Bars, Racism & Dress Codes: A Report

In this weeks cover feature, "Getting Past The Bouncer," by Chris Gray, Shea Serrano and myself, we investigated more in-depth the Hudson Lounge Hydeout controversy from back in December, plus the other door policies at some of the nicer watering holes in town that came to light in the wake of the incident.

About a year ago, I went into the breach onto Washington Avenue, which at the time was the hottest thing going in the Houston drinking scene. There were jitneys trolling up and down the street, most notably avenue mainstay the Washington Wave, and sites like Yelp were hopping with new additions.

There were pretty girls running around in tight-fitting dresses, some puking, mostly giggling, and guys in sport coats and nice shoes helping them along. In my capacity as bar listings editor, I could hardly keep up. I had only known the street by going to shows at Walter's On Washington or the random birthday party I attended.

A colleague of mine, Mike Giglio, had been towed away off a side street off Washington late in 2009 and Nightfly writer Shea Serrano had already been profiling the goings-on up and down the 77007 zip code here and there. I just like to drink, so we all joined forces to cover the scene off Washington in January 2010.

With visions of Bret Easton Ellis books and Kesha songs dancing in my head, I spent three weeks out of the Montrose bars to see how our brothers a few miles away did things.

What we found was no different than any other bar scene in town since the beginning of time. Girls in hot clothes, guys buying them drinks, innocuous music, drunken fights set to innocuous music over said hot girls, random bachelorette parties, and lines to get in most everywhere, including Ei8ht, Manor, and most of the time, Rebels Honky Tonk. Ask Robert Ellis about Rebels. He may have a cool story for you.

Washington Avenue, where people line up to pass inspection
Washington Avenue, where people line up to pass inspection
Photo by Son Lam

After the article came out, I remember getting a lot of angry phone calls from people claiming that I was wrong in my assertion that I had, based on over three weeks of accumulating bar tabs on the avenue, that the scene was mostly Anglo in nature. I just didn't see many other people around. It wasn't as if I was seeking minorities either. I took friends of all kinds up and down the street and they all said the same thing.

But as the Hudson story exploded by the end of the year, I realized that maybe it was because of door policies that Serrano, Gray and I would uncover the next year. I was the typical oblivious white guy, even though I'm not that white, and just assumed it was because the clubs catered to Anglos. It's possible now that I missed the boat completely, and that the "Getting Past the Bouncer" story should have been written last year, but hindsight is 20/20.

It was hard to not feel guilty that my appearance got me into places that other people couldn't. It's one thing to have tattoos that somehow give you street cred to people, which makes you fit in at rock and roll bars, but it's another to hear stories of friends and colleagues being shut out of places just for their ethnicity or the discriminatory baggage that club owners make their bouncers hold for them.

But then there are bars, like The Bus and the Tavern On Gray, that don't like seeing tattoos like mine so I get shut out, so there's that.

Now a year later, Washington Avenue seems like it's in flux again. The old offenders are still rolling, like the bars mentioned in the cover features, but now you have places like Liberty Station making their mark as bars you don't need to dress up for. Walter's is still threatening a move, and the Washington Drinkery still hates Ed Hardy and Affliction shirts. Well, most everybody does anyhow.

The Blue Moose Lodge has live music now, mostly Texas country artists here and there, which could start signaling the return of live, original music to the avenue. Salt Bar, next to Pearl Bar, tried an open-mike night that garnered more snickers than kudos, along with other candy references.

Washington Avenue isn't as exclusive as we all once thought, and a quick drive down the street now at closing time isn't so bad as it once was, and you can see more colors of the rainbow than you ever did before.

There's a bar on the block called Privilege now, which a year ago would have been incensing but now it's just a holdover from last year's thrill ride. The exclusive places are spreading out now towards the Kirby area, so who knows, we may all be taking the party there in a year to report.

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