Four Women Walk into a Bar...
It's another muggy night and there's nothing to do. "Why don't we go out?" my wife asks.
"Where?" I yawn.
"Downtown, maybe?" she asks hopefully.
I've lived in Galveston for a while now, but I've never checked out the downtown nightlife. All the tourists in neon bathing suits, driving giant SUVs up and down the seawall and hanging out the windows usually make me stay close to home. But downtown, I'm told, is a different story. After dark, when the tourists are all lounging by the hotel pool or ordering room service, there's a bit of real nightlife. If you're willing to look for it.
"Okay," I tell her. She jumps up and gets dressed before I can change my mind, and we head to Galveston's tiny downtown district. Without the luxury of Houston's sprawl, nightlife here is pushed into a few square blocks off Post Office and 20th. An afterthought, just in case the locals might want something to do besides gawk at the tourists.
First stop, the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe. This is the Galveston successor to the Houston bar where Townes Van Zandt put down his Live at the Old Quarter album, and it's owned by Van Zandt's former bassist, Rex "Wrecks" Bell, the guy for whom Van Zandt wrote "Rex's Blues." All of which makes it worth a visit. My wife and I walk in 30 minutes late for the live show. Fashionable rock and roll time, right? No, the Self Transforming Machine Elves started as scheduled and are already into the intense strumming and lively banter section of their acoustic set. It's all a little too intense and acoustic for us. We need a couple of beers first, so we go next door to Whiskey's All-American Pub. No strumming and banter here. In fact, there's not much of anything at all. It's dead quiet. I order myself a Shiner and a gin and tonic for my missus. The bartender knows what he's doing. The Shiner is ice cold, and there's just a tiny splash of tonic in the gin. The Astros are on the TV, pounding on the luckless Diamondbacks. Boring. I nod at the resident DJ, a.k.a. the bartender, and ask, "Why's it so dead in here tonight?"
"Whaddaya mean dead? It's hopping like a damned kangaroo in here." He laughs at his own joke. "Naw, just kidding, man. Our band canceled so we're not putting anything on tonight." My wife gives me her "We're leaving now" look and we start out. The DJ calls after us, "Don't do yer drinkin' all in one place, now." I promise him we won't.
Buzzless, we're still reluctant to tackle the acoustic set at the Old Quarter. We head across the street to Busker's Sports Bar. A wall of TV screens and NFL Sunday drink specials make it popular during football season. But this isn't football season, is it? No, it isn't. Busker's looks like Whiskey's but with a lot of TVs. Boring No. 2.
We find our way to Molly's, which has a fantastic beer selection. I can tell by all the tables of happy drunks. We order a Boddington's and a Stella Artois, both drafts. I've had a few beers in my drinking career, and Boddington's on tap is one of my top five favorites. But everyone else has too much of a head start on us. We're too sober to enjoy the beer-boosted ruckus, so we down our drinks and find the door. Again.
On the way out of Molly's, we run into some friends, Fiona, Valentina and Elodie, an odd German/Italian/French trio that somehow got stuck on the island and haven't found their way off yet. Fiona immediately spots a neon "Open" sign down the street, at a place she says is almost always closed. "It's a secret jazz club that opens only once every few months!" she tells us.
"Ooooooh!" coos Valentina. "Let's go!" adds Elodie. We walk in, each of us with our own vision of what a secret jazz club might look like. "Ugh," says Elodie, disappointed as soon as we open the door. The "secret jazz club" is now The Brown Door, a blues club/restaurant with a row of track lights aimed at the smallish stage. That's what passes for a blues club on the island. We find a table and order some tapas (yep, a blues club with tapas). We get some Dos Equis and mojitos. Spanish snacks, Mexican beers and Cuban drinks to go with our German, Italian and French friends. I'm trying to think of a UN joke when the band starts. On stage are the Spinerettes, a small combo with an electric guitar, drummer, violinist and singer. The violinist is a striking Japanese woman; the singer is dressed in a red satin suit, with sunglasses. Red stage lights on his red suit give him an odd glow. The band isn't bad -- not great, but not bad. They play mostly old soul tunes like "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."
We're starting to catch a little buzz, so not bad is good enough, at least for a while. After half an hour, we all get antsy. We head over to Club 21. Two steps in the door, the mojitos hit me and everything goes a little blurry. I look around, and I'm suddenly in the middle of a Thirtysomething rerun, except all the characters are dolled up, high as kites and hitting unglamorous poses.
Out on the dance floor is a giggly couple. He's drunk and his hand keeps slipping down the small of her back to her lumpy rump. In between each ass-grab, she laughs and pushes his hand back up to her waist. We find a table near the stage just in time to hear Pee Wee Bowen & the Moonlighters count off an ancient R&B tune. I look at the singer and am immediately encouraged. Any guy who has to carry a sweat towel and is already clogged-artery red before he hits the first note means business. The singer goes into his best John Belushi imitation, and the band kicks it into high gear to keep up with him. I turn to smile at my wife, but she's gone. All four women I walked in with are gone. I finally spy them out on the dance floor, like 15-year-old girls at their first prom. Shaking, shimmying and bouncing off-beat, they're dancing in a huddle, laughing at nothing in particular.
I order a round of Coronas and wait for my usually sensible wife to come back from her attack of Danceland fever. Half an hour later, the women return, breathless and slightly sweaty, but elated. Fiona looks at the four empty Coronas sitting in front of me and asks if she should order a round of kamikazes. I just smile. "Finally," I think, "I've found some nightlife." And all I had to do was look for it.
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