The Taxman Cometh

Pearl Bar runs up a hefty tab with the comptroller's office as once-hot Washington Avenue sings the blues.

They Fought the Law

According to officials from both agencies, officers from both the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission visited Pearl Bar the evening of January 12 and confiscated cash to help offset the once-popular Washington Avenue bar's substantial tax debt.

R.J. DeSilva, spokesman for the comptroller's office, said last week that the comptroller had conducted a "limited seizure" operation, because Pearl has incurred approximately $37,000 in mixed-beverage taxes and $4,400 in franchise taxes since July 2012. A lien has been filed against the business, he added.

Pearl Bar, shown on a recent afternoon, has been in contact with the comptroller's office since July 2012, a spokesman for the comptroller said.
Craig Hlavaty
Pearl Bar, shown on a recent afternoon, has been in contact with the comptroller's office since July 2012, a spokesman for the comptroller said.
The party hasn't stopped on Washington Avenue, seen respectively at Nox,
Photo by Marco Torres
The party hasn't stopped on Washington Avenue, seen respectively at Nox,

"We have been in contact with the business since July 2012 about taxes the business owes," DeSilva said via e-mail last week. "On Saturday, the comptroller's office conducted a limited seizure authorized by Section 111.017 of the tax code.

"Cash was taken from registers at the location and applied to the tax liability owed by the business," he added. "The location was not raided, or closed or shut down by the agency. The agency will continue to be in contact with the business on the tax liability issue."

Lt. Tana Travis of the TABC's Houston office said that the TABC had assisted in the operation, but declined to go into specifics besides confirming that "there was currency taken by the ­comptroller."

TABC online records show that Pearl Bar is currently on the agency's "delinquent list" under its credit law and that its license was suspended in November 2012 for violating the cash law. It had also violated the credit law twice since that suspension expired on December 1.

Other TABC records show that Pearl Bar's owners, Waymon Morris LLC, also owe wholesalers in excess of $4,000.

Dustin Evans, who owns neighboring craft-beer bar Underdogs Pub, said that he did not know Pearl Bar's owners at all but that recently Pearl had been open only from 8 p.m. till close on Fridays and Saturdays.

The rest of Washington Avenue has also been struggling, he added.

"It's bad up and down Washington right now," Evans said. "Most of Houston's down, probably 10 percent."

A far cry from its days winning the Houston Press's 2008 Best of Houston® award for "Best New Bar," Pearl Bar has definitely seen better times. It was one of the first bars to capitalize on the big Washington Avenue boom that began around 2007, and hit its apex around our February 2010 cover story "Wild on Washington."

During its time in the spotlight, Pearl was one of the most popular bars in the Washington corridor, with long lines to get in and a busy valet straining nearby traffic.

The area surrounding the bar has gone through much change the past year and a half, however. The Lot has turned into Underdogs Pub, the Dubliner is now the party-rocking Lava Rock, and Reign Lounge was shut down, its inner workings largely gutted down to the granite countertops.

Across the street from Pearl, Washington Avenue Drinkery is still thriving with Bob Covington now handling the menu, and the old Walter's on Washington building lies dormant. Walters, now near UH-Downtown, is doing quite well in its new location.

Pearl Bar's social-media and Web storefronts have long gone cold, as much of the avenue's crowds have moved farther west to Kung Fu Saloon or to Upper Kirby and points in ­Midtown.

Night Life

Enough Already
When Pearl Bar and Washington Avenue's troubles came to light, plenty of readers wanted to say, "Good riddance."

Chris Gray

To be perfectly honest, I never much cared for Washington Avenue. Then again, I don't have anything resembling what you might call a South Beach personality. I tend to shun velvet ropes and collared shirts after hours, and I definitely prefer either a band be onstage or to hang out somewhere you don't have to shout to be heard.

Those kinds of places grew in short supply over the past four or five years as Washington became Houston's pre-eminent adult playground, full of pricey nightclubs and bars that prided themselves on exclusivity. But its luster has slowly dimmed as the street began to be confronted by increasing traffic congestion, exploding residential development and newer nightlife districts like Upper Kirby, where Houston's young people just seem to be having more fun.

And even now Washington isn't a total write-off. The Dark Horse Tavern is still around, the Blue Moose Lodge is bringing in some of the region's finer lesser-known country artists, and the monthly Bombon at Fox Hollow is going great guns as Houston's hottest recurring Latin dance party.

But it was still hard not to read the events of January 12 as a significant signpost on the avenue's timeline. And not a happy one, either.

Naturally, Washington's woes came as welcome news to some readers who characterize the scene as full of status-obssessed "douchebags" and carpetbagging suburbanites looking for an easy hookup and to drink their fill of kamikazes or Jaeger bombs. Others lamented the days when Washington housed some of Houston's finest live-music halls such as Rockefeller's, Satellite Lounge, the Vatican, Mary Jane's, the Bon Ton Room and Club Hey Hey.

When these stories went online, readers were hardly shy about offering their opinions. They seldom are.

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