'Oooh, here comes another one!"
Short skirts, tan legs and high heels are all over Washington Avenue this Friday night, and ladies sporting those accessories keep walking in here at a steady pace. But unlike at Nox or Hughes Hangar, for example, the time the skirts spend in Pearl Lounge (4216 Washington) is a bit more limited.
"Hey, here she comes! She's totally in the wrong place."
A pretty young couple, Liz and Terry, sit at the bar intensely watching for more patrons to stroll in the door. Those heels and skirts are a big indicator of who might be misplaced, and the couple has made a guessing game out of it.
It's becoming a group effort, so we offer our two cents and laugh as our picks for Pearl newbies are proved right. The high-heeled girls back out of the bar, confused by its laid-back vibe, and stomp over to one of the dance-friendly lounges flanking this one.
Pearl Lounge may be a watering hole on Washington Avenue, Houston's somewhat still-happening nightlife strip, but this establishment is nothing like its neighbors. You'd be hard-pressed to find micro-minis and Louboutins here. In an area full of trendy bars and dance clubs and dress codes, this place wants nothing to do with that mess.
In a word, that's because Pearl is a bit more alternative compared to the surrounding bars. Taking the place of the old Pearl Bar -- a staple on this strip for the better part of a decade until its early-2013 demise -- this is hardly a dance-your-pants-off nightclub where you'll bounce away to the sounds of Akon or worse, Selena Gomez, which is blaring down the street. It's just a laid-back lesbian bar.
Not that the city, let alone the street, needed another venue dominated by flickering strobe lights. Both Houston and Washington Avenue are full of them. What they lack, though, is a bar catering to this demographic, a void that had existed since the beloved lower Westheimer bar Chances closed in late 2010. But now Pearl Lounge fills that void quite well.
It fills out Pearl Bar's old footprint pretty well, too. The massive patio where hula-hoopers and drunken storytellers used to laze the evening away has been cleaned up and refitted to host a massive crowd. Antique Pearl Beer signs, a hallmark of the bar's former life, are proudly displayed throughout.
"Hey, beers are super-cheap tonight. You guys want one?"
Liz and Terry seem to appreciate our input on the guessing game, so we're celebrating our newfound friendship with a few rounds of inexpensive beers. But those beers are cheap most nights, actually. The bartender, a pretty young brunette, clues us in to some of Pearl Lounge's weekly drink specials, which never seem to end: $2 wells on Woman Crush Wednesdays, $4 Coke Float shots, $2 Lone Star pints, mysterious Sunday Funday specials. Lucky Charm shots -- which we've admittedly never heard of -- are so epic they deserve their own night.
You can also take in some decent jazz on steak night, or perhaps down an IPA while seeing what happens Mondays at the open-mike night. Musicians like Charity Ann or Girl In A Coma's side project, FEA, have already taken the bar's stage, with more to come. There's even a dance night, just in case those skirts want to come back -- but it's awesome '70s, '80s and '90s music, quite different from what plays in the neighboring venues.
And they're welcome here. Everyone is. To label Pearl Lounge a lesbian bar would be to negate so much more about the place. Yes, it is, on paper, a bar that caters to a female crowd, but it hardly limits the patrons who walk through the door.
Rather, it's a lesbian-friendly bar with great music -- latter-day local riot grrrls Vanilla Sugar played last night, May 22, and 104.1 KRBE's DJ Phoenix spins both Fridays and Saturdays -- and a cozy atmosphere on a street where that can be hard to come by.
The masterminds behind this place, Mariana Lemesoff and Julie Mabry, were already art-bar heavyweights prior to Pearl Lounge. Lemesoff's other venue, Montrose mainstay AvantGarden, is just as eclectic and perfect, while Mabry is the perfect counterpart, a promoter and producer who adds her expertise to the music bookings.
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Together, they've created the unthinkable: a laid-back utopia in the midst of clubbing chaos. For some people, anyway.
Those micro-skirted girls looking for a rowdier time are still backing out slowly, confused at what they've stumbled upon, but it's not their fault. It would be easy to assume that Pearl is just another hard-partyin', hard-bodied Washington bar.
Liz leans forward, concerned.
"You know, they don't even realize they're missing out, man. Maybe they should stay."