By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
They come in from all over the city and beyond, drawn by the music, the drinks and the high-energy scene. Most are white, favor hair gel and sharp-looking clothes and want to party with people who are exactly like them.
The City of Houston is watching. Washington Avenue is a favorite spot for cop cars to lay DWI traps and for tow-truck drivers to boost their paychecks. Mayor Annise Parker thinks if handled right, Washington can avoid some of the more outrageous problems that affected Houston's last real nightclub row, the Richmond Strip.
"There is still some opportunity for some flexibility and innovation over there," she said in an interview in her office recently.
Long stretches of the road offer no crosswalks or signals, meaning those going clubbing take their lives in their hands when they dart across the street to get to the next best bar. Parker acknowledges the problem, but says a traffic study needs to be done before any decision is made about popping in new signals there. The city is even thinking about getting in on the action and opening up some parking lots out there, she said, a detour from its usual practice of staying within the downtown area.
Not all the residential neighbors are happy, complaining of late-night fights and public urination on their yards, their houses, even their pets. Restaurants are there, too. They want the business, but would, of course, prefer their customers be earlier in the evening and less likely to vomit unexpectedly.
Three Houston Press writers worked together and apart to survey the Washington Avenue scene. Assistant Music Editor Craig Hlavaty covers clubs for the Press. Freelancer Shea Serrano has written and lived Washington for the last two years in his Nightfly column and other writings for us. And fellow Mike Giglio often writes about drinking and its consequences, and had the special privilege of having his car towed while at a birthday party on Washington.
Each brings a slightly different perspective that, pieced together, gets somewhat close to the spirit that is Washington. — Margaret Downing, Editor
By Craig Hlavaty
Alison Cramer, an engineer in her mid-twenties, and her girlfriends usually don't hit Washington's bars and clubs until at least 10 p.m. most Fridays and Saturdays. When they do, they are looking for a specific kind of guy.
"Typically girls are looking for guys that will come up to them and ask to buy you and your friends a drink, but not be too forward about it," she says. "Guys need to come up and be chill. Any guy that is screaming 'Come talk to me,' or looks like he is trying too hard, we will not go for that."
Cramer and her friends are part of a growing phenomenon. Over the past two years, this formerly sleepy, taqueria-dotted stretch of road has become the Bayou City's version of Austin's Sixth Street, only devoid of stray crusty-punks scrounging for change.
Washington's main drag runs from TC Jester all the way to Houston Avenue, plus one block (give or take) to the north and south. This three-mile expanse of wine lounges, faux dives, sports bars and shadowy dance haunts hosts a teeming mass of men and women dressed in their off-the-rack best. Somehow, miraculously, everyone smells the same.
Washington's "drink-end" begins in earnest on Thursday, when the first set of car keys hits the ever-present valet's hand at Pearl Bar and the first vodka and soda — a "skinny bitch" — or hefty pint of Shiner Bock starts sweating in your left hand. It's like one of the frenetic scenes in Requiem for a Dream when the chemicals take hold, but with way more credit-card debt, Aggie class rings and smeared lip gloss.
The next two days are a whirlwind of questionable hookups, wobbly dancing to shoddy Lady Gaga remixes, hungover brunches spent peering at rapidly cooling Mexican food through blackout sunglasses and a nagging feeling that maybe, possibly, you should stop all this and go home and call your Mom.
But just as soon as that idea flies over your mind like a humanitarian aid drop, the sun is setting and the last thing you remember is telling the bartender to keep your tab open.
You wait in line to get into the bar. You wait in line to get a drink. You wait in line to piss that drink out sometime later, once you have "broken the seal." You wait in line to get your car from the valet. Don't use a valet, and you might have to wait for a cab to go get your car from one of the city's many impounds.
Long lines are an enticing cachet for many people who venture onto Washington. A line to get into a club must mean it's the place to be, right? The lines outside Ei8ht and the new kid next door, Brixx, are all the advertising both clubs would ever need.
For bar owners, a hefty queue full of sinfully disproportioned girls in leather leggings and dudes who look like off-duty UFC grapplers waiting outside to get in is essential. Then sit back and watch the taxi vans stop within feet of your entrance, disgorging customers ready to pad your wallet with Outer Loop cash.