What’s a Nice Somm Like You Doing in a Place Like This?
Most people,when they finally receive those coveted master sommelier initials after their name, go on to oversee vast cellars in Michelin-starred restaurants. The entire wine world is open to them. So what does David Keck, M.S., sell these days? “We do a lot of bourbon,” he says, “and a ridiculous amount of Tito’s and soda. And then Lone Star. Followed by Miller Lite.”
Here’s where you picture the entire Court of Master Sommeliers shuddering in horror.
Goodnight Charlie’s, which Keck opened last year in Houston, is a honky-tonk. Sure, it’s a nice one—no flea-bitten taxidermy on the walls, no bull-riding machine tossing drunks onto the floor—but there’s live country music, plenty of dancing, and, yes, even the occasional rowdy nitwit to be dealt with. “You know, we didn’t have any fistfights at Camerata,” Keck says, referring to the Houston wine bar where he worked previously.
But what is a honky-tonk, exactly? He answers with a laugh: “That’s a very contentious question! In the 1800s, it was a place you could drink, gamble, and dance, often with prostitution involved. But that changed over the 20th century to more of a place you could drink, dance, and hang out, usually with country music.”
At Goodnight Charlie’s that means a lively, good-times vibe, with bands like Armadillo Road or Texas Joe Bailey and the Sweet Leaf Junction. The age on the dance floor ranges from 25 to 85, with every facet of Houston present. “One of my favorite things was this guy who gave us two stars on Yelp because he was pissed off that the hipsters don’t know how to two-step properly,” Keck notes.
Don’t be fooled, though: Goodnight Charlie’s is only one part of Keck’s overall plan, which he’s working on together with business partner and chef Felipe Riccio (whose inventive street tacos on the menu are impossible to resist). Montrose Cheese & Wine, a shop focusing on organic and biodynamic producers, will open a stone’s throw away in early 2019. Then will come Rosie Cannonball, a casual restaurant anchored by a wood-burning grill, and March, a 28-seat venture into Mediterranean-influenced fine dining, with a wine list Keck has been buying for since 2016.
But even at Goodnight Charlie’s, it’s not like there’s no wine. There are two Texas wines on tap, plus a rosé that Austin-based sommelier and Keck pal June Rodil makes with Markus Huber, an Austrian winemaker, plus one newly added menu item. That’s the “Rhinestone Cowboy Special”—a bottle of tête de cuvée Champagne and 12 tacos for $200.
“And tacos and Champagne is a delicious pairing,” Keck says. “Particularly when the Champagne is Krug!”
Sometimes even a dedicated honky-tonker doesn’t feel like dancing. Here are four of David Keck’s other favorite Houston bars.
“A Montrose institution with one of the best whiskey selections in Texas, plus an amazing dive atmosphere. It’s perfect for that last shot and a beer of the night.”
“If you want a cocktail in Houston, Anvil is the standard by which all others must be judged. My advice: Go on a quiet night to get a seat at the bar.”
“This cash-only bar is located in the oldest building in downtown Houston. There’s a killer jukebox, cold beer, and atmosphere for days. Plus it’s supposedly haunted.”
“Kevin Floyd’s beer selection is the best in town, with a range to satisfy folks looking for a light, easy beer as well as people looking for a serious, dorky brew to savor.”