The opening night of this social experiment had a couple of glitches. The drizzle that beleaguered the city for most of the day made the makeshift patio area, complete with bar and DJ table, unusable. As soon as the clouds parted and it looked like things could go on as planned, Elaina "Lushus" Brown, the ravishing DJ who would be providing the patio music, discovered that one of her speakers had blown out. But Brown persevered. "I think it's a great idea," she says. "Women can come in and become beautiful by getting their hair and nails done, have a facial, get their makeup done, and enjoy some music and have a couple of drinks and hang out."
You heard correct, ladies! Finally, there's a place where you can get your bouffant touched up, your highlights recolorized, your kitchen freed of buckshots and get snot-slinging drunk at the same time. The place is Tifosi Salon & Day Spa (2320 South Shepherd), and when the clock strikes six, the unassuming bungalow turns into its newfound Saturday-night alter ego, Beauty Bar Houston.
The bar pulled out the stops that first night, offering free "platinum blonde" margaritas to all comers. A spread of Vietnamese finger foods from Mo Mong covered a table inside. Suggestive Larry Fagala photos adorned the walls. Cheeky British designer Vanessa Riley (who, upon first meeting, asked this reporter how big his "willy" was) was recruited to salt the gathering with a trio of almost irrationally beautiful models showcasing her fashions. "It's the fence that does it for me," claimed Riley, apropos of nothing and apparently transfixed by the barrier around the temporary patio. "That's one very classy-looking fence right there."
Transforming a salon/spa into a party palace may seem novel to Houstonians, but believe it or not, it's not a new idea. In 1995, a couple of New York entrepreneurs joined forces to open a nightclub experience also known as Beauty Bar, where people could knock back martinis while getting a fancy-shmancy manicure. (They also went on to open Barmacy, a bar located inside an old-school pharmacy, but that's another story.)
The success of the bar led to Los Angeles and San Francisco branches, which soon inspired Tifosi owner Shannon Hunt to see if something like it would work in Houston. "We just wanna do a Saturday-night social thing, kind of a hip thing to come do: Get your hair done before you go out," says Hunt, whose husband, Dan Hunt, owns the TOC Bar & Lounge (711 Franklin). Hunt adopted the name and even the "Beauty Is Your Duty" tagline the New York-based bars go by. "It's not copyrighted," assures manager Courtney Dykes, "so we're not breaking any laws or anything."
Unlike the other Beauty Bars, where the owners renovated a defunct beauty salon and turned it into a watering hole, Beauty Bar Houston operates out of a working salon. "I mean, we're a salon. We wanna offer the hair and makeup services, manicures, massages -- and just have a real chilled-out, laid-back happy-hour atmosphere," says Dykes.
This concept certainly has fired up friends and employees of the two-year-old Tifosi. "It's just an incredible vision of what's coming up for the whole industry," gushes Terri Milligan, Tifosi stylist and national educator for Paul Mitchell.
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But will this new development inspire competitors? Kevin Dang, owner of the four-month-old Shepherd Plaza salon Nailtopia, doesn't think so. Dang believes Tifosi's early-evening endeavor is a good idea, but he doesn't see it as all that incredible an innovation. "We have a happy hour every day here," says Dang, referring to the wine and champagne that salons like his often serve.
But for the next three months, the scissors-wielding, Skyy-serving stylists of Tifosi will try out this little Saturday-night project of theirs, and if it works, it could become permanent. And who's to say it can't work? Downtown is already home to Dean's (316 Main), the first bar/clothing store in the city, and Duke of Hollywood Tailors (305 Travis) is still hard at work adding a bar to its haberdashery. On West Alabama, the Wine Bucket (2311 West Alabama) sells wine to go and to drink in its adjacent bar. Maybe a bar/pharmacy isn't that far into our future after all.
Every week, it seems, a new alternative to the preening scene pops up within NoDo's bounds. Lotus Lounge (412 Main) has recently became home to the latest: "Soulphilia." This Tuesday-night affair aims for No tsu oH's (314 Main) freewheeling vibe. You walk in the door and immediately see a dude in the balcony body-painting nude models (it's the same cat who does his thing over at Spy, 112 Travis, on Friday nights). Below him, there's a stage where you can hear live percussion, DJ mixes from Brotha Jibril or even some riffing from the Free Radicals. On the dance floor there are flamenco dancers moving to the drum 'n' bass of DJ 606. And let's not forget LoveSun, the poet with a mike, just walking around reciting poetry all over the damn place. "I'm trying to attract all people to come together," says Crystal Lee, the young gal who organized this event. "We basically came up with a concept: something different, something more cultural, something more artsy." Man, this place couldn't get more different if they hired a Tejano band to play Joy Division tunes while a bunch of stoners read Gravity's Rainbow aloud to each other in Bulgarian.