Bars, Racism & Dress Codes: A Report

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In this weeks cover feature, "Getting Past The Bouncer," by Chris Gray, Shea Serrano and myself, we investigated more in-depth the Hudson Lounge Hydeout controversy from back in December, plus the other door policies at some of the nicer watering holes in town that came to light in the wake of the incident.

About a year ago, I went into the breach onto Washington Avenue, which at the time was the hottest thing going in the Houston drinking scene. There were jitneys trolling up and down the street, most notably avenue mainstay the Washington Wave, and sites like Yelp were hopping with new additions.

There were pretty girls running around in tight-fitting dresses, some puking, mostly giggling, and guys in sport coats and nice shoes helping them along. In my capacity as bar listings editor, I could hardly keep up. I had only known the street by going to shows at Walter's On Washington or the random birthday party I attended.

A colleague of mine, Mike Giglio, had been towed away off a side street off Washington late in 2009 and Nightfly writer Shea Serrano had already been profiling the goings-on up and down the 77007 zip code here and there. I just like to drink, so we all joined forces to cover the scene off Washington in January 2010.

With visions of Bret Easton Ellis books and Kesha songs dancing in my head, I spent three weeks out of the Montrose bars to see how our brothers a few miles away did things.

What we found was no different than any other bar scene in town since the beginning of time. Girls in hot clothes, guys buying them drinks, innocuous music, drunken fights set to innocuous music over said hot girls, random bachelorette parties, and lines to get in most everywhere, including Ei8ht, Manor, and most of the time, Rebels Honky Tonk. Ask Robert Ellis about Rebels. He may have a cool story for you.

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Photo by Son Lam
Washington Avenue, where people line up to pass inspection
After the article came out, I remember getting a lot of angry phone calls from people claiming that I was wrong in my assertion that I had, based on over three weeks of accumulating bar tabs on the avenue, that the scene was mostly Anglo in nature. I just didn't see many other people around. It wasn't as if I was seeking minorities either. I took friends of all kinds up and down the street and they all said the same thing.

But as the Hudson story exploded by the end of the year, I realized that maybe it was because of door policies that Serrano, Gray and I would uncover the next year. I was the typical oblivious white guy, even though I'm not that white, and just assumed it was because the clubs catered to Anglos. It's possible now that I missed the boat completely, and that the "Getting Past the Bouncer" story should have been written last year, but hindsight is 20/20.

It was hard to not feel guilty that my appearance got me into places that other people couldn't. It's one thing to have tattoos that somehow give you street cred to people, which makes you fit in at rock and roll bars, but it's another to hear stories of friends and colleagues being shut out of places just for their ethnicity or the discriminatory baggage that club owners make their bouncers hold for them.

But then there are bars, like The Bus and the Tavern On Gray, that don't like seeing tattoos like mine so I get shut out, so there's that.

Now a year later, Washington Avenue seems like it's in flux again. The old offenders are still rolling, like the bars mentioned in the cover features, but now you have places like Liberty Station making their mark as bars you don't need to dress up for. Walter's is still threatening a move, and the Washington Drinkery still hates Ed Hardy and Affliction shirts. Well, most everybody does anyhow.

The Blue Moose Lodge has live music now, mostly Texas country artists here and there, which could start signaling the return of live, original music to the avenue. Salt Bar, next to Pearl Bar, tried an open-mike night that garnered more snickers than kudos, along with other candy references.

Washington Avenue isn't as exclusive as we all once thought, and a quick drive down the street now at closing time isn't so bad as it once was, and you can see more colors of the rainbow than you ever did before.

There's a bar on the block called Privilege now, which a year ago would have been incensing but now it's just a holdover from last year's thrill ride. The exclusive places are spreading out now towards the Kirby area, so who knows, we may all be taking the party there in a year to report.

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11 comments
Ke$Ha Blah Blah Blah
Ke$Ha Blah Blah Blah

Several years ago I took this photo of the posted dress code for Brothers Bar in Madison, Wisconsin. As an alumnus, I ... So much for color-blindness, this was a racist dress code with no reference to color at all

OIJOIERJT
OIJOIERJT

LAME A### WASHINGTON AVE...WHO CARES!!!! HOUSTON IS HUGE

HoustonGuy
HoustonGuy

The blog and the cover story this month are both based on pure conjecture. I usually like the Houston Press articles but this is kind of silly.

