I’m just going to get this out of the way to start. The Washington Avenue bar scene really isn’t my thing. Between dress codes, nonexistent or pricey parking, expensive drinks, elbow-to-elbow crowds, and house music on constant blast, I’ve done Washington enough to know it’s not really for me. Sure, I enjoy a Sunday afternoon at Kung Fu Saloon, Lincoln Bar is a cool spot to watch UFC, and Little J’s is a pretty underrated spot. Nonetheless, the appeal of the area eludes me.
That said, when I heard about Clutch Bar opening, I was intrigued. Clutch is a sort of hybrid between a sports bar and a nightclub. On one hand, Clutch (which opened in late 2016 and also boasts a location in Dallas) offers typical bar food, craft beer and cocktails while showing plenty of sports on TV. However, on a recent Saturday night, it also resembled a nightclub, complete with club music and bottle service at certain tables.
This is admirable in a way. After all, it’s a good thing when a bar attempts to cater to a variety of patrons – in this case, sports fans and nightclub types. That said, in the case of Clutch, it also creates an identity crisis of sorts. After all, if you’re everything, are you anything at all?
Personally, I think Clutch would be best served playing up the sports-bar angle and going in that direction — become a neighborhood bar of sorts, something sorely lacking on Washington. Contrary to popular opinion, not all folks who frequent the area are looking for a late night of club-hopping. Rather, many are simply locals looking to get out and catch their favorite team on TV, particularly with the Rockets in the midst of a playoff push and the Astros set to start their 2017 season in a few weeks.
On a pair of recent trips to Clutch, one of which began early in the evening and stretched past midnight, the overall change in vibe was evident. What began as a somewhat low-key (by Washington standards) sports bar morphed into more of a nightclub of sorts around 11 p.m. when the music turned up and a number of TVs switched from sports to a simple Clutch logo.
In fact, a number of tables are reserved for bottle service beginning at 10:30 p.m. Look, I get the whole bottle-service thing – and Washington is certainly an area that qualifies for it – but a sports bar on a Saturday night showing college basketball and UFC fights isn’t exactly the venue.
So, yeah, Clutch needs to abandon somewhat the whole sports-bar/nightclub hybrid thing, ditch the latter and focus on the former because, well, it does the former pretty damn well. For starters, the layout of the bar is great. The bar sits at the center of an open floor plan, with tables and booths on the perimeter. You can catch sports on the TV at pretty much any angle, and a small outdoor patio provides a nice place to get some air or have a smoke.
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As for the menu, it’s solid as sports bar offerings go. Sports fans can sample any number of bar fare items, from wings to burgers to chicken tenders to soft-baked pretzels. Those on a health kick can have any number of salads or go with some hummus and pita bread. Flatbread, skewers and a variety of seafood tacos are on the menu as well. Steak is technically on the menu, but a sports bar seems an odd place to get down on such an offering.
Drink-wise, Clutch makes no bones about going for a somewhat higher-end craft beer clientele. It doesn’t even serve standard domestics like Miller Lite and Bud Light. Rather, local offerings from the likes of Karbach and Saint Arnold are on tap; this is a good thing, as Houston boasts one of the finest craft-beer scenes in the country, and props to Clutch for showcasing the locals. I didn’t have a cocktail on either visit, though the bar didn’t seem to lack for options.
Clutch is a nice addition to the Washington scene; situated across the street from both Kung Fu Saloon and Concrete Cowboy, its location is perfectly suited to success. Should it elect to embrace what it truly is and transition into a full-blown sports bar, it could become that rare place on Washington – a bar that’s just as fun on a Sunday afternoon as it is on a Saturday night.
Clutch Bar, located at 5334 Washington, is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. See clutch-bar.com for details.