Pass through the doors of this small drinking establishment in a nondescript shopping center off 2920 in Spring, and you’re transformed into a low-lit Polynesian wonderland of art, paintings, sculpture. And a large bar with the ingredients to make any of the more than 135 cocktail variations on (and off) the menu.
But come on a Sunday, and it’s not the Island instruments and swinging tropical sound of the steel drums, steel guitar, or bongos you’ll hear. Instead, your ear canal will be melted by the music of Iron Maiden, Metallica, Motörhead, Megadeth, Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen, AC/DC, and other black-and-leather-clad acts who point to the ‘70s and ‘80s as their heyday.
No, you haven’t stepped into a bizarre dream. It’s Heavy Metal Sundays at Howie’s Tiki. Where headbanging music is the only playlist of the day, and anyone wearing a concert or band T-shirt gets discounts on drinks and food. Plus, there’s a lot of talk around the place about guitar shredding, favorite concert memories, and debates over which lineup of Black Sabbath was the best.
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Owner Mark “Howie” Voros (the bar’s name is in honor of his late grandfather) opened Howie’s Tiki in February 2016. As Sundays are notoriously slow in the bar biz, he decided to blend two of his interests together.
“I picked this area because I live just down the street…there’s no tiki bar in the U.S. that's in a suburb!” he says. “It’s part of who I am. The older metal guys just don’t have a place to [gather], and the bands are slowing down or losing members. This is my man cave, but a commercial man cave!”
Voros’ love of Tiki culture stems from 1970’s family vacations to Disneyland, where he was enchanted by the Tiki Room as part of the park’s Adventureland section. “That just stuck with me,” he says. Later, he began to explore restaurants and bars with the theme around the country like Trader Vic’s in Hollywood, Lucky Joe’s in Milwaukee, and more recently Houston’s Lei Low in the Heights.
His love of heavy metal fermented as a young teen. Whipping out an iPad that has an Excel sheet documenting all of the shows he’s seen – complete with date, venue, opening acts, and notes, the band names come fast and furious.
“I saw UFO at my first concert in May 1976, but my first real metal show was Black Sabbath with Blue Öyster Cult in June 1980 at the Ventura Fairgrounds. Ronnie James Dio had just joined the band,” he says. A concert the next year with Ozzy Osbourne (who had Randy Rhoads on guitar) with a stunning Motörhead opening at the Long Beach Arena sealed the deal.
“Growing up, I used to watch MTV for hours just to catch a heavy metal video when they would play one,” he recalls. “When they came out with ‘Headbanger’s Ball,’ that was a lot better.”
Not surprisingly, some of the cocktails on Howie’s menu have metal-knowing titles named after songs like “Thunderstruck” (which comes in a container shaped like a volcano and is actually lit on fire), “Painkiller,” “Orgasmatron,” and – for the Pink Floyd fan – “Comfortably Numb” and “Wish You Were Here.”
A few years ago, Voros got to visit with some of his heroes from Iron Maiden during their 2012 stop at the Woodlands. On this day, he sports his limited-edition T-shirt from that show. Maiden’s cadaverous mascot Eddie is holding the British Union Jack flag in one hand and the Texas state flag in the other. He estimates 80% of the more than 140 shows he’s seen have featured hard rock and metal acts, and Judas Priest and AC/DC are also at the top of his list of favorites.
Voros is completely self-taught in the art of mixing Tiki cocktails, involving a lot of trial and error in his own home kitchen. But these are not the drinks to imbibe if you’re the type who goes to Bourbon Street and downs as many street-sold Hurricanes as possible to get trashed as quickly as possible. Tiki drinks are stronger, and each one can have up to a dozen different ingredients.
“The portions have to be right or it will throw everything off. You have to balance the acid with the bittersweet. Our juices are freshly squeezed, and we make our own syrup.”
Sitting on stools this Sunday are husband and wife Mark and Carmilla Bobbitt, knocking a couple back before heading off to the more mundane task of grocery shopping. Mark is a huge fan of metal from the classic bands up to contemporary acts and subgenres like scream metal.
He also plays in a Montgomery based hard rock band, PaperAnvil, and goes on heavy metal cruises. He too is wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt and discusses seeing Judas Priest recently in town.
“I thought this idea sounded really cool, it’s close to my house, and I get to talk about the music with people who like what I do,” he says. Carmilla – whose own tastes run more toward alt-rock acts like Houston’s Blue October and 30 Seconds to Mars – concurs.
“I’m dragged along to shows, but he’s gotten me to enjoy Iron Maiden and the [local] fans,” she says.
As for the future, Voros is looking at adding heavy metal trivia contests for patrons and installing a TV screen that would allow him to play videos from his own vast personal collection of VHS tapes and DVDs, some of which are rare.
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Bartender Jonah Castellow says that the most popular drinks on Heavy Metal Sundays are the Zombie (with a limit of two per person) and the Slide Away. Asked what the difference is between these days and others, he offers a succinct answer. “The customers are harder to hear on Heavy Metal Sundays.”
That triggers another memory from Voros, who recalls the one show where the volume didn’t just go up to 11 – a ’la This is Spinal Tap – but even higher. And higher pitched.
“The loudest concert I have ever been to was not a heavy metal show. It was Duran Duran in 1984 at the L.A. Forum,” he laughs. “The girls were screaming so loud. You couldn’t hear anything.”
Howie’s Tiki is located on 4334 FM 2920. Heavy Metal Sundays are 4-10 pm. For more info, call 832-299-6991 or visit howiestiki.com