Nestled on the top floor of the Village Arcade, The Gatsby Social Club (2540 University) is, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald himself, a place full of money.
Tagged at around $3 million, this five-month-old art deco hideaway (formerly Cody's in the Village) couldn't be more elegant if Tom Wolfe, dressed in his ice-cream-white suit, personally greeted you at the damn door. The stage is equipped with a $400,000 sound, light and video system. The ceiling lamps are imported from Europe. James Bond movies play regularly on the TV monitors. A bottle of 1994 Cristal champagne ("giggle water," they call it) goes for $300. The Gatsby even has a sushi bar because, well, because nothing says "the jazz age" like Japanese-prepared raw fish.
Of course, it takes a club this upscale to lure people away from their usual downtown haunts, particularly when this alternative to NoDo is located above a strip center where families usually shop for Gap clothes and get a smoothie afterward. "I think a lot of people are tired of going downtown," says Larry Smith, one of the four Gatsby owners. "You know, they're fixing all the streets and there's a lot of traffic, and there's a lot of problems with parking. This is a place where you can come and they park your car directly from the door."
Could the Gatsby be the start of a nightlife resurgence around the Village? Don't count on it. "Right now, I believe Houston is taking care of downtown more," says Burak Pekcanli, manager of Mi Luna Tapas Restaurant & Bar (2441 University). "I mean, I'm not saying we're getting neglected or anything, but nightlife is more shifted to downtown." This may be the reason why the owners of Mi Luna also opened up Mia Bella Trattoria (320 Main Street), an Italian eatery located smack-dab in the middle of the NoDo action.
There are those in the Village who would prefer that the downtown dwellers and their uptown attitudes stayed exactly where they are. Like Shein Hashemi, who runs The Bronx Bar (5555 Morningside) with his brother and three cousins. The bar is located alongside many other Village watering holes, including The Ginger Man (5607 1/2 Morningside), The Village Icehouse (5611 Morningside) (see "Cold Comfort," by George Alexander, December 21, 2000) and the recently opened 221-B Baker Street Pub & Grill (5510 Morningside). Just like the folks at Mi Luna, Hashemi and his brethren also have staked a claim downtown with Slainte Irish pub (509 Main Street).
"I don't think anybody wants to have that kind of [downtown] atmosphere here anyway," says Hashemi. "I mean, I think everybody wants to have a good atmosphere for people to come out, but I don't think people want to bring that kind of environment here. So I think everybody's happy with the way it is here."
And what way is that?
"You know, it's a good place to go out," Hashemi says, "but everybody is chill. They're going to have a cool time without being, you know, overstressed about how they look."
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The Gatsby, however, runs counter to the collegiate casualness that permeates the Village. First off, there's a $10 cover. Then there's the dress code: no sneakers, no jeans, and for the dudes, a nice jacket is required. "We just want to keep it upscale," says Smith. "We don't care about the statures of the people. We care more about the way they present themselves."
In other words, at the Gatsby, you need nice threads; you just don't necessarily need a roll of bills to stuff into them -- unless you want that Cristal, of course.
For those who have been turned away at the downtown Cabo (419 Travis) on a Friday or Saturday night for daring to wear sneakers -- like yours truly -- the folks next door at Frank's Pizza (417 Travis) would like NoDo denizens to know that they're more flexible when it comes to footwear. In fact, by staying open until 3 a.m. on weekends, Frank's is looking to attract more of that Cabo-type crowd. On Fridays, the joint has an "open-mike night," which means if you enjoyed the movie Duets, you're bound to experience the "unique" joys of karaoke here. But it's best to come on Saturdays, when Frank's hires a DJ to play thumping music while you savor a slice of pie and admire the wall posters of movies filmed in and around Houston. ("Hmm, I didn't know I Come In Peace with Dolph Lundgren was filmed here.") It may not have fish tacos and lite-FM tunes, but it's a nice place to hang when you're wearing Timberlands.