Not long back I had the opportunity to explore the origin of the name of my favorite Houston club, Numbers. My source explained to me that the name originated from a late '70s slang term indicating a hot guy or girl during the club's original disco days. The upstairs area of the club also sported silver wall paper that was decorated with numbers on it, further cementing the moniker. Later, the wallpaper was painted over with black.
That solved at least one mystery for me, but Numbers has had a fair share of tales told about it over its long history. And its history is quite long, having opened as Numbers in 1978. Along with Fitzgerald's and Anderson Fair, it's one of the oldest clubs still in its original building and still operating almost half a century later.
It's time to lay to rest some of the myths surrounding my gothic sanctuary.
7. Numbers has never been a roller rink. When the building first opened in 1975, it was The Million Dollar City Dump, a dinner theater where people could see Las Vegas-style shows. It transitioned into a disco to capitalize on the latest fad, and has remained a dance club ever since.
6. There used to be bowls of ecstasy available for patrons by the doors. This was true during the '70s and '80s, and isn't really all that shocking. X, or MDMA, didn't become illegal until 1985 and punishment for its sale use didn't become serious until 2001 when Congress mandated a 3,000 percent (not a typo) increase in penalties.
5. A fire did not shut down Numbers in 1980. If there ever has been a significant fire at the club, I have not been able to find anything out about it. The closure was a result of poor management that had neglected to pay the club's bills, with the final outcome being the power's getting cut off for non-payment during a Gone With the Wind-themed gala. The club reopened as Babylon later in the year.
4. Numbers has never had another location. It has always resided at 300 Westheimer. During the Babylon days, when CO2 cannons and laser lights were installed, as well as building Lloyd's bar in the old Million Dollar City Dump kitchen, management once again began to disagree and changes were made. The club retook the name Numbers, adding a "2" to the sign to signify its new direction.
3. At no point in its history has Numbers ever been a brothel, either. There simply aren't enough gaps in Numbers' chronology for one to have been operating. Of course, there's been plenty of sex, and I can't say for certain whether it's ever been in exchange for either money or drugs. Most Numbers regulars treat any canoodling they happen upon with little more than a shrug.
2. Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon did not OD at Numbers. Some people say the singer died of an overdose after his final show at Numbers in July of 1995. This is both true and false. Hoon did perform at Numbers, and it was the last show he ever played. However, he was found dead on his tour bus after failing to make sound check for the next gig in New Orleans, not at or outside Numbers.
1. Someone has died at Numbers, though. That's not to say no one has ever met their end at Numbers. In 2003 21-year-old Thomas Hall, also called Tommy Vain, sent a shockwave through Houston's goth community when he stabbed and killed Brody Darnell in an argument over a girl. Darnell died of blood loss, and is buried in South Park Cemetery in Pearland. Hall pled guilty to the murder charge and received a 30-year sentence at the Robertson Unit in Abilene. He is currently studying to be a minister, and is eligible for parole in 2019.
The incident inspired the song "Murder by #'s" by Jim Jones and the Kkoolaidman (sic), but was also the subject of eerie coincidence. In English author Carmilla Voiez's gothic novel Starblood there is an altercation between two characters in a goth-club bathroom that ends in a brutal murder, though it's head trauma and not a stab wound that proves fatal. Like the Numbers incident, it was a sudden and violent act committed in jealousy over a lover.
Though the scene was not in any way patterned after the murder, when I interviewed Voiez about Starblood, she was surprised at the similarity. She also revealed that Hall had modeled for her Drac-In-A-Box clothing line years ago. The resemblance between the scene as written and the actual incident was just weirdly uncanny, as Voiez had heard none of the details about that night.
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Just another strange chapter in the history of Numbers.