Dana Xenos Sings and Slings Drinks at Crazy Frogs Without Missing a Beat (or a Beer)
In the background of the video that a reader sent to us last week, you can hear the man filming speaking softly from behind the camera: "I've never seen anything like this. This is amazing."
That was my thought, too, as I slipped into Crazy Frogs on a recent Tuesday night to see Dana Xenos, the singing bartender, ply her trade during open mike night at the west Houston watering hole.
Crazy Frogs isn't much to look at from the inside or out: It's on the corner of a non-descript strip mall off West Road and Highway 290. Outside, fairy lights illuminate an empty patio. Inside, a large horseshoe-shaped bar sits front and center with a pool table to one side and a shuffleboard table to the other. Patrons ring the bar, all eyes on Xenos.
To the left, an older man on a small stage sings "The First Cut Is the Deepest," and for the first time since I walked in, I can hear Xenos. She's singing along in soft harmony, a mike clipped on her head as if she was in a large stage production.
Xenos has long, thick, brown hair that swings around as she grabs bottles of beers and flips their caps off, setting them down in front of customers with a flourish and moving on to take orders from the next group.
It's not until Xenos starts singing the Linda Ronstadt classic "Blue Bayou" that I get the full sense of how powerful her voice is.
By this time, the "house band" is back on stage. A man with longish hair is strumming a guitar effortlessly. He's Dan Golvach, a longtime Houston musician who used to play with big local acts like Blue Blazes and Zen Archer. He's smiling sweetly as Xenos's voice crescendos from the soft initial phrasing of the song into a full-on belt, deep, rich and full of soul:
"I'm going back someday / Come what may / To Blue Bayou / Where the folks are fine / And the world is mine / On Blue Bayou."
The entire time, she continues taking orders and pouring whiskeys, never missing a beat. The patrons at the bar clap appreciatively when she's done and she smiles almost shyly from behind her dark bangs.
The shyness only lasts a second, though, and she's back to singing and pumping up the crowd. And if she's shy at all, it doesn't come across when I talk to her on the phone.
"We've been doing this now for a year and a half," she says of the Tuesday nights when she and Golvach croon to a crowd of regulars. "Both of us played back on Richmond in the late 80s and 90s. We both played the strip."
"I played with a duo called Mike and Dana back when there was a lot more live entertainment," she says. And then, with a laugh, "You know, back when there was only one Sherlock's."
Xenos has worked as a bartender at Crazy Frogs for the past five years, only recently convincing the owner to let her and Govach play on Tuesday nights. But the open mike nights have been a huge success, as more and more people come out each week to see this singing bartender for themselves.
"It's been pretty cool," Xenos says. "It's gotten quite a following."
But that doesn't mean every Tuesday night goes off without a hitch.
"There are times on Tuesdays when I say 'That's it, you're on your own for a little while'" Xenos says, leaving patrons who have been bothering her to cool off. "There have been times when it's insane in there. Or when I get new people too."
"Sometimes people don't get it, even though I have a pretty large [microphone on]. I've had a couple of people get mad at me, even though I'm doing the universal symbol of what do you want to drink? Later on they'll figure it out," she laughs.
And for the most part, the patrons seem happy enough to be serenaded by Xenos at night; it imparts a calming vibe to what I sensed could be a rowdy scene in a different context.
"Hey, Sugar," called out a man to me from across the bar. "What you doing here all by yourself?"
He introduced himself and his friend as George and Al, two older car salesmen fresh off of work who claimed to come out every Tuesday night to see Xenos sing.
"I've been friends with her for years," Al said. "She's just the best."
George was less interested in discussing Xenos with me, however, his hands creeping closer to my dress as he told me that he liked Crazy Frogs because it was the kind of bar where "people don't bother you." The irony was not lost on me at the moment.
I excused myself and listened to Xenos for a bit longer; I couldn't leave without hearing her finish "Going to California" with Govach, her voice back to being soft and lilting and utterly attention-grabbing.
After talking to her on the phone earlier this week, she'd said to come and say hello to her if I came by the bar. But in that moment, she seemed so busy with drinks and harmonies that I hardly wanted to bother her.
Instead, I nursed my bottle of Shiner and spent those final minutes taking in her voice and vowing to come back some day.
Xenos and Gorvach play every Tuesday night from 8 p.m. to midnight, and you can also catch her performing impromptu karaoke on the weekends.
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