Backstreet Cafe Cocktail Dinner Showcases Black Bartenders & Bartending History
To coincide with Black History Month, Backstreet Cafe is hosting a dinner on February 26 from 7 to 10 p.m. entitled Forgotten Legacy that showcases several notable bartenders in Houston, as well as looks back on black cultural history and contributions to cocktail evolution. The cost is $114.14 per ticket, total (the figure includes tax and gratuity). A portion of the proceeds benefits Black Girl White Coat, a nonprofit organization that provides motivation and mentorship for minority students looking to pursue careers in healthcare.
“The tales of people and how they become who and where they are rank as my favorite part of life,” said beverage director Sean Beck. “Living in Houston, we are afforded chances to experience unique perspectives and learn history with which we may be unfamiliar. The opportunity to learn from others over a well-made drink and fine food is my idea of a perfect night.”
The featured bartenders are:
- Rich Bailey, Johnny’s Gold Brick
- Bevin Biggers, Chapman & Kirby
- Qwesha Byrd, Anvil Bar & Refuge
- Michelle Hamilton, Julep
- Taurean McAdams, Brasserie du Parc
- Ryan Perry, Bar 5015
- Nathan Reffell, brand ambassador for Gray Goose vodka
The dinner includes four courses in total: three that James Beard Award-winning chef Hugo Ortega created and a dessert by chef Ja’Nel Witt of Sonoma Wine Bar. In addition, there’s a welcome reception that includes passed bites and vodka-based cocktails by Reffell, Hamilton and Biggers.
The drink pairings for the dinner run the gamut of spirit categories: gin, rum, whiskey and cognac. As just a few examples of the dishes and pairings, the Maroon’s Hideout by Bailey is made with rum, lemon, sweet potato juice and jerk-spiced syrup and comes alongside Pork Belly with Pineapple and Sweet Potato Couscous. Byrd’s cognac-based drink is served with Witt’s dessert: Mississippi Mud Pie with espresso cheesecake mousse, dark chocolate ganache and cinnamon crumble.
“It’s a great opportunity to shine a light on an often neglected piece of African American history within the context of bartending — craft cocktail bartenders, to be specific,” said Ryan Perry of the soon-to-reopen Bar 5015. “It’s a topic some of my co-participants and I have discussed within a contemporary context. There was a time, when we could name all of the black craft bartenders operating at skilled level in Houston on one hand. That’s definitely not the case these days.”
Among the general public, it seems largely forgotten, but there is a long history of blacks in bartending. Both before and after the American Revolution, bartending was one of the few occupations open to free African Americans. While in the South, some enslaved African Americans were forced to serve as bartenders. There was even a Black Mixologists Club back in 1898. According to “The Overlooked History of Black Mixology” by Emily Bell, “it was a marquee professional association, a gathering place for African Americans who had found an unlikely foothold in the upward social mobility of professional bartending (insofar as black Americans were afforded upward social mobility in the late 19th and early 20th centuries).”
Visit the Backstreet Cafe website for additional details and the full menu, or go straight to the ticketing page to reserve your seats. Parties larger than eight should instead call the restaurant at (713) 521-2239 for reservations.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.