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"I usually hang out on Washington," says Wilson, 36, enjoying a burlesque-themed party with her friends. "But this place is definitely worth coming back to."
The place she's talking about is the fairly new, but very impressive, Nouveau Antique Art Bar (2913 Main). As you've no doubt discerned, Nouveau is not on Washington Avenue, the spot for Houston nightlife.
Nouveau is actually in Midtown, Houston's previous spot for nightlife activity. If neighborhoods were action-movie stars, Midtown would be Steven Seagal. But maybe for reasons you're not expecting.
Back in the early '90s, Seagal was running shit. Between 1988 and 1995, he went six-for-seven on blockbuster features, sparked by a mammoth three-movie-set that included Above the Law, Hard to Kill and Marked for Death. Save 1994 misstep On Deadly Ground, he was unstoppable.
It was the same with Midtown just a few years ago. In 2006, you could've plugged in an iPod deck in the janitor's closet of a convenience store on Main, played some mash-ups of The Killers' "When You Were Young" and Justin Timberlake's "My Love" and then called the place "Broom" or something like that, and the line would have bent the block with shimmery fools.
But Midtown, like Seagal, eventually fell out of favor. Seagal kept pumping out movies, but nothing stuck. People just stopped paying attention, and it kept up until everybody took it for granted that any movie he starred in was going to be terrible. And Midtown got to a point where a club's quality didn't even matter; if it was in Midtown, people automatically disregarded it.
But here's the dirty little secret about both Midtown and Seagal that nobody's talking about: Neither one of them actually sucks right now.
Seagal has a modest reality show on A&E called Steven Seagal: Lawman that trails him as he serves as a reserve deputy sheriff in Louisiana. It's surprisingly entertaining, and its opening episode drew more viewers than any other season opener for an original show in A&E's history.
Midtown, too, has worked its way back from the graveyard. It has quietly built up a varied lineup of better-than-serviceable nightlife spots, namely Republika (2905 Travis), Community Bar (2703 Smith), the always-reliable Mink (3718 Main) and Continental Club (3700 Main), and Ibiza (2450 Louisiana), among others. Nouveau Antique Bar, the latest offering, may very well be the most impressive.
Though barely a month old and opened by a first-time owner who got on his hustle because his full-time employer no longer needed his services, the bar has quickly drawn enthusiastic reviews.
"It's already my new favorite spot," says Kim Le, a mother of two who's here for the first time. "I could hang out here all the time."
Numerous other patrons agreed.
Nouveau is located in that big-ish building that used to house the Main Street Improv, and uses its space extremely effectively. Most of the floor is left open for the 200-something guests who typically visit on the weekends. (The occupancy load is 215, but it can easily hold more than that.)
The decor falls in line with nouveau design (duh): Dark-brown seating on either plush leather lounge chairs or solid wood benches, hefty curios butted up next to the walls, and what appear to be hundreds of Tiffany lamps dangling from the ceiling.
It feels like you should be making a bunch of references to The Great Gatsby or The Importance of Being Earnest while inside, which is to say the room has a rich, established feel that makes an appropriate context for Nouveau's Frank Sinatra/Ella Fitzgerald-themed Wednesday nights.
Nouveau is easily one of the most well-conceptualized, well-put-together bars in Houston. The only even mildly unflattering thing to be said about it is that some flat-screen TVs dot a few of the walls. But really, that could be resolved easily.
Above the Law is on Netflix, right?
Nightfly favorites Hueston Independent Spit District are offering up a show Sunday at Warehouse Live dubbed "The Wow." Performing will be H.I.S.D., Michele Thibeaux, DJ Cozmos & D. Rose, Radio Galaxy and Concise Kilgore, all promoting new albums, with acclaimed Houston spinner DJ Sun as the evening's disc jockey. Doors open at 7 p.m., with the show beginning promptly at 8:30. Cover is $15 at the door, or you can grab presale tickets at Sucker Punch (2609 Dunlavy). Listen to H.I.S.D. and its many, many members at www.peaceuvmine.com.