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New North Heights Hipster Hang: Big Star Bar

Bad Motor Scooter

Why is it that whenever someone is driving around an unfamiliar area looking for an unfamiliar building, they turn the radio down? We don't understand. As far as we can surmise, there seems to be no real correlation between increased radio volume and decreased navigating capabilities.

There was this movie in the '80s starring Rutger Hauer as this blind, sword-­carrying samurai who, because he was blind, could hear really, really well. Maybe the volume/navigation relationship has something to do with that, but on a smaller scale. Or maybe not.

Either way, the first time you drive out to the Heights' newest scenester hot spot, Big Star Bar (1005 W. 19th), get ready to turn your radio down, because it's tucked away like a motherfucker.

Big Star is actually located about a mile from a bustling section of W. 19th, on the darker north end of the Heights, where the real estate teeters between housing and industrial buildings. If Houston were Monopoly, West 19th would be a non­descript property like Baltic Avenue.

The building is situated toward the back of the lot and can be easy to miss if there aren't a ton of cars parked on the street out front. The bar itself is modest in design; think a typical icehouse minus the mechanic's door. It used to be a South American bar where, per BSB co-owner Rich Prater, "you paid $20 for a beer and got a free blowjob." (Longtime Houston nightlife fixture and all-around swell guy Brad Moore is the other owner.)

Appropriately, Big Star now draws more of a hipster crowd. Local, white thirtysomethings seem to be the majority — people who know the bar's name comes from Alex Chilton and Chris Bell's legendary, if never quite famous, '70s Memphis power-pop band. These people probably have 1972's #1 Record and 1974's Radio City (the one with "September Gurls") on their iPods — iPods they carry, no doubt, in their messenger bags.

The furniture in the place is mad vintage: Within one seven-foot radius, there's an antique, cushioned rocking chair; a mosaic table complemented by issues of Playboy, Vanity Fair and Architectural Digest; a circular, red leather lounge thing; and an overhead lamp with a longhorn on it. A few random portraits of musicians add to the "It's cool 'cause it's ironic" ambience: an Aaliyah painting that's just creepy and a Tupac poster that was once mysteriously found on the floor, its glass frame shattered.

In general, Big Star's vibe radiates a studiously unkempt indifference, a logical conclusion given its decor, locale and crowd. Seasoned hipster trackers, then, shouldn't be terribly surprised to find a throng of Vespas in the parking lot.

Somehow, despite having only been open since September 24, BSB has built up some regulars, if you can call people who have been going somewhere for a week "regulars." These include the Sunday Punchers, the gnarliest scooter gang in the world (or at least the northern Heights).

Scooter gangs are like little, harmless versions of motorcycle gangs. They listen to a certain kind of music and talk with a certain kind of lingo and have lots and lots of in-your-face stickers. It's really not even accurate to call them "gangs"; "clubs" is a more appropriate term.

The Sunday Punchers — several of whom have earned nicknames like Bunker or Digit or, our personal favorite, Tic-Toc, a besuited, accented ex-New Yorker — have already made BSB their unofficial home base. Their presence alone tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Big Star.

"We only have one rule," says Sunday Puncher Charlie Walton, carrying a digital camera in a little leather pouch clipped to his belt. "'Don't Be a Douche.' We hate douche-y bars and douchiness in general. This is not a douche-y place."

Last Call

Houston Es Musica, the official Latin Grammys host committee, is beginning to build the buzz for the November 13 ceremony at Toyota Center with the Music In The Park Concert Series, four free concerts scheduled throughout this month. October 9's first show will include performances by ­Houston-based La Orquesta Salmerum and Karina Nistal. "This is the cream of the crop of Latin talent in Houston," says Nistal. "And it's free, so everyone should come out." There you have it. Get all the information you need at www.houstonesmusica.com.

 
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