Johnny’s Gold Brick sits on a nondescript stretch of Yale Street, in the Heights. Courtesy of Houston’s minimal zoning, the building has housed neighborhood bars for decades; the name is a nod to Billie’s Gold Brick, an icehouse that occupied the spot in the fifties.
Johnny’s opened in the spring as the latest offering from the Treadsack group (Down House and D&T Drive-In, among others) and quickly established a reputation for good music and good drinks, served in comfy surroundings. Heading up the bar programs for Treadsack is Leslie Ross, a longtime Houston bartender with a penchant for complex flavors and flamboyant presentations, which is why the cocktail menu at Johnny’s may surprise anyone familiar with Ross’s oeuvre. The list, painted on the wall of the building, consists of Tom Collinses, daiquiris, Manhattans, old-fashioneds—all classics, served in a straightforward manner, with none of Ross’s usual tricks.
However, sometimes the mood strikes, and the cocktail team comes up with something like the dazzling Lava Lamp. With enough moving parts to be thoroughly exemplary of the Ross style, the drink has a base of strawberry-and-peppercorn-infused gin, to which Ross adds a shrub-like balsamic-vinegar-and-lavender syrup that she has aged in a small whiskey barrel. She then rounds out the mix with fresh lemon juice, locally brewed Weisse Versa wheat beer, and basil seeds. The outer membranes of the basil seeds swell up to create a gelatinous effect not unlike that of tapioca pearls in bubble tea.
Despite the bar’s laid-back appeal, there is something interesting going on: it’s not a cocktail bar per se but rather a bar that offers some pretty sophisticated cocktails, a noteworthy achievement for this humble space in the Heights.
1 1/2 ounces strawberry-and-black-peppercorn-infused gin
1 ounce balsamic-vinegar-and-lavender syrup
1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 ounces Karbach Weisse Versa
1/2 teaspoon basil seeds
Combine first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice to chill. Strain onto ice in a Collins glass. Top with beer and garnish with basil seeds.