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The Hustle

Two '70s-themed nightspots soon may compete for the same downtown boogiers

As general manager of the newly opened Have a Nice Day Cafe (544 Texas Avenue), Bill Haecker has done everything to hype the place except run butt-naked through the Galleria with a smiley face painted on his ass. As it is, he often wears a bike helmet with Have a Nice Day Cafe stickers plastered all over it. Even his Jeep is equipped with a flag sporting the club's logo, ferociously flapping in the breeze as he flies along city streets.

Not that the club -- the 19th in a national chain -- needs much hyping. Located upstairs in that urban playground Bayou Place, right next to that other campy hideaway known as BAR (534 Texas Avenue), the cafe is bloated with enough nostalgia to attract folks on its own: posters to the movies you grew up with, murals of your favorite '70s and '80s icons (oh, look, there's Gary Coleman!) and a Saturday Night Fever-inspired dance floor. For clubhopping Houstonians, it'll either be an eyesore or a sight for sore eyes. Haecker is betting on the latter. "Everything is very thoroughly thought out," says the helmet-clad Haecker. The place, he adds, is all about "inviting everyone in the city to our party."

But this new entry in the downtown nightclub sweepstakes soon many face competition from an operation that already has beamed its smiley visage on Houston, Polly Esther's (6111 Richmond). The folks at the popular Richmond Strip retro nightspot have been scouting for locations downtown, despite the fact that they knew their disco-era competitors were going to float a glitter ball in the same area. Frankly, they don't give a shit. Or at least they don't seem to. Like many southwest club proprietors, the Polly people know where the money is. They also seem to think money is no object when launching their new spot.

Have a Nice Day Cafe: The '70s-era slogan may not apply to its competition, Polly Esther's.
Monica Fuentes
Have a Nice Day Cafe: The '70s-era slogan may not apply to its competition, Polly Esther's.

"We're putting a million dollars into this club, maybe even more," says Polly Esther's managing partner Chris Rogovich. Like Have a Nice Day, Polly Esther's is a national chain of time-tripping nightclubs; in fact, it was launched three years before the Nice Day folks began opening up cafes in '94. The Houston outlet will be its 24th.

Rogovich and company are looking at a couple of locations downtown with an eye toward a spring opening. (Don't worry about the Richmond location -- it'll remain in business.) The Polly Esther's crew isn't exactly feeling the heat of competition. "Have a Nice Day is more of a bar scene with a younger crowd coming in," Rogovich believes. "We're gonna be very upscale."

Haecker has a slightly different take on the situation. He seems to think he's in an all-out war, and he even uses inflammatory rhetoric to bait his enemy. "I think I can run a better nightclub than Polly Esther's can. I'm just real arrogant that way. And we got here first, so hopefully we'll become the staple."

But just to be on the safe side, maybe he should consider that butt-naked-at-the-Galleria idea. Just a suggestion.

Last Call

Six nights out of the week, Slainte (509 Main Street) usually keeps its Celtic theme intact. But on Tuesdays the Irish pub adds a bit of contemporary flavor to its usual blarney. That's when the watering hole hosts "Industry," a no-cover affair in which business types mingle and marinate to some up-to-date techno music. Lately the evening has attracted not just the suits but also the rave kids who dig the tunes being played. "I would say [the commingling] doesn't hurt," says bartender Chris Lyden, organizer of "Industry." "The more business, the better." These cross-cultural currents certainly have produced waves that don't usually wash over an Irish bar, like sexually curious females who have been seen in serious lip-lock mode. "Yeah, that happens occasionally," says Lyden. "We're open to all types. If you wanna go, have a good time."

 
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