Barbarella Explores New Frontier In Houston Dance Clubs

Right now seems like it might be a good time to open a dance club in Houston, but not just any dance club. So call the brand-new Barbarella (2404 San Jacinto) a progressive dance club -- almost anything is better than "hipster dance club," right?

Once the grandaddy of them all, Rich's unceremoniously shut down in April, and the landlords have yet to find a new tenant. Although the venerable Westheimer club appears to be the embodiment of the motto "keep calm and carry on," Numbers is operating under a slight cloud of uncertainty following last month's sudden death of owner Robert Burtenshaw, aka Robot. Stereo Live is going great guns, but it's a ways from central Houston, where apartment blocks and high-rise condos keep sprouting up like toadstools.

Enter Barbarella, which owner/DJ Harvey Graham and his partner John Gardner hope fills that niche with a proven pedigree.

Barbarella's Austin counterpart opened in late 2009 in the capital's teeming Red River district and was an instant success, anointed as the city's "Best Place to Dance" by readers of the Austin Chronicle in 2010, 2011 and 2012. They plan to stick to the game plan for the Houston spot, which had its soft opening last weekend and marks its grand opening this Sunday with special guest JD Samson of Le Tigre and MEN.

"I think it would fly in any major city," says Graham, who DJed at Gardner's club for 15 years in Orlando, Florida before the duo opened Barbarella Austin. "I think we have a new concept."

Barbarella's concept may be new, if perhaps not revolutionary. Graham calls it "dance music for people who hate dance music."

"We're not Top 40, we're not house, we're not dubstep," he says.

Simple enough. In other words, give the people what they want to hear, and lots of it. Although Austin's "TuesGayz" have been reconfigured into "Sungayz" -- Austin-based video DJ TheGlitoris will oversee both nights -- the Houston location will feature the same four theme nights.

  • Thursday: "Grits N Gravy" (James Brown, Stevie Wonder, ABBA, David Bowie, etc.)
  • Friday: New Noise (LCD Soundsystem, Major Lazer, Tame Impala, Foals, etc.)
  • Saturday: "Footloose" (Depeche Mode, Prince, the Smiths, Madonna, etc.)
  • Sunday: "Sungayz" (Britney Spears, Crystal Castles, M.I.A., The Knife, etc.)

The idea behind the theme nights, Graham reckons, is to cultivate a crop of regulars according to their musical tastes; if they choose to hop between nights, so much the better. (Sunday's Grand Opening will offer one hour of each theme before Samson takes the booth last.)

Barbarella even isn't afraid to call itself hipster-friendly, asserting in its introductory press release, "While to many this may seem arrogant and/or snobbish, to others it is a breath of fresh, musically filled air."

"We just love music," says Graham. "Music is our background. We like to play music that you listen to at home, when you probably dance in your living room while you're getting ready. You can come to the club and hear your favorite songs, as long as it's not Top 40."

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Sitting on the patio of Mongoose & Cobra a few weeks back, Graham says he's visited Etro, Boondocks and Numbers, and likens his and Gardner's club in Florida to Orlando's Numbers counterpart. He's also complimentary of the vibe at Grand Prize Bar.

But, Graham adds frankly, "they don't provide the same level of entertainment that I think we're gonna provide."

In case any aspiring nightclub owners are wondering how Graham and Gardner found Barbarella, it's as simple as Craigslist. Seriously. It took Graham all of 24 hours.

"I decided on Houston, got on Craigslist, saw the ad on Craigslist, came down here the next day and said, 'This is perfect. We want it,' he recounts. "Literally. I had just decided the night before."

Barbarella's former quarters was Status, precisely the kind of preening, velvet-rope club Graham says he's trying to avoid. But he lucked out in that the venue needed next to no renovations between being ready to open; basically just a new sink and a liquor license, to hear him tell it. As opposed to the Austin location, which he likens to a "dive bar," it's allowed Graham to imagine this Barbarella a little closer to the image suggested by its name, the 1968 sci-fi B-movie starring Jane Fonda as a futuristic astronaut who explores intergalactic frontiers of pleasure. (He'd like to mix in a little Andy Warhol, too.)

"It's all mirrored and looks like a meteor or something," says Graham of the new club's DJ booth. "It's very spacey, and it's perfect for us. Wait til you see it. It's ridiculous."

When he was first scouting for a club, Graham says someone steered him to the now-vacant Rich's, but he ultimately passed because it was too expensive. Still, he sounds like he would welcome any new neighbors.

"I hope someone takes it," Graham says. "I would love to have some synergy with another club across the street. I just want this area to hopefully blow up."

Barbarella Houston's grand opening opens its doors at 9 p.m. this Sunday, September 8. See barbarellatx.com/houston for more details.


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