It's your right as a tax-paying American: When it's hot as hell, and Sisqo's "Thong Song" is playing on every radio from sea to shining sea, you're entitled to see some ladies parade around half-nekkid.
That's what Houston thinks, at least. A bunch of clubs 'round town offer this attraction in the form of "bikini contests." Gals from all over get decked out in their finest two-pieces and get all oily for cash prizes, vacation trips and the admiration of overagitated males. These contests have become summer promotional flings for clubs, big and not-so-big. And even though the thought of young ladies baring most of it all for financial gain smacks of dubious debauchery, the events are actually as innocuous as homecoming pageants. That's a big part of what makes them work.
The mammoth multiplex City Streets (5078 Richmond), a compendium of clubs inside a club, recently held a two-month Thursday-night swimwear competition inside one of its nightspots. Everything went over fine and dandy, and not one rowdy dude was thrown out. Denise McCarthy, director of marketing and sales for City Streets, says that its bikini-clad bootyfests are always handled with a sense of decorum. (Or as much decorum as you can muster while wearing two tiny pieces of Lycra.) "I think all contests are fun, and I think guys like to come out and watch them," says McCarthy. "But we have a very professionally run contest. The girls get to be very happy with it."
The same goes for highly sponsored contests like The Miss Hawaiian Tropic Texas competition. The event, which has ladies duking it out for a chance to be a Hawaiian Tropic spokesmodel, has been circulating through clubs and bars all over the city since April, including Woodrow's (3111 Chimney Rock), The Roxy (5351 West Alabama) and Sam's Boat (5720 Richmond). Janelle Flatt, promotions and marketing director of Houston's Elite Productions, which handles the Miss Hawaiian Tropic search in Texas, says that the contests are (yawn!) almost too conservative. "Ours is done a lot more tactful and more tasteful," says Flatt. "The reason being is the girls go up there and they go out in a cocktail dress first, and then they go out in their bikinis. No dancing allowed. No thongs allowed. This is a pageant, an international pageant. The girls, they know what their boundaries are. The clubs know what their boundaries are."
Many of these pageants, contests, hootenannies, whatever the hell you wanna call 'em, are mainly held in hangouts on the famed Richmond and Westheimer strips. As many a strip-dweller will say, these areas are also home to several of Houston's fine strip clubs -- excuse me, "gentlemen's cabarets" -- including Rick's (3113 Bering) and Centerfolds (6166 Richmond). To compete, you'd think the pageants would have to be a little more daring, right?
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Not really. John Finlay, owner-publisher of the local travel magazine Concierge, has attended many of these swimsuit showdowns and has even judged a couple. Finlay says that while many of the pageant outlets do have to contend with those that offer more revealing entertainment, they both follow the same ole nightclub rules. "The bar business works this way," says Finlay. "If you have good-looking girls walk into your club, then you have good-looking guys, and guys that come and spend money on liquor. If you get the girls, you get the guys." Some clubs have found that less is less. Downtown hangout TOC Bar (711 Franklin) used to hold an "Anything Goes Bikini Contest" the first Sunday of every month (even the cold ones). No longer. As experts will tell you, bikini contests handled "properly" (which means professionally) are often the most successful. "The ones that are most promoted are the ones, I think," says Finlay, "that are the best attended and do the best for everybody."
Miss Hawaiian Tropic is having its first preliminary competition Saturday, July 29, at J. Edgar's, 12797 Westheimer, at 6 p.m., and a finals competition Sunday, July 30, at Jump's Sports Bar & Grill, 13180 Westpark, no. 301. For more information, call (281)870-8463.
After being tagged by Playboy as one of "the best bars and clubs in America," The Mercury Room (1008 Prairie) is throwing a "Playboy Party" on Thursday night, July 27, complete with Playmates in lingerie and -- well, what else do you really need to know? If fraternizing with scantily clad barmaids just ain't your thang, you can skip over to T-Town 2000 (6400 Richmond) on that same night and see if the club's got what it takes to bring house, trance and other forms of techno to the Richmond Strip with "Planet Love." (We shall see.) Call (713)541-0082 for more on that.