It was a slow Wednesday night at the retro-chic Polly Esther's and Culture Club (6111 Richmond Avenue). A small group of patrons convened in the club's '80s room, but they weren't there to admire the Steve Kaufmanesque portraits of period icons like Tom Cruise, Madonna and E.T. -- oh, no, sir. They were there to shake their asses on national television, baby! "After this song, we're gonna start filming," the DJ said from the booth. "So I'm gonna need everybody on the floor -- all 12 of you." At that point, people piled on the dance floor. One couple seemed determined to set their crotches ablaze from all the grinding -- and two guys with a camera were there to film it.
This wasn't the only nostalgic hangout taking part in this endeavor. All the Polly Esther's across the country -- 18, at last count -- had camera crews inside their operations, filming footage for Polly Esther's Dance Party, U.S.A. That's right, the chain has its own TV show or, shall we say for the time being, had its own TV show. While each club in the chain, including the Houston outlet, was game to have crews come in every Wednesday night to capture the crotch-grinding action, the corporate honchos have postponed production until the kinks in their agreement with the show are properly worked out.
"They're ironing out their contract," says managing partner Chris Rogovich on the sketchy details. In the four weeks the club was involved with Dance Party, U.S.A. -- two weeks promoting it, two weeks hosting it -- the show didn't increase the venue's patronage, which of course is half the point of such a venture, if not the entire point. "Businesswise, it didn't hurt us," says Rogovich. "A lot of regular clientele was still coming down. Having a television crew would boost yourself, but our clientele didn't change."
While Polly Esther's relationship with TV remains fuzzy, another local venue appears to have figured out how to massage the boob tube to its advantage. Look at what's happening at the pool hall/ arcade/watering hole known as the Game Room (11130 Beechnut) on those very same Wednesday nights. The local public access show Raw Flava (seen on the Houston Media Source channel) has been filming weekly talent contests there since last September. "Things have been going great," confirms general manager Mike Kassem. "We've been very successful with the show."
According to Kassem, the talent show is produced with a sense of decorum, as singers, rappers and other hopefuls vie for the top prize by being as nonviolent and nonprofane as they possibly can be. "If their songs don't bring a positive message," says Kassem, "they won't be appearing on the talent show." After the Game Room's contract with the show expires at the end of December, Kassem says, he's looking to pitch new ideas in an effort to make sure audiences expect something fresh from both the show and the club. "People get bored very quickly," the general manager says. "Even if something is successful, you have to change it up so people won't get tired of it."
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The management of both Polly Esther's and the Game Room advises club owners that they should jump on any opportunity to produce shows in their joints. "It makes a lot of difference," Kassem says of his spot's newfound celebrity. "The minute people find out a talent show is gonna be filmed there, people get very receptive." And even if it doesn't bring in new clientele, all that exposure certainly helps a club's image in the long run. Says Rogovich: "If you were doing it the way we were doing it, then it could only help business."
After all, it takes an iron will not to pay attention to highly flammable crotch grinders.
The competition for your Friday-night dollar is gettin' ugly: At Hyperia (2001 Commerce), "Formula Fridays" is still kicking, thanks in part to the charismatic turntable talents of Mike Snow, DJ 606 and Jimmy Skinner. A few miles away, "Friday Night Karma" over at Club C2K (800 Almeda Mall) is still drawing dance fans, thanks to veteran resident DJs Kung Fu Pimp, Exxen, Noi-Zee and Steve Sheffield. Club Bounce (478 Parker) recently got into the Friday-night game with an affair called "Fever," which features two areas full of spinmasters, including Cosmic Cat, DJ Sincere, BMC and Christopher Calicott as DJ Licious, just to name a few. Finally, the folks at Club Rehab (709 Franklin) invite patrons to play it cool at the aptly titled "Chillin'." It's an all-night event featuring the spin talents of Groove Good and DJ Flexx. The lineup is modest, but the club does stay open as late as 6 a.m. So it's just like a rave, except you don't have to worry about seeing yourself acting like a drugged-out idiot on Channel 2 anytime soon.