Bar Beat

UPDATED: Downtown Gets a New Place for Drinking and Dancing

The Clumsy Butcher Group finally has opened The Nightingale Room at 308 Main Street. It is the last on their list of slated projects that included Julep and The Pastry War. Partner Bobby Heugel swears he's going to relax after this, but we'll just have to wait and see. They're just beginning the soft opening phase, so don't expect perfection yet. There's still a bit of construction work to be done as well, but the place is perfectly habitable.

The space was initially planned to be a wine bar called Trigger Happy, but seven months later, the idea was scrapped in favor of the The Nightingale Room concept. The change was announced almost a year ago last December. It's not just a reference to the songbird. It also refers to Sippie Wallace, a Houston singer who was known as the Texas Nightingale in the 1920s. A large painting by local artist Matt Tabor hangs near the bar.

Mike Criss, who was a bartender at Anvil Bar & Refuge, became the opening general manager at OKRA Charity Saloon and later moved to The Pastry War. He is now putting this hard-earned experience to work at the new bar.

On the back shelves behind the bar, there are more than 2,000 record albums. The Nightingale Room plans on having "vinyl nights" during week. Live bands and DJs will play in the upstairs loft.

Speaking of the loft, a nifty drink elevator is planned so that guests and musicians don't have to come downstairs to order a cocktail. They can just pick up a special phone and place their orders.

There's still some wallpaper to be installed as well. Criss said last night that the wallpaper will appear to be a pattern from the distance but upon a closer look turns out to be made of tiny drawings of people. Fun stuff.

The back bar of exposed brick and custom shelving is reminiscent of Anvil Bar & Refuge's setup. We found the loft to be quite stuffy but the issue was quickly remedied when the air conditioning was turned on. It was unclear on whether there's a separate AC unit for the loft. If not, it could be problematic if the downstairs needs to be heated at the same time as when bands playing upstairs need to be cooled off.

The entire bar is lit by a yellow glow from the huge sign hanging over the front door. The marquee will be updated with bar news, like drink specials and upcoming bands.

We enjoyed some Cognac Old Fashioneds and The Last Word cocktails last night. Both were well-executed, strong and nicely chilled. Since there wasn't a band playing in the loft last night, it was fun to hang out up there, look out over the bar and see who happened to wander upstairs.

The only remaining question: how many bars can one little area support? The Nightingale Room joins The Pastry War, Bad News Bar, Moving Sidewalk, Dean's, Little Dipper and The Honeymoon (a combination restaurant, bar and coffee shop) on Main between Congress and Preston. On the same block are Warren's, OKRA Charity Saloon and Batanga (a restaurant with a sizable bar area). Within just a few blocks, add Hearsay, La Carafe, Public Services, Prohibition Supperclub & Lounge, Clutch City Squire and El Big Bad. That's not even an all-inclusive list.

While Fridays and Saturday nights are sure to be hopping, is there enough business to support that many bars on the weeknights? Perhaps it's time to start filming a new entry in the Survivor series called The Bar Battle.

With those musings aside, The Nightingale Room has a distinct personality and strong potential for success. Unlike at the other bars, dancing is encouraged and everyone's going to want to hit the place and check out the new hotness.

UPDATE: Clutch City Squire, one of the bars mentioned in this report, has contacted us to report a gross inaccuracy. They want you to know there's a whole lot of booty-shakin' going on.

Says Steve Hannigan, "We've always had events with a lot of dancing. Our bartenders are usually dancing in between orders. Sorry for mentioning it here though, this is Mike's day and I have no business seeming to try to promote my own place. I just felt that small inaccuracy could be addressed."

Sorry, and we'll be right over to shake our groove thangs.

The Nightingale Room is open from Tuesdays through Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook