It's hard to tell if it's cheating, or if it's just pretty much the slickest pick-up move of all-time.
Ryan Cirilo, tall and steady and handsome and unassuming, is standing on the indoor stage of Hefley's Bar (138 W. Gray), a less-than-two-year-old depot of wood, wit and charm, ready to sing karaoke. The venue, like the man, is tall and steady and handsome and unassuming.
Midtown used to be known for its fancy-pants stucco nightclubs, which were regularly accused of discrimination against anyone whose eyes weren't round or blue. (Hey, everyone, remember Bond Lounge? That was fun.) Yes, there are still establishments in the area that hold on to that unspoken business model. But another section of the neighborhood, the attractive strip called Midtown Park located right where Gray starts to turn into West Gray, seems to be the counterpoint.
In relative walking distance of one another, there's Front Porch Pub (217 Gray), Komodo's Pub (2004 Baldwin), Christian's Tailgate Grill (2000 Bagby) and more, none of which appear concerned with your belt or how coiffed your hair is or anything other than convincing you to spend your time there. Even Double Cross Lounge (114 Gray), the area spot that could most readily slide into Midtown 2004, has built up a reputation as a friendly neighborhood bar that just happens to be a little sexy.
But back to Cirilo, standing on the stage.
Just a moment ago, he was there with company, a slender female with long, auburn hair. They sang together and laughed a little, and nobody seemed to pay too much attention, because that's what happens at karaoke nights in bars.
But now Cirilo has taken over. Somber pianos tink, eerie in their introduction. The song is immediately recognizable: "The Dance" by Garth Brooks.
For a second, maybe two, there's doubt. Wait. Is the jukebox on? What's happening?
Cirilo's voice is a big tenor, noticeably heavier than Brooks's, but near perfect in pitch. He booms. He sings about the dance, and he sings about the pain, and he sings about how the dance and the pain are intertwined. It's remarkable, really.
In a minute, once he's wandered off the stage back toward his party-mates, he'll reveal that he's part of Bateman Red, a seasoned rock quartet that, among other things, won Texas Supernova's Band Wars in 2009. But for the moment, he's an up-from-nowhere dynamo singing the shit out of a country and western song, and maybe wooing a woman or two in the process.
"Him? Oh, he's here all the time," remarks a bartender. "He's even better," she adds semi-seriously, pointing toward a man in a worn baseball cap who looks like he might've just finished breaking in a bronco. "He's good too," she says, pointing at another.
Hefley's is many things to many people. It serves proper bar food (gastropub), offers a fair number of televisions (sports bar), serves alcohol (bar), features two stories and patios which increase its potential occupancy to more than 200 (super lounge), hosts live music (music venue) and boasts a picture-perfect view of downtown's skyline (date spot).
But most important, Hefley's is part of Midtown's continuing revitalization.
"I've been coming since around the time it opened," says Jeff Conyers, who works in the auto industry (song: Jimi Hendrix, "Red House"). "It's not a pretentious crowd. I like that. I'll hang out here or La Carafe (813 Congress) or State Bar (909 Texas).
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"I'm 44 years old," he continues. "I don't wanna go to the club."
"I want to hang out in places that I feel comfortable."
Thursday, December 8, Allen Duhon, savior of traditional country music (or something), will be performing at Hefley's. If you've never been by, this is the perfect opportunity. Check out Duhon's music online at www.allenduhon.com. Incidentally, if you want to hear music from Cirilo and Bateman Red, visit www.batemanred.com. And double incidentally, the owner of Hefley's is also the proprietor of Kay's Lounge (2324 Bissonnet), still one of Nightfly's favorite venues. Go there, too.