The following statement may sound coarse, but there isn't a polite way of putting it: Midtown Houston has gotten completely jacked up!
The potholes, the detours, the narrow streets, the half-streets, the Day-Glo safety cone galaxies, the rerouting -- did we mention the freakin' potholes? Metro's light-rail Xtreme construction zone has made it damn near unbearable for people who actually have cars to traverse Midtown's Sarajevo-esque streets, especially Fannin and Main. (Horrors! Recently San Jacinto has gotten in on the act, too!) Several once-thriving restaurants have already shut down (see "Run Out on a Rail," by George Alexander, June 14), casualties to our brave new commuter-train tomorrow.
Anyone who still runs a business around those parts gets a lion's share of grief -- just ask Ray Memari. Four and a half months ago, he opened up R&R Lounge and Grill (3512 Main) smack-dab in the belly of the beast. Six months before, Memari and his crew souped up this rambling hacienda, the former home of El Palacio Mexican restaurant, and equipped it with hookahs, reclining chairs, a spacious dance floor and a nightly roundup of enticing entertainment. (Tuesday night is gothic bellydancer night, which may be the only time when alienation is sexy.) The result is a breezy, unpretentious lounge, just the way he wanted it. Says Memari, "I want a lounge I don't want a trendy nightclub place. I want it to be very comfortable. I want someplace I wanna hang out."
But since he is located on the 3000 block of Main, the center of the Midtown-madness maelstrom, he has had problems not of his own making. For starters, his establishment is located on the west side of Main. Thus, there is currently no lane in front of his club, and the primary entrance, at the corner of Main and Berry, has been closed off. Luckily, patrons can come in from Travis, one block west, and park in the lounge's back lot.
All the transit aggro is enough to make the soft-spoken Memari want to call up the people at Metro and give them a piece of his mind. "I haven't yet, but I need to do it," says Memari. "Because without telling us anything, they closed the Main entrance They just closed it four or five days ago, without us even knowing it, and that wasn't nice."
Metro admits not telling Memari but declares it an oversight caused by an act of God. Says spokesperson Julie Gilbert: "We had started work on the storm sewers there before the rain started. Then the rains put that off for a few days, and we did have to shut down Berry and Main. You could still get there off Travis, so he still had access, but not off Main. It came about so quick with the rains that, no, we did not talk to him. We try to do that, and we will continue to try to do an even better job of notifying him."
Of course, Memari's R&R joint isn't the only Midtown nightspot that has to endure restricted access. Two blocks south, the Continental Club (3700 Main) is still doing its thing, while the double-decker that is Club Level and Charlie's Lounge (3704 Fannin, formerly Valentino's until a couple of months ago) is holding steady on the next street east. But unlike the restaurants and other diurnal businesses whose early-bird visits have waned, these nocturnal spots still entice the night owls.
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A recent Monday evening at the Continental found the El Orbits bopping for the amusement of a fair throng of folks in funny hats playing bingo (don't ask). And even with the closing off of Main and Berry, R&R was well and truly packed one Sunday night, as night trippers toked away on hookahs, got acquainted and took in the two-step turntables of Gracie Chavez-Cardenas. One club owner (who would like to keep himself and his Main Street club on the down-low) says that, unlike the daytime, Midtown at night is quiet and less populated. So if people do decide to head out to the area, they won't be swamped in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The guys who run these clubs are braving it. Continental Club co-owner Pete Gordon says he's actually all for the construction. "It's for the betterment of the neighborhood, I believe," he says. "And I will stand it for as long as they finish." But these cats assure patrons that, with all the junk they have to put up with to get to their places, customers won't be disappointed once they walk in the door. Says Memari, "Once they get here, at least we can make 'em feel good."
Everything is coming up bubbly -- literally -- for Club Nsomnia-Montrose (202 Tuam) these days. The after-hours BYOB spot recently installed a machine to produce bubbles outside the club and over passersby on the street. The place also has received free publicity thanks to Comedy Central. One of the cable channel's newest late-night shows, the fittingly titled Insomniac with Dave Attell, aired a Bayou City episode wherein Attell boogied in various H-town wee-hour hangouts. "They'd come out to the club and scouted it," says Nsomnia CEO Matt Locklin. "One of their people came out and partied in the club on, like, a Saturday night to see how fun it was That night, when the camera crew showed up, we packed up completely." Although the show aired earlier in September, Locklin and the Nsomnia folk had placed "As Seen on TV!" blurbs in their ads since early August. A little premature, perhaps? "It's all just promotion, you know," says Locklin. "I'm a regular P.T. Barnum here."