"Excuse me, but do you hear that too? Is that people having sex? What the hell is that noise?"
A large group of men in suits has just entered a small downtown bar, and they're looking around with confusion, presumably puzzled by the voices drowning out Pimp C's rapping. As eerily similar as the late UGK MC's rhymes are to certain noises made by overzealous romantic partners, most of us know better. It's just the slam poetry going on in Notsuoh, this bar's next-door neighbor.
We are sitting at Dean's Credit Clothing, which has traditionally been seen as a sister bar to Notsuoh. For many years the two bars shared an owner, Jim Pirtle, who installed an interior door between them that rendered the two nearly inseparable, as did his love of quirky, eclectic décor. But now Pirtle is long gone, at least where Dean's is concerned.
Today a row of well-appointed settees (complete with throw pillows) sits in the place of the spooky mannequins and racks of clothing that once lined the walls of Dean's, effectively earmarking it as a vintage store with booze. To be fair, perhaps the new décor was a necessary step in order for it to forge an identity independent of Notsuoh. Even that good-neighbor door between the two is gone, covered with a row of bright-red curtains. Dean's is posh and pretty now, and the makeover has given it a look more suited to a Main Street bar.
The patrons also resemble those at upscale neighbors like The Pastry War. Dress socks flood the floor where skinny jeans and high-waisted shorts used to frolic, but as strange as it feels, this new, lawyer-heavy crowd fits the new Dean's. As folks trickle into the warm bar, each one shoots the same confused look as the one before. It appears that slam poetry at Notsuoh's simply cannot be drowned out, no matter how much the volume increases on the UGK playlist.
We try explaining the noises with a simple gesture toward the red curtain, but it seems only to further confuse people. The crowd in Dean's seems to be clueless about slam poetry, so we decide perhaps it's easier to allow them to believe that someone in the bar next door leads a very active sex life.
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Seated next to us at the bar is a young, boisterous attorney in a bright orange sweater and a plaid button-down shirt, an outfit that comes complete with matching orange dress socks. He is actively pursuing our friend with a line of cheesy insults and reminders of his status as an attorney, and as he downs his whiskey his voice competes with the slam poetry for attention. As impressive as both his outfit and volume are, he seems a bit too much for this newly-minted Dean's, a point driven home as we watch him attempt to discreetly remove his wedding ring. Nice try, buddy, but we suddenly began fancying some slam poetry, and we've heard Notsuoh's dress code bans bright orange sweaters.
Of course, Pirtle still runs the show at Notsuoh, which remains as indescribable as ever. When you step into its dark, dank interior, it's difficult to see any correlation between the two bars at all. If these neighbors aimed for unique identities in the post-Pirtle split, they're sure on the right track. The crowd, the vibe, and the patrons all split right down the middle: one hip, one trendy.
As far as dive bars go, Notsuoh is still downtown's top dog. Its time-warp aesthetic, full of drab thrift-shop bric-a-brac, comes complete with a resident bar cat, worlds away from the airy, open space of neighboring Dean's. We perch next to a bearded patron dressed in highwater dress pants and polished vintage shoes, ready to take in a bit more slam poetry.
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But somehow, from the interior of this crowded dive, we can still hear Bun B blaring from next door. His words are nearly as clear as the poet's, creating a strange melodic hum that intertwines with the slam reading. Dean's and Notsuoh may be resolutely headed in their own directions nowadays, but they may be more connected than they're comfortable with. That interchangeable reputation is tough to shake.
Dean's On Main 316 Main, 713-568-6835, deansdowntown.com
Notsuoh 314 Main, 713-409-4750, notsuoh.com
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