A group of rowdy 20-somethings gathered around the bar, all donning some version of El Tri’s futbol jersey, and all trying to load up on tequila shots before heading into the Alamodome to watch Mexico take on South Korea last week.
In a smart pre-party move, these soccer fans chose Tucker’s Kozy Korner as the spot to knock a few back before hoofing it to the ’dome. Once they were on their merry way, what was left was a smattering of regulars chomping burgers, nursing beers and relaxing in the East Side institution. But changes are slowly coming to the neighborhood bar.
As announced in December, Chris Cullum, of Attaboy’s Burgers and the late Bunsen Burgers, has taken over ownership of the establishment from former proprietor Greg Bickerstaff, who ran the bar some four years. Still, don’t hold your breath on when you’ll be able to score a Sazerac from the ‘tenders at Tucker’s.
Now on his second brick-and mortar, the son of Jim Cullum (who ran The Landing downtown in addition to his well-known music career) is still mastering the finer points of business ownership. “I’ve learned more and more that my father’s right and you have to drop the pretentiousness in order to get a solid product,” he said.
This includes providing necessary changes to the storied building before going all Cocktail and Dreams. Cullum and his team (which is still being assembled) are currently implementing fixes such as redoing the outdoor bar, leveling the patio and cleaning out the gutters. In the meantime, changes to the inside are trickling in so patrons will have to wait a few weeks, maybe even months (gasp) to sip a house-infused concoction, or the occasional julep.
As the bar keeps cranking out cold beers and unfussy mixed drinks, the tunes and the eats are getting the most attention. For starters, Cullum purchased a 1977 see-through jukebox, which will be curated by DJ JJ Lopez to include jazz, blues and soul music.
“We’re trying to beef up the jazz nights and work closely with the DJs so there’s more thought to what goes on,” Cullum said, while mentioning a complete redesign of the sound system and the continuance of DJ residencies on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Once operations are in check and manager Lindsay Glassford has a handle on running the joint, Cullum will send her to stage (or intern) at The Brooklynite to learn basic classic cocktail making. The cocktail menu won’t be super extensive, but folks can expect to see a collection of punches, fizzes and swizzles including a Ramos Gin Fizz that Cullum remembers from his time at The Landing.
“Everyone wants the cocktails now, but I’m not going to give you something that’s not ready,” Cullum said.
As a restaurateur, Cullum promises to provide what he’s calling South Soul food. Again, the menu is in flux as he and his cooks test out South and West Texas recipes that hail from his grandmother and grandfather. “Everything we do is going to be Southern-based at Tucker’s,” Cullum said of the menu, which included cognac-grape soda braised pork sliders this past Wednesday night. The sliders were served on homemade bread, with pickles and a side of greens and beans with ham hock. “I didn’t grow the lettuce,” Cullum joked.
Another addition patrons can find is gospel brunch on Sundays with several menu items including Benedict East, butter eggs and bacon, and biscuits and gravy. Paired with bottomless mimosas and a kinky Bloody Mary bar (complete with smoked oysters, caper berries and a variety of salts), it’s a praise-worthy concept.
“This place will always be a bar first, and we’re trying to figure out where we’re going with the menu while keeping it Southern,” Cullum said. Still, as the tweaks keep coming, and as the party keeps rolling (I’m looking at you futbol fans), maybe there’s something to be said for keeping a good thing going.
Tucker’s Kozy Korner
1338 E Houston