By William Michael Smith
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By Nathan Smith
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A turtle is walking down an alley. From nowhere, a gang of slugs jumps out, attacks and robs him, then vanishes. A policeman arrives, doing his best to subdue the turtle. "Calm down, calm down," the officer says. "Focus. Tell me everything that happened."
"I don't know," says the turtle. "It all happened so fast."
Little Woodrow's (2306 Brazos) is a drinking establishment that couples a rustic Texas atmosphere with modern amenities like TVs and more than 100 available beers. The Midtown location has been open for more than ten years now; there are three others in Houston and four more in Austin.
At the moment, Woodrow's is a beer joint. Within the next six weeks, it will begin serving proper spirits as well. There is a large, large patio and an icehousey, open-to-the-wind interior that hints at the building's past as an auto shop. And they have turtles.
The turtles are not teenagers and not mutants. As far as we can tell, they do not enjoy pizza, nor are they experts in any form of martial arts. Frankly, they possess no discernible anthropomorphic characteristics.
They are simply adorable little red-eared sliders who have dominated Thursday nights at Woodrow's for the past two years. Because these little turtles run. More specifically, they run against each other, in what is aptly called the Turtle Races.
The idea actually came from an episode of Rob & Big, the MTV reality show that paired a charismatic big black man with an even more charismatic small white man. The premise of the races is simple.
There are three sets of races per Thursday. The first one occurs at 9 p.m., so get there a little after 9 p.m. because it doesn't get really, really good until the second race. It costs $8 to park, not an unreasonable fee.
You hand the doorman your ID, which he checks passively. You walk in, say, "What's up?" to the people there; almost everyone who goes to the turtle races heard about them from a friend.
Get a beer (Lone Star, $2), then wander over to the turtle station and get a ticket (free). The ticket has a number on it that corresponds to one of the seven to nine turtles racing that evening. You look at the turtle roll call to see what the name of your turtle is because it's cuter and more fun to yell, "Go Myrtle, go!" than it is to yell, "Go, you fucking turtle, go!" Then you gather around a mat on the patio and wait.
All the turtles are placed in a container in the center of the mat. The host makes a few jokes, then selects an attractive female whom he refers to as the "Bucket Babe" to come to the center and uncork the tiny speedballs.
She does, the turtles shoot (well, creep) towards the edge of the mat, and the crowd — mostly white, young and gregarious — goes absolutely insane.
"We heard about the turtle races and we were intrigued," says Jacqueline Wilkinson, a 44-year-old hairstylist who was selected as this evening's Bucket Babe along with her friend Cat Clement, 23.
"It's a young, energetic crowd. Their age doesn't interfere with me having a good time," Wilkinson adds with a laugh. "It's a good atmosphere, great people. I've done a lot of things, but I've never done a turtle race."
On any given Thursday, a couple hundred people will wander in. If it's a theme night, like when the turtles were designated as SEC schools or World Cup teams, the number can almost double. If your turtle is the first to win two races, then you win a prize beer or koozie or whatever little thing Woodrow's happens to be giving away.
Of course, it's less about the prize and more about the moment. Little Woodrow's is a fun enough drinking hangout on other nights, but on Thursdays it's unstoppable.
"It started on the back patio with a few people watching," remembers GM Nick Menage. "Now we've had to move to the larger part. It's taken on a life of its own."
It all happened so fast.
Woodrow's turtles live in a very nice habitat on the premises, and are handled gently and cared for properly. The races only run April through early November, for obvious reasons. If you want to, you are welcome to bring your own turtle. But make sure you go to the Midtown Woodrow's, because it's the only location that does the races.
Also: Each week, we try to pick at least one concert to highlight here. In keeping with this week's theme, we'd hoped to find a band in Houston with the word "turtle" in its name to mention. Sadly, there are none. However, you know Sasha Grey, the real-life porn star who played herself on the most recent season of Entourage? She's a DJ now, and is performing this Friday at Stereo Live (6400 Richmond). How does that tie to turtles? Duh, there's a character on Entourage named Turtle. How's that for reaching?
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