No matter what task he’s engaged in—slicing limes, shaking cocktails, restocking the three-tiered tequila case—bartender Robert Varela pivots from what he’s doing behind the bar at San Antonio’s Frutería Botanero to greet guests with a welcoming bellow, “Bienvenido. Welcome.”
It’s a few minutes before happy hour on a Wednesday afternoon, and I’m playing a game with myself at The Owl, a two-year-old home-goods shop and wine bar in historic downtown Elgin.
Last April I set out to experience the Granbury Wine Walk, an annual wine and food celebration that not only showcases more than a dozen Texas wineries but also highlights one of the most interesting little towns in Texas.
At 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday at Casa Brasil Coffees in Austin, I’m sitting at an L-shaped bar scattered with glass tumblers filled with different types of coffee beans. I’ve been issued a blank book for note-taking and a five-page review packet with a quiz on the final page, but the Brazilian music playing in the background mellows the scholarly mood.
It is a sunny and crisp Austin day, perfect for showing our visiting family some of our area’s attractions. We wanted to venture off the beaten path, and since both of my brothers-in-law are craft-beer enthusiasts, my husband and I chose to showcase the city’s growing craft brewing industry by heading to Jester King Brewery. Approximately 18 miles southwest of downtown Austin on a 200-acre ranch, Jester King produces beers unlike any others in the area.
The craft-beer craze has officially taken Texas by storm, with more than 70 breweries and brewpubs now adding variety to the landscape. In June 2013, Governor Perry signed legislation that enabled craft breweries to sell their beers on premises, fostering both economic growth and competition in an industry estimated by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild to have contributed more than $600 million to the state’s economy. That’s a lot of barley pop, folks!
Visitors to McAllen have a wide array of activities to choose from—including birding at Quinta Mazatlan, a 1930s adobe home where more than 150 species of birds have been documented; checking out the art scene developing on Main Street; and exploring the city’s 17th Street Entertainment District, where restaurants, nightclubs, and even a restored 1940s theater generate excitement.
At Georgetown’s El Monumento Restaurant, Bar Manager Jeremy Corn can mix up a mean Manhattan while regaling guests with nuggets of cocktail history and trivia.
I’m bellied up to the oval mesquite bar at El Monumento restaurant in Georgetown, waiting for my perfect negroni—an astringently bittersweet concoction whose murky history places its first appearance in Italy around 1919—as bartender and resident hooch historian Jeremy Corn conducts an abridged version of his monthly “Mixology 101” class. Golden, late-afternoon sunlight streams through floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a patio scattered with tile-topped tables and broad orange umbrellas, and the adobe-like, rammed-earth walls enhance the warm ambiance. “I call this the tale of two negronis,” Jeremy says, pouring equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari in a vintage rocks glass, then adding a half-moon of orange peel and some ice.
I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Hugo’s, the decade-old restaurant in the heart of Houston’s hip Montrose district that has helped awaken palates raised on Tex-Mex to the complexities of interior Mexican fare. Hugo’s is where I first encountered Oaxacan-style, pan-sautéed grasshoppers (served with avocado, tomatillo salsa, and mini corn tortillas), and where I discovered the smoky allure of artisan mescal. Over the years and in the course of many visits, I’ve enjoyed the restaurant’s braised pork shoulder with mashed plantain bananas ($22), its amazing lentil cakes with strips of fire-roasted chiles ($8), and its roasted red snapper a la Veracruzana ($22), the latter a tangy fish dish prepared with tomatoes, olives, and capers. I like the historic yet somehow modern feel of the restaurant itself, too: Designed in 1925 by Austrian architect Joseph Finger (who also designed Houston’s Art Deco City Hall and many other structures throughout the city), the building is now blanketed in decades of ivy. Inside, exposed rose-colored brick, butter-colored walls displaying vintage matador paintings, and a polished-concrete bar stocked with spirits and wines from throughout the world make Hugo’s a topnotch spot for a meal or $5 margaritas during happy hour.
A six-foot steel sculpture of a corkscrew marks the entrance to McPherson Cellars in downtown Lubbock. Inside, the modern theme continues in a sleek tasting room with dark walls, polished floors, and local artwork.
This refreshing and elegant cocktail is perfect for patio parties. The house-made passion fruit- coconut drinking vinegar (known in bartending circles as a “shrub”) is part of a family of old-fashioned ingredients that have come back in style with today’s craft cocktail movement.