According to FreeDictionary.com, a mink is a furry, weasel-like creature. Strangely enough, except for a couple of guys in tiny vests and big sunglasses scurrying about, Midtown scenester hangout The Mink (3718 Main) seems to be entirely weasel-free.
Its name still seems to fit, though, evenif nobody seems to understand exactly why. It probably has something to do with the venue's aesthetic, a thoughtful but not overly deliberate sort of cool.
Three separate parts make up The Mink. There's a front bar area where patrons can enjoy a moderately priced drink (including delicious frozen margaritas) without being pummeled over the head by Papermoons or Woozyhelmet or whichever other enjoyable indie band has been booked that night. This part is fairly small in size — capacity about 75 people — but it's the most visually appealing section.
Red and pink hues complement the room's dark wooden accents, and there's a certain old Chicago-style flair. The large, curious painting of a man in a dress at the front of the room looks to be perfectly at home.
The outdoor patio linking the front bar with the famed Backroom, the separate two-story building where The Mink's live shows actually take place, is nothing special in and of itself. But because it's jammed in between the two buildings, everyone is right on top of each other, so you sort of get the feeling you're hanging out with a bunch of people you already know.
That can be misleading, though. While walking through the patio area, we spotted Cody Swann of the Wild Moccasins. We gave him the "what's up?" head-nod, then stared right in his face for a good 15 seconds of total silence. It wasn't Swann, turns out, just another mustachioed gent. Oops.
Continuing upstairs, the two-story Backroom is the most enjoyable part of The Mink. Although the bar has been open around five years, management only dedicated itself to seriously promoting Backroom shows — be they DJ crews or live bands — just a few months back.
"We want to give people something they haven't heard a million times before," says booking agent Jeoaf Johnson, who can usually be found running the Backroom's sound. "We want to have music as often as possible while maintaining our integrity. We're definitely focusing on trying to make it as a live-music venue."
Even though its three interlocking parts can make The Mink feel more like a compound than a bar, the Backroom's upstairs performance space is actually quite easy to get to. Just follow this simple procedure.
Make your way through the narrow front bar area to the back door, turn left once you hit the alley, make a right at the first picnic table, enter the back building, walk past the downstairs bar and hangout cubbies, wade through what you assume to be a watery trove of gold coins but actually ends up being the town's wishing well, play the proper tune on an organ made of bones and make a left down the small corridor that leads to some stairs. Go up those stairs, and there you are.
"You gotta have a certain level of coordination to make it up here," laughs Summer Sanders, a daytime accountant who successfully completed the trek in a pair of nearly-four-inch stacked heels. "The fact that I almost broke my ankle on the way up here makes it even better."
The Mink really is a surprisingly genteel hipster bar, not unlike Poison Girl (1641 Westheimer). Just be aware that it's now open to the 18-and-up crowd, which means if you even look under 30, your ID will be scrutinized as if you'd just got off a plane from Islamabad.
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But letting underagers in has yet to skew The Mink's typical indie, trendy, 23-to-35 customer profile much. It helps the club put bands onstage four to six nights a week — The Mink also hosts several regular DJ nights like the weekly Speakerboxx (ending July 30) and monthly Hype!, both wildly popular — and hasn't disturbed the club's casually hip vibe much at all (yet).
But we'd still like someone to explain that name.
On a recent evening at the Backroom, Woozyhelmet and Side Arms were in fine form, but the Jonx owned the night. All the groups were loud, but the Houston/Austin punk trio seemed to be coming at you from every direction. It was much more visceral than listening to the band's MySpace page, but have a go anyway at www.myspace.com/thejonx. The highlight was the Sonic Youth-like closer "Scent of Earth," which lasted for what seemed like two hours. Also, Woozyhelmet's LP Get Down is a smooth move, and "Karaoke" is phenomenal live. Pick up a copy on iTunes.