Old Fashioned Throwdown: 9 of the Best Old Fashioneds in Houston
Evoking images of leather and moody lounges, the deceptively simple Old Fashioned cocktail gives off a vibe of sophistication. With only three ingredients, an Old Fashioned is easy to learn and even easier to enjoy, yet takes finesse to perfect. Here’s where you can channel your inner Don Draper and sip on some of the best Old Fashioneds in town, along with unique variations on the timeless classic.
The Primer: Anvil Bar & Refuge, 1424 Westheimer: If you’ve never had an Old Fashioned in your life, head to Anvil first to set the bar (no pun intended). Made with overproof bourbon and turbinado syrup, Anvil produces a perfectly balanced example of what a well-made Old Fashioned should taste like: stirred, boozy and sweet — but not too sweet — with a light touch of citrus from the garnish. Start here to establish a benchmark before you set off to try other fun interpretations.
The Reliable: Johnny’s Gold Brick, 2518 Yale: Johnny’s Gold Brick may have hiked the price of its iconic list of $8 classic cocktails to $9.99 (inflation sucks), but the high quality hasn’t changed one bit. You’ll still get one of the best Old Fashioneds in town, and if you visit on a Tuesday, your first Old Fashioned of the night is just $2.
The Smoky One: Kanpai Club, 518 W. 11th Street: Smoked Old Fashioneds might be considered passé but it’s still fun to watch bartenders make them. Besides, who doesn’t love an alluring, smoky quality added to an already alluring drink? Kanpai Club, hidden inside of Hando, serves up a Green Tea Smoked Old Fashioned made with Legent bourbon, taking the smoked cocktail trend in a different direction. The matcha green tea adds earthiness to the drink and is sweetened by the presence of Japanese plum, making it more than your average Old Fashioned in a smoke-filled glass.
The Happy Hour Pick: Bad News Bar, 308 Main: Go through the legal office entrance and make your way up the stairs to enjoy an expertly made Old Fashioned with a base of Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon. While we can’t scientifically substantiate this claim, we’re pretty sure they taste even better when they’re only $5. Drop by for weekday happy hour between 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to grab this bargain, and settle in on the balcony. It’s one of the best spots for people-watching downtown.
The Rye Choice: Eight Row Flint, 1039 Yale: If you tend to favor rye whiskey over bourbon in your Old Fashioneds, get a Proprietary Rye Old Fashioned at this Heights bar, which also offers ample patio seating. Made with Sazerac seven-year rye, this version has robust spice notes that will carry through to the last sip.
The Savory One: Kau Ba, 2502 Dunlavy: For those looking for something truly unique, reach for the Koji Old Fashioned at this Vietnamese-Cajun restaurant in Montrose. The base is butter-infused Maker’s 46 bourbon, which is blended with toasty barley shochu (a Japanese distilled liquor typically made from grains) and with a hint of umami from some shoyu (Japanese soy sauce). This one still has all the flavors you’d expect from an Old Fashioned, but with a honey-butter quality to it.
For Rum Heads: High & Dry, 306 Main: Rum is for more than tiki cocktails, and Old Fashioneds aren’t limited to whiskey. This downtown bar will make you a rum Old Fashioned showcasing Bacardi Reserva Ocho as its backbone. Try it, and it just might be your gateway to exploring more rum drinks.
For Agave Lovers: Trash Panda Drinking Club, 4203 Edison: Old Fashioneds can be made with agave spirits, too, and this fun and irreverent bar makes a great Oaxacan Old Fashioned. Made with both mezcal and tequila, it’s smoky and gets extra spice from mole bitters, in addition to the classic Angostura.
The Surprise Pick: Dark Horse Tavern, 2207 Washington Avenue: This neighborhood bar with darts and beer pitchers seems like one of the least likely places to have a good Old Fashioned, but the Maple Old Fashioned proves that a bar doesn’t have to be fancy to serve a good one. There’s no one hand-carving crystal-clear ice blocks, and nor will anyone be arguing over who makes the best bourbons. (For some, that’s another good reason to visit.) Made with Old Forester Rye, maple syrup and orange bitters, this unassuming cocktail is lightly sweet and includes a cinnamon stick to drive in some extra spiciness.
Disclosure: Writer assists Anvil Bar & Refuge in social media management, but was not compensated or incentivized to mention the establishment in this article.