'Don't worry, they died of natural causes at a farm out in East Texas," the older man says. "We raised all sorts of exotic animals out there."
Mouth open, we're staring at a pair of stuffed zebras, right past the row of topless dancers flanking them. To be fair, mounted animals are surrounding us, but something about this pair of zebras, glowing eerily under the strip-club lights, had us concerned about the cause of their demise.
Luckily, Frank Kent knows firsthand. Manager of Sharpstown's Colorado Bar & Grill, perhaps Houston's finest strip club, he was the one who raised them.
At 10 p.m. on a recent Thursday night, the Colorado's main stage area is bereft of patrons, who are all gathered into the adjoining "strip pub." This lounge just off the main stage at this massive club, all 20,000 square feet of it, hosts the weekly pool tournament.
That's right. The Colorado may be known for its women, but on Thursday nights it's all about pool.
Entering the club's heavy wooden doors feels like stepping out of Houston completely. It's nothing like the other fly-by-night adult-entertainment establishments dotting the area, full of chrome and mirrors. This place is more like a hunting lodge, with warm and rich wood enveloping stages made of old grand pianos, and trophies as far as the eye can see.
This "strip-pub" atmosphere has been the Colorado's main focus for the 25 years it has been in business. From the massive TVs broadcasting one sports game or another to the abundance of memorabilia, most of which is so valuable that it's tucked away from sticky-fingered onlookers in glass cases, the club is all sports, in a hunting lodge, with a few topless women here for good measure.
The women are an essential part of the Colorado's decor, and not just onstage. Several signed photos of Colorado graduates to the pages of Playboy and Penthouse hang among the sports memorabilia, where the management has placed them with great care. Tucked quietly within other photos of Penthouse Pets and Playboy models are a few framed shots of Anna Nicole Smith; the fallen starlet's first job was on this very stage.
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The crowd in the sports lounge sounds particularly rowdy now, and finally captures our attention. Maneuvering through the bodies while keeping an eye on the pool tournament is surprisingly difficult, considering that we're taking care not to block the patrons' view of the half-naked woman gyrating on top of the piano.
Pool Colorado-style means that the dancers play right along with the men during the tournaments, adding an easy distraction for the other teams. An older, white-haired gentleman named Joel beams as he stands next to a scantily clad woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter. She is his tournament partner for the evening, and when the game is over, will take the stage to provide the nightly entertainment. The majority of the men surrounding the tables are older businessmen like Joel, but a younger, more virile crowd is also present. They're just leaning against the bar, taking in the chaos from arm's length.
Mathew, the man sitting next to us, is downing his whiskey with gusto. Of course, those watching are just as easily distracted as the would-be pool sharks. Perhaps it's the rear ends of the women, which wiggle at the crowd.
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The ruckus over the pool tournament is nearly drowning out a basketball game our bartender is trying to watch, but he just laughs. He's more concerned with keeping up with the sportscasters than the nightly entertainment, pool or otherwise. He's been here for five years now, and he takes his job quite seriously. Most of the Colorado's other employees do, too.
Frank, news-bearer of those zebras' fate, has been here for 23 of the club's 25 years. Much of the staff has been with Frank for at least a decade. It seems that employee longevity, a rarity in this business, is one more thing making the Colorado an exception in the world of strip clubs.
Here, topless women are only part of the deal.
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