Editor's note: The Nightfly column is undergoing a bit of a face-lift. As befits any true fly, we have decided to adopt a "compound eye" approach: Starting now, the central Nightfly will receive reports from several rotating agents, each of whom will don the cape of the Nightfly before hitting the streets. This week's column gives a seasoned agent a chance to provide his unique perspective on the changing face of Houston nightlife. -- Scott Faingold
Hi, kids, remember me?
From 2000 to 2003, it was my job to canvass the streets of Houston at its darkest hours, looking for the most exemplary places to provide me with great drinks, fine ambience and stimulating conversation. Anyone who read my columns back then will remember I had a bitch of a time doing this, especially as I often ventured to that brutally trendy part of town known as north downtown Houston (or NoDo, for all you Envy/002/PaperCity readers).
I've been gone for quite a while now. (I've become a reputable member of the daily-newspaper establishment up in North Carolina -- can you believe that shit!?) But, as I recently was back down here for a time, I took a chance and spent one Saturday night in NoDo to see how things have progressed since I gave up the nightlife beat.
It all began when I visited the Alden Hotel (1117 Prairie) and its fancy-schmancy lounge, a+, to see one of my good friends (and one of the few Houston DJs who doesn't think I'm an asshole), Gracie Chavez Cardenas. I had on one of those George Foreman suits I recently bought to give the impression I was dapper. As Gracie was in the back, spinning her little housed-up heart out, I was trying to get toasted on the lounge's expensive, not-so-potent drinks. Candace, this gorgeous sista sitting at the bar, was drinking a vodka and pineapple juice; I proceeded to down two. Still no buzz.
Candace was nice and quite open to conversation. Sadly, she was with some big-time sports-agent cat named Aaron, who was out in the lobby schmoozing with some folks while this tall glass of goddamn was left all alone at the bar. (He must be on that stuff!) He eventually finished schmoozing and headed back to the bar, where he immediately began putting his arms around Candace and jokingly asking me what I was doing pushing up on his woman, something Candace hardly believed herself. After that, Aaron scooped up Candace, and they headed over to The Mercury Room (1008 Prairie). Bye-bye, Candace. We could've had something, baby!
I spent a few more moments at a+, guzzling a Bloody Mary (I finally got a little buzz) before I decided to head out and see what else was going on in the neighborhood my damn self. As I hit the pavement and looked around, there was one thing I just couldn't help wondering: Where did all these black people come from? Did Coco Loco (3700 Hillcroft) finally shut down or something? As I walked down Prairie, I saw that young black folk were all over Mercury, Boaka Bar (1010 Prairie) and Suede (1000 Prairie). This was amazing to me, since back when I was Nightflying, I was often the only black person in a five-block radius. According to some of my former inside contacts, the original owners of Mercury and Boaka sold the club over to some black investors, who have turned the joints into the spot for urban (read: Hennessy-chugging) clubgoers. I'm glad to see the Richmond-Westheimer crowd has finally infiltrated NoDo.
I walked down another crowded block of Prairie and made my way toward Frank's Pizza (417 Travis), always a fun place to see drunk people gorge on pies. And boy, was I in for a treat! After a brief washup in the restroom, a traveling bachelorette party (or "bachelorette caravan," as I like to call them) entered Frank's, creating quite the ruckus. As always, the gal who was stirring the most noise was the bride, a tall, drunk-as-fuck gal named Deann who had tighty-whities over her jeans with the words "Whistle If You Want to Blow It" on the back.
"You wanna blow my whistle?" she asked, while I ordered a large supreme slice. As she reached between her legs to grab a dangling whistle, she realized it was gone and started to panic. But she quickly calmed down when she found that her mother had it. She connected it back to her drawers and proceeded to ask the other brothas if they wanted to blow it. Now, this is what I miss about Houston nightlife: hammered white women approaching black men, whom they probably would be afraid to speak to in broad daylight, and asking them to do some silly shit. Oh, the joys of alcohol!
