The clubs most guilty of heavily enforcing these Orwellian laws are primarily the hot spots around downtown's nerve center, Main Street. While boho hangouts like The Hub (312 Main) and the kitschy wonderland No tsu oH (314 Main) only require that you not smell of last week's coal-mining toil, some of the upscale, slick-as-a-pimp's-conk joints, such as Prague (402 Main), Tonic (310 Main) and the recently departed 410 (410 Main), just don't play that. Here are some of the unwritten regulations that have kept patrons from getting in the trendy-as-hell Prague: If you wear jeans, wear them with a long-sleeved, button-down shirt. If you wear a T-shirt, tuck it inside your pants. If you wear tight-ass leather pants, you will be shot dirty looks on sight. And absolutely, positively no sneakers. Ever.
"The deal about our dress code is we wanna set ourselves a little different from the rest of the clubs downtown," says Antoine Bufford, manager of Prague. "I'm not saying that we don't let people in with jeans or who don't really fit our dress code. But normally, if you're standing in line and you find yourself outside more than ten minutes, it's probably because you're not dressed to our standards."
Standards vary -- even at the same club from night to night. "I don't think Wednesdays are a good night for people to dress like [celebrities]," said a patron at Prague on its Wednesday "Latin Night," talking as earnestly as if contemplating a debilitating illness. "I mean, I've never had any problems, but I've known people that had some problems, you know, if they come here with jeans and stuff like that."
With new crowds discovering NoDo (north downtown) each week, these clubs seem to be holding on to their otherworldly hipness via dress codes. "We set 'em up before we opened," says Jason Clark, a Tonic manager, of their evening-wear guidelines. "I mean, we try to attract a certain crowd." Does that mean Tonic, that perfume-soaked funhouse, wants to attract an elitist clientele? "An elitist crowd meaning by what?" asks Clark rhetorically. "Urban professionals that come in and there's no problems from them and spend money? Yeah, that's what we're trying to attract."
All this dress-code drama, of course, is just a method for clubs to a) maintain a high profile; and b) keep the riffraff away. And since these clubs are the hot places of the moment, they can charge astonishing covers (Prague's ranges from $10 to $20) just so blue-blooded Houstonians can be in the "see and be seen" crowd. Some clubs have found that being snobby just isn't good business. Sharon Haynes, co-owner of Swank Lounge (910 Prairie), says that when clubs like Swank and Spy (112 Travis) first opened in the mid-1990s, strictly enforced dress codes were the way to go. But management soon figured out one important thing: This is Houston. "We're not New York here, you know," says Haynes. "I mean, that's where I come from, and in New York, they'll stand outside and handpick people based on what they look like .There's definitely an elitist sort of quality to that that I don't particularly care for, but that's sort of the hot club thing."
Of course, as the managers of Prague and Tonic might tell you, y'all ain't gotta come here. There are other places -- clubs like Swank, Spy and loosey-goosey clubhouses like the hip-hop/ house-oriented Hyperia (2001 Commerce) and Club Waxx (1601 Leeland). When asked about a dress code, the admission lady at Club Waxx says: "We don't have one."
Just don't smell like last week's sweat.
This spring Mike Snow needed someplace to rest his collection of Duran Duran albums. After a couple of years spinning '80s rarities at Spy's "Breakfast Club" night, the 33-year-old pro decided to branch out on his own, moving down the street to Rehab [703 Franklin, (713)22REHAB] for a night he conceived called "Metro." Snow wanted to play '80s music to an appreciative crowd, like the one in the basement-level Rehab. "Some people like the glitzier clubs," Snow says. "This is a more grungy, go-after-a-party club." And let's not forget the whole freaky-sneaky aspect of the place. Just the sight alone of Stevie Nicks-looking goth chicks dancing aimlessly to Human League while subtitled porno cartoons play on the video monitors will make you feel like you're getting your grime on.