Howard Hughes was an amazingly curious man. His history is filled with all sorts of interesting nuggets.
Born in Houston in 1905, he built the city's first transmitter radio at 11 years old, and built a motorized bike out of steam-engine parts at 12. (His mother said he couldn't have a motorcycle.)
Hughes produced award-winning films, built record-breaking aircraft and founded, among other things, a medical institute. As seen in Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning 2004 film The Aviator, his life story eventually becomes a succession of bizarre anecdotes, although the movie ends in 1946 before things really got weird.
Hughes once holed up in a Hollywood screening studio for four months straight, living off chocolate bars and milk. After becoming obsessed with his home state, he started purchasing all the franchises and four-star hotels that were headquartered in Texas.
As a man who was smart, self-aware, peculiar and excessively ambitious, Hughes would almost certainly enjoy Hughes Hangar (2811 Washington). Open Wednesday through Saturday, Washington Corridor's mammoth new show pony lies less than a quarter-mile from its namesake's final resting place in Glenwood Cemetery.
At its core, the Hangar is a gastropub/lounge hybrid that serves proper food — portobello mushroom fries, caramelized sea bass — early in the evening. Later on, it enforces a stylish, if not entirely sophisticated, dress code.
Grandly conceived and gorgeously executed, the venue is a modernized version of what we assume a high-end piano bar from the '40s would look like. Throughout Hughes's nearly 7,000 square feet of airspace are tufted leather couches, chandeliers, brick-accent walls, vintage furniture and various relics jumbled together in an inaccessible loft above a VIP section. None of these adornments feel unnecessary or, worse, preening.
Instead, every detail ties into the Casablanca-ish theme. The flatscreen TVs and patio projector play black-and-white movies. Happy hour (4-8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday) is called Prohibition Hour. The bartenders wear Kangol 504 hats and suspenders, while GM Erick Ramirez — a smoky-eyed, handsome man with an intimidating presence — prefers a tailored three-piece ensemble.
The only thing that could be considered the least bit corny was the goggled aviator hat on DJ Mike C, whose mash-ups veer from acid jazz to Led Zeppelin at Hughes's summer-long "Swanky Saturdays." During the week, the lounge favors small-ensemble cocktail jazz; live or laptopped, though, the music does not eclipse conversation-level volume.
Even as the new club on the block — its soft opening was less than two months ago — Hughes Hangar already feels like an example of what the Washington Corridor could potentially become.
When the strip first exploded, a posh nightclub experience was what made the area exciting. Remember when Drake (1902 Washington) and Pandora (1815 Washington) weren't afterthoughts? After that trend arced, trendy but casual became popular (Brixx, 5110 Washington), then unfettered and cool (Liberty Station, 2101 Washington).
But those places can trace their ancestry back to similar places in formerly trendy nightlife districts (Midtown, Richmond). Hughes's upscale lounge/speakeasy/eatery amalgam feels fresh. No other local venue in recent memory has successfully combined as many different pieces of different places to create a fulfilling experience, particularly for the affluent clubgoer.
"This is the third time I've been here," says makeup artist Darcie Teasley, 36. "I come here because it's sort of set away from the rest of Washington Corridor. The crowd is much closer to my age group. I don't really want to be shoulder to shoulder when I come out. I feel like I can breathe here."
"I don't have to worry about anybody stepping on my shoes," laughs Carol Donnelly, a 33-year-old small-business owner visiting one recent Saturday evening as part of a 20-person party. "I love the patio, and I love the guys wearing the little [Kangol] hats. How cute is that?"
Hughes Hangar isn't a perfect nightclub. When it's busy, only the most assertive patrons will find quick service. But it's new and determined to make a name for itself, and sometimes that's more important.
No doubt Howard himself would agree.
Searching for another Houston entity so firmly rooted in another time period, we inevitably settled on Bart Maloney, barber, pedal-steel savant and greaser subculture enthusiast. Maloney plays in various bands around town, perhaps most famously in Nick Gaitan & the Umbrella Man, who are now working on their second album. Last August we crafted The Legend of Bart Maloney, asserting Maloney's existence is guided by some sort of metaphysical entity that, for example, makes Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" materialize whenever he walks into a room. Follow Maloney on Twitter at @BartMaloney to keep up with his musical exploits, and Gaitan, Umbrella Man's head honcho and brilliant bassist, at @NickGaitan. Maloney and Gaitan also frequently perform as a duo at the D&W Lounge (911 Milby) and Natachee's Supper 'n Punch (3622-A Main).
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