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Home Is Where the House Is

High-toned bars and hotels are sounding more and more like nightclubs these days

A young woman -- blond, perky and slightly inebriated -- walks over to the DJ. She flirtatiously asks the spinner if he can play Sade's "King of Sorrow." "I'd kill to hear that one -- please, please, please!" she purrs. The DJ tells her that he may not have the song in his crates tonight. The blond pouts in disappointment, but soon suggests with the same enthusiasm she had for "Sorrow" that he play "By Your Side," another Sade confection. He gives her the ol' well-let's-see-what-happens spiel as she sits back down to her table of equally sloshed friends. Some 15 minutes later "King of Sorrow" oozes like honey out of the speakers -- son of a bitch, he did have it after all. That mercilessly cool beat and that woman's creamy, dreamy voice float over the room. Surely the tipsy blond will be delighted. Hardly. "I wanted to hear 'By Your Side,' " she gripes.

This is what DJ Sun has to deal with now on Wednesday nights. It seems that the omnipresent, workaholic local spin master (also known as Andre Sam-Sin) is now providing background music for the folks at Ling and Javier(2525 West Loop South) on Wednesday nights. Ling and Javier is the snazzy Cuban/Chinese restaurant and bar inside the newly launched Hotel Derek (see "Supermodel Cuisine," by Robb Walsh, February 7), which has to be the most cash-reeking hotel ever to open in a city not known for humility. It's the kind of place where you're afraid to let one go on one of the couches for fear the management will force you to buy the furniture you flatulently desecrated.

But back to Ling and Javier. Dropping a DJ in the middle of the dining action isn't a revolutionary thing for the owners. The Connecticut-based company CB5 has recruited turntablists to play what general manager Reggie Parks describes as "very blowsy, trip-hop, French house music" at their hotel-restaurants across the country. Here, in addition to DJ Sun, the eatery has enlisted the services of Steve Mok, Brad Thompson and Tanya "Soul Free" Pelt. While Parks declares that Ling and Javier is a restaurant first and bar/nightspot second, having these cut-creators come in and play the right music for the customers is vital. Says Parks: "It becomes part of the restaurant, part of what makes the experience."

As for DJ Sun providing some subtle lounge grooves to an audience who may not be hip to his patented brand of acid jazz, you won't hear him complaining anytime soon. "I really enjoy spinning here, because I can kick back and play whatever I'm into," says Sun.

While Ling and Javier has its own chill-out crew helping tired but chic nine-to-fivers get in touch with their inner lush, a similar deal is going on at another expensive living compound across town. The Ricebar (909 Texas) has always relied heavily on the unbearable hipness of DJs. Last year, when Jeffrey Yarbrough bought space as a companion watering hole for his nearby Liberty Noodles, general manager Raul Herrera hit the bricks in search of decknicians. "The idea behind the Ricebar with the DJs is somebody that can play some house music, relaxing music," explains Herrera. "It's not a dance place. It's more like a hangout with jazzy-type deep house music, and we got good local DJs to take care of that."

Herrera first recruited Champa Moore to teach "Class" on Thursday nights. Lushus Brown was then drafted to provide "Liberation" on Wednesdays. And just a couple of weeks ago, Brotha Jibril began playing his mixes on Friday and Saturday nights. Jibril (né Gabriel DeLun) couldn't be more ecstatic about the as-yet-untitled gigs. "I'm grateful for the guys like Raul who were open-minded enough to allow a majority of the deep electronic-music DJs in Houston to express themselves." So, have there been any requests? "Somebody did ask for Elvis Crespo," he recalls, barely holding in the laughter. "I told him I did not play that."

Much like the pretty little patrons over at Ling and Javier, the folks who inhabit the Ricebar find the music anything but an intrusion. And that's the point. The DJs are there not to star but to accentuate the sublimely dry vibe at these swanky venues tucked inside these spiffy shelters, to give the patrons a nice and smooth soundtrack with which to knock back a dry and dirty Skyy martini or six. And the DJs are cool with not being the center of attention for a change. As Sun says of his new gig, "I don't wanna be intrusive -- I just wanna play the music for them."

Last Call

There are two compelling reasons to visit Cafe Compliqé (1525 Westheimer) on a Friday night. First, they serve this dish called Paradise Soup, which is downright astounding. They get this big-ass ball of bread (they call it a bread bowl), cut open the top, scoop out the insides and ladle in a few dollops of chicken vegetable soup. But here's the best part: If you eat the soup with a fork and let the ball soak up the broth, then you can eat the ball when you're done. Now that is beautiful! Oh, yeah, and the second reason is the pairing of Chicken George and Melodic as the resident DJs for the night. Says Chicken George: "Basically what we want to do is for them to come with an open mind and leave full -- spiritually, musically and, of course, a lot of it, food and everything. You know what I mean?" But seriously, you must try the soup. You can eat the dish the soup comes in -- where the hell else you gonna find that, huh?

 
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