Half an hour isn't much time, but sometimes — in Night World, especially — it can mean a world of difference.
Get to Vintage Lounge (2108 Kipling) around 11 p.m., for example, and the sprawling, two-year-old venue near Shepherd and Westheimer is a graveyard. Maybe 12 people will be inside. Get there at 11:25 p.m., though, and the place is utterly packed.
Arriving at a nightlife destination before anyone else has its advantages. For one, it's easier to get service from a bartender of the same gender. If the joint is busy, a guy is better off finding a bathtub and concocting his own gin than trying to wave down a male bartender. (Montrose bars excluded, of course.)
Two, the restrooms are still dry. After12:45 a.m., for unknown reasons, all parts of all club bathrooms everywhere are wet — floors, walls, attendees, whatever. They're completely soaked. It's gross. And completely unreasonable.
And three, early arrival affords you the opportunity to inspect the venue without interruption. This is helpful, because regardless of a club's actual ugliness, if there are enough pretty people walking around, its visual appeal will inevitably register in your brain as something skewed like, "Great spot — has a certain weathered charm."
So in this respect, Vintage Lounge is a winner.
Some might think it's still the glitzy club it was when it first opened, but after a supposedly laid-back Halloween party drew a crowd of more than 1,700 people, management opted to change its business model.
The space remains essentially divided into three main sections: The first, a decent-sized front patio, comes complete with covered seating area, bar and a large window revealing the dance floor inside the lounge.
"It's like looking into an aquarium full of horny fish," cracked one wise-ass patron, "or window-shopping at a store filled with dance-impaired mannequins."
The inside area, where Vintage's previously swanky vibe has been all but eliminated, usually entertains about a nine-to-two female-to-male ratio thanks to DJ extraordinaire Keelan.
"It's just something I've picked up on," the perhaps overly modest Keelan says. "I do hair during the day, so I'm around women all the time. They like ghetto music and '80s music, [so] I just mix those together and it all works out."
This turns out to be one of those rare situations when someone is actually telling the exact truth. At one point in the evening, Keelan mixes Lil Wayne's "A Milli" and Michael Sembello's "Maniac" and, wayward as it sounds, it sends the femmes into a frenzy.
Although it suffers from Keelan's hold over Vintage's female customers, the venue's back patio is its most impressive feature. It's huge, easily holding a couple hundred people — most weekend nights Vintage attendance averages between 700 and 800 — with those classy, Pier One-style wooden picnic tables, four verandas, another bar, flat-screen TVs and overhanging trees. And dudes. A lot of dudes.
"Is it just me, or are there a whole lot of guys out here?" asks Jessica Buhler, a teacher who normally visits during the week. It's not.
The typical patio crowd is young, white, professional and most appreciative of Vintage's leisurely nature — lots of lilac polo shirts, boat shoes and whatnot. Should you show up in one of those nifty Affliction or Ed Hardy T-shirts, you will promptly be denied entry — unlike at many local nightspots these days.
"It's not the Midtown crowd or the Washington crowd," says law-firm consultant and regular Andrae Turner. "Nobody's trying to impress anybody or start fights. Just [to] relax."
What with all the young lawyers and investment bankers poking around, Vintage feels like both a solid place to network and a post-graduate Delta Tau Delta party. One recent night, many of the stock characters even non-Greeks might recognize from Animal House or Old School were present and accounted for.
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Drunk Guy in a Rugby Shirt was there, as was Guy Who Likes To High-Five Too Much, who found it necessary to give us some skin and a hug after we accidentally made eye contact with him on our way to talk to the DJ. We even spotted both Tall Attractive Guy with a Winning Smile and his opposite, Goofy-Looking Guy Who's Allowed to Hang Out Because He's a Legacy.
All told, Vintage Lounge benefits from knowing exactly what it wants to be: a mostly laid-back hangout for Houston's up-and-coming would-be socialites. But even if that's not your scene, just get there before 11 p.m., and you can do whatever you want.
Not to be confused with the frat-friendly confines of Vintage Lounge is the rock-friendly Vintage Pub (13245 Jones). VP has been hosting a weekly Battle of the Bands tournament lately, and next weekend is the finale. And not to tip our hand too much, but we've been quietly rooting for the edgy indie-rock band Osirus. (You might remember the group from last December's EP Awaken, which is still available on iTunes.) It's a fun, spunky, industrially modern-sounding band that's a lot heavier than the members' manicured looks would indicate; they remind us of the shimmery, yet still pounding, rock-boys of Pale in that respect. We're hoping Osirus is as enjoyable live as it is coming out of computer speakers; see the group at Vintage Pub's BOB finale May 17 at 6 p.m. and online at www.osirus.net.