Nationally-acclaimed Austin bar leaks information on Houston’s big expansion
It’s possible that in 2020 no one said so City of Nickel owner Travis Tober on the pandemic: At least it doesn’t seem to have slowed him down.
The force behind East Austin’s revered watering hole not only extended to fort worth in January 2021, but also opened a new concept, Old Pal Texas Tavern, a few months later in the historic square in downtown Lockhart. This year he co-founded Lockhart’s Best Small Wines and Books — and it looks like it’s just getting started, heralding a new Nickel City coming to Houston early next year.
Scheduled to open in early 2023, the third location will convert 3,200 square feet of a 1940s warehouse with an interesting brick facade to 2910 McKinney Street. Co-owner Craig Primozich will oversee design and construction, engaging Houston-based interior design team Lizzy Bufton and Stephanie Russel of Taft Studio to guide the project.
Hailing from Buffalo, New York, Tober plans to bring the familiar “Rust Belt Chic” aesthetic to the Houston outpost, as well as the “bar within a bar” concept introduced in the bar. at Fort Worth’s not-so-secret mezcal, Bar Bagazo. Like Fort Worth’s mezcaleria, Houston’s concept will emphasize one spirit, with a rum-focused terrace bar.
Nationally acclaimed and locally beloved in Austin and Fort Worth, the original Austin location opened in 2017 in the former home of the Longbranch Inn, quickly becoming one of the nation’s top bar programs with many accolades, including Squire“America’s Best Bars”.
In an exclusive preview for CultureMap, Tober answered five quick questions about a bar that’s sure to get a lot of attention when it debuts on the street of Tiny Champions.
CultureMap: Why did you choose Houston as your next Texas outpost?
Travis Tober: For me, Houston is the best food city in the United States. It is the largest city in Texas and the top 4 in the United States. It’s kind of like New York in that if you can get there, you can get there anywhere. And it’s such a diverse city, it’s a 24-hour city, so we’re really excited to bring a new Nickel City there.
CM: What’s the same and what’s different in each location?
TT: So in Austin we have our cash-only bar, which raises money for charity. We like to feature traveling bartenders there about once or twice a month, and it all goes to charity. In Fort Worth, we wanted to be the largest agave spirit bar in the region, which we accomplished with over 250 agave spirit listings. This bar itself was based on the annual pop-ups we did in Guadalajara, so we wanted to reflect that city in this back room of Bar Bagazo. For Houston, we realized patios were our flaws, and people really love the outdoors there, whether it’s a gazillion degrees or not.
CM: Why rum?
TT: Houston is known as a great rum city: it’s one of the top cities in the US for rum drinkers, so we wanted to do something a little lighter with tropical vacation vibes – not tiki , but more tropical.
CM: What kept you going during the pandemic with all these new concepts?
TT: With bars it can be a little easier to re-develop and pivot, and it’s this idea that when the going gets tougher the hardship kicks in and the pandemic has allowed us to see where our gaps so that we can decide what to do differently and what to change. We redid our patios at both Nickels during the pandemic, and we’re excited to introduce an even bigger patio to Houston for the same reason.
CM: Last question: What are you drinking today?
TT: I’m in Chicago looking for rum bars and supply stuff for the Houston concept, so I’m drinking daiquiris.