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Pretty Poison Girl

Montrose's hippest hangout draws bohemians and their admirers

If for some reason you're young, Houstonian and not familiar with Poison Girl (1641 Westheimer), know this: It's not a titty bar.

That's the gist of a cell-phone conversation Nightfly intended to butt in on because, as everyone knows, anytime the terms "titty" and "bar" are used in conjunction with one another, you're pretty much obligated to.

But the gentleman explaining to his girlfriend that Poison Girl isn't a strip club — a Scottish fellow by the name of Darren, we'll learn later — is only the second-most interesting person in his own party. That dubious honor belongs to Walid Mughrabi, a high-powered lawyer for Chevron who lives near the Galleria but doesn't act like it at all.

Pat Sajak welcomes you to Poison Girl's Pinball Row.
Larami Culbertson
Pat Sajak welcomes you to Poison Girl's Pinball Row.

Mughrabi says he's been soaking up Houston nightlife since the popular 50-cent drink nights at Emo's back in the early '90s. Accordingly, we ask his opinion of Poison Girl — a rather innocuous question, we assumed.

But true to his occupation, Mughrabi meanders through an unexpectedly fascinating 15-minute answer that involves a Brazilian version of Bob Dylan, the existential meaning of the impulse to squash ants and how lawyers of his guild learn to think in 15-minute intervals — a habit brought on by billing practices, apparently — to arrive at this surprisingly accurate critique:

"This seems like the kind of place where you'd meet a bunch of idiots," explains Mughrabi. "But it's not. As kids we're taught to be creative, but we lose that as we get older. This place is full of creative people: artists, journalists, musicians — real people."

For all his dramatics, Mughrabi is dead-on. At first blush, Poison Girl seems to be occupied by the type of pretentious, manufactured art-twit crowd it's okay to be proactively prejudiced against — walking toward the entrance, mind you, we spotted no less than two Mini Coopers. But in reality, it isn't.

Formerly inhabited by a grungy Lola's Depot (2327 Grant)-type crowd, Poison Girl, free of cover and dress code seven days a week, is now the Inner Loop's go-to gathering spot for (mostly) non-lame hipsters between 25 and 35.

Per husband-and-wife co-owners Scott Walcott and Miriam Carrillo, things have just progressed that way since they opened in 2004 with Scott Repass and Dawn Callaway, their partners in Heights java joint Antidote Coffee (729 Studewood).

"We didn't have a specific crowd in mind when we built [Poison Girl]," says Walcott, whom you may remember as the band booker at Rudyard's (2010 Waugh) for the better part of a decade, or from his stints as a DJ on KTRU. "But we're really proud of our crowd. We kept the neighborhood in mind when we built it, you know. We don't even advertise — things have just sorta changed throughout the years to where they are now."

And they seem to have changed in all the right places. The goofy decor that adorns the narrow space, which touches on everything from original Poison Girl artwork to ironic nude velvet paintings that mock Glamour Shots-type portraits, feels legit. Even Pat Sajak's perfect smile, found on the front of one of the bar's seven working pinball games, seems genuine.

And if PG's Chris Whitley-inspired name, Texas-centric jukebox or 130-plus different types of whiskeys aren't enough to convince you of Poison Girl's ­alternative-scene street cred, consider this: It's the home bar of DJ Ceeplus Bad Knives.

Ceeplus is a 20-year veteran of Houston's indie-art crowd and general ass-kicker. Having him co-sign your hipness card is like having Michael Dudikoff confirm your American Ninja-ness. Amid a wash of compliments the regulars had for Poison Girl, Cee's carries the most weight.

"There's a like-minded artistic and eclectic community that gathers here," offers Ceeplus, actively networking on the backyard-style patio on a busy Sunday evening. "This is the most important bar to the independent music scene in ­Houston."

That very well may be. But even if it's not, there's a gigantic model of the Kool-Aid Man situated next to an oversize (and somewhat creepy) Cabbage Patch doll tucked into the corner of the patio. Reason enough to visit, we think.

LAST CALL

Poison Girl doesn't book live music, but plenty of other places have a ton of quality shows this weekend. Out of the 20-plus shows on offer, try these: From Guts to Glory heading a four-band bill Friday at Fitzgerald's (2706 White Oak); Circle The Sky and four others Friday at Javajazz (2502 FM 1960); Taste of Garlic plus two more Saturday at Rudyard's; Necrofaith Saturday at Meridian (1503 Chartres); or Spain Colored Orange Saturday at the Continental Club (3700 Main). Happy ­hunting.

 
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