November 30th, 2010
Royal Oak Bar & Grill: Can You Keep a Secret?
In 5 Words: Patios-Galore, Whiskeys, Craft, Beer, Food... Eventually
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I have a checklist I go through when visiting any new nightlife venue.
If it’s a casual joint:
1) Will they let me wear my dingy baseball cap in the door?
2) Are the pint glasses clean and kept cold?
3) Does the DJ (highly optional) refrain from trying to make me like music I’ve never heard of?
Yeah, I know, I’m like a judgmental Choose Your Own Adventure book. Anyway, if these three requirements are met, I can usually find it in my icy heart not to loathe a place when I’m out for drinks with friends.
Now then, if it’s a “nice” place, a few of the aforementioned prerequisites still hold true, but:
1.) Is there room for me to post up in a cozy booth with a date?
2.) Are the drinks reasonably priced? ($6 for a Beam and Coke is a bit proud no matter where you are)
3.) Do they know how to make an Old Fashioned?
A lot of people may find #3 a strange bedfellow with the other questions, but it’s actually a damn fine litmus. Old Fashioneds are simple; muddle an orange, a cherry, some sugar cubes and a splash of water and bitters into a tumbler and top with ice and a good, long pour of Makers Mark or your choice of rye. Sure there are variations, but as much as you want to church up your OF, it’s still a simple libation that any “nice” bar worth its salt should be able to crank out. With its 19th century roots, the Old Fashioned was one of the first slings to kiss up to a dose of bitters, transcending its peers at the time to become one of the world’s original cocktails. From what I can tell, its age and storied background are what make the drink intimidating to most bartenders.
No, I’m not naive enough to order an Old Fashioned at Griff’s during happy hour, but if I’m not in the mood to slam $2 domestics and would prefer to slip silkily into a warm, whiskey buzz blanket while hobnobbing a bit and enjoying some good conversation, I don’t need quizzical looks from my black-tied bartender.
Royal Oak faced my scrutiny a few evenings ago and came up roses. A near 180 from its Westheimer predecessor Bartini, Royal Oak is a page right out of Don Draper’s portfolio, a note scribbled in the margins of a Brando script and a cool breeze running right up Norma Jean’s nickers. Royal Oak is the gentrified sibling of Boondock’s, a dapper fellow in a lettered cardigan, back home from college, getting away with murder.
A whiskey bar through and through, Royal Oak offers over 50 choices, with many varietals hailing from strange locales or consisting of uncommon ingredients. They take pride in these options and the barkeeps know their way around a full menu of specialty cocktails featuring the fine spirit. Even with nightly specials, the prices are stiff, with many of the choices running double-digits. However, so are the drinks themselves, so it comes out in the wash.
Royal Oak’s space is extremely deceptive with a hidden, side patio and a lot of vertical room inside. The walls, bar and much of the typical pub furniture are reminiscent of an old elk lodge and made from sturdy, polished- you guessed it- cedar. Just kidding. It’s oak. The furniture is made of oak. I kill me. Anyway, one extravagant feather in Royal Oak’s cap is their leather-bound, cushioned bar stools, complete with armrests. I hate being away from my high-backed, felt-lined, reading chair when I’m hankering to throw on my silk robe and light up a Cohiba in front of the fireplace just as much as the next guy. Indulging in a ginger julep or one of their carefully selected craft drafts in one of these babies, like the Captain Kirk of inebriation, will get you through the evening.
Black and white photographs, antler chandeliers and a bar staff that knows what kind of ice to use and when to shake or stir completes the Royal package. In the near future, an upscaled pub-grub menu will be offered, befittingly featuring steaks and the like. As a lifeline so you don’t sink too far into Royal Oak oblivion, the place rocks to the tune of many of the same sounds you’ll find at Boondock’s. A little Adam Ant with your Highball or a Black Keys Boilermaker will keep your feet on the ground while your head is in the clouds.
So, now that I’ve given my stamp of approval, I would like to personally request that you keep Royal Oak a secret, just between us, the cool kids, OK? Adding to my aforementioned list of prerequisites, I don’t like to wait in line with a bunch of cologne-soaked meat-heads, I don’t want to overhear a conversation debating the better hairstyle for Taylor Swift and I definitely don’t like having to throw ‘bows to get to the bar. Which I will. Trust me. Call me cranky or judgmental-call me what you will. I guess I’m just an old fashioned kind of guy.
Where – 1318 Westheimer, Houston, TX 77006 (Google Map)
What – Beers, Patios, Whiskey, More Patios
Wear – Accepting of All Kinds.. Only the Costumed on Halloween
Hours – Mon-Fri, 4:00pm – 2:00am Sat-Sun, 11:00am – 2:00am
Web – Twitter; Website