I'm sure there are some cases where minorities are rejected entry to clubs because of race but I highly doubt the practice is institutional to the Houston night life scene.

There are clubs in Houston whose patrons are predominantly black. Maybe some clubs just appeal to specific demographics. I'm sure if you sat outside of these places long enough, you would see some white people be denied entry. This doesn't make the club owner a racist, there could be any number of reasons for the denial.

I visit some of the clubs accused of discrimmination and have seen minorities enjoying them on every occassion. It's impossible to say these places deny entrance because of race when people of all races are in the club.

What I really don't like about this article is the bad press given to certain establishments based on the assumption that they are misbehaving. That logic the root of racism and does not belong in this day and age, right?

Chef504
Chef504

Washington Ave. I was shamboozled into going to a club there this past weekend for a friends birthday party. It's been years since I have gone to a club where a person making $9 an hour holds so much sway. Like all great nights should this one started with a theme. The girls attending were suppose to dress inspired by Bettie Paige and the guys like gangsters. I won't get into the decades difference between the two. I seemed to be the only guy that actually had a grasp on the concept. The girls just dressed like tramps and called it a night. The club was as I remembered them. Loud horrible music with some songs that were played years ago are still in rotation. Unbelievable. Plenty of fake fog which is great because it makes everyone smell the same when they leave. It had ben a while since I messed up the sheets with a girl reeking of fake fog. Really took me back. Lines for both bathrooms make the night better as I learn how to hold my bladder and still try to look sexy. Looking at women though attempting to hold their bladders and look sexy thats hilarious. Suffice to say I hate all things and experiences like Washington Ave. I'm almost 31 and long ago said farewell to that sort of scene. I actually enjoy being able to carry on a conversation when I go out. Oh and the "dancing" is more like a bunch of unfixed male dogs and female cats. The guys run around humping everything and the girls just thrust their asses in the air. I watched from a vantage point and almost fell over in laughing induced coma.

Burgermeist
Burgermeist

Places that do lines and lists and discriminate about this or that are about as 'real' as the Republican party nowadays. About as intellectually stimulative as a conversation with W or Palin. What kind of shallow people want this one-dimensional shit?

Mhutch1205
Mhutch1205

"But then there are bars, like The Bus and the Tavern On Gray, that don't like seeing tattoos like mine so I get shut out, so there's that."

I'm not quite sure that it's appropriate to equate elective body art (although I have it), with skin color.

Just my pov.

houstonguy
houstonguy

So what is funnier?

Partying patrons ten years younger than you doing what people in their early 20's do or you, the super cool old dude who wiped his hands of Washington Ave. but still goes and then complains about it? Douche bag.

Kyle
Kyle

I don't know, I think it is easier for the privileged who have access to almost anywhere to pick and choose which places they want to go. I have zero interest in going to places like this, or really any club, but then I haven't been shut out of them my whole life. If I dress up nice they're probably going to let me in.

50 years ago minorities were shut out of the vast majority of places, and not just upscale clubs. With that history, I think that yeah, I would want to go into places where they won't let me because of my race, because it's what I'm entitled to. As a society, we've chased racism out of a lot of places over the last several decades, and I think it's high time to beat the bushes and finish the job, or at least continue the struggle.

Anyway, I thought the piece was great, and especially liked the pictures of identically-dressed people being let in or not at Roosevelt.

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

Agreed. But all I am saying is that that is my only reference, however shallow, to what other people have to go through because of their race. True enough that they are elective, and regrettable, it's a microcosm of what goes on in our society. That doesn't delineate what people of color go through at all.

Pongping
Pongping

Craig, you might have gone a little further in pursuit of the truth and pulled a Robert Downey Jr spoof as in Tropic Thunder!

Rachelneff
Rachelneff

Great idea Pongping, but I think CultureMap is already planning something like that.

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