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Irie Time at Club Riddims

Who or what the hell is Irie, anyway?

Jamaican Rum Punch is magic. Real talk.

The Caribbean concoction of Overproof rum, grenadine and various fruit juices is an $8 crowd favorite at Club Riddims (8220 W. Bellfort) and has magically transformed the mostly shy and typically wall-flowered University of Houston Education major Nicolette Llerenas, 25, into the greatest reggae dancer in the history of the known universe.

"Normally I'm pretty reserved, but two of these and you can't stop me from dancing," says Llerenas, holding up one of the potent beverages.

Llerenas is one of many dancers inside the shopping-strip nightclub enjoying DJ Goldfinga's flawless transitions from reggae to soca [the Trinidad-spawned contraction of "soul calypso"] to dancehall to hip-hop and back again. There's just enough seating to make sure the dance floor stays full — unless you make the totally lame mistake of arriving before midnight. Then there's plenty of seating.

There also appears to be dancing in the guarded VIP room, currently occupied by Houston Texan Morlon Greenwood and friends. The seventh-year linebacker, a 2008 selection to USA Today's "All-Joe" team — and native Jamaican — doesn't appear to be taking the playoff-less end to the Texans' season too hard.

Open since 1998, Riddims has seen some of reggae's most influential figures, including Gregory Isaacs, Freddie McGregor and Junior Reid, pass through its doors. Many of them, like noted Rastafarians Master P and Lil Keke, have been immortalized in the portraits on the club's walls.

"Master P and Lil Keke are actually painted up there because they played here when they started out. A lot of Houston artists have played here," says Riddims founder and owner Father Owen, himself a Jamaican transplant. "Carlos [Coy, better known as South Park Mexican] from Dope House Records used to hang around outside and sell mixtapes, back when they were actually on tape. He got his start here."

You know a place has been around a long time when someone used to sling actual cassette tapes out front.

Now a 16-year veteran of the nightclub business, Father Owen came to Houston in 1990. He's likeable enough in his own right, but his Caribbean accent makes everything he says sound tropical and near-prophetic. Even the way Owen introduces himself bears repeating: fa-DAH ow-EN.

The crowd in the 18-and-up establishment is actually more eclectic than one might imagine. There are tall black people, short black people, skinny black people, fat black people, black people with short hair, black people with long hair and the oc­casional nonblack customer who was talked into going by his or her black friends. And all of them seem to be having a smash-up time.

The club itself, with a large black-and-white checkered dance floor and stage, projection and flat-panel TVs, mirrored walls and a VIP room attached to one of the dual bars, is stylistically less than spectacular, even, when compared to newer Houston dance clubs like Level (412 Main) or Venue (719 Main), slightly tacky. But you can't argue with success, and Club Riddims is best where it applies its efforts most: the music.

"This is the only true reggae club in Houston," asserts ow-EN. "Reggae is No. 1 here. Other places may play some reggae every once in a while, but when it comes to the state or anything with the city, this is where everything reggae comes."

More than a few patrons echo this sentiment, but daytime teacher and Riddims regular Nicole Savory sums it up best as the "ideal fusion of soca, calypso, reggae and hip-hop."

Those who love reggae and colorful drinks, preferably both, owe it to themselves to pay Riddims a visit. Cheapskates can wait until May, when Riddims celebrates its tenth anniversary with a cover-free customer appreciation night.

Last Call

Don't front: You've practiced a specific dance to a specific song before, only to bounce around in the club like a buffoon helplessly hoping the next song is the one you practiced at home. Well no longer, my friend. This week Nightfly enlisted the help of Houston's "No. 1 Street DJ," KPFT spinner DJ Chill, www.djchill.com, for some tips on how to convince any DJ to play your request so you can rock everyone's face off with your completely spontaneous, never-been-rehearsed moves.

1. Don't ask for obnoxious shit. More to the point, don't be obnoxious.

2. Don't come empty-handed — DJs get thirsty too.

3. Send an attractive woman to do your bidding, unless you're in Montrose. Then all bets are off.

Try your luck at these popular DJ venues: Nite Moves (921 FM 1960) — Three clubs in one and a $5 cover (and a Bob Seger reference) means it must be good; Red Star (2606 Fannin) — Top 40 mixes and bribable DJs; Grasshopper (506 Main) — Reggaeton to disco playing on two separate floors doubles your chance of success.

 
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