Isabelle Mandela, 23, is shimmying her way up toward the top of a ten-foot-tall stripper pole for the second time in the last ten minutes. Once she gets there, she secures a strong two-handed grip, stabilizes herself, parts her legs wide and then begins spinning down from the heavens.
"I usually don't get up there," says Mandela afterwards, not at all sheepish about having just exposed her crotch to a room full of people. "But I've been taking some pole-dancing classes, so I thought I'd get up there tonight."
Across the room, a female bartender stands on the bar, using an open flame and mouthful of alcohol to blow fire like a dragon.
On a raised section of the perimeter of the dance floor, Chalana Warner, 24, has danced herself into such a heated stupor that she has decided to take her shirt off, leaving her sweaty torso to be covered only by her black sports bra.
Near the DJ booth, a member of Houston's infamous Tango Blast is trying to get a photographer to take a picture of the "Houstone" tattoo on the back of his shaved head. When she laughs off his initial request, he asks her again, only this time it sounds a lot less like there's a question mark at the end of his sentence.
It's 12:50 a.m. at Toc Bar (112 Travis). And it's kind of a slow night.
"We usually do about 1,000 on the weekends," says club promoter and local hip-hop villain V-Zilla, referring to the number of people who pass through the venue's doors on any given Saturday night.
You know Toc Bar, right? Yeah, you know Toc.
It's that two-story nightclub in the big white building on the northern edge of downtown. The one you've likely avoided visiting because of its reputation for being a low-budget, fight-prone hip-hop club.
People should have been marveling when Toc celebrated its tenth anniversary in the merciless nightclub industry at the beginning of last year, but everybody was too preoccupied by the rumors that OG Ron C got tasered in the neck by one of the bar's security guards.
A lot of what you hear about Toc Bar has a measure of truth to it. By today's standards, it's on the back end of the "How Classy Looking Is This Place?" rankings, particularly compared to downtown spots like Isis (1010 Prairie) and Hearsay (218 Travis). And there is the occasional shoving match/fight, though the number of incidents probably isn't any higher than at similar places like the Roxy (5351 W. Alabama) or Hush (15625 Katy Fwy.).
And yes, OG Ron C says he was tasered in the neck in February 2009. When we texted him to ask if he was still pissed about it, he simply responded, "Hell yesss lol."
But there's one thing about Toc Bar that only the people who go there seem to know about (or appreciate): Every Saturday night at 1 a.m., once the bottom level of the club is so full that people are herded into the upstairs area, V-Zilla and DJ Kaos pound through a glorious 30-minute homage to Houston's rap history.
What started inadvertently as an on-mike rant by Zilla about supporting local hip-hop artists nearly eight months ago has morphed into the signature moment, and most enjoyable half an hour, of any weekend at Toc. Now a honed mash-up of some of the city's most beloved anthems, the mini-set always sends the crowd into fits.
Tonight's show is no different. At 1:01 a.m., the drawn-out hook of Lil' Troy's "Wanna Be a Baller" gets the crowd's attention. The tinkering at the beginning of Fat Pat's "Top Drop" gets 'em aped. "Still Tippin'," the first bit of "June 27th" with Drake's ode to Houston "November 18th" sprinkled in for good measure, a transition from Black Rob's "Wow" to Big Moe's "Mann," Keke's "Southside" to Moe's "Barre Baby," are all accompanied by raucous cheers from the sudden swarm of people on the dance floor.
When Z-Ro's "Mo City Don (Freestyle)" opens up, the place detonates. A girl with a snake tattoo on her right shoulder blade aggressively goes word for word through as much of the song as Kaos plays, which is exactly what you'd expect a girl with a snake tattoo on her right shoulder blade to do in that situation. Nobody fights, nobody mean mugs, nobody gets tasered in the neck or any other vital part of the body. People just rock.
The set rounds out with some unexpected Slim Thug and the inevitable hat-tips to UGK. As soon as it's over, the crowd dissipates noticeably.
"It's a staple," says Zilla of the Houston mix. "People specifically wait for that shit. One o'clock, they know what it is. People love it. And we wanna support the artists."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"We'll do it until it becomes mundane," he adds. "But it'll never be that."
What with SXSW and all, there is a ton of music around town this weekend. (Check an events calendar or something, it's far too much to list here.) But be sure you at least make an effort to get over to Numbers (300 Westheimer) Saturday for the "80's Reunion III" show with Bruce Godwin, Robot and the club's marquee DJ, Wes Wallace. All three are quality acts, but Wallace — often referred to as "That Guy Is Still Spinning Records? I Saw Him Perform, Like, 15 Years Ago" — is a local nightlife institution. He's ageless. Grab his stuff online at www.weswallace.com.