Belly dancing is a bit paradoxical. By nature, it is not meant to be a sexual act.
Yes, it consists of women wiggling around to music with a bunch of skin showing while people watch. This, we admit, is pretty much the understood definition of "stripping."
And true, these women are often well shaped and attractive. Occasionally they can look a bit beat up in the face and body, which, to extend the stripper analogy, would be the equivalent of the girls you might find on the Wednesday-night shift at Harlem Knights (9834 Jensen).
But the whole thing is more of a cultural exhibition, similar to Ballet Folklórico or Riverdance, than anything else. Even within the context of a bachelor party — which is what's taking place tonight at Reserve 101 (1201 Caroline), the nondescript bar located directly across from House of Blues (1204 Caroline) — it's meant to be, as performing dancer Lea Cantos puts it, "just sensual, not sexual."
But here's the paradoxical part. For men, there is no difference between "sensual" and "sexual." It's like identifying the difference between "breasts" and "boobs": If we really sat down and thought about it, we could probably draw a distinction, but whatever they're called, mostly we just want to see them.
At the onset of Cantos's performance, there are lots of whoops and hollers from the bachelor-partygoers, so it seems pretty likely that the situation is a compromise forged by one of those new-fiancée arguments, like, "No way are you and your jackass friends having a private stripper at your bachelor party."
Alas, tonight's bachelor, 22-year-old high-school teacher Tal Debauche, says otherwise, claiming he had no desire to have a performer of any kind at his party. The belly-dancer idea was suggested by his friend just because.
The dancing tonight is in good fun. But as is often the case when someone walks into Reserve, the main point of the evening is to drink some fine, fine whiskey.
"We've had whiskey from all over the world already," says Debauche. "It's why we came here. Japan, Kentucky, Ireland; it's been awesome."
(Nightfly Aside: If we ever have a bachelor party, it's going to end just like Jon Favreau's in Very Bad Things — with a dead hotel security guard, dead Asian hooker and four or five guys hopped up on blow trying to figure out how to smuggle the bodies out of the hotel. Hopefully Christian Slater will be there too.)
"I've been told we have the best whiskey selection in Texas," says Reserve co-owner and nightlife veteran Steve Long. "We have everything. We have a bottle now, a bottle called King George V; there are only four in the entire state of Texas. And it's already almost finished."
That King George stuff, by the way, comes with a price tag of $100 a shot. And there's some champagne that reaches past that. But other than those, nothing about Reserve is remotely showy.
In fact, the bar is fairly easy to overlook. A group of people actually do just that at one point in the evening — they walk in, take a quick scan of the place, then promptly ask for directions to another bar.
Reserve's colors are muted, conversations are kept within arm's reach and tomfoolery is almost always low. Even when something like the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" follows Nickelback's "Photograph" on the house system, the crowd hardly seems to care.
But the bar has thrived in downtown's perennially shifting nightlife landscape for two years now (which translates into 300 standard human years), because above all, Reserve is a modest sort of drinking establishment. Drinks and a comfortable ambience are paramount at Reserve, with everything else a distant third.
Except for belly dancers. They might place a little higher.
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When we got there, perched near Reserve's front door was an HPD bicycle officer. It was really cold outside, which means he was dressed pretty incredibly (he had on a beanie under his helmet but on top of clear riding glasses). We assumed he was working there, so we chatted him up for a good ten minutes trying to find out a) whether or not his poli-cycle (we just made that word up) had any crime-fighting gadgets on it (no); and b) if any craziness had popped off in or around the area lately(also no).
A bit later, it somehow came up that he was actually married to...wait for it...almost there...the belly dancer mentioned above! Crazy. He had just gotten off work and decided to come by to potentially kick some major ass (our words).
In hindsight, we suppose the situation was a little less mind-shattering than we thought at the time. Still, finding that out was like when we learned that Freddie Mercury did all the vocals on Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." We had to pick up our brains off the floor.