Driving anywhere near the Galleria is about as miserable as reliving the terrible events of the Houston Texans' abysmal 2013 season; I shudder at the very thought. The area is always an overcrowded cesspool, swamped with traffic and plenty of tourists trying to find parking for the Cheesecake Factory.
But that's exactly what happened on a recent Thursday-night trek to the west side. Tucked inside an El Patio Mexican restaurant in one of the area's many small shopping centers is a hidden gem.
"Remember the first time you walked into the Club No Minors? Nope? Then we've done our job." That's exactly how the El Patio at 6444 Westheimer describes its "club" on its website. My interest is piqued from the get-go.
"What happens in the Club No Minors?" the site continues. "Seeing is believing but remembering is definitely not required...don't be surprised if you see a person or two dancing on the tables. Yeah, it can get a little wild, but that's how our customers like it."
It all sounds more like a threat than the truth, but I'll treat it as a challenge -- and I happily accept any challenge that involves absurdly strong margaritas and two guys billing themselves as rock and roll mariachis.
Given the tight quarters, reservations are a must; I called beforehand to reserve a table for three. Club No Minors is situated in the front of the restaurant behind a door marked "No Cigars. I.D Required. No Minors." The room looks as if it can't be any more than 500 square feet.
In it are no more than 18 tables and a small bar. There's not much to the place, really. The walls are beige with dark trim, and the light fixtures on the walls were popular when Jimmy Carter was in office.
And yet it's not even 6:30 and the bar is starting to fill up quickly.
"When's the band start?" I hear a businessman ask.
It's a Thursday, what I still consider a "school night," and we order a pitcher of margaritas. After much hemming and hawing, we decide on the lime and strawberry swirl. Our waitress, whose name is America, is so kind as to pour our first round. Although our pitcher is on the table, she makes sure to keep our glasses full.
"God Bless America," we keep saying, as she grins and nods every time. At one point, she even lets us know she has that exact phrase emblazoned on a bumper sticker affixed to the rear bumper of her car.
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America has been a waitress here since 2009. She took some time off to have a child, but came back because she loves the place.
"I've waited tables at other restaurants, but this place is my favorite," she says.
Practically everyone at Club No Minors is a regular and has been for years, America tells us. I can see why -- it's lively without being over-the-top raucous. And that's even before the band starts to play its first note.
Club No Minors opened as Club Villa Sana in the late '60s, in the same location. Patrons became "members" by paying a fee designed to skirt the antiquated liquor laws of the day. Originally, a sign reading "No Minors" was put up to keep the kids out, and the name stuck.
Tino and Jose, a duo who play a mix of classic-rock oldies and traditional Mexican music, show up about an hour into our visit. I was hoping for and expecting a regular -mariachi band, but this is better.
This is when the fun -- and the drinks -- really kick in.
In the restroom, a gentleman in the stall beside me decides to use his cell phone to call his wife. He has to let her know that the band has started playing and to "get here quick." Getting on your phone while using the restroom is a huge faux pas -- and totally disgusting -- but I can now understand why the call was so important and had to be made.
After several songs, Tino and Jose have increasingly warmed up to what is now a blazing ball of hot fire.
"Guantanamera! Gwaaaaa. Hero. Guantanamera!"
I'm yelling all the lyrics in my best, albeit broken, Spanish and English. My speech starts to slur a little. The drinks pack a serious punch and are starting to take effect.
From the Texas Tornados' Tex-Mex staple "(Hey Baby) Que Paso" to a bring-down-the house version of "House of the Rising Sun," Tino and Jose are all over the musical map. They begin a rousing rendition of "The Roof Is On Fire" and everyone starts to lose it. People start dancing while standing on their chairs.
The band, just two men with classical guitars, play at least every Thursday through Saturday and sometimes more, depending on their schedule. They generally start around 7 p.m., and go until closing time.
Someone yells out "Freebird" at one point, and I'm actually shocked when the duo doesn't play it. America cuts us off at two pitchers, which is more than plenty.
The margs here are stronger than average, which is great. But the one downside is the risk of losing some of the details of your night at Club No Minors. With a band as good as Tino and Jose, you'll want to remember everything.
Club No Minors is located at 6444 Westheimer (inside El Patio), 713-780-0410. Limited reservations available; call ahead.
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