Quiote brings a curated list of 10 special cocktails. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Quiote also has a menu of elevated snacks for noshing. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Preparing the light bites for Quiote shows this hidden speakeasy's power. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Joined behind the bar in a small makeshift kitchen is chef Madelyn Lester who deftly puts out small Mexican-style snack food. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Quiote can be found inside The Toasted Coconut. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Quiote is more than your usual Houston bar. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Quiote can sometimes draw a line. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Bartender Elena Vann oversees the specialty cocktail list with ten drinks (priced $12 to $18), which focus on Mexican-inspired tinctures made with mezcal, tequila, and agave distillates. In fact, there are more than 50 varieties available behind the bar. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Quiote is a sort of hidden Houston bar. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
More than two decades ago when the late New York City bartender Sasha Petraske opened the famed bar dubbed Milk & Honey, he — unbeknownst to many — ignited the modern speakeasy trend which would become pervasive for years to come in New York and London. And it eventually spread throughout the globe. Harkening back to the American prohibition era in the 1920s when clandestine bars popped up behind a hushed hidden entrance, you had to know someone or something (a secret code perhaps) to enter.
Back then, I traveled between those cities, excitedly reporting on this drinking trend in PaperCity. A quarter century ago, this represented a new style of craft drinks made with fresh ingredients culled from the kitchen with top shelf liquors served with custom ice cubes. All of which would eventually become commonplace, not to mention inexorably change the way we collectively look at the cocktail culture. Despite being in the tail end of this speakeasy trend, it’s still fun to wander into one, and in my opinion, the campier the setting the better.
Giving us lots of kitsch vibes is Houston’s own new-ish speakeasy Quiote, posed inside Martin and Sara Stayer’s Tiki-style restaurant The Toasted Coconut on Richmond Avenue. With Quiote 0pening at 6 pm Thursdays through Sundays, visitors are ushered past the curtained entry to the restaurant’s private dining area and led to a closed door covered with plastic fronds and faux flowers hot glued in place.
Step over the threshold and you’ll discover a dimly lit space illuminated after dark with pillar candles and fairy string lights strung in between branches hanging overhead. The cement-topped bar, poured with tiny specks of beach glass, seats just 14. On most weekends we’re told, diners and drinkers alike begin to queue up around 4:30 pm to secure one of Quiote’s coveted stools.
Bartender Elena Vann oversees the specialty cocktail list with 10 drinks (priced from $12 to $18), which focus on Mexican-inspired tinctures made with mezcal, tequila and agave distillates. In fact, there are more than 50 varieties available behind the bar. Drinks range from the classic margarita ($14) made with Arette Blanco tequila or Del Maguey Vida mezcal to the Chamboy Bien ($16) Quiote’s answer to a mango margarita with pickled fruit to La Campanita ($16) a roasted red bell pepper infusion with mole bitters, lemon, piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) spirited with the white oak aged Arette Reposado tequila. Drinks are often served in charming, thick-lipped terracotta vessels handmade by ceramist Lori Munoz who moonlights at Toasted Coconut’s sister restaurant Nobie’s.
The Quiote Food
Joined behind the bar in a small makeshift kitchen is chef Madelyn Lester who deftly puts out small Mexican-style snack foods. With a limited menu of seven items. You can nibble on raw or roasted oysters ($21), or pleasantly spicy steak tartar ($22) with dollops of avocado and olive mousse, rough-cut Marcona almonds, and a Veracruz-inspired salsa macha — a rich chile oil infused with myriad chiles, garlic and pecans for that Texas twist, served with crisp tortillas.
I enjoyed the vegetarian-friendly sweet potato tostada ($12) made with coal-roasted sweet potatoes and set atop a thin, crisp tostada sprinkled with a black bean and sesame crumble and small chunks of mild feta cheese. Not to mention the soft masa maitake taco ($12) made with braised maitake mushrooms (also known as hen of the woods), placed on a white bean puree and dotted with pickled onions.
The kampachi crudo ($14) is a don’t-miss dish. The petite-sized portion is made with farmed yellowtail topped with a persimmon mole with slivers of pickled pears and crunchy pepitas strewed atop. Service is set at a leisurely pace, as the chef and bartender both cook and serve each Quiote dinner themselves.
This is not a substitute for dinner, mind you, but Ouiote makes for a fun late-week escape or as a simple prelude for the main course elsewhere, perhaps even next door.
Quiote is located inside The Toasted Coconut at 1617 Richmond Avenue. It is open from 6 pm till “lateish” Thursdays through Sundays.