Bar and restaurant ownership group Clumsy Butcher, the team behind Underbelly, Hay Merchant, Pastry War and Anvil, has just debuted Southern cocktail bar Julep on lower Washington. And while the immediate draw for some local imbibers might be the names behind this project, the well thought-out drinks and bites menus will be what keeps locals heading there. Co-owned by longtime Houston mixing maven Alba Huerta, this new bar is a little girlie, but decidedly "not pink," as she is quick to point out. (Although there are feminine touches throughout the place, from lace window treatments to tiny clothespins used to attach garnishes to cocktails.)
Design details aside, the real focus of the bar is the combination of classic Southern cocktails with inventive twists, flavors that have been researched and tested. Huerta often adds some historical context to the drinks she serves, including the milk punch that's made with sour apple cider, the "non-alcoholic way they used to make it for kids," of course this one includes rye, too. There are some Southern cocktail staples and spirits, including the namesake julep, Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and some of Huerta's custom drinks creations, the results of her travels to some Southern states where she spent time studying and tasting at different distilleries. The Sazerac here is enhanced with some Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac, and the "Truth & Slant" is made with with Madeira, a fortified wine that was once famous among Southerners. It's clear that she has looked to the Southern pantry to revive historical flavors and ingredients.
Leading the pack at this new bar is general manager and former Anvil bartender Kenneth Freeman—who Huerta says is "very much about working in a group and helping to develop new talent." The Pass & Provisions/Revival Market's former chef Adam Garcia has curated a small menu of tapas, including Blue Point oysters and cold seafood plates, an homage to the South's cocktail history and to Garcia's culinary training.
This new spot is a change of pace from some Washington Avenue bars, and it's a welcome look at the South's spirits history and culture, including its warm but sophisticated vibe.