18th Street Pier, Bar & Grill: San Leon's Pleasure Palace by the Bay

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"Are you havin' fun, darlin'? I sure hope you are."

Our waitress, a young blonde in her mid-twenties, draws out nearly every syllable as she checks on us. We just smile and nod, a bit ashamed of the number of empty drinks strewn across the high-top table. Various fliers for local rap shows compete for space, now sticking to the table thanks to all the drinks.

Those include an empty beer mug, once home to a stout mix of Red Bull and Grey Goose. Beside it sit several clear plastic cups usually designated for water and now drained of the same syrupy concoction, with a lonesome red Solo cup thrown in for good measure. A nearby beer cooler offers up everything from inexpensive domestic options ($2 for a Bud Light) to pricier imports like Dos Equis.

Basically, the 18th Street Pier, Bar & Grill (101 18th St., San Leon) is as eclectic and unpretentious as the vessels that serve its drinks. Equal parts bar and live-music venue, situated in heavily residential San Leon, it sits in stark contrast to the cluster of tourist-heavy bars just up Highway 146 in Kemah.

But at least from the outside, the wooden structure looming on the water seems like a typical beachside nightspot, complete with huge plaster fish and sharks hanging from the ceiling. Even the enormous second-story patio is right out of a travel guide, with wooden benches giving way to a view of the ocean that stretches as far as the eye can see.

But tonight on that massive waterfront patio, the salt breeze is a bit skunkier, and much cloudier, than normal. No one is wearing Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops; the attire is much flashier, with lots of gold. Later in the evening, veteran underground Houston rapper Lil' Keke will perform at 18th Street Pier, and the crowd is dressed appropriately.

"Hey, can I get seven shots of Grey Goose? Yeah, seven."

The guy at the table next to us laughs as the waitress looks at him incredulously. He's serious about those shots. We're impressed, and a bit worried about his liver. It's just the way this crowd pre-games for Keke, though. Drinks whiz by us at record speed as several local warmup acts take the stage.

First up is a young duo and a hype man. They're unimpressive, but the crowd loves them.

18th Street may be home to a rap concert tonight, but this beach bar has become a success by consistently booking all kinds of music during the past ten years. Recently everyone from Buzz band Saving Abel and classic-rock legend Leon Russell has taken the stage, and owner Roger Hrdina is constantly searching for newer and bigger names to add to the list.

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The ultra-laid-back vibe here is a refreshing change from the social anxieties common to many status-obsessed inner-loop bars. And 18th Street's success is that much more impressive when you consider how far off practically anyone's but San Leon locals' radar it is. The venue opts for word of mouth and Facebook invites over formal advertising, but we can't help but wonder how it could handle any more attention. Tonight there's hardly room to breathe as it is.

Luckily, 18th Street will soon see an overhaul and another story will be added, providing more room for even more chaos. The bar, already quite long in its own right, will be stretched further. And more room means more concerts, and 12 Stones and Slim Thug are on tap for next month.

For now, Lil Keke is about as good as it gets out here, and our neighbor in red agrees.

"He's a Houston legend, man," he says. "How much more could you ask for? We're just out here, havin' some drinks, and taking the stage with Keke. It's pretty much all we could want."

Well, that and those seven Grey Goose shots he ordered. They finally arrive, and we can't help but laugh loudly as they appear in front of him in cups made to hold Jell-o shots, not Grey Goose. But if a cup is clean and can hold liquid, it will probably be used to transport alcohol here.

Those shots spill a little as the waitress attempts to balance them, but our neighbor seems not to care. By now he's way too caught up in the show to worry about such things.

Send your after-dark tips to nightfly@houstonpress.com.


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