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An abstract painting of a woman hangs in the downstairs section of the Red Room Lounge (2736 Virginia), currently River Oaks's trendiest nightspot. This seems wildly appropriate.
Abstractionism sounds like it should be really contemptuous and awful. Basically, somebody cobbles some shapes and colors together and names it something like Meandering Womb, then people look at it until they decide that it reminds them of Africa or their dead dad. (Technically, this is not the definition of abstractionism, but famous anti-abstractionist George Berkeley would no doubt agree with the premise.)
Maybe we just don't own enough turtlenecks to fully comprehend it, but the whole "it represents what you want it to represent" slant feels more lazy than insightful. About the only idea more ridiculous might be opening a posh nightlife hangout in one of the city's poshest neighborhoods.
To this point, nightlife in River Oaks has been identified by purposely non-glimmery places like Marfreless (2006 Peden) or the Red Lion (2316 S. Shepherd). This may well be because if you add the reputation River Oaks folks have for being exclusive to an overtly showy venue, the universe would tilt permanently out of whack.
And the two-month-old Red Room does look pretty showy.
On this night, sitting in the open courtyard in front of the actual entrance, there's a clear view of a Bentley and a Ferrari blatantly parked near the club's gateway. A tall guy in a snazzy blazer has his thick brunet hair cut exactly like the guy in No Country for Old Men, which is the kind of preposterous thing rich people on TV and in the movies do all the time. And a dignified Aussie doorman stands ready to turn away anybody he damn well pleases.
But after you've spent a bit of time inside the venue, two things are clear.
First, even with little advertising, Red Room is already a very popular late-night stop. It is jumping.
"We're already to the point now that if you get here after 10 or 10:30, you can expect to wait in line for half an hour," says the venue's publicist, Kristin Cannon.
Second, the universe is totally safe, because the amount of discernible smarm is lower than anticipated.
The weathered building that houses Red Room also serves as a co-op antiques mall, which helps give the venue the type of likeable, weathered charm that typically doesn't mature until a bar has been around for a bit. That's part of the reason more people aren't gaga over Velvet Lounge (5535 Memorial), an otherwise enjoyable River Oaks bar that suffers the unfortunate burden of being located in a strip center.
"What's made me come back a second and third time was the fact this is a place for a more sophisticated, upper-class crowd," says Miguel Grillo, a 34-year-old sales engineer.
Inside, Red Room is split into two areas. Downstairs is a small, very free-flowing alcove where ceilings are low, the seating is tight and the talk is calm. There is a rich, cigar-bar feel to the room. This is where the abstract woman lives, and if you catch her gaze she will be all you notice here. But it's a nice little retreat room.
Upstairs is more rambunctious, with the vibe inching toward dance club-ish as the evening progresses. The decor is a little more ornate and classy than at your typical club; there's even a showcasing of fancy watches provided by one of the co-op owners from the antiques mall below.
But the dominant pictures up here are portraits of characters like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. The message is pretty clear: Red Room caters to the older, upper-class clientele that the current Washington Avenue crowd hopes to grow up and become.
But here's where it all comes together. These pictures of movie stars aren't any different from the abstract painting of the woman downstairs with the red underarms. They're abstract too, just in a different, less obvious way.
Somebody in Red Room right now thinks the place is terrible. Somebody else thinks it's amazing. Somebody thinks it's just okay.
We're all abstractionists. George Berkeley was a moron.
That doorman mentioned briefly above – his name is Dan Green, and we first saw him in action at Reign Lounge (4105 Washington) a couple of months ago. His ability to deny you entrance into a club while making you feel completely at ease about the situation is remarkable. Up until recently, Louis Cavazos, who worked the door at Citizen Lounge (4606 Washington) when we last saw him, was the best we had seen in person. But Green is like a Jedi or something. Imagine telling your girlfriend you cheated on her with her sister the same day you forgot to take the trash to the curb. Then imagine, instead of getting mad at you, she buys you an Xbox 360. We're certain that's happened to this guy at least twice. It's almost worth getting turned away by him just for the mind-meld.