Tuesday, April 16, 2024 Apr 16, 2024
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Bar Review: Bowen House

The cocktail menu at this Uptown haunt changes with the customers.

I was perched on a big white chair at the bar in Bowen House, trying to figure out how to describe the place. I eyed the plush seating, a chandelier that looked like dripping icicles, and walls lined with black-and-white photos. A high-set shelf full of perfectly arranged gewgaws wound around the perimeter of the room. Behind the sleek, black bar sat a backlit countertop stacked with glowing bottles of booze. Bowen House was stylish, but it seemed impersonal, a little too perfect.

I smiled at the bartender, a slim woman wearing a magenta racerback tank top. “Can I get a drink menu?”

Erikah pointed to a chalkboard hanging beneath a stone-faced cherub. Listed were a couple of cocktails, two infusions, and very little description. Caught off guard by the lack of a “real” menu, I gave her a blank look.

“What do you like to drink?” she asked patiently.

I stammered out that I like fruit, so Erikah whipped up a delicious mix of wild berry-infused gin, champagne, and citrus. For my bearded friend, she recommended The Root of All Evil, a cross between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned.

“We work with you to make a drink you really like,” Erikah explained. “It takes time. Generally, the people who get annoyed are the ones waiting for vodka tonics.”

As she labored over our personalized cocktails, I asked her how she’d describe this picture-perfect bar.

“Well,” she said, “it’s haunted.”

I hadn’t noticed a ghost, but I was aware that the place is old enough to be a recorded Texas Historic Landmark. The marker, located on the bustling patio, says that the house was built around 1874 for a farmer named Ahab Bowen. (More recently, it was a vintage clothing store.) The old house was filling up fast: couples, awkward first dates, and as much hair gel as you’d expect in an Uptown bar. Behind us, a group of blondes burst out laughing.

“When I drink, I pass out or get crazy,” one of them said.

I sauntered over and said it sounded like they were having fun.

“The situation is stellar,” said the lean blonde to my right, pointing at a bottle of champagne.

“Though the drinks take a little long.”

“I don’t even know what I’m drinking,” giggled the blonde to my left. (Her drink looked like The Fancy, a lavender-and-vodka cocktail, though the ingredients can vary.)

Back at the bar, my bearded friend was considering another round.

“Featured cocktails change every week, but people still order The Astoria,” Erikah told us. “And that’s been off the menu for weeks.”

“As in Astoria, Queens?” asked my Queens-born companion.

Erikah told him that she moved from Astoria a few months ago. Then she whipped up the namesake drink: a frothy pink mix of vodka, rosemary, strawberry, lemon, and egg whites, poured over what looked like a stalagmite. He slurped it up in record time.

A few minutes later, three young women sidled up to the bar and blinked when Erikah asked for their drink preferences. After some soul-searching and figurative teeth-pulling, she managed to craft three beautiful beverages. As the ladies walked away, I took another look around the catalog-perfect bar with its pretty patrons, each with a unique drink in hand.

“By the way,” I said, catching Erikah before she dashed off to concoct another cocktail for some stammering customer, “how do you know there’s a ghost here?”

“Oh, it’s Mary Bowen. She likes to turn the lights off on us at night.”


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