People who listen to '80s music do not like to fight. It's weird. Like, when was the last time you were sitting around listening to Depeche Mode and thought, "I feel like kicking some ass right now"? It just doesn't happen. That's why you can feel safe at Montrose's Etro Lounge (1424 Westheimer) even though there are no security guards, Jared the doorman notwithstanding.
(What's weird about security guards, though, is that they always seem to have the opposite of their intended effect. For example, if you walk into a club and there are no visible security guards, you're like, "Man, this place must be really safe." But if you walk into a club and there are eight security guards, you're like, "Dude, I didn't know this place was in the Fifth Ward." Just kidding, Fifth Ward. Please don't stab us.)
Operating seven days a week in a former reptile shop, Etro opened in January of '07 and has continued to impress even the most ardent of Houston's non-violent artsy naysayers, beginning with its packaging. Remember when you used to daydream about the way your badass New York apartment was going to look when you moved up there to work Off Broadway? Back before you totally sold out and took that job at Shell Oil 13 years ago? That's kinda like what Etro Lounge looks like.
The interior is one of the cleanest (cool clean, not clean clean) on the Lower Westheimer strip. Its artfully stained and spotted concrete floor acts as the understated tattered jeans to the lounge's wardrobe. The appealing modern-lighted bar, hand-carved wooden artwork and chain-link lounge furniture were all made by the club's owner, Reese Haisler, and all conspire to stay on this side of the "forced cool" line that is the bane of too many Midtown lounges. (Fix Lounge and Bond Lounge, we're looking in your direction.)
Every day during happy hour — which lasts until 9 p.m. — '80s board games are laid out for your enjoyment and/or mockery, including Connect Four, Battleship and chess (which, as we all know, has always been associated with the '80s). On Wednesdays, as part of Game Night — which not coincidentally rhymes with Lame Night — people choose from over 50 cartridges and play an actual working Atari console whose transmissions are displayed over the entrance via a projector.
The nostalgia factor is also at work behind the bar: There are several retro martinis available, including the I Think I'm Turning Japanese, White Lines and the Whip It Good, a staunch concoction containing vodka, olive juice and tears from the original members of Devo.
The crowd inside Etro is about what you'd expect: middle in age, artistic in nature and cumbersome in jewelry. Music is supplied by Haisler himself (a former Red Door and Copa Room spinster), DJ Fredster or the MP3 system, and it bounces from '80s underground to synth-pop to a fusion of same, mixed with some of today's finest indie rock. There's never a cover, the dress code is lax (so long as you're rocking the shit) and the upstairs backroom offers a bit of an escape, should the retro-ness become too oppressive. Because as we all know, retro vibes, like the poisonous gas Sarin, are slightly thicker than air and thus hover close to the ground.
If you're not in love with the scene, it all can definitely become a bit too "hey, remember when...," but for the most part, Haisler has created a pretty good impression of Richmond Avenue's legendary 6400 era and done well to fill what had been Houston's void for a quality '80s gathering spot.
Says Haisler: "[It's] designed by an artist, built by an artist, for artists, musicians and the artistically minded thinker."
Artists are welcome, in case you missed that.
You don't walk into a gun show without a Confederate flag tattoo, and you don't walk into an '80s-themed lounge without brushing up on being so boss. This week, Nightfly called on Etro's resident Kangol-hatted bartender, Geronimo Villalobos, for three tips on how to impress all the '80s-minded females:
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1. Never buy anyone a drink as an opening to conversation; it's played. You know that commercial where that creepy old Asian lady eats the five-dollar bill? You might as well give that move a shot, because your chances at success are about the same.
2. Ditch the radio, dude. Cool '80s-style people never listen to the radio. Never...that is, unless cool '80s music is on the radio. Then go ahead.
3. Sorry to say, but pickup lines don't work in an '80s lounge. You'd never see Duckie drop a "Do you work at UPS, 'cause I thought I saw you checking out my package?" so ditch the "awesome" pickup lines, too.
Try your luck with the not buying of drinks at one of these drinkcentric places: Swivel Café and Lounge (2621 Milam) — It's a lounge in Midtown, so expect that whole scene; Pandora Lounge (1815 Washington) — It's in Sixth Ward so, well, don't say we didn't tell you; and Deco (510 Gray) — Don't fret if you forget your smugness at home because they've got plenty onsite.