My pal Mike just turned 50. Thirty some-odd years ago, he was the friend who meticulously planned our nights out. He’d sit in the back of whichever crappy car we took, barking out addresses and directions as we willingly drove wherever he instructed — our high school’s darkened parking lot to drink Mickey’s Big Mouths, Champ’s diner for strong coffee and after-hours shit-talking, the Academy XXX Theater on Main Street...but, just that one time.
Mike is Italian and he cherishes his heritage and so do we, his friends who’ve deferred to him over these many years as if he were a Corleone. So, when he said he wanted to celebrate a half-century by having a “Rat Pack” night out, it made sense. He’s the Sinatra in our group. Without him calling the shots, his birthday came and went without the proper celebration. Were he a true godfather, I’d be sleeping with the fishes right now. Instead, I’ve been researching where in Houston anyone hoping to have such a night might go.
As luck would have it, a pair of approaching events can add a little flair to the perfect Houston Rat Pack night out. Friday’s The Rat Pack Is Back! at Jones Hall is one option. We saw the Christmas edition of the show a couple of years ago, and the performers aren’t just Madame Tussaud-like figures. They’re fantastic singers who are so good at what they do that you’ll wonder why you’re not stepping onto the Las Vegas Strip once you leave.
If your plan needs more time to develop than tomorrow night's event affords, book your Rat Pack night around Miller Outdoor Theatre’s October 11 celebration of The Original Jersey Boy – Frank Sinatra, Big Band to Vegas. Presented by the Houston Chamber Choir, the free event celebrates what would have been the Chairman of The Board’s 100th birthday.
With one of those options as a centerpiece, what other Houston stops evoke the vibe of 1960s Vegas? To give our research some authenticity, we assembled our own Rat Pack of sorts, made up of members of Houston’s punk community. Mike has fronted bands, promoted shows like Fuzzy Fest and created in-your-face, black-and-white visual art for band logos, album art and show flyers. James is a guitarist who has played with bands like Decathect and Molotov Compromise. His fiancée, Ashley, rounded out our pack to give it some femininity. I asked them to Pack it up because they’re classy. Or ratty, I forget. But they were totally up for it.
The first place to start would be Uber. After all, you’re going to be tossing back dry martinis and scotch for hours, so please get a driver. If Uber or a cab seems beneath you (or the Rat Pack), do it the right way and find a chauffeur and specialty vehicle, like an old-school Rolls-Royce or, more traditionally, a black stretch limo.
The Davenport Lounge might be a good first stop. With more than 70 martinis and 100 whiskeys to choose from, clearly it would be a present-day Houston stop for Dean, Sammy and Frank. The bar is intimate and not teeming with hordes of bros, the antithesis of the Rat Pack's manly cool. From there, we’d endorse Witchcraft Tavern and Provision Co. in the Heights. Obviously, it’s got a name Ol' Blue Eyes would love, along with happy-hour Old Fashioneds, Bloody Marys and Mimosas on weekends. Heading into downtown, we’d hit Julep on Washington for some low-lit, simple elegance and to select from a spirits list that would have Foster Brooks busy for hours.
Ya gotta eat, pally boy. If you’re going to do it Rat Pack style, you might book a table where you can also take in a show, the way 1960s Houston did at places like the Windmill and Dean Goss dinner theaters. Prohibition Supperclub & Bar is such a place, the only present-day supper club in a city that has enjoyed its share over the years. Thursdays through Saturdays, the restaurant features live shows staged by The Moonlight Dolls accompanied by a prix fixe meal. Currently, the Dolls have teamed with a favorite Guy of ours, HPMA winner Nick Greer, to present Magnolia City. The murder mystery is music-heavy, just announced matinee shows and runs Sundays through October 4.
We’d advocate for after-show drinks at Dean’s. The former version was better suited to our assembly of rat packers, but the current incarnation is upscale enough to impress Dino, should his ghost decide it ought to be "goin’ back to Houston, Houston, Houston.” The bar's sharply decorated exterior features a large photo of Main Street from days gone by, maybe as it existed when the actual Rats crawled these streets.
By now, we’d be creeping toward the midnight hour and we’d search for entertainment reminiscent of the Pack’s glory days. Practically any given night, you might find a Houston artist crooning the standards at Corkscrew Piano Lounge. You might catch the incredibly talented pianist Matt Morelli there or pianist/vocalist Pamela York or Kristine Mills, if she’s here at home with the little-town blues and not performing in New York, New York.
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If your favorite Packer was Joey Bishop, there are scores of talented Houston comics to catch on your night out. Like Bishop, Gabe Bravo’s dry, wry comedy delivers. This town needs an insult comic à la Don Rickles, but until we get one, consider seeking out rising talents like John Nguyen, Dusti Rhodes and Ashton Womack.
We’d have our driver head to Market Square to close the night out with drinks at a pair of neighboring bars. Char Bar is nice enough for a well-tailored suit but also casual enough to loosen your bow tie and lose the cuff links. Ask the effervescent Charlene to mix you something nice, then saunter next door to Warren’s Inn. Whether you’ve brought along your best guy or gal or are looking for a stranger in the night, summon a Sinatra tune from the bar’s excellent jukebox and order one for your baby and one more for the road.