February 16th, 2012
Hay Merchant: Highly Anticipated, Exceptionally Designed
Walking out of the bar, I run into two gents rifling through their CSA allotment, “Fennel, Spinach, and these mustard greens!” The insecure move would be to mock them, but they notice me and offer samples. Keep in mind, the last time I tried weeds from a stranger, I ended up with a Def Leppard tattoo and a brief stay in a soothing facility, but their enthusiasm was hard to resist. Besides, it was Hay Merchant’s first, official day of business, and I’d spent the past few hours surrounded by people who were just as enthusiastic about food and beer.
Before you judge it as “another circle-jerk hangout for Houston foodies and beer-nerds”… 1) Anticipation in those communities has been building for months, so the chance to finally see it brought out experts, enthusiasts and beer reps/distributors for a first look; 2) Food industry types were letting down their hair/toques having survived another Valentine’s Day shit show; 3) There’s no pretension on the part of the owners/management. They appear to be sincerely striving for the best possible presentation and service of beer while maintaining a casual environment.
To that end, there are some behind-the-bar details of note: two walk-in coolers segregate the beers to keep them at their respective ideal temperatures; there’s a pressure regulator for every tap. That’s expensive ($70K for the fittings), a little OCD, and allows for each beer to get the optimal mix. Hay Merchant boasts over a mile of tubing; 4,000 zip ties to keep things in place; and the cask engine is built into the cooler (rather than bolted onto the wall) to keep those rarities properly chilled as well.
If you’ve been to Anvil Bar & Refuge, you’ll recognize some common interior design. Reclaimed Houston artifacts might make lovers of the cocktail bar feel at home: manhole covers, bricks salvaged from first use as street paving in EaDo; old trolley rail footrests. There are also some improvements: more room and better use of the space for seating options, just to name one common complaint. Opinions will vary as to whether televisions are an improvement, but will be welcomed by fans of [your sport of choice here].
The food menu shows creativity and the desire to ensure that the beer will share the spotlight. It’s too early to give a proper review, so we’ll revisit the topic in a month or two.
Overall, the room felt more spacious than I expected. Multi-tiered, with a wooden platform that includes two dart boards — a touch that is appreciated by anyone who has had a dart hit a concrete floor — and tables of varying heights and sizes to facilitate different groups and drinking/eating agendas.
A nice addition to the Montrose neighborhood, I look forward to the bar settling in and becoming a comfortable place to hang out. Let the “anti-gentrifying”calls and “do-nothing-naysayer” hating begin.