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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,
...Hughes Hangar,
Photo by Marco Torres
...Hughes Hangar,
...and Fox Hollow, but it has slowed down.
Photo by Marco Torres
...and Fox Hollow, but it has slowed down.
Dwight Taylor Lee performs with the Literary Greats at the 2012 Main Street Block Party.
James Bricker
Dwight Taylor Lee performs with the Literary Greats at the 2012 Main Street Block Party.

"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.

Jack Gilbert: "Apparently, one-size-fits-all trendiness is no longer trending upward."

Jimi Austin: "Bad area for an entertainment district. Not near enough parking, narrow streets, and not a single hotel."

Chris Dunaway: "Answer: Washington Avenue has been terrible for a while now."

Stanley Smith: "Washington has grown past the capability of the neighborhood('s) too many bars, not enough anything else."

Adam Castaneda: "Now THIS is what comptrolling is really all about. Thumbs up."

Stanley Smith: "You'd think with all the additional tax revenue generated by the Washington Ave businesses, the city would encourage improvement."

NewRider Ivan: "Wonder what took so long. That part of Washington has been dying since The Lot started slowing down. Sucks, I used to really like the Lot. The staff was freaking great there too. Pearl Bar, I always thought it sucked. Was cool when they had the music awards shows up and down those bars, though."

Austin Cooley: "The place used to be Mary Jane's, the site of many a cool show. There was a time when that stretch of Washington had a number of great music venues — not anymore. Don't worry, when the douchebags finally completely abandon that area, those sorts of venues will return."

Roland Gonzalez: "Where are all the HOUSTON DOUCHEBAGS going to be at on weekends?? hopefully not on the Westheimer/Montrose area... WE DONT WANT THEM THERE!!!"
_____________________

Only in Houston

The Wandering Bufalero
Dwight Taylor Lee joins our musical fraternity The Rocks Off 100.

Craig Hlavaty

Who Are You? "I'm Dwight Taylor Lee, singer/songwriter/producer," Lee introduces himself. "Member of Lazlo (RIP), then The Literary Greats and Finnegan, currently Don't Poke the Bear." He has also recently started another group, the Wandering Bufaleros, with a revolving lineup that performs only songs by Lee and his fellow Houston musicians.

Why Do You Stay in Houston? "I'm a native Houstonian," he explains. "I went to Sharpstown High School and the University of Houston. I have lived elsewhere, but Houston has always been home to me.

"I think there are a lot of opportunities here and I prefer to be plugged into the cultural growth of a city, rather than move to a place where that growth is established," Lee continues. "Why be part of a tourist city when you can be part of making a city tourist-worthy? This city has so much to offer besides art. Now is the time to get plugged in."

Music Scene Pet Peeve: "Passive or insecure interactions," Lee says. "Not that I haven't been guilty of this myself, but sometimes it's a lot easier to be onstage with a microphone in your hand than it is to see other artists at the grocery store, to stop and have a normal conversation with them.

"Sometimes acquaintance interactions are strange," he adds. "I used to take it personally, but then I realized I just don't care."

Best Show You Have Ever Been a Part of or Seen: "The best big show I've been to is a tie between Arcade Fire at ACL in 2007 or Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at what was the Summit back when. Both spanned the spectrum of being very intimate at times and then larger-than-life at others.

"The Arcade Fire show was borderline spiritual," he adds. "There was a connectivity in the atmosphere. I've only ever felt that onstage while playing with Finnegan. That group of people and the music has something in it that tugs at the heartstrings."
_____________________

Classic Rock Corner

Biding Their Time
Pink Floyd's five best pre-Dark Side of the Moon songs.

Corey Deiterman

In anticipation of the upcoming 40th anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon, originally released in March 1973, we here at Rocks Off would like to remind you all that Pink Floyd existed for some years before that monumental album. That doesn't make those earlier recordings any less valid, though.

As any hardcore Floydian can tell you, some aspects of the pre-DSOTM years were, dare I say it, more endearing than their more familiar later work. The band was more experimental and more psychedelic, the production was rawer, the jams longer, and Floyd was far from a critical or commercial darling. They were like a punk band in the early '80s: reviled by critics, a failure in the eyes of record labels and gods to their cult following.

So here we'll take a look back at five classic Floyd tracks that many readers and casual fans may have never heard before. These songs are special and eminently important in their own right, but you sure won't find these tracks on that Echoes greatest-hits compilation.

5. "Biding My Time": This song was originally known as "Afternoon," and was part of Floyd's early experiment in doing a conceptual live show, The Man and the Journey. "Biding My Time" presents itself at first as a slight blues track, before bursting into a rousing horn section and eventually an epic rocking outro with a massive guitar solo on the part of Gilmour.

4. "Moonhead": A classic trippy Floyd instrumental, "Moonhead" is especially significant because it was played during the BBC's coverage of the first moon landing in 1969. Even though Floyd wasn't well-known then, the producers of the program made the right choice for the soundtrack.

3. "Give Birth to a Smile": Only ever released on a soundtrack called Music from "The Body" and credited to Roger Waters and Ron Geesin, this earlier song might be the most recognizable as in the later Floyd style, featuring a church choir of backing vocalists and the rich organ tones they would become much better known for on Dark Side.

2. "Careful with That Axe, Eugene": So beloved in the Floyd canon that it is one of the only middle-era Floyd songs to be played even after Dark Side was released, and in fact stayed in the band's set lists all the way to the late '70s, "Careful with That Axe, Eugene" is one of the darkest tracks the band has ever recorded. (Don't listen to it on hard drugs or you're gonna have a bad trip.) Note Waters's manic screaming on this track as well, which ended up being far ahead of its time in rock history.

1. "The Embryo": Standing out as one of the greatest early Floyd tracks, "The Embryo" was never recorded in its full version by the band. A short, softer version appeared on the Works compilation, but the ten-minute psych-rock version they played live remains the exclusive domain of bootlegs.

This is a shame, because "Embryo" is a classic example of Floyd's evolution, mixing their early eerie psychedelic style with what we would hear more of on "Echoes" and Meddle just a short time later.

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