The Nightfly would love to write an article concentrating on the good things about our fair city's downtown area. We would love to rap about the historic architecture, the visible energy that flows from the passersby on a weekday afternoon, the fine restaurants, the grand feeling of the city at work, and so on.
But it's difficult to do so when there are so many things that are, shall we say, fucking up downtown, particularly at night. These factors practically overshadow all the good things. The bumper-to-bumper traffic. The parking valets who act like pricks when you ask for your car that they've lost. The planks, boards and mud patches on the sidewalk that can make a high-heeled gal trip and fall right on her face. The white women who walk down the street scared because they think the black men behind them are stalking them. (And by the way, black people, start going downtown; if not to have a good time, then to just start scaring the hell out of these white people!)
Most of the bad vibes can be attributed to the construction. Oh, sweet Jesus in heaven, the construction. Ever since the Metropolitan Transit Authority vowed that there will be a 7.5-mile light-rail system sliding down Main by 2004, the streets of downtown Houston have been paved with -- wait a minute, they haven't been paved. They've been dug up and dismantled; but paved they are not.
Needless to say, this has been a recurring pain in the ass for many of the bars, clubs and restaurants downtown. "It sucks, basically," notes Lotus Lounge hostess Crystal Lee. "Because it's already a fuckin' business and you have to work harder, you know." Lee notes that Metro has provided several social establishments with street signs declaring that they are, in fact, open. (This is necessary since many businesses in Midtown and other areas have had to board up because of the relentless construction.)
If you think downtown is trouble now, imagine how much of a bitch it will be once Main Street officially shuts down at the beginning of summer. The building contractors for the light-rail project are planning to close off traffic on Main from Commerce to Walker (in other words, NoDo's central nervous system) in order to work on the street for almost a year. Obviously, many NoDo employees were a little miffed. "Downtown is still doing okay; we're still staying on top," says Lee. "But I can only imagine -- would you want to come down here if you knew that Main Street closed down? It's already hard to find parking. Every time I come into work, I gotta clean my shoes 'cause I gotta walk through dirt everywhere."
Through a downtown hall meeting that was set up for owners to see how this could be avoided, a proposal was conceived by a task force of Metro staffers, the Downtown Houston Association, the City of Houston and others to put an "accelerated" construction program into effect.
"We are looking to close down ten blocks, two blocks at a time," says City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, who was approached by the businesses to set up the proposal with Metro. According to Alvarado, the plan would have contractors working on each pair of blocks for 35 days. This will speed up the original plan, which had a closing date of June 2003. "This way we'll save six months of closure."
Downtown folks are just glad their voices are being heard now, like the people over at the brand-spanking-new Live Sports Café (407 Main). Owned by the same cats who run Slainte Irish Pub (509 Main) and Rice Village's Bronx Bar (5555 Morningside), this raucous, layered sports bar, complete with roof patio, is three months old and cost about $1.5 million to build. It's also one of the many businesses that joined forces and sought a quicker alternative to getting all this construction out of the way. "We have, in effect, not necessarily pressured, but brought to the attention of everybody that we're dying down here, and if there's anything to be done about it, we certainly appreciate it," says John Yeager, former manager of the now-defunct Prague and now general manager of the Live Sports Café. "And it looks like something is going to happen, and we're all very excited about it being moved to this accelerated schedule."
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Although the accelerated construction has been proposed, as of press time, nothing has been set in concrete. "There is no decision yet with what to do on Main," declares Metro spokesperson Patti Muck. "We will not go ahead unless we have the stakeholders, contractors, everyone on board, so we can all be involved and everything can get in full swing."
It's hoped this proposal will become reality, and eventually downtown will be the rich, cultural piece of land we were promised. But while you wait, you can still head out downtown, and try to have a good time without tripping, losing your car or scaring the hell out of Becky and Susie.
Well, it's time to toast Hyperia (2001 Commerce) for staying in the game. While many drum-'n'-bass nights and specialty rooms have met unfortunate, premature ends in this town, it's good to know that "Static Wednesdays," the club's jungle weekly, is still going strong. On June 12 the club will celebrate the evening's two-year anniversary with guest spinners John B and Red One and local cats like SDF.3 and Catalyst providing the very special occasion beats. If you can't wait until then, you can always venture down to Blue Zone (1318 Westheimer) this Saturday. That's where local crew Boom Tap Sound is hosting a night of drum-'n'-bass featuring headlining DJs the UK's Usual Suspects. Jeez, with all this jungle coming our way, some folks may need a machete to cut through it all.