What’s in a name? Well, for the bar at 1011 McGowen, the name alone stands out: a verbose moniker both literary and literally applied. Passing through the door requires passing over a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s “Gunga Din,” and tucked into a display along the wall reside the bar’s two guests of honor: a taxidermied mongoose and cobra, poised in quarrel, a scene straight from Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.”
It’s housed in the old Auditorium Grocery, a building that popped up on McGowen in 1915 and functioned as a grocery until the early 1940s. Following that it became an auto repair shop, a printing company and a post office branch before lapsing into vacancy in the early 1980s. Now it’s Mongoose Versus Cobra, helmed by the same ownership group as 13 Celsius. It should come as no surprise that the renovation was an important step. The building’s 20-foot-high ceiling gives the room a grand feel while the exposed beams and brickwork, the reclaimed wood and black steel employed throughout, provide that “heavy and historic” vibe without crossing into the realm of “rustic.”
Along the western wall hangs the tap list, scrawled in chalk on slats. According to co-owner Mike Sammons, craft beer is the mongoose in the animalistic metaphor, the only natural predator of the “cobra” — in this instance a smattering of tired macro-brews. In the eyes of this crew, the mongoose will always emerge victorious when given the chance. At this bar, that fight is accomplished through a series of 42 taps and a hefty, ever-changing list of large format bottles, providing plenty of ales and lagers for everyone.
The tap wall also features a glowing red window, displaying a set of eight mysterious orbs: key kegs. These devices feature bags of beer inside a pressurized ball, thus dispensing the brew without allowing extra air or CO2 to make contact with the beer. In addition to the key kegs, one other feature on the tap list stands out: Fernet. Proudly proclaimed in the first spot on the list, this notable liquor is indeed featured in carbonated form.
The menu at Mongoose Versus Cobra does showcase a set of craft cocktails, as well as a more-than-adequate list of “spirits and snake oils.” There’s no chocolate-banana vodka, but rest assured the selection of poisons has plenty of options. The house drinks are old standards, re-imagined takes on classics and some adventurous and inventive newcomers like the “Roy Orbison” — a bitters-heavy creation from Shafer Hall.
To top things off, Mongoose Versus Cobra’s tonic is house-made, arriving to customers in little brown bottles. It’s a salty, slightly bitter bit of deliciousness that makes for a great drink, either mixed with spirits or as a stand-alone sidecar to a beer.
The package comes to completion with some mouth-watering selections from “the grocery.” A well-designed cheese and charcuterie program provides a host of tasty snacks, and there are plenty of small bites. The pretzel from Slow Dough, however, is a massive delight and now comes in “midnight madness” form: covered in chili, cheese and bacon. Don’t count out the bratwurst or cold-cuts either.
Mongoose Versus Cobra: 1011 McGowen, 713-650-6872
Marc Brubaker is a freelance writer.