But let's talk about one of the more positive developments in downtown nightlife. A new organization is making sure that its customers have a good time despite the stress and chaos of the city center streets -- and all you have to do is dish out $65 for it.
Now before you start wondering if downtown has gone Bangkok on us, you should know that this sum buys you the run of five clubs -- free cover and a free drink at each one, instant VIP access, luxury transportation and maybe, just maybe, a free screening of the epic CBS miniseries Lonesome Dove at the end of the night.
Started a month ago by a team (Initium Productions) that is a division of a group (the Bachard Group) that is an extension of a shadow government up in the hills someplace (we're not sure about that last part), Party Bus Houston is a weekly magical mystery tour that lets people sit back and enjoy the scenery. "We're trying to work together to bring the city life of Houston back downtown," says Party Bus co- runner Nick Covanes.
Here's how it works: A decked-out white shuttle bus picks you up on a Friday or Saturday night at either The Gatsby Social Club (2540 University Boulevard) or downtown's Papillon Bistro Français (401 Louisiana). Once you're aboard the spacious mobile club and enjoying its plush black leather seats, surround-sound stereo system and high-definition TV (where you could, in fact, take in Lonesome Dove), the bus rumbles on to four downtown spots: Solero (910 Prairie), Spy (112 Travis), Tonic (310 Main) and The Hub (312 Main). At closing time, it's back to The Gatsby.
If anything, the boys at Party Bus have perfected the art of speed-clubbing. No longer will patrons be held captive at one club all night -- unless, of course, you include the bus as a club. "Pretty much when you're on the bus, it's a party in itself," says Party Bus host Jonas Vega, "but when you get off the bus, you're welcome to another party. So you're pretty much partying the whole night."
But what if you like one particular club and you wanna stick around for a while? They gotcha covered. "If you like the club that you're at, you can stay there as long as you want, come out and catch the next bus as it comes back," says Covanes.
So far, customers are satisfied. "You hit a lot of different clubs, and instead of having a designated driver, you got the bus to take care of you," says passenger Loria Lee Murphy. "I think it's safer. I really do."
Of course, Party Bus isn't the only operation to provide transportation for club folk. Traveling social clubs like Clubmonkey have been known to make periodic pilgrimages downtown. Spy, one of Party Bus Houston's stops, is thinking about sending its own rented buses around later this summer, stopping at Spy, The Hub, TOC Bar (711 Franklin) and BAR Houston (534 Texas Avenue). But don't look for Spy to start hating on the crew that beat them to the punch. "It gives everybody a flavor of downtown," says Spy general manager Curtis Monroe. "They can see every place pretty much downtown in one night, without the hassle of walking around, paying a cover charge, etc."
Even dowdy old Metro is getting in on the act with a new, free, late-night "N" trolley route. While Party Bus director of operations Shyam Palikh concedes that Metro is doing an admirable service, he points out that they can't deliver all of the Party Bus's bells and whistles. "I think the 'N' route is a good idea, but the crowd still doesn't get what they want," says Palikh. "They still have to wait in line, they still have to pay the cover, they still have to pay for all their drinks, and so it doesn't really eliminate anything except for the traffic. We offer luxury transportation, plus all the amenities."
Even though it's only a few weeks old, Party Bus Houston is overflowing with ideas. The company plans to include more clubs along the route, and organizers are rounding up a group of spokesmodels ("Party Bus Girls") to help put more asses in those soft leather seats. They're also looking to add more buses to the fleet, provide stops at lofts and apartment complexes, and expand with routes along the Richmond and Westheimer strips (that is, if downtown club owners will stop bitching about "that crowd" coming up to their neck of the woods). They also want to start a Party Bus route in Atlanta later this summer. As Palikh says, "Every city, I believe, needs something like this."For a schedule and contact information, call 713-590-5064 or visit www.partybushouston.com.