"Sorry man, we're just not that kind of bar."
It's a phrase you're likely to hear repeated if you spend even just a few hours at Houston's young temple to the craft cocktail, Anvil Bar & Refuge. On a recent Saturday night, I listened to this unwavering refrain shoot down naive requests for Long Island Iced Tea and shots of Jäger.
It would sound obnoxious if the delivery wasn't so darn sincere. "We're just not in the business of making overly sweetened, overly alcoholic cocktails that are only designed to get you drunk," the bartender continued. You can almost forgive those uninformed first-timers for the mistake. After all, this bar has tremendous energy, an enthusiasm and excited pace that is quite contagious. Proof positive that not all haunts honoring classic, vintage cocktails mandate hushed tones and airs of exclusivity.
Still, the place isn't exactly a secret — a favorite on many publications' Best Of lists — which is why for every unrequited request for Miller Lite or SoCo, you'll hear three times as many orders for Jalisco Attitude and The Secret of Monkey Island. Indeed, if you're having trouble deciding, following a knowing patron's lead is one of the better ways to pick your poison here. It might lead you to the Tales of Uji, a shockingly green, herby concoction made with house matcha tea liqueur and a powerful house ginger beer. Of course, leaning on the bartender's opinion also serves you well: A craving for something seasonal produces a Butternut Squash Flip. Frothy, sweet — more dessert than cocktail.
You leave at the end of the night and it hits you — instead of stumbling out, here, you're encouraged to remember the way back in.