Recently ranked as the most diverse city in the U.S., it’s no surprise that the bar and restaurant scene in Houston reflects the diversity of the people who imbibe and thrive in the area. It was one of the reasons we selected the city as the first stop on our Liquid Insights Tour, Southern Glazer’s extensive, coast-to-coast educational initiative that explores and identifies the latest trends in mixology and wine.
After visiting 14 venues over the course of two days, we were amazed at the international influences we discovered across the city. Inspirations from India, Latin America, China and Vietnam were well expressed in both the food and cocktails. Strong programs were also bolstered by great global wine offerings.Restaurant and bar locations were also as surprising as their menus. As one of the only major U.S. cities without a zoning ordinance, venues were integrated into residential neighborhoods and unique retail spaces. So, a great local gem could turn up next to a gas station parking lot, or across the street from your grandmother’s house.
As our team sauntered and sipped our way through our rigorous touring agenda (someone’s got to do it), local flavor and menu trends became apparent. We loved the varied use of dehydrated or roasted fruits as garnishes or infusions. Asian spices and ingredients popped up in cocktails everywhere. Unique wine varietals, as well as natural, organic and biodynamic wines also frequented many menus. High-end concoctions and presentations of non-alcoholic beverages designed to prevent “FOMO” while letting consumers sip responsibly were more common than ever before. And whether bartenders like it or not, the Espresso Martini seems to be here to stay–we even saw one poured from a nitrogenated tap.
In a post-pandemic world, where on premise accounts still struggle with labor shortages, execution seems to have simplified. From pre-batched cocktails to pre-prepped garnishes, any strategy a bar team could use to make service fast and simple was on the table. And while QR codes were prevalent as during height of Covid, many venues found innovative ways to use them to highlight broader, unique and variable beverage offerings, rather than just using them to guide guests to their full menus.
These were just a few of the pointers we picked up as we searched for product, place, price, people and process trends around town. But will these trends translate into other markets? Or are they just the local flavors that make Houston so unique? Only time will tell! Kansas City, my hometown, is up next and I look forward to being a Liquid Insight “tourist” in my own backyard. Straws out!
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