Smooth Sailing at Grooves
If you were smooth-talker Rod Richard, that would be the success rate you'd claim when trying to pull ladies' phone numbers at the year-and-a-half-old Grooves (2300 Pierce), outer Third Ward's premiere restaurant and lounge. A high number, to be sure, but considering we've just watched the real Rod Richard score another before Carl Thomas could even finish regretting in song he ever met anybody, we're inclined to believe him.
"'Barbecue songs' are what you wait for," Richard says, discussing how suaveness comes with its own soundtrack. "Songs that say, 'I'm not trying to make love to you, just dance.' And anything by R. Kelly is good."
A clever strategy, no doubt, although it probably doesn't hurt when you top six feet and are possessed of an athletic build and strong jawline.
As for the venue itself, driving past it, you'd be forgiven for assuming Grooves to be an awful place.
From the road, the club's plain brick exterior, save for a glowing sign, looks to be interchangeable with that of any of the warehouses viewable directly from I-45. Turns out, though, you get a better idea of a place once you actually go inside. Who knew?
"It's really elegant when you walk in," says Tikara Young, a Northwest suburbanite here with her husband Alfred and a group of other couples who'd originally intended to head to Scott Gertner's jazzy Skybar (3400 Montrose). "I'm glad we came, but it wasn't what I was expecting when we pulled up."
Same here. Most of Grooves' 13,400 square feet is set up somewhat like a junior-high theater — the middle section is stocked with seating (tables in the center, booths on the outskirts), while a dance floor and one-step stage are at the back of the room. That's about where the resemblance ends, though — unless you're talking about a really nice junior-high theater.
Fifteen $1,500 chandeliers light up the room just enough to hint that Grooves isn't solely an upscale dance club — the kitchen also serves up quality New American cuisine. Two VIP rooms, the smaller available most nights for $1,200, the larger for a mere $5,000 (step your game up, sirs), are regularly occupied by Grooves' namedrop-worthy clientele.
Grooves' ownership group is comprised in part by three NBA-ers: Nick Van Exel, easily the coolest of all former Lakers point guards not named Magic; fashionably forward Milwaukee Bucks guard (and former UH marksman) Damon Jones, whom you may remember as being on the wrong end of Lebron James's now-immortalized February 2005 dunk; and super-clutch two-time world champion (and former Rocket) James Posey.
For all its impressive qualities, simple ambience and attitude are Grooves' strongest selling points.
The room's open layout fosters a welcoming environment and more interaction between groups of patrons than smaller, like-minded R&B-lounge establishments like downtown's agreeable Cotton Exchange (708 Main). And the crowd — professional, over 25 and almost exclusively black — is attractive and intent on having a good time.
Grooves' lineup of DJs slick through danceable soul-pop tracks shitty radio ad men would describe as "grown and sexy" — a soundtrack that gets decidedly funkier after midnight (Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison" is tonight's ironic crown jewel).
More often than not, restaurant/club hybrids end up feeling corny and ill-fitting, nightlife equivalents to unfortunate mash-ups like Nelly and Tim McGraw's 2004 abomination "Over and Over." You'd be hard-pressed to find a dual venue that successfully combines a quality eatery with a dance-friendly arena, with little to no hokiness, the way Grooves does. It's not in line with Run-DMC and Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," but it's certainly on par with Jay-Z's AC/DC rip "99 Problems."
In an unfortunate twist of fate, affable local folk musician Airon Paul Dugas, who's recently been joined by indie-rockers Paris Falls to form a supergroup of sorts, was struck while riding his scooter by a man in town on business from Italy last month. Some Houston musicians have stepped up to help raise money for the insurance-lacking Dugas with a couple of benefit shows, but, as you might have heard, those bills come each and every month. Reach out to Dugas and his people via www.myspace.com/aironpauldugas to help out. If you don't want to, we've always been curious: What's Satan like in person?
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