City.

Honorable Mention: Build your own antipasti at Ciro's and fancy pants social hour at Eddie V's.

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Space Whiskey in Space City: Ardbeg's Latest Project Lands in Houston

Categories: Bar Beat, Booze

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Photo by Gary Wise
The display for Space-Aged Ardbeg simulates a microgravity field for the vial of spirit to float in.

Q: What's the only thing better than whiskey?
A: Space whiskey.

Appropriately enough for Space City, Houston has just acquired what some people are calling "Space Whiskey". Officially, it's an experimental Ardbeg distillation that's just returned to Earth after three years in space. At its premiere to the media last week at Reserve 101, 1201 Caroline Street, Gregor Mina, the Ardbeg representative present, told us more about the project.


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All Good Things Poured: A Look at Public Services Wine & Whisky

Categories: Bar Beat

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Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Vouvray splashes elegantly into a glass at Public Services Wine & Whisky

Public Services Wine & Whisky is on the first floor of the historic Cotton Exchange building at 202 Travis. The place feels a bit like the giant living room of an old Southern mansion. Everywhere you look, there are elaborate, carefully preserved or restored details: intricately carved crown molding, antique light fixtures and elaborate paintings on the ceiling. It's as good of a place to sit and be thoughtful as it is to hang out with a group of friends or coworkers on the plush sofas.

It's only a block's walk away from the more bustling nightlife scene at Congress and Main--just down the block from Hearsay. Yet, it's so genteel that it feels a world away. Its closest cousin is the Bad News Bar, which also has an old-time feel to it. Yet, where Bad News Bar is all decked out in dark woods, Public Services is the lighter side of that equation, with eggshell white walls and golden accents highlighted by gleaming light sources.

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The 5 Best Happy Hours in The Woodlands

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Photo by Omar
Enjoy stellar drinks and bar bites at some of The Woodlands' finest.
If you love happy hour as much as we do, you'll love this new series. We're taking a look at the best happy hours in town, 'hood by 'hood. To narrow it down, we're focusing on the spots with the best deals on not only drinks, but eats, too. From upscale eateries serving bar bites and half-priced wine to dives with cheap beer and burgers, we've got it all. See the complete list at the end of this post

This week, we're moving on to the bar and restaurant-packed 'hood of The Woodlands.

Honorable Mention: Craft brews at The Refuge Bar & Bistro and Italian bites and wine at Pallotta's Italian Grille (which is located just east of I-45).

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The 5 Best Happy Hours in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest

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Photo by Troy Fields
We don't know what's nicer. Cottonwood's bar or the giant outdoor patio.
If you love happy hour as much as we do, you'll love this new series. We're taking a look at the best happy hours in town, 'hood by 'hood. To narrow it down, we're focusing on the spots with the best deals on not only drinks, but eats, too. From upscale eateries serving bar bites and half-priced wine to dives with cheap beer and burgers, we've got it all. See the complete list at the end of this post

This week, we're moving we're moving just outside the loop to the neighborhoods of Garden Oaks and Oak Forest.

Note: For purposes of this post, Garden Oaks / Oak Forest is defined as north of Loop 610, east of Highway 290, south of Tidwell and west of Shepherd.

Honorable Mention: Free wine tastings at Plonk Beer & Wine Bistro (follow them on Facebook for updates).

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UPDATED: High Profile Houston Bartender Leaves Sanctuari Within a Month of Opening

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Photo by Phaedra Cook
Competition-winning bartender Leslie Ross has made an abrupt departure from the brand-new Sanctuari bar at Triniti Restuarant

Updated 11/26/14, 6:16 p.m.: Two industry insiders have independently contacted me, saying that Ross has left Sanctuari/Triniti to join Treadsack, the group behind Down House, D&T Drive Inn and the forthcoming restaurants Hunky Dory, Foreign Correspondents and the just-announced Bernadine's.

Additionally, information has been relayed to the Houston Press that Treadsack is also the entity leasing the space that was formerly The Boom Boom Room, which closed last Saturday. It is unclear whether the space will be used for the forthcoming Foreign Correspondents restaurant or a new, unannounced project. Caroline May, director of public relations for Treadsack, responded this afternoon to an emailed inquiry saying she is "unable to confirm anything at this time."

A reader tipped off the Houston Press that Leslie Ross, a high-profile bartender who co-headed the new Sanctuari Bar at Triniti, has left the bar mere weeks after its grand opening. The information has since been confirmed by an industry insider.


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Doc's Motorworks Westheimer Offers Quality Bar Food and Drink in a Unique Venue

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Photo by Kelli Durham
The outside of Doc's Motorworks Westheimer. This shot covers less than half of the spacious patio.
Doc's, a small chain started in Austin with three locations, has expanded to Houston. Last night, there was a soft opening at Doc's Motorworks Westheimer with food, drinks and a staff ready to answer questions about their new restaurant.

The decor was labeled as a "DYI" aesthetic: Much of the bar's inside is decorated in wood and tin; at least some of the wood, repurposed from an old barn. Some of the tables and seating in one section were handmade, the seats designed from old oil barrels, and the tables from spindles. It's a neat twist on the more wood-and-metal, industrial-throwback aesthetic seen in other relatively new bars and coffeehouses around town.

The seating available at the location that was formerly home to a Wendy's is surprisingly large. It's aided by a deceptively large patio that wraps around three (well, more like two and a half) sides of the bar. When the weather permits, the large glass doors can open to let fresh air in, similar to how the "indoor" space opens directly to the outside at, say, Cottonwood. Eventually, they'll be offering more bar games, such as shuffleboard and a life-size Connect Four.

For sports fans, televisions are plentiful and the sound system is set up in a way that different sections of the bar are supposed to be able to have sound from different games.

Of course, decor is nice, but it means little if the food and drink isn't of a piece. And Doc's is impressive in that regard, not only for the sheer variety of the options, but for their quality.

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A Sanctuari for More Than Cocktails

Categories: Bar Beat

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Photo by Phaedra Cook
It's easy to see why this is named "Aquarium." A layer of Wagyu tallow supports tiny purple cauliflower florets, frisée, a few salmon roe and staves of in-house made gherkins, dividing them from the creamy, savory panna cotta of smoked Chilean sea bass at the bottom of the glass.

More often these days, when I'm looking for a happy hour or a hangout, my thoughts are turning to Triniti. More accurately, I'm seeking Sanctuari, where the food is atypically luxurious for a bar setting.


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UPDATED: Downtown Gets a New Place for Drinking and Dancing

Categories: Bar Beat

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Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Bartender and General Manager Mike Criss finally has a place to call his own.
The Clumsy Butcher Group finally has opened The Nightingale Room at 308 Main Street. It is the last on their list of slated projects that included Julep and The Pastry War. Partner Bobby Heugel swears he's going to relax after this, but we'll just have to wait and see. They're just beginning the soft opening phase, so don't expect perfection yet. There's still a bit of construction work to be done as well, but the place is perfectly habitable.

The space was initially planned to be a wine bar called Trigger Happy, but seven months later, the idea was scrapped in favor of the The Nightingale Room concept. The change was announced almost a year ago last December. It's not just a reference to the songbird. It also refers to Sippie Wallace, a Houston singer who was known as the Texas Nightingale in the 1920s. A large painting by local artist Matt Tabor hangs near the bar.

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