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Houston’s Nightlife Means More Than a Ride on Mechanical Bull

August 11, 1992

HOUSTON (AP) _ The legendary Gilley’s honky-tonk and its maniacal mechanical bull are long gone, but Republican conventioneers looking for a little Texas fun shouldn’t despair.

There’s plenty of partying left, and the nightlife here doesn’t necessarily mean a trip in the pickup truck to the nearest saloon for a little two- steppin’.

Of course, that’s definitely an option.

But anyone who believes this is a just a cowtown full of dusty blue jeans and 10-gallon hats might stop off at Tony’s Restaurant, an elegant eatery that has prospered as the gathering spot for Houston’s oil-rich society.

This luxurious restaurant, adorned with vibrant red fabric walls and graceful artwork, is considered THE place to see and be seen in town. Getting the ″right″ table here is a sign of social prominence and overdressing is an impossibility.

″I think a lot of times, when people come down here, they don’t expect to find a Tony’s,″ says proprietor Tony Vallone.

Business usually is a little slow in August as many of Tony’s well-heeled patrons escape the city’s stifling heat and humidity, but the restaurant is nearly booked the week of the Aug. 17-20 Republican National Convention.

″We’re really doing well with the convention,″ Vallone says, clasping his hands in gratitude. ″We’re holding back room for our regulars, but otherwise we’re sold out.″

There may be a few reservations left in the public dining area, but the wine cellar and bordeaux rooms are taken.

″Most of the private rooms at Tony’s have been booked since the day they announced the convention would be here,″ says restaurant spokeswoman Mary Donna Moceri. ″I can’t say (who’s coming), but I will tell you we will have the creme de la creme of all of them.″

Business also will be good at other upscale restaurants. The restaurants also are hosting private parties and receptions for the Republicans.

La Colombe d’Or, in a 1923 mansion, is home to the ″Oil Barrel Special,″ a lunch-time four-course meal that costs whatever a barrel of crude oil is going for that day - currently around $21. The restaurant started the offer about six years as oil prices collapsed.

However, dining out here doesn’t always result in an empty wallet. Tex-Mex and barbecue - Houston mainstays and two of President Bush’s favorites - can be found in abundance and fairly cheaply throughout Houston.

Gilley’s, the landmark honky-tonk in nearby Pasadena that was made famous in the movie ″Urban Cowboy,″ burned to the ground two years ago. But cowboy wannabes have many places to choose from, including Willie Nelson’s NightLife, named after the IRS-troubled singer, Chip Kickers Club and the Rose on Richmond.

For the more adventurous convention tourists, there’s zydeco dancing at such sites as the Continental Ballroom. There’s no air conditioning, just large fans, and the plastic shower curtains that hang over bathroom stalls afford little privacy. But the ″ballroom″ offers authentic zydeco music and cheap beer.

Delegates wanting to toast their accomplishments at the end or just toast the end can head to everything from expensive bars with panoramic views of the city to neighborhood ice houses.

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