Houston Bar Owners Join Forces to Assist Hurricane-Ravaged Bahamas — Updated

Russell Thoede at Lei Low

Updated 9/23/2019, 10:32 a.m.: Houston Food Finder has been informed that the event series is now benefitting World Central Kitchen, the disaster food relief organization founded by chef José Andrés. In 2018 alone, the group responded to 13 disasters, including Hurricane Harvey. In addition, this article is updated to reflect that Flying Saucer Draught Emporium is no longer participating but that Walking Stick Brewing Company is.  

Two years ago during Hurricane Harvey (and even more recently, after this week’s floods from tropical storm Imelda) Houston showed the world that there’s no obstacle too great to overcome when we come together. As a response to the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which caused miles of devastation to the Bahamas, a group of restaurants and bars are raising money for relief efforts.

It began with a Facebook post from Russell Thoede, owner of Heights Tiki bar Lei Low, which got the attention of Benjy Mason, who owns cocktail dive Johnny’s Gold Brick. The two immediately started contacting friends in the industry and quickly had over 30 venues signed up to participate in Drink for the Bahamas: A Citywide Hurricane Relief Fundraiser.

A classic Bahama Mama cocktail recipe.

Beginning on Monday, September 23 and running through Sunday, September 29, bars and restaurants across the city will create custom versions of the Bahama Mama cocktail; traditionally a mix of light, dark and/or coconut rum, pineapple juice and orange juice. A dollar from each cocktail sold is going to HeadKnowles World Central Kitchen.

“We started talking about it and realized that we both wanted to do something to help, and that we thought other people would feel the same way,” said Mason. “As Houstonians who went through Harvey we have very clear memories, not only of how much it meant to us to see support pour in from other places, but also of how empowering and gratifying it felt to be part of organizing help for others. We knew from our Harvey experience that people in Houston are eager to help. They just needed to be asked.” Here is the current list of participating businesses, with more being added daily:

Thoede was kind enough to give us a preview of Lei Low’s special Bahama Mama recipe:

  • 3/4 oz Rhum J.M. Blanc 110 Proof
  • 3/4 oz Chairman’s Reserve
  • 3/4 oz Rhum Clément Mahina Coconut Liqueur
  • 3/4 oz Lime Juice
  • 3/4 oz Orange Juice
  • 1 1/2 oz Pineapple Juice
  • 3/4 oz Float Bounty Dark Rum
  • Shake with Crushed Ice
  • Garnished with fresh fruit, mint, and a Cocktail Umbrella.
Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater forward-deployed four MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews in support of search and rescue and humanitarian aid in the Bahamas, Sept. 2, 2019. As Hurricane Dorian makes its way across the Bahamas, the Coast Guard is ready to assist as needed. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater)

“I wish I could do more,” he said. “Seeing the initial photos from the Bahamas was chilling. Honestly, it was a familiar sight. I’m a Houston native and lived through lots of Hurricanes. Ike did the same thing to Bolivar, just wiped it out. That was a Category 4. Dorian was a strong 5. I love the Caribbean, the people, the culture, the music and, obviously, the rum.”

Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane in the Abaco Islands during the evening of September 1. Wind gusts of over 200mph and a 23-foot storm surge quickly classified it as the strongest hurricane in modern times to strike the Bahamas. Dorian then sat over Grand Bahama for more than 24 hours causing catastrophic damage. The Red Cross estimates that 13,000 homes, nearly half the homes on Abaco and Grand Bahamas, were severely damaged or destroyed.

Part of the Johnny’s Gold Brick team competing at Chicago Bar Fight earlier this year. Photo by Josh Armendariz


Updated, 9/23/2019, 10:35 a.m.: As noted at the beginning of the article, the event organizers have shifted support to World Central Kitchen. The only explanation received was there was “some trouble” with the previously stated beneficiary, HeadKnowles.

HeadKnowles goal is to raise $10 million USD to help the devastated Bahamas communities. So far, the foundation has flown more than 650 aircraft missions from Florida as well as dozens of air ambulance rescues. HeadKnowles also provides donors with financial statements to account for every dollar donated. According to the foundation website “Donors will be able to see with all transparency that their money is being used to get our Bahamian communities what they need.”

Those who wish to donate directly to the HeadKnowles relief fund can do so online. Additionally, there is an Amazon Wish List full of needed items.

Dorian also made landfall in the United States, bringing winds and rain (albeit nowhere close to Category 5 strength) to North Carolina. Thankfully, Alabama was spared physical damage and suffered only Sharpie-induced distress.

Josh Armendariz is Houston Food Finder’s lead freelance beer and cocktail writer. He can often be found on a stool at your favorite bar, sipping a hoppy craft beer and talking about the Astros with anyone who’ll lend an ear. Follow him on Instagram at @drinkwithjosh.

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