Geek Culture Meets Houston Nightlife at Neil's Bahr
'Eat, sleep, game, repeat."
A tall, slick-haired guy whose black T-shirt is emblazoned with that very slogan pushes his way through this packed EaDo bar, but no one seems to mind. Most folks are giving him the thumbs-up, which seems strange given the density of the room. But he's earned a pass to part the nerd seas.
"Hey, man, that's a sweet shirt," one admirer calls. "Where did you find that thing?"
If there's ever been somewhere with an accidental dress code, it's Neil's Bahr (2006 Walker). The new downtown bar/nerd haven is a geek's paradise, complete with matching decor that welcomes all lovers of smart-guy culture. Magic The Gathering and Super NES fanatics need not worry; impromptu tournaments are announced from time to time via the bar's Facebook page, boasting prizes like Micro Center gift cards. Everything here is an homage to geek culture.
Tonight it's packed for Geeks Who Drink, a popular trivia contest and, given the lack of breathing room, obviously one of the bar's busier nights. T-shirts sporting clever slogans or superhero emblems are bombarding us from all corners, causing us to second-guess our dressier attire.
"Hey, Neil. How you doin', man?"
Apparently Neil Fernandez, the bar's namesake — apart from the wince-worthy pun on 20th-century Danish nuclear physicist Neils Bohr, that is — is already famous for this endeavor, despite opening only in mid-March. He's perched against the patio railing, and the regulars (yes, Neil's already boasts quite a few) all call him by name while walking past. A steady stream of people make their way onto the patio to post up by the grill. It's steak night, and trivia is a trying sport; sustenance is essential when utilizing one's Yoda knowledge.
But not everyone is partaking in trivia. Some of us try to avoid a mental ass-kicking at all cost, and it seems the gentlemen next to us at the bar agree. Rather than play along, they're discussing what makes for a good Simpsons episode, so we're inclined not only to eavesdrop but to add our opinion to the mix.
"No way, dude...remember that episode where Bart got a credit card in the name of Santos L. Halper? Man, that was one of the best episodes. The 'donut soul' episode was just all right."
The series is usually playing at Neil's, which every so often switches over to Tim Burton's Beetlejuice or another nerdy cult classic just for variety. But what's on TV is hardly the only sign this bar may be a bit, well, outside the box. Surrounded by high-volume EaDo establishments — Lucky's Pub (801 St. Emanuel) and Mojeaux's Drinkery (2024 Rusk) are both on the same block — Neil's sets itself apart from more traditional watering holes by its signage alone. A glowing atom, complete with an olive nucleus, greets patrons from its perch atop the bar like a nerdy bat-signal for the folks who flock here in droves.
"Oh my dear lord...is that an AT-AT?"
It seems our drinking partner for the evening has spotted some piece of geek bait or another, and is now making her way toward it at a rapid pace. The bar top is lined with Star Wars toys, with a model of an Imperial Walker from The Empire Strikes Back resting just out of reach behind the bar. No doubt it's stowed away among the bottles of liquor and the glass mugs for safety reasons, judging from our companion's overwhelming excitement as she schemes how to get her hands on it.
But it's not just the Star Wars stuff. The walls of Neil's are lined with murals paying homage to various sci-fi flicks. The vintage arcade games and old-school console systems scattered throughout are frequently used to host tournaments. There are even comic-book sitting areas, complete with rack upon rack of comics, but good luck getting to them. It's nearly impossible to get to the good seats unless you're willing to lose a finger or two.
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