Contrary to popular belief, most millionaires are not dicks. That dubious honor often falls to those known as New Money. Monarch Lounge (5701 Main, inside Hotel Zaza) bouncer Ronnie Wilson politely clarifies:
"The millionaires in here are laid-back, real cool and very respectful. It's the ones that make $200,000 [per year] that can be kind of rude."
New Money douches are never hard to spot. If, while sipping one of the Monarch's Blueberry Mojitos ($11) or Immaculate Wonder Martinis ($12), you happen to overhear something like "Did you not see my Bentley outside?" or "Pffft — Melrose Place was way better than 90210," New Money is in the immediate vicinity. Try not to gag if you can possibly avoid it; those drinks ain't cheap.
Wilson is a picture of professionalism. In his all-black suit and steely expression, he looks like the silent bad guy in some action movie; you just know he's capable of handing out some wicked ass-kickings. Both direct and personable, he plays the monotone straight man to the Monarch's lush but tasteful decadence perfectly.
Birthed during the 16-month renovation that turned Museum District fixture the Warwick Hotel into the trendy and extravagant Zaza, Monarch Lounge is undeniably one of the "it" spots in town. Houston socialites and power-players alike have flocked there since its June 2007 opening, often to attend elaborately themed parties like "Mardi Gras," "Belly Dance" and the VIP-heavy "Phantom Party."
"This is the sexiest hotel in the city," opines realtor Chyra Blackaller, celebrating her 40th birthday among friends including Houstonians Uchenna and Joyce Agu, Season 7 winners of CBS's The Amazing Race. There are two other birthday soirees tonight, but only Blackaller's warranted the Monarch's first-ever live-music performance by cover band Saturday Night Palsy. (DJs Hardware and/or Senegal's Top 40 remixes are the bar's usual Thursday-Saturday sound track.)
Like the hotel itself, with its grandiosely themed rooms such as the "Rock Star" suite (with a glass elevator that descends down to the Monarch's restaurant counterpart) or the "It Happened One Night" suite (inspired by George Clooney's apartment), the lounge feels like the kind of place HBO super-agent Ari Gold might broker a deal on Entourage. Two intimidating-looking men are posted at both the hotel and street entrances. The outdoor terrace overlooking the Museum of Fine Arts is tented in and heated on cold nights. Plus, there's a 50-inch flat-screen TV over the interior bar, VIP booths and the obligatory bottle service. (A bottle of Rémy Martin runs a healthy $400, by the way.)
With all this glitz, surely Monarch has been privy to appearances by a celebrity or two, right? "We're not allowed to talk about whom, but yes, we do have celebrities and famous people come in," says the bar's discreet, French-accented general manager, Pierre Gutard.
Gutard might be politic enough not to talk about it, but somebody — a Zaza employee who understandably requested his name be withheld — wasn't. "Erykah Badu, Maroon 5, Vanessa Simmons [from MTV's Run's House], they've all been by. J-Lo and Mark Anthony were in the hotel too, but they didn't come through [the bar]," he confides.
The crowd at Monarch, always thick with professionals, executives and all-around beautiful people, skews older on weekdays (35-55) than weekends (25-40). Either way, it's full of attractive women who know they're attractive and guys easily able to explain the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA.
Don't avoid the Monarch because your energy bill is past due or you've never asked anyone where they plan on summering. Ritzy as it may be, the lounge's ambience is surprisingly chill and only slightly intimidating.
In a statistic from a really convenient study that I just made up, humans need four things to stay alive: air, water, food and to become sorta-famous by winning a million dollars on a reality show. Luckily, Chyra Blackaller's Amazing Race-winning friends the Agus agreed to provide Nightfly with some tips on how to become the next reality superstar:
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1. Lose control, but not like Girls Gone Wild lose control — more like "wear white after Labor Day" lose control.
2. Got a fear? Face it. At one point in the race, Joyce had to wrestle a piece of raw meat away from a lion in Africa as part of a challenge. Not really, but she did shave her head, which is almost exactly the same.
3. Never lose sight of your goal. Unless it's really hard to attain. Then go right ahead.
Take that first step towards stardom by seeing if you can get someone important to notice you at these other swank hotel spots: The Black Swan (4 Riverway Dr.) — chicken quesadillas + martinis = best combination ever; Spencer's for Steaks & Chops (1600 Lamar) — one of the better steak places (and longer venue names) in town; and Lobby Lounge (1300 Lamar) — live piano man and advertised celebrity sightings, which is not at all corny.