Thursday, March 7, 2013

What this pig needs is just a touch more lipstick.

Like dozens of Houstonians, I'm sure you're waiting with baited breath to find out what the HoustonPavilions is going to decide to call itself next month when they hold a "sip and socialize" event to roll out their brand new name and their brand new look. Many of Houston's social set will dine, drink and then run off to Hotel ZaZa for some light petting and gossip presumably.  Given the history of parties of this type you can be assured that the hors d'oeuvres will be slightly too cold and the wine will be of a California chemistry varietal, all full of oak and pomp, while the people will be very pretty and tan.  They'll party the night away ignoring the obvious unfortunately.

The problem is this.  You're not going to create a downtown "destination" that's going to re-wire how Houstonians spend their entertainment dollar with just a high-end bowling alley, a House of Blues, some restaurants that will be gone in a year and a Forever XXI.  Because you can get all of that, much closer to home and minus the city's silly parking problems, by heading out to one of Houston's numerous shopping malls.

Take Memorial City for example.  Yes, it's true, I can't overpay to throw gutter balls there, but I can get a decent Starbucks venti salted caramel latte and take a seat in front of Guess? to watch the parents try and shield their children's eyes from the posters showing side-boob shots of the Guess? girl du jour. I can also go to Sephora where I can sample various creams for my hands, shop at Forever XXI and a host of other stores, hit the clearance rack at Macy's and then pop over to Perry's steakhouse for a piece of meat cooked to temperature and over priced California chemistry wines.  And I can do all of this without much of the hassle of going downtown and trying to beat a valet parking worker off the windshield of my car.

Then there's the problem of the re-branding itself.  If you know Houston you already know how it's going to be.  The soon-to-be former HoustonPavilions is going to be marketed as "a mix of olde world Europe injected with the energy of modern Houston" and it's just going to be awful.  It will also be 100% wrong. In Paris, you can walk to numerous plazas where there always seems to be either a picture of an effeminate looking man in tighty whiteys or a woman who's wearing not much at all.  On our last visit there, in one of the newsstands, there was a woman wearing nothing but a loin-cloth.  Forget side-boob, we were visually given the equivalent of high-beams at night. Must have been cold where they did the photo shoot.  This being Paris however we viewed it as a sign it was time for a drink.  So we popped over to the first available cafe and ordered some croque madame and a glass of French wine.  We engaged in small talk (us not speaking much French, the talk was by nature small) and made friends with the proprietor who shared with us her family vintage that they had been making for generations and only selling at their shop. The wine and conversation were delightful.

You're just not going to be able to replicate that experience fully in Houston.  For one, our coffee sucks and, as a second point, we live in the Protestant Bible belt so high-beams and wine al fresco are severely frowned upon. The fact is that the closest we come to a "European experience" is the big image of David Beckham in his Calvin Kleins that hangs in a window in the Galleria.  Come to think of it, this probably explains the wife's sudden desire to visit the place so often despite the large crowds and dodgy parking. ("Hey honey, I need a toothbrush, there's a store in the Galleria that sells them right by the Calvin Klein store.")

This is not to suggest that downtown Houston doesn't serve a purpose.  It's a great place to get business done and if you want to actually view the Rockets playing you'll probably need to head down there, plus, the Astros will be starting up soon so grousing about the billboards blocking the view will soon become great sport for the dozens that attend. (Just don't try to keep those foul balls)  And let us not forget the great field of doggy-doo that is Disco Green.  I think downtown Houston is a grand place, to work.  You can head down to the tunnels and shop at knick-knack stores while grabbing a bite during lunch, for happy hour you can head over to Flying Saucer and donate your liver, which will be made into a plate that they will hand on the wall, and you can drive home fairly easily provided you don't drive during peak hours.

What this means then is that every one who attends the sip and socialize next month are really just going to see what shade of lipstick they slap onto the pig.

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