A very small number of steadfast certainties exist in Houston nightlife, but those that do are concrete. A few:
No Venue Has Ever Been Named "Steve McQueen Lounge" for a Reason: No club is always cool. It just can't happen. It might start out cool, or get cool in the middle of its life cycle, or eventually become cool, but no venue stays at a consistent level of cool.
At best, it simply doesn't wither up and die when it goes through its inevitable downslide, allowing itself a long-shot chance of a later return to glory. You might see a Robert Downey Jr. Lounge, but you will never see a Steve McQueen Lounge.
Door Guys Are Racists, Even When They're Not: Ugly people think everyone is a racist, especially people who don't let them into clubs.
If Brad Moore's Name Is Attached to a Bar, It Will Be Successful: Moore has long played a part in Houston nightlife. His name appears in the liner notes of several Houston marquee bars, most prominently Rudyard's and Poison Girl.
Most recently, though, he garnered acclaim when he partnered up to open Washington Avenue's Pearl Bar (4216 Washington) in 2006, then followed up in 2008 by co-opening scenester favorite Big Star Bar (1005 W. 19th) in the Heights.
And now, again along with the help of a few friends, Moore is set to work on Grand Prize Bar (1010 Banks), an auspicious reboot of former neighborhood favorite Ernie's on Banks. It's a task he's taken special care with not only because of Ernie's reputation for being a stand-up place, but also because of the bar's Montrose ties.
"Montrose is one of the most important neighborhoods in the country," says Moore, who has spent a substantial part of his life in the area.
"When you go to New York you visit Lower East Side and Brooklyn," he explains. "If you go to Atlanta, you're gonna go to Little Five Points. When you go to Chicago, you visit Lincoln Park. When you come to Houston, you visit Montrose."
Grand Prize certainly contains elements of what has made Big Star so popular, but in moderation. The decor is mostly gathered from guild shops and thrift stores, and the bar's vibe teeters around playfully irreverent.
On the entire first floor, not counting the bar area, only three things hang on the walls, which allows the space's unique structure to serve as its own decoration. Meanwhile, at one point during our visit, a white guy in a bow tie played an Elvis-themed pinball game while Snoop's Dogg's "Lodi Dodi" played softly over the house speakers.
Nobody in the bar thought the situation was anything but normal. The vibe was unique but not entirely foreign, much like Grand Prize itself.
"It's a great set-up," says David Tran, a 27-year-old project manager in the oil industry. "They did a lot of things right — the comfort of the chairs, the dark lighting. It's nice and quiet enough to hold an actual conversation."
"I was a regular at Big Star Bar," says science teacher Kyle Perri, 26. "I heard about [Grand Prize's] opening from Brad. Brad's been great about reaching out to his clientele."
Still, despite Moore's impressive track record, when you bring up his ever-growing legacy as one of Houston's finest barteurs (barteur /bar-toor/ n. A made-up word for someone who opens bars), he deflects the praise.
"If I have a talent," Moore sheepishly concedes while sitting at Grand Prize's downstairs bar, "it's for surrounding myself with people that know more than I do."
He nods toward bartender/part-owner Brandee Boyle, who in turn smiles and waves back.
"And getting lucky," he adds. "I've been really lucky with these things."
Whoever is responsible for Grand Prize should be recognized. Pearl Bar was good, Big Star was better, but this one is very likely Moore's finest billing yet.
Grand Prize Bar
A few people, mostly online, have expressed concern over Ernie's becoming Grand Prize, which is understandable. Ernie's built up a ton of goodwill over its long existence. Last time we were there, we spoke to a couple who found normalcy there after Hurricane Ike; Ernie's was literally open the day after. But know that this is a good thing. Ernie's was being sold regardless, and it was only a matter of time before somebody bought it. The whole situation is similar to Free Press Summer Fest partners Omar Afra and Jagi Katial taking over Fitzgerald's (2706 White Oak): There might be a slight shift in Houston's cultural foundation, but for the better. Hopefully.
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