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.

As the aggravating, clearly drunk man whined and botched Egdorf's field-sobriety tests, Egdorf's captain remembered the days of the Richmond Strip. In the 1990s it featured bars on top of more bars, like Washington but seemingly much wilder.

"You'd see people driving 120 miles per hour," he said. "I used to get in a lot of chases."

DWI attorney and former cop Jim Medley says that in old-school police jargon, Washington would be known as a "honey hole," or a place for easy stops and arrests. Police might use "bandido stops" for things like no front license plate, a cracked windshield or mild speeding — things people aren't usually stopped for — as probable cause to check for DWI. And like other defense attorneys, Medley says the resulting sobriety tests are destined to land even sober drivers in jail.

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.

"With the build-up of all the little clubs and wine bars along Washington, it's just kind of fish in a barrel for the cops," he says.

Paul Kubosh, a traffic ticket attorney, used to take Washington home from his downtown office and remembers just five years ago when there wasn't a bar in sight. Now he takes his family for drives down the strip to show them what it has become. He has seen police officers watch with binoculars as drunk people stumble right from the bars to their cars.

Even before the bar scene sprouted, Washington was a hotbed for traffic tickets. It's a straight shot without obstructed views that should probably have a higher speed limit than 30 mph, according to ticket attorney Scott Markowitz, and then there's central patrol sitting right there.

"It's close. It's convenient. They don't have to run far," he says.
_____________________

A month after my truck was towed, I returned to Center Street to stake out the scene. The night was slow, and after a while I began meandering around in the dark.

I learned two things. First, I had been parked in front of what probably was a non­descript dirt driveway that blends with the dirt in the lawn. And the house looked abandoned. As I scribbled the number from the for-sale sign in the yard, I noticed faces stuck between curtains inside the house across the street. Soon four people stalked out of the house and demanded to know what I was doing.

I said "nothing," which didn't fly. So I pulled out my notepad and began to interview Helen Espinoza, her daughter Julie, Julie's boyfriend Israel Moreno and their neighbor Marie Martinez. Helen Espinoza has lived on the street her entire life and owns most of the houses on it, including the one in question. She is likely the person who had me towed.

"I don't even know where to start," she said of what has happened to the neighborhood since bars started popping up.

Drunk people walk through the yard, pee on the house, sit on the porch swing and bark at the dogs. They scream and yell and fight until all hours every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, and now during the day on Sunday. The music from District can be clearly heard from the driveway.

"Right now you could go sit in my bedroom and feel how the house just thuds. The windows rattle," Espinoza said.

There are constant accidents at the nearby intersection. With police focused on Washington, late-night drag racers take to Center Street. Espinoza says she has a hard time getting cops to come at all.

Martinez, meanwhile, spends much of her time fighting new liquor licenses in court. She can't hold them off forever, though, and while she's fighting one bar, others pop up. Five liquor licenses are pending in the area right now.

As more nightspots open, more people flood into the neighborhood to park. They block driveways or sometimes just use them, tear up the grass and get stuck in the drainage ditches. Marlene Gafrick, the director of city planning, says her department began working on the parking problems in March and has tried to bring each of the 35 to 40 bars and restaurants up to code. She too must hustle to keep pace with the development. Soon after one bar finally agreed to rent a nearby lot, for instance, the lot went under construction.

"It's a balancing act," Gafrick says.

After a long fight, Espinoza finally won "No Parking" signs on her side of the street. The factory across the way put up its own, with chicken wire, along its long and tall chain-link fence. People just cut them down.
_____________________

The Drinkery was dead on a recent beautiful Thursday happy hour, as general manager Jason Rodriguez ate his dinner at the bar.

When the place opened last June, Rodriguez says, days like this were packed with people getting a few drinks on their way home from work. But since what he calls "the blowup," the boom of new bars that began later in the summer, the commotion seems to have scared those people away. Most business now comes at night.

"The reckless ones are definitely going to come no matter what. They don't give a fuck," he says. "It's sad. Really sad."

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