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Duke of Hollywood Tailors (305 Travis) is the last tailor shop left standing in NoDo. There used to be 13 tailor shops on and around this block of Travis alone. But as time wore on, and a shopping alternative known as the mall became popular, tailor shops and haberdasheries began to go out of business. "Downtown was the shopping area. It just died over here," says Mike Shapiro, third-generation owner of the 66-year-old family business. "The mall started, and everybody left."
After 15 years of stagnant business, and watching clubs and bars move in and generate the same kind of business tailor shops had back in the day, Shapiro decided to try an if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em approach. On June 5, Shapiro reopened his place as Duke of Hollywood Tailors and Char Bar, the city's first tailor shop-bar. "It was a matter of adding what does make it down here, which is liquor sales," he explains.
Shapiro spent 11 months renovating the store to include a bar on the first floor, where a prospective suit buyer might sit down and have a rum and Coke, and a second-floor bar that's open on the weekends. He named the second-floor establishment Char Bar after his 18-year-old daughter, Charlene. Even though Shapiro says it's separate from Duke's day-to-day business, it has already enhanced the shop's profits.
"A lot of people have been buying clothing, at all hours of the night," says Shapiro, who claims to have sold custom-made shirts and suits to folks as late as 1:30 in the a.m. "The idea of retail is, if you can get 'em in, you can sell 'em. I never hustle. You don't hustle anything except what they're doing. So, if they're drinking, if they ask me, then I'll sell 'em. If they don't ask me, I don't push on 'em."
You have to admit a bar that can also serve as a clothing shop is a clever way to entice people away from the usual downtown watering holes. But Duke isn't the only spot to mix mingling with browsing. For three years now, Dean's Credit Clothing(316 Main) also has managed to sell clothes and accessories while patrons get liquored up on cosmopolitans and Grey Goose. Just like Duke of Hollywood, Dean's is a reminder of downtown's productive past. The property was the first clothing store in Houston to accept credit back in the middle part of the last century. The store shut down in the late '60s, leaving the space vacant for decades until a trio of bar vets talked the property owners into reopening the joint as a bar and boutique. (There's even a dressing room/lounge in the back.)Unlike Duke, Dean's doesn't have a staff of people constructing handmade clothing. Many of the items for sale at the bar come from local designers and vintage boutiques (like Montrose's The Way We Wore). "A lot of people don't know it's a bar until they open the door," says co-owner/bartender Toby Lister. "It makes it a fun, novel concept for a bar in this area."
But not everybody is digging the mixed-use bar premise. London-born, Houston-based fashion designer Vanessa Riley likes the concept of a "fashion cafe" but feels that nobody around these parts is doing it properly. In Europe, she says, department stores and boutiques often have separate coffee or wine bars for social purposes. "These little bars that are opening are just trying to make a little bit of, you know, a gimmick on the side," says Riley, who has done fashion shows for Spy (112 Travis) and the Gatsby (2540 University Boulevard) and whose work was featured in the windows of Dean's during its opening days. "They're just selling secondhand clothes in a bar setting. You can't sell clothes in a bar, because they smell [of] smoke." (While Dean's for-sale items hang on racks, resulting in the lingering scent of smoke in the fabric, Duke has prevented this problem by showcasing all of its merchandise in drawers and see-through closets.) Riley, who often serves complimentary champagne and wine to her clients at her River Oaks boutique, believes the combination of food and fashion should be left to the professionals.
"I would love to open a fashion cafe -- I would love it," she says. "But it would be a fashion cafe. It wouldn't be a fashion sleazy bar -- you know, with people getting drunk in it."
While high fashion may not be the top priority for Duke and Dean's, both proprietors have their reasons for staying in the business. For the owners of Dean's, it's about hipping people to the past, even while they're inebriated in the present. "You don't have to rip out history," says Lister. "You can still accomplish a fun business."
But while the guys at Dean's are paying homage to Houston's past, Shapiro and his Duke staff are just trying to survive to see another day. "I just feel like I've gotta make a living, and this is what I know how to do," says Shapiro. "I'm 49 years old -- I don't wanna change! I don't mind adding a little, but I don't wanna change."