7 of Houston's hottest watering holes John Nova Lomax, CNN • Updated 20th April 2017

(CNN) — It's not much of an exaggeration to say that Houston bar culture can be divided into two eras: B.B. and A.B. -- Before Bobby and After.
We are now in the year 8 A.B., for it was in 2009 that mixologist Bobby Heugel opened Anvil Bar in the Montrose district and changed the way generations of Houstonians drank, possibly forever.
Yes, Heugel has mentors and predecessors, but nobody brought the gospel of fresh, delivered the tidings of tinctures, nor handed down the arcane kabbalah of craft cocktails to the youth of Houston quite like "Bobby Huge."
Since then, Heugel's empire has expanded. There's his ode to craft beer in Hay Merchant, just down the street from Anvil. Downtown, he has a hand in the OKRA Charity Saloon (where a portion of the proceeds goes to the needy), the Nightingale Room (cocktails plus vinyl and live music) and the Pastry War, where he indulges his passion for hand-crafted mezcal.
You can't go wrong at any of those bars, but contemporary Houston's bar scene is far bigger than one man. This one-time shot-and-a-longneck kinda town has blossomed into one of the nation's most varied and respected bar scenes.
These seven bars, firmly in the A.B. era, offer a bevy of beverage experiences, from lolling in a hammock al fresco with a cool glass of craft beer to sipping Elijah Craig Bourbon in the Gilded Age splendor of downtown's old Cotton Exchange, with plenty of juleps, old-fashioneds and fine wines in between.


Moving Sideewalk

A chandelier-lit sliver of a room in a historic building on one of Houston's best-preserved downtown blocks, Moving Sidewalk is all about dishing out craft cocktails minus all the eye-rolling attitude you find too often in such bars.
The driven, friendly staff -- on the young side, though bar veterans all -- prepare all their tinctures, syrups and fresh-squeezed juices in a tiny kitchen they call the Workshop, as only the best are worthy of pouring in the shaker with their carefully selected assemblage of whiskeys, rums and agave spirits.
For devotees of a refreshing mouth-tingle, there's the sweet, sour and pungent Thunder River: Black Strap rum, tarted with apple ginger falernum, spiced with chili ginger tincture and carbonated with a touch of ginger beer.
If the weather's warm, and it might very well be, try the totally tropical, Indian-accented Sitar Wolf: dark rum meets mango, tamarind, coconut and lime, accented with sprinklings of curry and a splash of habanero bitters.
Their happy hours (5-8 p.m. daily) feature a delightfully oddball selection: adorable, stubby Miller High Life seven-ounce "Ponies" at a buck a pop.
Fun fact: The bar's name does not (necessarily) refer to the sensation you will feel after knocking back a couple of libations here.
The Moving Sidewalks were a trippy blues-rock combo that frequently played in a psychedelic club called the Love Street Light Circus a few blocks north. That band's leader, sharp-dressed Billy Gibbons, went on to found ZZ Top, and you know the rest.
Moving Sidewalk,


Why, yes, of course you can imbibe on the eponymous icy, crushed mint and Turbinado sugar-laced bourbon concoction here.
In fact, you can wrap your hands around a cold nickel-plated cup containing any one of many daily shifting variants on the Derby Day libation.
There's always a traditional house julep, or maybe you'll opt for a "Southern" (with Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac and Smith & Cross Jamaican rum replacing bourbon), or a "Sparkling," starring effervescent Gamay wine and cognac instead of Kentucky whiskey, just to name a couple.

It all depends on the weather and the whims of internationally renowned owner Alba Huerta, who learned the finer points of the trade with Heugel at Anvil.
The rest of the cocktail menu warbles verse after verse of a song of the South, ranging everywhere from New Orleans (Hurricanes and Sazeracs) to Mississippi (the Eudora: dry gin, sherry, honey, celery and soda) and up to Virginia via the Cherry Bounce Sour, Martha Washington's favorite tipple. (So that's why George chopped down that cherry tree!)
Housed in a reclaimed Victorian clothing factory, Julep's mellow vibe, graceful decor, small but delectable cold seafood menu (their seafood tower should be on your bucket list), and attention to detail have won it numerous accolades near and far.
Fun fact: Huerta has often said that Julep's drink menu, both in style and in substance, was shaped in part by recipes and graphics she discovered in a tall stack of vintage copies of Ladies' Home Journal.
Julep, 713-869-4383,

Houston Watch Company

Taking its name from a long-shuttered watch shop, this two-level craft cocktail lounge has an effortless speak-easy vibe.
The front door is easy to blithely blow past, and there are gigantic antique safes marooned, probably for all eternity, on the balcony and in the ladies room. (Thanks to its two-ton heft, a previous tenant built the bathroom around one of the safes rather than trying to haul it out.)
The tile floors and upstairs balcony railing are original, while the chairs upstairs were salvaged from an auction of furnishings from the Petroleum Club -- think the sort of establishment in which Houston's answers to J.R. Ewing would swing a deal, woo a mistress or organize a price-fixing cartel.
Old-fashioneds are the lifeblood of the place, and you can get them in four flavors: rye, bourbon, sotol or Haitian rhum, each for only $8. Happy hour is even more of a steal: half-price on all wine and select whiskey and Lone Star longnecks for $2.
Fun facts: The lofts in the upper stories of this building were once the regional offices for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and the Houston Watch Company shop was not merely a place to pick up a Timex -- it was also a sort of Prime Meridian for the railroad.
All the engineers and conductors synched their watches to the official time coming from 913 Franklin, a vital safeguard against train collisions.
And it was also the home of Houston's "time service." You remember that? When your watch stopped ticking or the power went out in your house, you'd dial some number and a robot would tell you what time it was?
Houston Watch Co., 713-485-0006,

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