"Welcome to the club."
Those are the words of Kristen Powell, owner of Simone on Sunset (2418 Sunset), the Rice Village establishment that is neither two years old nor explicitly a wine bar. The evening is beginning to get busy and Powell has just finished making yet another Dingo, a cold slosh of a drink made from a mimosa and Shiraz. It is currently a favorite among Simoneans, and she will make handfuls in the coming hours.
In her welcome, she isn't referring to Simone literally, the way you'd say, "Welcome to my home." She's referring to the group of people who have heard about, and frequent, the place. Welcome to that club, the way Britney Spears would say it in a discussion about how BlackBerry Pearls are soooo 2006.
If you haven't heard about Simone yet, that's okay. For the time being, it's mostly unknown. It won't stay that way for long, though. It can't — they've done too many things right.
Simone picked up the "wine bar" label fairly early in its life cycle — two pages of wine selections and a couple of cheese plates on your menu will do that — but it's not altogether accurate. It also serves beer (think Blonde Bombshell, not Budweiser), mixed drinks and other food besides cheese. Monday, for example, is burger night, Wednesday is Fusion Taco Truck night, Thursday is steak night, etc. In other words, Simone is a little more dynamic than a typical wine bar.
Aesthetically, the bar is remarkably appealing. The interior features stained concrete floors, purposely (and tactfully) mismatched furniture, faux brick-accent walls, a tin ceiling over the bar, muted wall paint, a wine case and various bits of art, everything softly illuminated.
Simone has the warmth of a neighborhood bar, but the strength of character of an upmarket cigar bar. As such, every conversation looks interesting from afar and sounds rich and nuanced from close in. And that's not to say anything of the walkup toward the door, a former driveway that's been converted into a brick-paved, dog-friendly patio. Even the professionals are impressed.
"I love the decor," says Khail Mills, a 44-year-old graphic designer. "The mixed-media art, rusted siding, cracked glass doors — for someone in my field, it's definitely eye candy."
Tonight, the music from the digital jukebox cycles through all sorts of inoffensive selections, each helping mold Simone's nebulous atmosphere into something firmer. The crowd, mostly Rice folks and mostly white but not entirely or uncomfortably so, ebbs and flows. Bob Marley, Janis Joplin and Dave Matthews Band all take turns, never sounding out of place or unnecessarily alternative. Not even Rusted Root.
The West University and surrounding area offers all sorts of nightlife options, be it sports bars (Little Woodrow's, 5611 Morningside), music venues (The Big Easy, 5731 Kirby), pubs (The Ginger Man, 5607 Morningside), dive bars (Marquis II, 2631 Bissonnet) and lounges with policies apparently informed by anachronistic views on race (Hudson Lounge, 2506 Robinhood) [see "Getting Past the Bouncer," February 10], but eventually Simone may outduel them all.
"I've been coming here for about three or four months," says field support analyst Kelly Shidler, 40.
"I'd say I come an average of twice a week. I visit Firehouse [Saloon, 5930 Southwest Fwy.] for the live music, but really I can't even remember the last time I've hung out anywhere since I discovered this place.
"I would come here for a date or with friends, for any reason, really," she says. "I brought some friends from San Marcos and they thought it was just the greatest place."
Simone's club roster seems to grow by the day. How much longer until you're a member?
You, dear Houston Press reader, might not have noticed this, but your local rap scene is slowly beginning to cycle into a serious talent boom. Crates of rappers are doing all sorts of fun things these days. And this Thursday, Turnin' Headz, an often overlooked underground-rap concert series, continues its trek toward prominence with a show at The Mink (3718 Main). Scheduled performers include Houstonians Fullmetal F Dot, Young Sensation and one-time Rocks Off Artist of the Week Herney the Great, as well as out-of-towners Tyga Woodz and Gunna Gang. Make your way out there and see what all of the fuss is about. If you don't enjoy yourself, ask for your money back. They won't give it to you, but at least you asked.