When my editor requested that I take the opportunity to go try Reserve 101’s new summer cocktail menu and write about it for LOCAL, I was excited and flattered, until I saw that Reserve 101 was considered a whiskey bar. As a 21-year-old sorority girl who generally favors eight dollar Trader Joe’s rosé or the ever-stereotypical vodka cranberry, I instantly felt uncomfortable, presuming Reserve 101 to be woody, darkly lit, filled with businessmen, and only serve whiskey, with or without ice, in a glass.
Therefore, to arm myself against whatever I thought I was going to find, I brought along my boyfriend who, although he isn’t a huge whiskey drinker, knew a little bit more than me.
Finding Reserve 101 is easy; it’s located right across from the House of Blues downtown. With nothing super flashy on the outside, I still expected to find the traditional boys club atmosphere within Reserve 101. However, I was surprised to walk into a well-lit, industrial local watering hole. On an early Friday afternoon, there were a few businessmen as expected, but they weren’t the stuffy types I had anticipated.
After asking for Mike Raymond, one of the owners I’d be interviewing, we were led to a back room that had a larger sitting area, just as well lit as the front, that Mike later explains is used for tastings, parties or just extra seating during busier hours.
I introduce myself as well as my drinking tendencies and explain my presumptions about Reserve 101 and Mike shrugs his shoulders, “This is exactly what Reserve 101 is trying to be, you know. Not your father’s whiskey bar. Houston is laid back, so we wanted to be laid back. You can come here for a unique whiskey experience, or for a glass of rose.” He hands me their thorough menu, and points out their wine list.
Once the first cocktail comes out, I instantly feel more at home as the drink is entitled “Shut Up Becky”. It’s a mix of tequila, mezcal, Chareau, coconut cucumber water, lime juice, and topped with white wine. It has the make up of all the things that are traditionally seen as “feminine”, in an attractive glass, but also with a sophisticated taste. Mike explains that in Reserve 101’s attempts at being approachable with wine, also wants to be approachable with cocktails. “We want to have something for everyone, because yes, we do specialize in whiskey, but we also want to have options for every person who comes through the door.”
Once we start getting to the nitty gritty of whiskey and cocktails at Reserve 101, I realize that I know basically nothing about whiskey, what makes each one different, what drives prices, etc. Then I realize after asking a few questions that Mike is an expert on whiskey, how to make whiskey, and to my surprise, the complete history of whiskey. As we delve into this subject, the bartender bring out drinks called Rosemary’s Baby, with bourbon, honey apricot rosemary cordial, and lemon juice, the For Peat’s Sake, with jura superstition, crème d’mure, honey syrup, sage, and lemon, and a New York Sour, which is basically a whiskey sour with red wine. Not surprisingly, the New York Sour with its red wine sealed the deal for me concerning if I liked whiskey cocktails or not – answer, I do.
Finally, Mike presented with the most interesting looking cocktail I had ever seen, with the name Part of a Balanced Breakfast. With scotch, Gifford banana, turbinado topped with Captain Crunch Berry infused milk and dried bananas and Captain crunch berry pieces on top, it was truly something I had never seen before. Milky and slightly yellow (like fake banana snow cone yellow), topped with cereal, I was hesitant to take a sip as I proclaimed to Mike “I don’t really like dairy in alcoholic drinks,” and he wrinkled his brow and me and asked, “Why not?” and I honestly couldn’t really tell him. So, I took a sip of the drink. One of the weirdest drinks I’ve ever had, and it ended up being my favorite drink we sampled.
If you haven’t made your way downtown to try Reserve 101 out of fear of a fireplace and old men smoking cigars, don’t let that stop you. There is something for everyone, the casual Houstonian vibe that your favorite neighborhood bar has as well as the top dollar whiskey, inventive drinks, and knowledgeable staff that will help you make the right decision for you – whiskey or not.