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Unusual Suspects at The Usual

Trackside bar welcomes amateur karaoke stars — and everybody else

Karaoke performers make you really appreciate musicians. Most of 'em do, ­anyway.

The Saturday-night karaoke affair at The Usual (5519 Allen) features a group of friends screeching Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" from beginning to end, two girls manhandling Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" and a guy talking, not rapping, the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere." Our opinion of professional musicians skyrockets after listening to these.

But not Alex Waterhouse. Standing about 6'1", weighing maybe 210 pounds and as white as Poison's Open Up and Say... Ahh!, he's majestic. And the only thing Waterhouse makes us appreciate is his undeniable sexiness, because he is singing the crap out of Prince's "Purple Rain."

You may be taken aback by Waterhouse's song selection, and you'd be forgiven. But his reasons for picking "Purple Rain" are as critically sound as they come.

"Because Prince is the shit," says Waterhouse, when asked why he chose the Purple One's 1984 masterpiece. "And it's the best song ever," he quickly adds, thinking his initial response somehow lacked the necessary substance.

Waterhouse is one of many who've already found the month-old, still somewhat undiscovered The Usual agreeable, but he doesn't anticipate it staying that way for long. (Undiscovered, that is. Although we suppose it won't stay a month old for much longer, either.)

Located on the outer fringe of the Washington Corridor, The Usual stands in enjoyable contrast to its neighbors' pomposity. There is a) no dress code, b) no cover and c) an emphasis on beers, specialty and otherwise. This state of affairs sits well with The Usual's quickly expanding clientele.

"I hope [the bar] does well," says 22-year-old hairdresser Dina Cooper. "I'm moving from The Woodlands to the area. This is definitely a place I'd hang out in often — with a group, with a date, by myself. It's just a really chill place."

Dark brown trim and gray-tiled floors couple with subtle (but not creepy) lighting and eggplant and mocha walls to give the room a rich, cozy feel. A full bar serving more than 60 beers and fenced-in ­picnic-table patio let you know that it's okay if your hair isn't swept into a breathtaking fauxhawk. Even its location, adjacent to an operating railroad track, is a definite (if noisy) positive.

Also helping The Usual feel like a neighborhood bar for youngsters is its design. Rather than having one large communal room like booming places such as Block 21 (2420 Washington), The Usual is quartered off into five smaller, more intimate rooms.

At times, you can tell that it's owned by three first-time entrepreneurs with an average age of less than 30 — the bathroom/video game/dartboard area and Scarface-style wall of mirrors are obvious gaffes, and navigating the narrow bar when it's busy can be a bit of a hassle. But the venue is off to a promising start.

Its most impressive accomplishment, though, is that compared to other newer nightlife spots, The Usual avoids redundancy. It's not as grown-up as, say, Midtown's Community Bar (2703 Smith) — the average Usual-ian is between 25 and 35 years old.

Nor is it as ironically trendy as the Heights' stellar Big Star Bar (1005 W. 19th) — the only patrons in attendance that seemed remotely cooler-than-thou were a badass group of thin, bearded, hipster bikers who have been patrolling the area. So The Usual sits somewhere firmly in the middle, happily accommodating thirsty Houstonians regardless of social status.

Even lousy karaoke singers. And especially Alex Waterhouse.

LAST CALL
If you prefer your Valentine's Day soirees to include blood, bunnies and camping, you'll probably want to head over to The Usual for Saturday's My Bloody Bunny Camp extravaganza. MBBC is a party-throwing collective made up of parenthetical R&B misfit You(genious), Houston Press Underground Rapper of the Year Fat Tony and Devin the Dude tour mate Dee Rail.

"It's not necessarily going to be a concert," says You(genious). "It just so happens we're gonna get on and rock it. It's going to be the party of the year. Cornbreadd [rapper, Tha Fucking Transmissions front man, reality-show star and last week's Houston Press cover man] is going to be our special guest bartender, so pretty much anything canhappen."

As an added bonus, the event is free, which will surely impress any dates you decide to bring along. Move over, box of Russell Stover's chocolates and card we didn't bother to read before buying, there's a new favorite Valentine's Day gift in town.

 
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