When the clock strikes two on a Saturday or Sunday morning in downtown Houston, club and bar owners clear out their joints like cops dispersing the crowd from a horrific yet hypnotic crime scene. Drunk women walk out clinging to their dates for dear life. Wired guys look frantically for another place to perch.
That's where Privilege comes into play. The Privilege crew stomps up and down Main Street, seeking patrons for after-hours action like carnival barkers lining up marks. Flyers and free passes are pressed into hands. Doormen shepherd crowds behind velvet ropes. On some nights, a fire-eater is called out to lure in passersby. Once inside the Lotus Lounge (412 Main), clubgoers can quench their thirsts with $5 Red Bull or bottled water (or free tap water, your call) and cram the dance floor as DJs like Alex C spin suggestive dance tunes. (Let's just say you shouldn't be surprised to hear a tune asking the audience how much they like pussy -- more than once.)
Lotus is the mobile nightclub's third venue in a year. Privilege first found itself in the Warehouse District, far from Main's hurly-burly. Last January, veteran club owner Bobby Stark and his partners, who also run the downtown staples Spy (112 Travis) and The Hub (312 Main), saw that NoDo was lacking in after-hours venues. "There was Rehab (711 Franklin) and Hyperia (2001 Commerce), and we just thought there was a market that didn't wanna go to either one of those places," says Stark. "They both have their own crowds and they're both great. We just thought there was a crowd that didn't like an old Tantra crowd." Stark and his crew considered this their opportunity to start up something in nearby Chinatown. They found a spot on 799 St. Emanuel, formerly home to that notoriously ill-fated night complex, The Saint. Stark and company opened Privilege there and soon found they had another moneymaker on their hands.
Six months went by, and business couldn't have been better. But as Stark tells it, the landlord thought it could; he wanted to squeeze more out of this golden goose. "He proposed such a ridiculous deal to us," Stark says of the unnamed landlord, "that even though it was successful, when you put it down on paper, the only person that was ever making any money would be the landlord."
When Stark decided to move on, the landlord rented the St. Emanuel space to Ziggy Morrow, owner of Dean's (316 Main), who planned to open Club Space there on the same Saturday that Stark and Privilege cleared out. Concerned that his patrons would be flummoxed, Stark says, he called Morrow to request that he not open that very night. But the opening went on as planned. (Owing to "legal bindings," Morrow declined to be interviewed for this story.)
There was talk that Stark would sic his lawyers on Morrow, but Stark's clientele was surprisingly loyal. A few weeks after the opening of Club Space, the crowds filtered back over to Privilege's new late-late-night home, Prague (402 Main). The sudden lack of patronage prompted Morrow to halt operations at Space until a new and more attractive plan could be fleshed out. Morrow struck up a partnership with former club GMs Tony Montoya, of CONXTION 2000 (800 Almeda Mall), and Chris Alan of Rehab. Together, they reopened Space as a warrenlike hideaway for the younger, casual crowd. Says Montoya, "We both jumped our jobs and put our money together, came over here and did this."
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Meanwhile, Privilege hit the road again. After a profitable five-and-a-half-month run at Prague, Stark decided this moving party machine would be more comfortable at the Lotus Lounge. "We just thought it needed to be more of a cozier space," says Stark. The result has been -- let's say it together -- a success. And the management at the still-young Lotus wants the peripatetic Privilege project to stay put. "I hope there's a long-term relationship with them," says Lotus owner Oniel Kurup. "They have a good following for themselves."
Although Privilege's Lotus digs seem a tad compressed compared to the wide open spaces of Prague and the St. Emanuel location, Stark says the Lotus is set to bloom. A basement lounge area will be built in the next month or so, making Privilege both cozier and more accommodating. Stark is not prospecting venues in case Privilege has to move yet again. His odyssey is at an end. Somewhere, a U-Haul manager has to be singing the blues.
If you want to take in some pungent grooves this holiday weekend, check out "Funk Factory" on Sunday, January 20, at Numbers (300 Westheimer). Chicago's Stacy Kidd will be the special guest headliner leading the funk charge. But there will also be a small army of Houston's finest spin men on hand to pick up the slack. DJ Bizz, reacquainting himself with the local scene after spending a year cutting it up in San Francisco, is scheduled to hit the decks, as well as DJ Cipher, Ceeplus, Scooby Doo Crew's Kelly McCann and the duo Seth Jones & Josh Zulu. With this well-established lineup, you would be well advised to have some Lysol or those Stick-Ups handy, just in case the funk gets out of hand.