By Joanna O’Leary
Taking yourself (and a few friends) out to the ball game? Looking to pregame (pun intended) before settling in at Minute Maid Park? Traveling with a mixed crew? Here’s a pub crawl designed to appeal to a range of potable predilections and provide you with quality grub to fuel your journey.
Begin your perambulations at The Springbok, a relative newcomer to the Houston bar scene that has received rave reviews for its innovative libations and South African fare. Pair a Springbok shot (Amarula crème liqueur and crème de menthe) or a Bok-a-Rita (their signature piquant spin on a margarita) with some appetizers such as the deviled eggs crowned with candied jalapeño; the savory, chewy biltong (South African-style beef jerky), or the crispy “slap chips.” More substantial plates include the unctuous wild boar sloppy joe with Brussels sprouts slaw and the inimitable “bunny chow brisket,” a half-loaf of white bread filled with the pub’s curry of the day. After a couple of rounds and courses, everyone will agree that Capetown should be their next destination for a group vacation. With its comfy chairs and oversized leather couches, The Springbok makes it easy to linger, and if you decide to set up camp, there are plenty of wide-screen televisions to watch the game.
Otherwise, onward! Next is The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, which offers an ever-changing selection of over 100 local, domestic, and international brews on tap and by the bottle. Such diversity is heaven for serious beer “knurds,” and virtually guarantees there will be something even for those non-beer-drinkers in your party. Go early to snag a spot on weeknight evenings, since the dining room fills quickly with downtown workers looking to drink away their corporate drama with some double IPAs. But even if it’s packed, the friendly clientele often doesn’t mind sharing tables—so long as you root for the home team, natch. Flying Saucer also vends some noteworthy German-style bar fare in the form of over-sized soft pretzels served with chive cream cheese, mustard, or queso dipping sauces, and a hearty “Sheboygan Side-By-Side” bun stuffed with two bratwursts plus sauerkraut, diced red onion, spicy mustard, and a pickle. Those in the mood for a less Teutonic dinner should try the prosciutto and arugula “saucer pie” or Lauren’s Goat Cheese salad, a refreshing mix of greens, chick peas, olives, capers, feta cheese, and cherry tomatoes dressed in a garlic lemon vinaigrette.
If your partner(s)-in-crime have had just about enough of these more casual joints, never fear, for now you’re headed to Reserve 101, Houston’s premier whiskey bar whose candlelit interior and menu of single malts and craft cocktails are the epitome of accessible luxury. Aficionados will be impressed by Reserve’s vast selection—not only from the powerhouse whiskey nations such as Ireland, Scotland, and Japan, but also Tasmania, Spain, India, and the Lone Star State (go Balcones!). Those not interested in drinking straight spirits should try St. Mark’s, a smoky, citrusy mix of Maker’s Mark 45, St. Germain, orange and lime juices, or the “Mama Tried,” a tantalizing concoction of fireball whiskey, aperol, and maple syrup.
Eighteen Twenty Lounge, our final stop, is right by Minute Maid and a refreshing jaunt just short of a mile from Reserve 101; however, if drinking rather than walking is on your agenda at this point, call yourself an Uber. The sassy-but-classy folks at Eighteen Twenty Lounge will welcome you with a smile—and maybe even a shot from behind the broad bar adorned with copious Christmas lights. What’s even more magical than the affordable drinks and relaxing lounge atmosphere is a not-so-secret passageway to Joystix, the city’s best retro game room with tons of pinball and old-school video-game machines. On the first and last Friday nights of the month, $15 gets you unlimited games, so channel your inner 11-year-old and challenge your friends to a Pac-Man tournament before finally heading to the park.
Joanna O’Leary is a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.