El Big Bad [Max Burkhalter]
There's something so playful about the storytelling angle of new downtown bar El Big Bad that makes the new establishment instantly feel like a fun time, even before you've ordered drinks. The theme of the "Three Little Pigs" and the big bad wolf is evident from the mural that stretches from the entrance to the elevator, and the little makeshift shack next to the top-level bar. This new establishment, a larger branch of Heights-area bar El Gran Malo, from owners Lea McKinney and Steve Sharma, is exactly what downtown needed. Apart from the narrative that manifests itself so spiritedly throughout the 8,000-square-foot interior and 2,000-square-foot second-floor balcony, Sharma also says that McKinney referred to the new tequila case as her big dollhouse. And big it is: the altar to tequila at El Gran Malo, a case containing several creative tequila infusions, is even larger here. Catch the elevator and enjoy seeing the display on your ride up to the top floor. But make sure to turn around on your way up: on the middle level is an ivy wall that serves as a backdrop to lights that spell "MALO" and illuminate the entire space.
McKinney says that the square footage here—the patio alone is the space of El Gran Malo—allows them to expand their tequila infusions collection and expand the menu into a wide range of gastro-cantina fare. The menu has been created by consulting chef Randy Rucker of Rainbow Lodge and Bootsie's Heritage Cafe fame. After a few months, Rucker will hand over the reins to permanent executive chef Ben Rabbani, with whom he's worked at both Rainbow Lodge and Bootsie's. Mark Parmley will also be on hand as a chef here until he leaves for duty in Alaska this summer.
The menu includes crab tostadas, tortilla soup, campechanas, mushroom ceviche, tamales en mole, carne asada with chimichurri and tacos of carnitas, tongue and mushroom. Sharma said that he hopes to offer a fun take on Mexican food instead of traditional offerings. Apart from an expanded menu, the space will also allow the owners to host another agave harvesting demonstration without disturbing service, since there is a separate dining area for private parties. It seems that all of the extra square footage is allowing the creative minds behind this project even more room to play. That includes interior designer Erin Hicks, who designed the space.
When asked about the new menu and fun they're having with all of the space, Sharma becomes animated and describes the liquid nitrogen system they plan to add down the road—El Gran Malo's Cinco de Mayo party saw MasterChef alum Alvin Schultz make liquid nitrogen margaritas that tasted like sweet tequila gelato. That system alone would make this bar a destination. As far as the bar staff, a revolving group that includes USBG Houston President Luis Villegas, award-winning bartender Sheridan Fay and cocktail pro Angel Belman will all be taking turns working here and at El Gran Malo.
The bar and restaurant is officially open to the public on December 5.
In other big news: El Gran Malo will be moving from its current location to another spot in the Heights this March. Sharma and McKinney are currently seeking out the best spot, but they are certain they want to stay in that neighborhood.
· El Big Bad [Twitter]
· All Other Eater Opening Reports [-EHOU-]