The City of Z

Where there is open space, there is dancing.

Eric LeDay knows precisely what he is doing.

Standing outside of Zanzibar (9003 Westheimer), he explains how he's been able to keep a poetry night in a nightlife venue alive for more than 15 months now.

"I tell all of the performers ahead of time, 'You have to be intriguing and you have to be fun or funny,'" he says. "We had a guy performing one time. When he finished, someone in the club went into the restroom and tweeted that he wanted to hang himself. I told [the performer] it wasn't going to work out."

Later, at 11:30 p.m., the DJ stops the music and a woman is introduced. (Only two poets, at most three, usually perform, so really it's more like a lounge that happens to have some poetry in it than a poetry night at a lounge.) The crowd, probably 60 people, gives her an opportunity. Then, a minute or so after she's begun, they turn on her.

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Conversations start back up. Even with a microphone, she's barely audible. One guy, particularly displeased, says loudly to his table of clubgoers, "Get her off the fuckin' mike."

She finishes, the DJ starts playing music again and the party resumes. He plays a succinct Get Em' Hype mix (highlighted by a string of songs from Boosie, perhaps Louisiana's most interesting salt-of-the-earth rap export since Juvenile), then, a handful of dances later, the music stops again.

A tall, well-dressed poet from Birmingham, Alabama, named Tmbk2 (pronounced Timbuktu) is performing. And soon he has the venue in his grasp.

He is intriguing (his first poem is a punch in the mouth called "Ruthless Renegades," a commentary on urban dystopia) and funny (his second poem is called "Pussy Got Me Fucked Up," which unravels into a ribald call and response with the crowd).

Attention is his as he finishes. Hand claps. DJ. Party. Success.

To drive by it, Zanzibar, shoved onto the end of an uninspired strip center, looks to be a dreadful place. It appears small and uncreative and drab, three criticisms lobbed at the space when it existed as Westheimer Pub (it became Z in September 2010). But Zanzibar's outward appearance belies not only the interior (the faux wood floors, neutral paint and minimalist decor create a clean and streamlined landscape; picture an old, dodgy car with a well preserved interior), but also the engaging atmosphere.

"I really like the decor," says Rosine Kouamen, a 29-year-old graduate student who regularly frequents Midtown's hate-it-or-love-it Red Door (2416 Brazos) and Upper Kirby's hyper-posh Roak (3320 Kirby). "It's very casual; you don't feel obligated to do anything. The DJs are wonderful. That helps a lot too."

"I live right up the street," says Marie Sesay, entrepreneur. "It has a party atmosphere, but it's still a grown and sexy crowd. It's always fun."

As the evening pushes forward, the crowd — youngish and mostly black — swells. People spill out onto the patio and, at the apex, even into the parking lot. The DJ works through hip-hop's catalogue, generally with a strong emphasis on dance tracks, and tiny dance parties spring up in whatever open spaces can be found.

People laugh and drink and seem to not hate anything about life. And they keep returning to Zanzibar.

"We've been fortunate," says LeDay. "For our pre-Thanksgiving party we had about 400 people show up. It's hard to keep something going for as long as this has, but it works. People like it."

Last Call

The holidays are great, sure. But there's more to life than hanging out with people who love you, bro. There's also concerts and drinking alcohol. So, before you tuck in this weekend and wait for Santa to bring you something that maybe kind of resembles what you were hoping for ("Dude, you didn't have to get me anything. Thank you. ...What is this? An iPud? What the fuck is an iPud?"), sneak out and go see some music. Two recommendations: hard rockers Metal Shop at Scout Bar (18307 Egret Bay) on Friday, because that very well might be the antithesis of holiday spirit, and Roky Moon and BOLT! at Walter's (1120 Naylor) on Sunday, because it will make you feel better after going to Scout Bar.

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