Invasion of the Giant Cheeseburgers

El Nightfly's Mexican amigo says No ms to Christian's Tailgate.
Brian McManus

Is anything hipper than Midtown right now? Young studs in screen-printed button-ups waltz around its newly refurbished streets looking for action. Tanned and toned ladies with tiny lower-back tattoos strap on high heels and pound the pavement, eschewing foot health in favor of glamour.

You know the places: Komodo's Pub, Red Door, Farrago. This is where young, trendy and upwardly mobile Houston parties. Ripped abs and bubble butts down copious amounts of alcohol in these establishments, stumble up the stairs of the newish lofts that dot the emerging neighborhood's landscape to do what they do best: convert said cocktails into cocks in tails.

They are the crowd that doesn't mind spending $300 on a pair of shoes even though their receptionist job at El Paso Energy pays only 35K a year. The women all want to be Carrie Bradshaw, and the men all want to bang them.

The places they eat and drink are fabulous. Their clothes are by the hottest designers (even if they're bought on eBay). Their insatiable hunger for excess is constrained only by budget -- and even that can't stop the most ardent opulence junkie. (Can you say "credit card debt"?)

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Enter Christian's Tailgate Grill and Bar. The Midtown burger joint is Christian and clan's second location, the first being the venerable, down-to-earth staple on Washington Avenue. The converted convenience store housing the original is a haven for blue-collar types and hungry downtowners eager to chomp on what many consider the city's best and, if you order the large, most immense burger.

On the other hand, Christian's in Midtown is located on the ground floor of the sleek Post lofts at Bagby and Gray. It's the same idea (big burgers/buckets of bottled beer) playing to a completely different audience.

Have the folks at Christian's lost their minds? Have they done their market research? Do they really think their humble concept -- a nice one, to be sure -- can survive in the land of sunglasses at night and fake Louis Vuitton bags? What shot, if any, would a broad array of Houstonians think Christian's Tailgate has in the heart of H-town's haven for hotness?

With these questions in mind, I assemble a crack staff of diverse everymen. When taking on such a task, the organizer must think like a producer of MTV's Real World. The cast members must be different enough so as to not share the same views, but similar enough to weave a common thread through the human experience...or something. So I've brought together a wildly heterogeneous bunch -- an attorney, a hipper-than-thou indie music scenester, a sexy, calendar-ready firefighter, an alcoholic and a Mexican. Before the night is over, we'll try to come to a consensus about the future of Midtown's newest resident.

We arrive to the sounds of the band Beryl Grady doing an Alanis cover, and already two of the castmates feel uneasy about our project.

Scenester solemnly notes that he "wouldn't feel right criticizing the place. It's just not built for me."

Mexican asks, "What the fuck am I doing here?" and bolts.

The place is crowded yet spacious. It's opening night, and Christian's wears its newness graciously -- the exposed kitchen of sparkling steel shines, the paint surrounding the boxlike bar has just finished drying. Tiny flat-screen televisions tuned to sports line the walls. There are a few tailgates scattered about -- including one housing a salad bar -- ensuring you won't easily forget the theme. All the tables are taken, and the cast members are forced to take their seats in a cozy back room with still more flat screens and another bar.

First impressions are mixed. Attorney thinks everyone in the place looks the same. She feels they're all friends of the owners or fans of the band -- not a true reflection of what the clientele will look like in a few months. Firefighter wonders how a band this "terrible" can have fans. Alky is lined up at the bar for the first of several buckets.

The chilled six-packs on ice are $16. Everyone feels this is reasonable. Everyone, that is, but Alky. "It's the grand fucking opening! They should be giving liquor away! Shot specials or something."

After Alky's "What I'd Do on Opening Day" soliloquy, our room -- currently occupied by castmates only -- is graced by the presence of none other than Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. He's rolling with an impressive entourage that all but ensures he'll be noticed. Slowly, Beryl Grady fans and owner friends begin trickling into the space to take pictures and say hellos.

For about half an hour, it's the most jumping party on earth. Then Billy leaves -- he doesn't dematerialize as in the Eliminator-era videos, he just walks out the door like a normal human -- and the castmates are alone again.

We head to the front room to discover it has emptied considerably. Beryl Grady trucks on, playing current radio mainstays by Nickleback and Lit. Alky starts to become belligerent. "Play some Guns N' Fuckin' Roses!" he screams.

Meanwhile, the rest of us talk about Christian's and its chances. We agree, to a man, that it's an ill fit with its new neighborhood, as far as the bar goes. The cast feels the place will do stellar lunchtime business but isn't sure about its staying power as a bar.

Scenester feels that well-heeled middle-aged rednecks will make the place their own. "It'll do fine," he surmises.

I press him. "Are there a lot of middle-aged rednecks with money in Midtown?"

"There are a lot in Houston in general, and I can see them making regular trips to this place."

This is surely the same line of thinking that brought Christian's Tailgate to this part of town to begin with.

The cast chats a bit more about business plans, marketing and "finding a base." They don't see eye to eye on much of anything. They do, however, come to the consensus that Beryl Grady sucks.

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