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Washington Avenue's upscale but low-key Pandora Lounge

Pandora's Box

Let's be clear about one thing: If given the opportunity, we would absolutely punch Christian Audigier in the nose.

Audigier is a French fashion designer — let that sink in for a second — and the clothing lines Affliction, Von Dutch and Ed Hardy, among others, are his brainchildren.

For most people, products from the above lines represent one of two things. They're either the embodiment of cool, a wardrobe equivalent to James Dean's hair, or absolute douchedom.

Pandora Lounge welcomes single ladies, others.
Larami Culbertson
Pandora Lounge welcomes single ladies, others.
1815 Washington

We happen to believe the latter. So it's kind of surprising that Washington Corridor's Pandora Lounge (1815 Washington), a virtual hatchery for the cartoon Japanese koi fish that signify the designer's Ed Hardy shirts, does not make us want to eat our own face. And we're not the only ones who are impressed.

"I was kind of surprised," says David Grant, a Galleria-area property manager and first-time visitor to Pandora. "You expect a place like this to be completely obnoxious."

"But I'd say it's only 60 percent obnoxious," he adds with a semi-laugh.

It's easy to see why the glitterati have flocked to Pandora since its opening 15 months ago, and continue to. At midnight one recent Saturday, the place is packed, and an hour later the line outside has yet to dissipate.

The lounge is relatively inconspicuous. A devout doorman and a few valet parkers are the only real signs there's a venue at all behind the large wooden front doors. Inside, concrete floors and a low ceiling combine with very little light, quality lounging areas and pounding house versions of radio favorites like "Love Lockdown" and "Jessie's Girl" that give the cave-like club a certain in-the-know vibe.

Pandora doesn't feel wholly velvet-roped. Most patrons don't dance, but the option is there. At one point in the evening, Amy Powel, a Red Lion Pub (2316 S. Shepherd) waitress and Children's Museum Discovery Guide, emphatically goes step for step through Beyoncé's famed "Single Ladies" dance, entirely missing the couple making out behind her. Nary an eye is rolled at either activity.

By most accounts, Pandora nights get pretty hectic. But given the crowd's makeup — 21 to 35, varied in race, likely owning at least one Now That's What I Call Music CD — it's hard to tell whether or not they're actually enjoying themselves or just posturing. Tonight, for example, a gentleman in a VIP area is positioned so a tiny overhead light is shining directly on the back of his shirt, illuminating a glittery bull/skull/whatever, and it kind of seems like he's planned it that way.

Pandora is essentially a scaled-back and better put-together version of Midtown's Zeppelin Lounge (3101 San Jacinto), which isn't that surprising considering they share the same owner. Both places have come under fire for what patrons say is unfair treatment.

Numerous user reviews on sites such as Yelp or Citysearch report some patrons have been made to wait unnecessarily to enter, or charged more than others to get in. A few of tonight's loungers agree.

"The door guys can be dicks sometimes," says one market researcher, who, understandably, requested his name not be used. "We didn't have any trouble getting in tonight, but we have before."

To be fair, though, Washington Corridor is the current "it" spot, so expect to spend some time in line unless you arrive super-early.

If you enjoy the glossy scene, Pandora should impress you. If you're not into that, though, it can feel an awful lot like the people who used to frequent Club Roxy (5351 W. Alabama) grew up, got jobs, told themselves they were sophisticated and decided it's okay to pay $20 for valet parking.

Your call.

Last Call

We are all about jumping the gun. Music fans, do this right now: Get to a computer, log onto hip-hop duo JUZCOZ's MySpace page (www.myspace.com/juzcozmusic), click the "ILuvVideoGames" track and then send us a thank-you e-mail. It is, without question, one of the catchiest songs of the year thus far — and notice there's no ominous "from Houston" qualifier attached to that claim, either.

It's slowed-down and bass-driven enough to be "Houston" without pigeonholing itself, clever without being contrite, and thoroughly infectious. If it were a woman, we'd sweet-talk it until it became our girlfriend, buy it a pony and then cheat on it four months later because we make poor long-term decisions. That's how good it is.

Lately there's been a big national push by head-hoppers such as Blu, Wale, Charles Hamilton and KiD CuDi, among others, to legitimize a younger version of alternative hip-hop. Naturally, most of these acts come from colder areas up north, which may explain why so many of the genre's artists wear scarves, but JUZCOZ appears to have added its name to the fray.

That's JUZCOZ. All caps, no spaces.

 
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