As hard as it may be to believe now, when Anvil Bar and Refuge opened in 2009, there were skeptics who didn't think it would last. They'd cite the bar's lack of parking or suggest that no one in Houston was going to pay $8-10 for a cocktail. Of course, the place has been an unstoppable juggernaut since day one, and Anvil is directly responsible for the advanced cocktail menus at restaurants all over the city. That's why Eater National named it one of the country's 38 Most Essential Cocktail Bars earlier this week. With success, the partnership of owners Bobby Heugel, Kevin Floyd and Michael Burnett have extended their reach to include craft beer bar Hay Merchant, partnered with chef Chris Shepherd to open Underbelly, widely considered one of the best restaurants in Houston, soon-to-open coffee shop Blacksmith, the upcoming cocktail bar Julep, and a catering business that provided refreshment to thousands of concert goers at Free Press Summerfest. To steal a phrase, the mind boggles.
Time, then, to pay tribute to the people who have made it so successful. With the help of Heugel, former "den mother" Sarah Keck and former manager Chris Frankel, here's a list of every employee that's ever regularly pulled shifts at Anvil, along with their current whereabouts (when known). Hopefully those who are missing will comment on this post.
First Year Staff (March 2009 to March 2010) who held regular shifts:
Bobby Heugel: Co-owner, now the driving force behind restaurant political organization OKRA and an operating partner for Ninfa's on Navigation and Antone's Po-Boys.
Kevin Floyd: The "beer guy" behind Hay Merchant, also involved with Ninfa's, Antone's and OKRA.
Justin Burrow: Has worked at Haven. Currently at Fitzgerald's.
Chris Frankel: Left Anvil and Underbelly to work as an independent consultant. Developed the cocktail menu at Cuchara that helped the new restaurant earn two stars from Chronicle critic Alison Cook. Pondering his next move.
Sebastian Nahapetian: Bar manager at The Pass & Provisions
Matt Tanner: Anvil's current General Manager
Mindy Kucan: Working as the general manager at Hale Pele in Portland, which Eater National named as one of the 16 Best Rum Centric Cocktail Bars in America
Robin Berwick: Co-owner of midtown cocktails and coffee bar Double Trouble
Plinio Sandalio: The former Textile pastry chef and James Beard Award nominee is currently at The Carillon in Austin.
Aaron Lara: Has worked at both Haven and The Pass & Provisions. Currently pondering his next move.
Yao Lu: Left Houston for Shanhai, where he's a manager at the Alchemist Bar.
Peter Jahnke: Will be on the staff at Trick Dog, opening soon in San Francisco.
Linda Salinas: August's Gatekeeper is the Service Manager at farm-to-table restaurant Haven.
Post-First Year Staff
Alexander Gregg: Bar manager at The Pass & Provisions
Ornella Ashcraft: Currently at The Flying Saucer in Sugar Land, where she's developing beer cocktails.
Alba Huerta: The former Anvil general manager is both the current head of the local U.S. Bartender's Guild chapter and a co-owner of Julep.
Carlos Ballon: On the current staff at Anvil and will serve as the production and kitchen manager for both Anvil and Julep.
Mike Criss: Will serve as the General Manager for the Original OKRA Charity Saloon when it opens next month.
Kenny Freeman: This current Anvil bartender will be the Assistant General Manager at Julep.
Hal Brock: Anvil's present Assistant General Manager
Forrest deSpain Jr: Working at Anvil right now
Terry Williams: Also working at Anvil right now.
With so many strong personalities among the former employees, it can be easy to overlook the present staff. However, Heugel tells Eater that "I have no problem saying that I think we have the best staff we've ever had right now. They work so hard and get along so well it's amazing. I couldn't do all that I do if I didn't know that I could trust them as much as I do."