By Chris Gray
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A sign in the parking lot of Mezzanine Lounge (2200 Southwest Fwy., No. 150) states, very matter-of-factly: "Lock Your Vehicle. Close Windows. Remove Valuables."
It's a right intimidating message to see when parking your car, something like seeing a sign while swimming that reads, "Shark Warning: Swim at Your Own Risk," or an "FYI: We Totally Didn't Bother to Pat Anybody Down Tonight" sign at a rap concert at The Roxy (5351 W. Alabama). Fortunately, hanging out inside the two-story shopping-strip venue is far less menacing than the parking-lot signage would have you believe.
Mezzanine opened five years ago, starting off as a wayward dual-purpose venue with the downstairs area serving as a lounge-type space while upstairs functioned as a hideaway sports bar. If that sounds like a bad idea, that's probably because it was. Fortunately, management was able to pick up on that.
2200 SW Freeway
Houston, TX 77098
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby
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"We were overrun upstairs in [the sports bar]," says Phillip Bauer, the tall, thin, perfectly cast GM of Mezzanine, recalling the bar's early days. "After a while, we ended up changing the whole place to be a sports bar."
While it's difficult enough to craft a sports bar that doesn't look or feel like some hamfisted corporate approach to fandom, and doing so inside of a shopping strip seems like it'd be downright impossible, Mezzanine manages to do it.
It does have the expected sports-bar accoutrements. The tables upstairs, for example, all have vintage Topps, Pro Set and Fleer baseball and football cards tucked underneath the tabletop glass. The best of the bunch: An old Ken Norton Topps card from when he played with the Cowboys and had a profile like Fat Laurence Fishburne.
And there are the sports-themed shots if you're feeling especially touristy, like "The Free Throw," "The Blocked Shot" and "The Calvin Murphy." Have too many of the last one, and you will almost certainly wind up fathering an illegitimate child.
Okay, that was a joke, but you get the point. Besides, the guy had 14 kids by nine different women; he deserves any unprovoked potshots that get sent his way. I mean, c'mon, 14? How do you have 13 kids already running around and think to yourself, "You know what I should be doing right now? Having some unprotected sex, that's what."
Anyhow, point being: Though the snazzy-sounding name would have you believe otherwise, it's pretty clear when you walk in that Mezzanine is a sports bar. But it's loads more personable than, say, a place like Buffalo Wild Wings (2525 Rice; several other Houston-area locations) or Fox and Hound (12802 S. Gulf Fwy.; ditto).
"I like that it's very casual, very laid-back," says Rahim Oberholtzer, 36. "It's just a very comfortable place."
Mezzanine is a bit weathered and full of regulars, and somehow big and small at the same time. It's a two-story building, but the bottom section is narrow with a tall ceiling, while the top section is more open but with a low ceiling, more intimate.
"We come at least once a month for Trivia Night," says Erin Nitti, 24. "It's not a trendy, sexy bar, but it's a better Tuesday night than most."
This Trivia Night, which takes up the entire top floor, typically draws upwards of 60-80 patrons. The entire top floor is reserved for it. The way it works, teams of six to eight members work together to answer questions that someone asks to the room. The scores are tallied up, papers are graded — groups literally write their answers down, then pass them to the next table to have them grade the papers seventh-grade style, which has to be part of the appeal — winners are announced and prizes are awarded.
Most every night, there's also something fan-friendly going on. Monday is hot dog happy hour night, when, in addition to the newly instated Monday-night trivia installment, patrons are treated to (surprise!) hot dogs. Wednesdays are karaoke, while Thursdays are Snowman Poker Night. The last Saturday of each month, Mezzanine throws "theme parties" that usually involve some sort of dressing up (see "Last Call").
"We're more of a neighborhood, word-of-mouth, non-advertisement-type place," says Bauer. "That's kind of how we've set it up, to have more of a one-on-one personal feel. That's what we work towards. That's what we want to be known for."
Still, don't forget to lock your car. That sign's gotta be there for a reason, right?
Mezzanine's April theme party will be "Rock Star/Porn Star." The staff will be dressed accordingly, customers will be dressed accordingly, drinks will be served and several bad decisions will undoubtedly be made. (Thirsty? May I buy you a Calvin Murphy, ma'am?) However, it should be mentioned that this party is actually being held on April 17, not the 24th, so as not to disturb the crowd that will gather to watch the Aldo vs. Faber UFC fight that night.