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.

Counterintuitive as it seems, clubs that discriminate most openly are what drives much of Houston's nightlife. People feel like they've accomplished something when they've gotten into a club notorious for, say, only letting in attractive people.

When the number of venues on Washington gets too high, though, the elitist clubs will no longer be able to afford to be so selective, and in turn they'll grow less appealing. Then all the events that led up to Washington becoming so popular will happen again, except in reverse.

Everyone will migrate somewhere else that's just beginning to bubble up, probably East Downtown. It's rife with available spaces, close enough to Main Street and there's a lot of housing for younger folks. But that's still awhile off.

Ei8ht has one of the prettiest interiors in Houston of any bar club, with leather chaise lounges and exotic textiles throughout its two stories. For more photos of the Washington Avenue scene, click here.
Son Lam
Ei8ht has one of the prettiest interiors in Houston of any bar club, with leather chaise lounges and exotic textiles throughout its two stories. For more photos of the Washington Avenue scene, click here.
Lines sometimes stretch around the block, with people waiting close to an hour to enter.
Son Lam
Lines sometimes stretch around the block, with people waiting close to an hour to enter.

That's how this story always ends. That's how Midtown's story ended, and Downtown's and Richmond's before that. That's how Washington's will end too.

Mind, Washington Avenue will never completely vanish. It will simply settle into the "Ain't What It Used to Be" category. But for the time being, that stretch of 77007 is the epitome of Houston nightlife.

Unless you're not white. Then, you know, have fun at Grooves or the Roxy or whatever.
_____________________

Towing and Blowing
By Mike Giglio

On Saturday night, December 12, Washington Avenue seemed like an area of conflict.

Police lights flashed up and down the street. Drunk people dressed in dark designer clothes crept along the sidewalks or right in the middle of the road — women shouting into iPhones or at boyfriends; top-heavy men with hair gel and tight graphic T-shirts who looked ready to throw down at the slightest perceived insult. Bass pounded from the nightclubs and bars that pack the strip.

On the side streets, wreckers prowled and souped-up mid-level sports cars sped through stop signs, weaving precariously around residents on bicycles. It was Third World mayhem crossed with prepackaged middle-class Americana; all the reasons I avoid the area were mixing together right there in the street.

I had been guilted into coming by a friend who was having her birthday party at the District. I found the last open spot on residential Center Street one block north of Washington, inching up so the back of my truck sat on the legal side of a "No Parking" arrow. I asked a valet in the District parking lot if my truck would be safe; he shrugged and stared past me into the night.

District's VIP section is elevated slightly and has couches. My friend's friends had forked out for bottle service. I fought my way over and greeted everyone via barely audible screams. An evil party photographer forced us to pose, then take his card so we could purchase the photos online. My friend was tottering around in birthday bliss and quickly reaching the tipping point. Seeing an easy escape, after an hour I volunteered to drive her home.

She put a leather jacket over her tiny dress and took my arm through the commotion and back to Center Street, where my truck was nowhere to be found. I began darting frantically around, unsure what to do, while she shivered in the street.

Eventually I called the police to report the truck stolen, and learned that an officer had authorized it to be towed. I photographed the spot with my cell phone as another group arrived to find their car missing too. All the while, several residents watched ominously from the shadows behind a fence across the street.

The taxi to the lot on a desolate stretch of the North Freeway feeder road cost $30, and I left my phone in the back, losing it forever. The bored man behind the glass partition then refused to return the truck without proof of insurance. My friend whimpered in the waiting room for over an hour while I waded through GEICO's automated menus. At the end of the maze, a woman informed me that the computer systems were down for maintenance.

In the morning, title and insurance in hand and paperwork finally complete, I was told that the credit-card machine was broken. I left to search for an ATM and $191.20 in exact change.
_____________________

In The Great Gatsby, the big, bespectacled eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg cast their gaze across Long Island's Valley of Ashes. Here in Houston, Tyler Flood watches over Washington Avenue from a billboard that says "Do Not Blow." I profiled Flood last fall. Speaking with him and other local DWI attorneys left me with a simple message: Do not go to Washington Avenue.

A bartender at the popular Drinkery says she has seen four different cars pulled over along Washington on a single night's drive home, and one DWI lawyer guessed that 40 percent of his business comes from the strip. Flood calls it an HPD parking lot; the busy central patrol sits at the far east end of the street.

While working on the DWI story, I went for a ride down Washington with Officer Don Egdorf of HPD's DWI Task Force. We started at central patrol's intox unit, which Egdorf guessed might soon expand into the gym. The ride-along lasted just a few blocks before we passed a parking lot with a stop already in progress and joined in.

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