With regard to masculinity, a beard is the penultimate facial accessory. Less hipster-clichéd than a mustache, more intentional than a scar, it's, we suspect, the sole reason 28-year-old Matthew Swulius has been allowed into Rice Village's Bronx Bar (5555 Morningside).
In lieu of the compulsory description of Swulius's attire, we'll only mention that he's wearing flip-flops.
For a guy, open-toed shoes are an unpardonable Night World sin, the accessorial equivalent to admitting ownership of Limp Bizkit's Three Dollar Bill, Ya'll$. Valets won't even bother parking your car if you've got on tennis shoes at some clubs.
Despite its laid-back atmosphere early in the day, after 11 p.m. Bronx Bar is a full-on club (a tiny version of a club, anyway). Swulius's admittance, then, seems a barefaced verification of the beard-to-masculinity hypothesis. Apparently, not even the bouncer is immune to its scruffy majesty.
"I actually think it's because I had a hot chick with me," says the beard, who proceeds to further tarnish our image of him by revealing that he is neither a longshoreman nor a crab fisherman, but a freakin' biochemist.
But what of the beard's gnarly reputation? Having one is like using your face to silently tell people, "I will fight you just because it's Tuesday." Surely Bronx Bar's brass must have instructed the staff to, with respect to bearded gents, enforce a laissez-faire policy.
"He's been in here a few times," says clean-shaven Bronx Bar general manager Ryan Tyner, explaining that facial hair aside, Swulius is actually a little more indicative of the venue's vibe than he appears. "We have a [business casual] dress code, but we let a little more slide with our regulars."
In this seemingly innocuous response, though, lies most of Bronx Bar's unexpected appeal. It's not what it was in 2001, all chic bombast and pomp status. Today Bronx Bar draws a markedly less trendy (and thus more palatable) crowd.
This Bronx Bar opened in January 1998, while its slightly sportier Galleria counterpart (2670 Sage) opened five months ago and the newest member of the family opened at 4520 Washington last month. At first blush, Bronx looks to be the Village's preeminent destination for pressed Affliction T-shirts and Rice undergrads, but this turns out to be only about 80 percent true.
Tyner pegs Bronx's Thursday-Saturday visitors as somewhere between 23 (translation: 19) and 35 (i.e., 40). They are, he says, "free-spirited" (they like to get drunk) and "partygoers" (they can't dance).
Appropriately, the music provided by the rotating lineup of regular DJs is a feel-good house-mixed variation of Top 40 hits. Even DMX's snarling delivery and immoral decadence seem glossy in Bronx Bar's chirpy context.
Small in size — around 2,200 square feet, including patio — Bronx Village is squeezed between Brian O'Neill's Irish Pub (5555 Morningside) and a small parking garage. However, the bar's openness — the seating is nattily built into the wall, taking up very little space without forfeiting socializing opportunities — makes it feel considerably larger.
Still, navigating the room during weekend peak hours with a drink in hand will elicit any number of "Shit" and "Watch the fuck out, man" comments. The interior — open ceilings, tiled floors, dark paint — is still on par with most West U hangouts, but far and away, the patio out front dominates its other features.
Its function is the same as with most patios — you can smoke, make phone calls, tell lies about how you're in your second year of residency at M.D. Anderson — but, raised a few feet off the ground and outside Bronx's notoriously hard-assed bouncers' sightlines, mostly it makes ideal mocking grounds.
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No sense denying yourself a little schadenfreude when you've got a front-row seat to the parade of hapless pea-heads not cool enough — or thin enough, or hair-gelled enough — to get in. If nothing else, this reputation as a prime douche-mocking locale should keep Bronx open for at least another ten years.
Bearded or not, Houstonians are sweet like that.
If you happen to be one of those aforementioned pea-heads, you can do one of two things: a) wait another decade to see if Bronx becomes a little easier to get into; or b) hit up one of several nearby lounges. You can try kick-back pub The Ginger Man (5607 Morningside); Texas-themed Goode's Armadillo Palace (5015 Kirby); dive bar Kay's Lounge (2324 Bissonnet); gawky neighborhood spot Little Woodrow's (5611 Morningside); campus hangout Valhalla (6100 Main); corporate Baker St. Pub & Grill (5510 Morningside); and jazzy Fedora Lounge (2726 Bissonnet), to name seven.