The Galleria's White-Collar Hotel Bars Mean Serious Business

"We'll take two Nipple Up's, a Fraggle Rock and a Pipe Stripping, please. And light on the ice, if you will."

You can tell quite a bit about a bar from the drink names on the cocktail list, and this one runs to four pages. Names like "The Jed Clampet" [sic] or "Black Gold" seem fitting given the clientele. We're at least three drinks in, and have yet to see someone order a good, old-fashioned beer.

The menu at Hotel Derek's Vin Bar was recently revamped, adding flights of craft beer to the ever-expanding list. It makes sense. Craft beer is trendy right now, and Hotel Derek is a place that follows trends to a T, even if this crowd seems rather disinterested.

A host of men in power suits and their female counterparts -- big hair, skintight dresses -- are splayed about the modern chairs in the room. Their dark attire contrasts well with Vin Bar's sleek, hip design, staining the bright orange bar chairs a much more serious color. The women surrounding us slink and flirt, and their clouds of perfume and jingling expensive jewelry add as much to the atmosphere as the quietly thumping house music.

From the ladies' attire, no doubt straight off the racks of Dior's latest ready-to-wear line, to the wisecracking cocktail list, every carefully chosen component of Vin Bar pulls unabashedly from the latest trends. The entire place is pretty: the patrons, the well-shaken drinks, and the bar itself. The atmosphere begs us to follow suit, so we order a Diesel Downhole, a stiff drink comprised of whiskey, bitters and ginger ale. It sounds like a naughty oil pun.

Since its 2002 inception, Hotel Derek has always pushed to remain on the cutting edge, often changing its bar décor or even its entire restaurant to ensure a steady stream of elite clientele, local or otherwise. Over the years it's also become quite infamous for its rowdy Thursday crowd, which has been rumored to take full advantage of the unisex bathrooms after a few stout V Door cocktails. A recent remodel has proven just as successful as the other Hotel Derek rebirths. Relatively early on a recent Saturday night, the bar was packed with patrons eagerly handing over their AmEx cards to cover the rounds of $14 cocktails without batting an eye.

But keeping up with the Joneses at the Derek can get a little pricey. Perhaps it's the cost of admission to the trendy crowd at any hotel bar. We opted to dismiss ourselves from Vin Bar's purgatory to check out the scene at Hotel Derek's Westheimer neighbor, W XYZ bar at Aloft.

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W XYZ is a steel, wood and glass type of contemporary rather than the mid-century modern design of the bar at Hotel Derek, but no less trendy. Situated directly behind the solitary square island that serves as the hotel check-in, the bar recalls the crowd and decor at W Hotel bars in Dallas and San Diego. The crowd is chic, the music is heavy on the bass and light on the vocals, and the drinks keep coming.

Teetering towards the bar amid the sea of folks, we zeroed in on W XYZ's drink menu, which is considerably shorter than the imbiber's bible at the Derek. It's hardly centered around Houston's oil culture, but jumps right onto another bar trend by focusing on the hard-partying business class. Quite a few of them were lining the bar stools, elbow to elbow, drink in hand, and all in business suits. All of them were male.

It's no coincidence that W XYZ feels so similar to the W bars, at least in terms of the decor. All belong to the Starwood Hotel group, whose bars happen to be known for their lobbyish vibe. This one strays a bit from that rowdy, socialite crowd, though. The folks lining the steel bar stools seemed much less concerned with fashion trends than the market trends streaming across the lighted sign behind our seats.

The business clientele that flocks to W XYZ gives the entire bar a grownup vibe; the antics at the Derek would be misplaced. Sure, there are plenty of drinks, and heavy chatter bouncing off of the contemporary walls, but the crowd is focused. They're drinking, but at the same time discussing business projects rather than the beautiful girls lining the walls. As they drink, they stare obsessively at the scrolling stock ticker.

NASDAQ-themed cocktails would be apropos in this bar. But with our novice Wall Street knowledge, we opted for The Hangover and a deep-seated couch instead.

Send your after-dark tips to nightfly@houstonpress.com.


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