After I finished my slice, I approached Deann, who was straight-up caveman-ravaging her lone slice, and told her she owed me a whistle. Without hesitation, she hopped up on her chair and made me reach for that whistle. "Now, you better really blow," she told me -- words I thought I would never hear until my inevitable stay in a Mexican prison. Anyway, I blew. She got rowdy. The employees ate it up. On my way out, I helped her off the chair before she could fall and bust her ass.
As I was making my way down to Main, picking up soggy flyers for all the "official" All-Star parties that'll be popping off next weekend, I found myself walking up the street amid a young Chinese acrobatic team. Keep in mind, it was about 20 minutes to one, and this crew, with their ever-colorful pants, was walking around downtown. I wanted to ask what the hell they were doing there, but I kept it to myself.
I hit Main and took a walk over to Dean's Credit Clothing (316 Main), the bar/clothing store for the alcoholic who likes to do a little shopping during his benders. I've always wanted to buy something there but could never find anything that fit me. So I decided to see if I could pick up some kind of accessory for Gracie back at a+, a gift of gratitude for being one of my few allies left in the nightlife game. I went over to a display window featuring hats and gloves, where I saw a frilly red boa that was hot. How do I know it was hot? Because when I went to the bartender to ring it up, a girl at the bar looked at it and immediately said, "That's hot!"
As one of the other employees disappeared to see how much the untagged boa cost, I began regaling the bartender and another patron about the drunken bachelorette incident over at Frank's. The patron, a guy, said the thing he always found strange about bachelorette parties was the constant appearance of toy penises, dildos and other phallic novelties. "When guys have their bachelor parties, they don't walk around wearing stuff shaped like vaginas," he observed. As I fondly recalled, ol' Deann had indeed been wearing Martian antennae with two foil-wrapped penises on the top and carrying a pair of glasses with a penis for a nose.
After I plunked down ten bucks for the boa ("The hats cost seven!" I exclaimed to the guy as he gave me a dumbfounded, don't-shoot-the-messenger look), I walked out the door and, sure enough, bumped into yet another bachelorette caravan at the bar entrance next door. This time, the bride, who wasn't that sloshed yet, wore a veil with tiny penises on it. I begged her to come with me over to Dean's for a brief minute and show the guys, but she wanted to party with her girls. I went back to Dean's and filed a brief verbal report. All were pleasantly amused.
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After stopping over at Duke of Hollywood Tailors (305 Travis) to see if they had any Hawaiian shirts in my size (the '40s-looking bar gal told me they don't sell clothes at night), I made my way back over to a+. So it's 1 a.m., I'm walking down Main, and all of a sudden I hear this noise coming from across the street. I look over, and what do I see but that Chinese acrobatic team, entertaining the crowd outside M Bar (402 Main). Wow, remember when all downtown hangouts had to do to lure in people was offer cheap drinks and all the surgically enhanced girls they could squeeze inside? Man, things done changed.
I got back to a+, where DJ Gracie was winding down her set. I gave her the red boa, and she was equally grateful and surprised that something so colorful was for sale at Dean's. As she draped it around her neck, I recounted all the wacky people and kooky things I had come in contact with as I'd skipped around NoDo that night, something she was already all too familiar with. (She's had her share of tipsy bachelorettes requesting "some Madonna" during her hard-core house sets.)
So, what did I learn as I toured the hip, happening NoDo one last time? Well, for one, you certainly don't get this wild shit in Raleigh. Second, even as such novelties as black people, inebriated brides-to-be and Chinese acrobatic squads flock to the area like pervs to an adult video store for the release of a new Kira Kener DVD, NoDo remains the same fashionable spectacle it was back when I was reporting on it. Either you hate it or you slightly tolerate it, because you need somewhere to go on a Friday or Saturday night. It's the kind of place that'll have you either amazed at all the action or thoroughly offended by its gaudiness.
As I was processing all this on the drive home, it hit me: I fuckin' left my credit card back at a+! That's what downtown will do to you, folks. It leaves you in such a tizzy, you forget your credit card at the club.