Howl at the Moon

Dueling Piano Bar > Old Auto Shop

Dean Laber is playing his guitar with his crotch. Yes, that crotch.

"I've never seen a guy play a guitar with his cock before," says Richard Weeks, an IT consultant and venerable Howl at the Moon (612 Hadley) mainstay.

Laber, Howl at the Moon's entertainment director/tongue-in-cheek rock star, has mounted his piano and begun dry-humping the fret of his guitar while the crowd enthusiastically stumbles through the chorus of Prince's "Purple Rain," a move that would make even the Artist himself proud.

Howl at the Moon Entertainment Director Dean Laber gives the crowd his best "oh" face.
Larami Culbertson
Howl at the Moon Entertainment Director Dean Laber gives the crowd his best "oh" face.
Laber dramatically decreases his guitar's resale value.
Bill Olive
Laber dramatically decreases his guitar's resale value.

Having more than 18 years experience as a performer, the affable Laber is highly skilled at instrument-to-crotch rubbery, but that alone is a small part of the show. Laber, who says, "I just want people to have a good time," is an expert at engaging the crowd, often changing a line in a song on the fly to make it more personal, and talented enough to make the crowd feel comfortable bellowing out the words to a song in a room filled with strangers.

Despite minimal promotion, Laber and his bandmates' crowd-goading antics have quickly made Howl at the Moon so popular it's advisable to get there before ten to avoid the around-the-block line. For the time being, this Midtown joint is the only dueling-piano bar in the city, though a Houston branch of Pete's, a similar bar long a fixture of Austin's Sixth Street, is slated to open next August in the new Pavilions Project downtown.

As with any respectable alcohol-­serving, live-music venue, Howl has already claimed its requisite drunk-guy story. As bartender Tanya Stauble expertly related, "One time this guy was having such a good time, he decided to go outside, drop trou and twirl his penis like a helicopter." Standard stuff, maybe, but impressive considering the bar has only been open since August 17.

Located next to the ultra-sleek Pub Fiction (2303 Smith), the former auto shop has traded its hydraulic lifts and oil-stained floors for dual bars and polished concrete. "It's good to have multiple venues on the block," offers Michael, a Pub Fiction employee who requested his last name not be used. "It draws a different dynamic down to Midtown. People love the ability to walk from one place to the next, and that's why Midtown will always be a top choice of Houston nightlife."

Given the laid-back atmosphere, engaging showmanship and signature 86-ounce buckets of booze (and ice), an evening at Howl at the Moon affords patrons ample opportunity to make asses of themselves. The premise is simple: You provide the requests (and the tips), and (as long as you tip) they play them live (did you tip?) with no prep time.

Seriously — no tip, no request. Think of Laber's crew as a jukebox, a great big jukebox that, once you put money in, tells impromptu chauvinistic jokes during the chorus of female-empowering songs and makes fun of you for misspelling Styx on your request form. A jukebox like that.

Aspiring to become a Howl at the Moon star because you're the "outgoing one" at work and can muck your way through "Stairway to Heaven"? Well, you're in luck. All you have to do is "be able to play at least three instruments and know a base of at least 500 songs," says general manager Chris Kelly. "And if you somehow manage to request a song the band doesn't know, well, we got a keyboard and the Internet in the back. They'll go back there and learn it during a break."

The crowd is about what you'd expect for a sing-song place like this: mature, relaxed and predominantly white. Also, as is the case with the live music scene, you can expect the typical cast of characters. Keep your eyes peeled for Out-of-Control Dance Lady, Slightly Overdressed for the Occasion Woman and Uncomfortably Stares Into Your Eyes and Sings at You Guy.

Out Of Control Dance Lady, by the way, was out in force on a recent Saturday, doing the exaggerated hip-hop head bang, the invisible lasso, the jerky body roll and the ever-popular crotch bump.

Looking for an upscale atmosphere similar to Howl at the Moon, but where the music is a little less karaoke? Try these on for size: hipster haven Jet Lounge (1515 Pease) — slim-fit jeans and condescending gaze not required but highly recommended; the jazzy Scott Gertner's SkyBar (3400 Montrose) — this place proclaims, "No sleeveless shirts or headgear allowed"; I don't know about you, but I can't have a good time unless I'm wearing a sleeveless shirt and headgear; or house-music hotspot Venue (719 Main) — don't forget to leave the top four buttons of your large-collar, striped dress shirt ­unbuttoned.

 
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