Wild on Washington

The three-mile stretch of avenue is Houston's place to be if you're young, white, single and ready to party. At least for now.

Cramer, though, is perplexed as to why people would queue up to drink. "If I see a line at a bar, I will not go in," she says. "I have no clue why people would want to wait in line. But it's typically guys in line. Somehow the girls just get let in ahead of the line. Makes sense, wearing those short skirts."

Most places, the wait at the bar feels as long as the line to get in. To compensate, you need to pack in as much of a blast as you can. A simple mixed drink or bottle of beer may become two. Double-fisting amounts to a terrorist attack on your liver, with shots acting as IEDs. The next thing you know, you are staggering down the street with yet another button undone and heavy-lidded eyes scanning for your car.

Taps House of Beers, on the same block as Ei8ht and Brixx, offers endless 100-ounce tubes of beer. Any weekend evening, overgrown test tubes full of amber-colored booze sit on the tables. It's mostly guys who brave these beer towers. Call it a low-rent, aboriginal rite of passage in an age when true accomplishment is beating a level of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 or jailbreaking your iPhone.

Pearl Bar is the veritable ground zero of the Washington Avenue drinking scene. Inside on the dance floor, the DJ spins everyone's favorite '80s and '90s dance tracks...
Son Lam
Pearl Bar is the veritable ground zero of the Washington Avenue drinking scene. Inside on the dance floor, the DJ spins everyone's favorite '80s and '90s dance tracks...
...while outside it's beer pong forever.
Son Lam
...while outside it's beer pong forever.

Lauren owns The Wave, Houston's only "jitney" service. The two-bus operation sets sail from a parking lot off Memorial, making its way up and down Washington from 6 p.m. until 3 a.m. The buses pick up drinkers from curbs outside the bars and deposit them at other drinkeries on their route. Each is modern and about half the size of a Metro bus, decked out with a plasma screen and music ranging from the newest Jay-Z jam to stray Kings of Leon remixes.

Eight bucks gets you a wristband and a whole night of rides; five gets a one-way trip from Bar A to Bar B. It's an ingenious idea and a boon for bars set farther out from the pack, such as Sawyer Park and Darkhorse Tavern. Some have begun cutting deals to folks sporting a Wave wristband.

"You can make money riding The Wave now," says Lauren, who asked that her last name not be used. "Most of the bars and restaurants are giving out small discounts to encourage people to ride."

The Wave's bumpy ride can play hell with a liquor-lined stomach. But as an alternative to flashing police lights and a night in the drunk tank, we'll take bubble-guts any day. The Wave recently started a "Sunday Funday" route for drinkers who remember the Sabbath and keep it wobbly.

Lauren has lofty plans for The Wave that will take her business into Houston's other heavy-drinking areas; the Washington route already skirts the upper end of nearby Midtown. She says she already owns the domain names for Montrose, Upper Kirby, the Galleria area and even Katy and the suburbs.

"The good thing about not being a big company is that if I see a need, I can fill it."

For some reason, the endless game of tag between the sexes seems more intense on Washington Avenue than in other parts of Houston, and the flirting isn't so subtle. If the kids on Westheimer are living out some sort of boho hipster fantasy written by Diablo Cody and scored by Animal Collective, Washington's mating rituals come straight from the Katherine Heigl/Matthew McConaughey Romantic Comedy Handbook.

A night out will have all the requisite errant smiles, tired lines, broken heels, delightful misunderstandings and phony earnest conversation you will ever need. Count on seeing a wacky, ugly-duckling best friend making witty asides out of thinly veiled jealousy.

The boys and girls don't change, only their wardrobe does. One of Cramer's male friends has his own approach to winning over the opposite sex.

"One of my guy friends will try to start a hula-hoop contest with the hoops they have in the backyard at Pearl Bar," she explains. "His big pickup line will be him picking out a hot girl he wants to talk to and roping her in with him."

It usually works, she swears.

Maybe the imaginary biological clock ticking on the marquee of Max's Wine Dive helps spur the well-scrubbed, educated Washington crowd to restart the circle of life. It does paint, hilariously, the outsider's view of sexual tension on the avenue.

Midtown's bar scene was once as hypersexual as Washington's, but now caters to a more mature crowd. The Westheimer scene is way more intermingled and incestuous than either of the other two; most of those people have all grown up together in the music or art communities. But on Washington, a steady influx of fresh meat heads in from far-flung Outer Loop locales every weekend. It's a sort of "doucheoisie" for the new decade.

Even some business owners complain about the "dragon-shirted" hordes gumming up their works. The Washington Avenue Drinkery has an informal ban on the garish Ed Hardy and Affliction shirts that were so prevalent a year ago. Instead, bar owners up and down the way got smart and hired these juiced-and-tanned male specimens as bouncers or bartenders.

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