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.

"Typically, girls aren't even fans of those Ed Hardy bling-bling shirts," laughs Cramer.

With all the glitter, skin, glorious cleavage and hair to the sky, the lines outside some hot spots look like some sort of eerie mash-up of a Hollywood movie premiere and MTV's The Hills. Dimly lit booths and bars lend an extra-shadowy vibe to even the most inane conversation. A woman could be waxing intellectual about the wicked canker she got after eating at some suspect sushi place the night before, but sitting in a leather-appointed booth surrounded by Moroccan fixtures, she might as well be the Queen of Sheba.

Most guys, meanwhile, lurk in the corners, nursing Bud Lights in near-silence pierced by brief flashes of hangdog lust when a Taylor Swift lookalike passes their party. They aren't quite bloodless yuppies like Wall Street's Gordon Gekko, nor are they psychotic on the levels of Bret Easton Ellis's Patrick Bateman or Timothy Busfield in thirtysomething. These boys are all full of GNC supplements and sport the same shaved arms and upper-body type. They even look like they all go to the same barber.

Entering the Drake is like walking onto the set of a Justin Timberlake video, just way more Anglo, if that's somehow possible.
Son Lam
Entering the Drake is like walking onto the set of a Justin Timberlake video, just way more Anglo, if that's somehow possible.
Think of Rebels Honky Tonk as a safe and sanitized Washington version of the late Pasadena staple Gilley's, with hundreds of suburban cowboys trying to drunkenly two-step and hit on the scantily clad bartenders and beer tub attendants.
Son Lam
Think of Rebels Honky Tonk as a safe and sanitized Washington version of the late Pasadena staple Gilley's, with hundreds of suburban cowboys trying to drunkenly two-step and hit on the scantily clad bartenders and beer tub attendants.

In a city that prides itself on queer milestones such as a newly elected lesbian mayor and a vibrant scene of gay artists and activists, none of that progressiveness surfaces on Washington. There certainly should be a market for gays and lesbians to party in an upscale setting, but how would the avenue's current throngs react? Would there be mass gawking and mild violence, or would everyone coexist as a happy, boozy family?

Most Houstonians look at Washington as a destination for Outer Loopers hoping to live out a club-life fantasy. For suburbanites, the bottle service, flashing lights, valets, dress codes, long lines and discriminating bouncers are more inviting than off-putting.

For a seasoned Inner Looper, though, one step into Blue Label Lounge or Reign is enough to beat a hasty retreat to Domy Books. The seizure-inducing lighting, random Asian businessmen, pukey-faced girls, fire-breathing bartenders, dancing lingerie models and bachelorette parties chugging bottles of Grey Goose give these clubs a larger-than-life cartoon quality that beats anything on an MTV reality show.

Some Washington bars cater to those people who, mentally, have yet to leave college life. Most of them still sport their class rings like some sort of signal to fellow Aggies, Longhorns or Red Raiders. Most bars have several distractions on hand to goad drinkers into competition: Video games, trivia, beanbag toss, shuffleboard, flip cup and, most definitely, foosball. Smarter places, geared more toward getting their customers laid, remove all the excess tools of macho posturing and replace them with cigarette machines or an Internet jukebox.

Westheimer's Poison Girl is busy most every night, as is Big Star Bar in the Heights, Cecil's off West Gray and Community Bar on Milam. But unlike Montrose or Midtown, Washington is very much an operation built for folks who take their weekends by the throat but spend the rest of the week away from the sauce.

Eric Dean has worked at Walter's on Washington for the past year, booking shows, working security and helping behind the bar. Before that he worked at other local bars including another Westheimer redoubt, Boondocks.

"Montrose drinkers have turned pro. The Washington drinkers are like amateurs compared to them," offers Dean. "Montrose kids know where to drink cheap and spread their money out over seven days, so they can stay hammered any day of the week when they want to be. The Washington drinkers may only have enough money to do it once a week with all the bars' inflated prices."

Besides disposable income, Washington's boozers are strapped to the gills with ego and fragile self-images. Today Walter's is a complete anachronism, catering to indie-rockers, hardcore kids and various strains of metalheads. Because the crowd at the bars around it has changed, but the one at Walter's has not, the bar (and especially its parking lot) has become a breeding ground for brawls.

Across the way at The Lot, for example, the Red Bull and Jäger shots flow freely while a trio doles out sensitive acoustic Pearl Jam covers. More often than not, fights occur when drunken newbies used to not paying a cover charge stumble across the street, play too rough and run afoul of regulars or staff. Dean describes Walter's nightly problems with a marked weariness.

"A group of dude-bros will skip to the front of the line and tell me that they are just drinking and don't have to pay a cover," he sighs. "But these bands get paid on door attendance. Since we don't have a police presence, most guys think they can come in here and act unruly.

"They see our crowd and assume that they can rough up some of these guys. But they don't understand the mentality of hardcore kids. This is their life."

Walter's desperately needs to move in order to curb the insanity, and owner Pam Robinson announced plans to relocate near downtown early last fall. Walter's was set to turn into another Little Woodrow's alongside the Midtown, Bellaire and Rice Village locations, but the new tenants' funding fell through and no new plans have emerged.

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