November 12th, 2009
Shoeshine Charley’s Big Top Lounge: A Circus On Main St., No Clowns To Be Found
In 6 Words: Red, Dark, ELVIS, Objects, Circus, Uncomplicated
With Friday night tossed upon me again as a welcome ball to balance and my hunger quelled, (thanks to Barnaby’s) the time comes for a decision on the evening’s fun. The Big Top, has been presented to me before, but I, for one reason or another, have shaken it of like a persistent cotton candy vendor’s spiel. Perhaps it’s an aversion to the circus theme? Whatever the case, I conclude that tonight will be spent at the carnival. I pull up directions and inform my wife and friends of our destination without any further elaboration. It’s been my experience that the best “dive bar”, much like a great live show, never requires any fancy advertisement or cleverly written commercials. The appeal transcends those mediums and can only be captured by a first-hand account of a satisfied patron.
We drive south on Main St. as the Metro track hugs our left side. Turning right on Winbern St. the game of Hide-and-Seek with available parking spots begins. I notice a neon orange “Jesus Saves” sign in a second story window, hoping that a libation redemption will be had after after being subjected to an inferior pub the night before in Dallas. We head around the corner beyond The Continental Club and Tacos A Go-Go. The smell of Mexican spices permeates the air, helping me to forget the fullness brought on byBarnaby’s not 2 hours prior. Our small group veers to the right and around the tall slender man in charcoal gray checking Driver’s Licenses. The small porch in the front sets the tone for what’s to be found inside. A decrepit bumper car sedentarily engages the small cafe tables and chairs that surround it. Already amused, I reach for the elephant trunk door handle and enter The Big Top.
Darkness stretches down the long corridor of the main room, light coming only from an unruly herd of Christmas lights and the ancient television sets suspended above the bar. We walk past the Foosball table and a large throne to navigate our way to the bar. I order a round of Rolling Rocks (in support of Latrobe, Pennsylvania and in a round-a-about way, The Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series). As I wait for our order I’m drawn to the array of objects and vintage signs tucked in the lattice work shelving above the bar, an old Houston Oilers helmet, out of date beer bottles and a pair of boxing gloves that strike out louder than the rest. After receiving our drinks I head further into to the darkness past Shoe Shine Charlie’s shoe shining chair and through the hallway towards the backyard.
We exit the building to find entire portion of the block corralled by fences in association with The Continental Club , ELVIS in large bright letters leans against the far building begging for stardom among the various ornaments I perceive. We gather around a wrought iron table to discuss the week while our minds begin digesting our surroundings. Some early Halloweeners have already dawned their disguises a day early in anticipation, one of the Baseball Furies patrols the thin crowd of nerds and Disney princesses with a watchful eye on Negro Navarro, at the ready, should he be challenged. My eyes find themselves in a lock-up with the images of Mexican Wrestlers being projected on the brick wall adjacent to Elvis, the acrobatics never cease to amaze.
The DJ begins spinning and as the music overwhelms our conversation, we venture back inside to the game room for a match or two of Foosball. I try desperately to be competitive in a lopsided loss to my wife (give me ping pong or shuffle board any day). As I am defeated, fellow Loopster, Paul, brings back the next round of beers, this time it’s Pabst Blue Ribbon. He gestures, as if the beers are both consolation prize and winner’s trophy. As another game ensues, I participate as spectator. The clicks and groans of weights gliding over sand and hard-wood on the near by shuffle board court rival those being made on the miniature soccer field. Our beer cans run empty, my lovely wife remains undefeated and we take this as our cue to head back to the main arena.
I order more Rolling Rocks and we settle into a little booth in the elevated seating in front of the stage. The sounds of Justin Jones have been flooding the air in our absence. We sit listening as he displays his gospel-rock tricks for the crowd. The murals on the wall behind us further negate any doubts we might have had about the circus theme, whereas before we had been too busy at the bar, here, sitting, we notice the paint hanging on for dear life to the cement, entrenched in tar and dust from so many nights. The band continues playing, steadily growing louder, eventually drowning out the conversation we are intent on having. We grab our beers and head for the entrance.
We finish the last of our drinks on the front porch as the final act at this circus and get to wondering why this place has not gotten more attention. Is it that The Big Top’s dark, easy atmosphere assumes its pros are being spread beyond the old walls and away from Main St. by word of mouth? Or does it seek to keep its attributes a secret like an insecure carney. Perhaps, it just lets its “freak flag to fly,” and anyone that wants to gather here, may, and those that don’t, won’t. I have a feeling the first and the last of these statements bare truth. I think it’s safe to say we’ve enjoyed the circus, lucky for us, it’s here all year.
Where – 3714 Main Street, Houston, TX 77002 (View Map)
What – The Circus, Metaphorically? Literally?
Wear – Tie, Jeans, Fedora, Cowboy Boots, Flannel, Shorts, Charcoal Suit, It Don’t Matter
Who – Lounge Loungers, Regulars
How Much – The average beer goes for the average price, the cheaper beer goes for the cheaper price, atmosphere is never grounds for over charging, and they don’t do that here.
When – Closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Opens Whenever the Metal Doors are Up (usually 8:00 p.m.), Until Two A.M.
Web – http://www.bigtoplounge.com/