It's a Channelview Tuesday night. At Big Dog's Ice House (214 Sheldon), we take some seats next to big men in working stiff's coveralls. Across the way are two women with tight, toothpick-rolled perms eating steaks and Cheetos, stopping occasionally to coo into a baby stroller.
Just past these lot lizards, two old men cackle loudly. They're seated next to a young woman in a pink satin top, panties and heels. Her dimpled onions are separated by a piece of fabric wedged so tightly between the cheeks it would make floss jealous.
She is Tuesday night's happy-hour attraction: the "lingerie show" at Big Dog's.
It's a far cry from white-collar Houston. Living inside the Loop -- especially during the balmier parts of February, March and April -- can be deceiving. Absent are the mosquitoes, the hair-curling humidity, the kiln-hot, dusty, face-melting air and the perpetual glare of the sun. Parks are filled with walkers, and streets -- weak from their daily pounding -- are gently caressed by bicycle tires. Sip lattes on any Montrose-area patio, and it's hard to convince yourself you aren't in Portland.
But when Houston's summer rears its ugly head, it'll be easier to deal with if you're prepared -- which is precisely why we've dragged ourselves all the way out to Big Dog's on the east side, where Houston is never anything but itself. The sky is always a bit dank, and that smell of petrochemicals fills the air.
At the very least, this is the line of bullshit we've fed ourselves so as not to feel guilty about ogling tonight's model-for-hire -- who has just gone to change into her second seedy outfit.
Big Dog's is a cozy place. It is Channelview's bar where "bikers are always welcome." But choppers are conspicuously absent from the lot. Tonight's patrons favor trucks the size of ocean liners -- behemoths that make Marge Simpson's Canyonero look like a Mini Cooper.
Inside, you'll find typical icehouse fare: a couple of pool tables, beer ads throughout and people grilling rib eyes and baking potatoes out back. Behind the bar stands a tall, old man in overalls -- Big Dog himself -- who greets customers cordially and slides napkin-wrapped beers down the length of the bar from his icy stocked tub.
A sign on the mirror reads, "No tolerance for fighting." Just under it sits racks of BC Powder, Alka-Seltzer and other drugs designed to assist your poor head when it finds itself toe-to-toe with the fermented fits. And with beer at $2 a pop ($1.50 Miller Light from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.), it's bound to happen sooner or later.
And then there's the strawberry-blond model. She reappears in a racy red number and takes a seat next to another set of gentlemen down the bar. After a minute or so, they're laughing mightily too. She stands up, bends over and gives the boys a better look at her goods, which they're none too shy about taking -- their noses are just inches away from the new floss.
By the time she makes her way over to us at the pool table, we're deep into a game of Cutthroat. Her name is Stevie, and she has no problem cutting to the quick. "Do you guys want to buy some tickets for the drawing?" she asks.
The lowdown is this: Five bones will get you ten tickets. With your $5 purchase, you'll be eligible to win a koozie ($1 value), a beer ($2 value), a "men's shirt" or -- if you're lucky -- some of the lingerie worn tonight by Stevie herself to be used later as smelling salts or something.
What you're really buying, of course, is Stevie's time. She's in the business of parting dick-thinking dudes from their hard-earned ducats. We promptly buy ten tickets to rent her company.
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She is from Wharton. She works for Gulf Coast Models. She does lingerie drawings all over town, "from Tomball to Rosenberg." She thinks sobriety sucks. She has a felony possession charge to prove it. After she leaves Big Dog's she'll be heading to another bar in Webster. She says she really hopes we win the drawing, even rubbing our tickets on her bibbies for good luck.
Her newest outfit, a see-through, baby-blue lace unitard, is downright indecent. In fact, you can see she's completely shaven -- the wrinkles of her clam reach up and whisper a gentle hello.
"Yeah, it probably is illegal," she agrees after I voice my concern. "Hell, I told you I have a felony -- you can't expect me to go full-on legal eagle, can you?"
After losing the drawing, we have a decision to make: Follow Stevie to Webster or sit down for another cool one? When Big Dog starts telling us about building his establishment from the "weeds up," we bid young Stevie adieu.