It's Wednesday. Hump Day. Still two days until the weekend. Honey, you look like you need a drink. Here's our suggestion. Tell 'em the Houston Press sent you.
"You can't write about what you see upstairs."
Jeremy, the bartender at Char Bar, is wary of me. He knows I'm a writer, not a regular. Everyone else at the bar eyes me warily too.
"Last time we were written about, they said the tailor shop was closed, and it's not. They didn't even come here before they wrote about it. That hurts our business."
Let it be known: The tailor shop is very much open.
It's open and accepting business from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Mike Shapiro, the owner of the bar and tailor shop, Duke of Hollywood Tailors, does both men's and women's tailoring. Except wedding dresses.
"There's an emotional attachment," Jeremy, Mike's son, explains. "My dad won't touch that. He wouldn't even do my wife's wedding dress."
The regulars gathered around the bar have now embraced me, eager to get something they've said in print. Oh yeah, they figured out what I do, too. Get a few drinks in me, and I get real honest.
"You know this is the best shoe shine in town," Jeremy tells me, gesturing to the row of old-fashioned chairs where people have sat for show shines for years. "He's a contract worker. He's the only guy who touches my shoes."
"I don't let anyone else touch my shoes," a regular adds, confirming Jeremy's assertion.
"That guy's a character," says another.
Everyone here is a character, apparently. You have to meet Mike, they tell me.
Thirteen years ago, Mike decided that they needed to do something with the space. It was either going to be a bar or a steakhouse, but the grease traps needed for a steakhouse would have meant they'd have to close the tailor shop. That wasn't an option.
Jeremy's great grandfather opened a tailor shop in this very spot in 1936 called Hollywood Tailors. Later, his grandfather, Duke, merged his tailor shop with Hollywood Tailors and the store became Duke of Hollywood Tailors, the name it retains to this day.
Nobody knows where "Hollywood" came from.
A guy walks into the door. Jeremy points at him.
"We made most of his clothes."
Alphise, a regular points to the chair I'm sitting on.
"He upholstered these, too."
As soon as I ask Alphise how to spell her name, I'm told that Byron, another regular would be offended if he didn't get mentioned. Byron explained the music system here to me.
"Downtown Rodney Brown is the resident DJ," Byron says. "His screen name is Thutmose 52."
There's a system whereby people pay for songs with an app on their phones, and Brown has purchased more songs than anyone else. You can also pay to skip other people's songs. Apparently at times it becomes quite the deathmatch. All via cellphone. Right now, Byron is pissed that some chick has been skipping over his golden oldies in favor of Iggy Azalea.
Jeremy hands me a mini martini, a departure from the El Diablo--a mixture of tequila, lime and ginger beer--I've been drinking. Char Bar has surprisingly great liquor and mixers for what most consider a "dive bar." Jeremy explains that "the true definition of a dive bar is a laid back neighborhood establishment."
This, he says, is a clean dive bar.
The martini he's slid toward me across the bar tastes like a milkshake with a note of vodka. I start chugging it. I love milkshakes.
"That's all liquor," Jeremy says. "We make strong drinks."
Indeed. Indeed they do.
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Tuxedo Martini (aka Sexual Chocolate*)
2 ounces 360 Double Chocolate Vodka 1 ounce Creme de Cacao 1/2 ounce Half and Half 1.5 second squirt from a can of whipped cream
Mix all ingredients in a shaker. Shake until mixed. Strain and top with a sprinkle of shaved chocolate.
*You have to go to Char Bar and ask why this martini is called Sexual Chocolate to get the real story. I'm not allowed to repeat it.