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Back in Business

Life returns to the Richmond Strip.

Popularity is fleeting. Gorgeous, high-end, high-powered Italian sports cars are not.

It's 1 a.m. on a weekend. Technically it's Sunday morning, but really, it's still Saturday night. A shiny Maserati with a personalized license plate reading "JAWZS" is inching down Richmond. Despite the precision with which the car's drive train was crafted, it is going exactly one mile per hour.

It's driving that slowly because there is traffic, traffic, traffic. The Richmond Strip, about as popular as an abandoned mine shaft not too long ago, has once again become one of the city's prime after-dark destinations.

A pillar of the Richmond Strip for years, Stereo Live is a centerpiece of the area's recent revival.
Larami Culbertson
A pillar of the Richmond Strip for years, Stereo Live is a centerpiece of the area's recent revival.

Long before Washington Avenue was anything more than a good place to get robbed, and before Midtown exploded all over everyone's faces, the Richmond Strip was the spot. But over time, the buzz became silent, leaving behind a bunch of sad club-owners and a bunch of people who went there because they didn't know any better.

"We used to come here, but then we started going downtown," says Houston college student Michell, 23, who asked her last name not be used. "Nobody really goes there anymore."

That's a sad bit of commentary for downtown, but not for Richmond. It's become cool again, with venues such as Stereo Live (6400 Richmond), Rocca Bar (6306 Richmond), The Horn (6025 Richmond) and more pushing the first few miles west of Loop 610 back into prominence.

Tonight, each of the places listed above is stuffed, with lines to get in ebbing and flowing as the night moves forward. Other venues such as the demure Uptown Tapas (5706 Richmond), the enjoyable Scott Gertner's Sports Bar (3100 Fountain View) and strip clubs Dreams (6405 Richmond) and Platinum City (9373 Richmond) help fill out the ecosystem.

Outside of Stereo Live — a two-story venue that features a large stage, a few places to procure beverages and a ton of space to dance, known as Club 6400 in the Strip's first heyday and more recently as Planeta Bar Rio — a throng of people is trying to figure out how to get inside.

They all bunch up at the stairs of the venue, pining for the sympathy of the energetic doorman, who makes it known in no uncertain terms that absolutely no one will not be getting in until he explicitly says so. The later it gets, the more difficult this becomes.

At one point, a man in crispy pants gets so frustrated with being overlooked that he shouts out, "Man, fuck this" and leaves. Nobody blinks, because it's the type of thing that only happens in popular parts of town.

Inside, a few notable faces dot the venue's growing crowd, highlighted by head-tattoo enthusiast and Lil' Wayne's surrogate father, Birdman. Still, the process of getting in is almost always more fascinating than the club itself.

Down the street, The Horn — marked by the subtle 70-foot-tall saxophone outside its doors — is doing business as usual. Formerly Billy Blues and Cabo, it's one of the area's classier venues, with expensive-looking lounge seating, a dress code, and shiny everything. It only takes a small amount of research to link its 2009 opening with the beginning of Richmond's recent renaissance.

There is movement, business and life on Richmond again.

"It comes in waves," says Gregg Brock, a promoter whose roll sheet includes a successful Sunday-night residency at Scott's.

"Everyone knew [Richmond] was going to come back around. It started with The Horn, then you had the other places — Scott's, then the strip clubs," Brock adds. "Now it's where it's at."

Maseratis or not.
_____________________

LAST CALL

You should know that the parking fee along Richmond is, um, less than static, especially when things get hairy. Arrive early, and you'll usually pay a completely reasonable $10. Arrive late in the evening, and you could be charged any amount the lackeys feel like charging you. When we were searching for parking, one guy waved us down, saying he had spaces for $15. We left, certain we could get one for $10. One time around the block, and that same guy was charging $20. When asked why, he shrugged, pointed to a lot across the street and said, "They're charging $40." Supply and demand is a real bastard sometimes.

 
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