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Valentine's Night at Ernie's on Banks

Sports Lovers

Few places are less romantic than a sports bar. If we had to guess, we'd say The Bog of Eternal Stench from Labyrinth is probably one. And that torture room in Hostel where the girl was locked in with her eye hanging out of her head — she didn't appear to be in a very romantic mood either.

But other than that, sports bars are definitely near the bottom. Which is why it's not surprising that tonight, Valentine's night, Museum District watering hole Ernie's on Banks (1010 Banks) is almost completely devoid of women.

"Well, you could find a date in here tonight," says forty­something airline pilot John Hickman. "But you're not going to find a woman. Most people took their girls somewhere nice so they could [get laid] later."

He's just about right.

EOB is split into three separate sections. The downstairs area operates more as a dive-type neighborhood haunt than a straight-up sports bar. There are a few TVs, one with a discussion on how Allen Iverson's decision to cut his cornrows is a reflection of the change signified by Barack Obama's election — because, you know, that's what Obama was going for.

No one is really paying attention, though. They're preoccupied with either the packed bar area, pool table or jukebox. Four females are here, three with their beaus.

The upstairs section, replete with its own bar, has dark gray industrial carpeting, four dartboards, another pool table and the same mismatched sports-bar decor generally distinguished by its relationship to beer. This area feels considerably sports-ier, but with an obvious neighborhood-tavern tinge. It's almost exclusively filled with dudes, save for two females, one of whom has a haircut like a dude. Discussions range from the recent Shawn Marion trade to one patron's immunity from heartburn because "my torso is long." Seems reasonable enough.

Finally, there are a couple of separate patios. The smaller one at the front is popular with smokers, while the larger one out back usually has a game of Cornhole going on. (Cornhole is a game similar to Horseshoes and unique to Ernie's.) There's also a balcony overlooking tiny Bell Park across the street. Zero females here.

According to Jennifer McKay, an Ernie's bartender of two years, it's a typical February 14 crowd. In her words, it's mostly "pissed-off ex-girlfriends andlonely guys."

Nevertheless, more often than not, you're going to find a more balanced man-to-woman ratio at Ernie's than at, say, Buffalo Wild Wings (14 Houston-area locations). And all things considered, Ernie's is more of a neighborhood bar that happens to cater to sports fans than a sports bar that happens to cater to neighborhood-bar enthusiasts.

Individually, the sections of Ernie's would probably amount to a mediocre night out, but together they offer the unique experience of a non-bastardized, non-­manufactured sports bar.

"That's one of the things I like about it," says Hickman. "It's just a good place to shoot the shit. There's a good mix of people — students, professors, oilmen, doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs."

Rice University employee Cory Owen and husband/watch specialist Kyle Owen concur, saying they come to Ernie's because, romantic holidays and 26th birthdays be damned, it's earned their loyalty.

"We started coming here after Ike because it was open the day after," says Cory. "We come regardless. We came here for [Kyle's] birthday, too. The upstairs is usually closed on Sundays, but they opened it for us for his birthday. We really like it."

With personal touches like that, maybe Ernie's isn't such a bad romantic destination after all.

LAST CALL

For a few months now, North Heights' Big Star Bar (1005 W. 19th), a new haunt built to look worn, has been the city's premiere super-cool hangout — it's got black and white checkered floors, yo. Saturday brings the chance to see Big Star's first-ever (and presumably very rare) live show featuring fantastically punky threesomes the Ka-Nives and Secret Prostitutes.

"We're really excited about it," says Big Star co-owner Brad Moore. "If you know the Ka-Nives, you know they don't do many shows. Last year they performed at Poison Girl (1641 Westheimer), which also never has bands. So we were really excited when we set this up."

As well he should be. We can't speak for Secret Prostitutes, but the Ka-Nives, in our opinion, are one of the city's most vital nonrenewable resources of ironic style and bluster. Just cross, cross, cross your fingers you don't get moshed into thefire pit.

 
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