It's Thursday night, just past eight, and my married Yankee sister and I are standing outside the Brazos River Bottom (2400 Brazos, 713-528-9192).
"That's it?" she says. "It looks like an abandoned building!"
"Come on," I tug her arm and pull her inside. The BRB has been a Houston GLBT staple for more than 20 years, long before Midtown was a gentrified yuppie-ville and way before Brokeback Mountain popularized hot gay cowboys.
Brazos River Bottom
We amble up to the main bar, where the veteran bartender, Tommy, rules over the room. Before we can order, Tommy launches into his bartender monologue. "What are you drinking?" he asks Liz. "Well vodka drinks are $1.50 tonight. I like your necklace. You want vodka drinks? What do you want in them?"
Drinks in hand, Liz and I tour the rest of BRB: Well-seasoned men are putting dollars into a jukebox in the side-bar, there are a few pool tables over by the back bar, a few folks on cell phones gab on the patio and people-watchers ring the giant dance floor. Liz notices a painting on the wall.
"That angel is wearing cowboy boots!" she laughs. "And he's looking over a naked man lying on his stomach," her voice trails off uncertainly.
At 8:30, it's time for free line-dancing lessons. About 20 folks wearing an assortment of denim garb and accessories are on the dance floor, following instructor Evie's steps. Tonight we're doing "2 Hell and Back," a 32-step, four-wall monster of coordinated heel-steps and twirls. Although Liz and I grew up line dancing (there's just not that much else to do in western Pennsylvania), Liz struggles a bit with the steps at first. By the end of the half-hour lesson she's doing quite well, or at least she's turning the same time as everyone else and moving in approximately the right directions, unlike one guy on the dance floor who just gives up in the middle and starts laughing.
Time for a break. As we step off the dance floor, a sympathetic bystander tells Liz, "You're doing great considering it looks like you've never done this before!" Snap!
We get more vodka-cranberries while Tommy continues his monologue. "I've been bartending here for 18 years now. It's been through a few owners, but it's always been country-western."
Out on the dance floor a few brave souls are still line dancing, with each dance more complex and full of more hip shakes, pelvic thrusts and complicated foot maneuvers.
Nine-thirty brings on the two-stepping lesson, and everyone partners up. Her BRB experience wouldn't be the same if Liz were to dance with me, her brother, so we find her a sympathetic lesbian, Laura. Of course, Laura asks the normal question, "Do I lead or do you want to?" Liz chooses to follow. Coincidentally, this is the question that most straight people ask me when I mention two-stepping: "Who leads?" It's really not that hard, folks. In dancing, as in other (cough) facets of human interaction, some like leading, some like following and some can do both equally well.
Instructor Anita Williams, a 12-year teaching veteran, grabs her partner and shows us various spinning moves. For the seven couples out on the dance floor, the next half hour is full of quick-quick-slow-slows, with Anita gently admonishing us when we do something wrong. Liz kicks off her three-inch heels and is now dancing barefoot on the wooden floor. Anita has to repeatedly remind me to drop my hands during side-turns. Liz and Laura, well, they try hard.
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Half an hour later, we head back to the bar, where Tommy is ringing a cowbell. He tells us he does it every time he hears a song he likes.
"What song is this?" Liz asks.
"Uh, I forget." Tommy responds. "But I really like it." Tommy continues singing along to the still nameless song, flashes a big smile, pours just a bit more vodka in my drink and rings the cowbell again. "What? I like a lot of these songs!"
Liz and I head back to the dance floor for two-stepping. Really buff guys in tight T-shirts and even tighter jeans waltz around in harmony. An older lesbian couple dance in sync. Liz likes salsa and swing dancing with me, because I make her look like she has rhythm. But this two-stepping Liz says what I'm thinking: "I just don't think that two-stepping is our thing. Maybe we would be better at the fox-trot? Or the waltz?"