If there’s a big social event on a weekend in Houston, there’s a good chance Phil Brayton is there.
And there’s no chance you’ll miss him, because he’s often the center of attention and having his picture snapped with someone.
Brayton is 6-foot-5 and looks like a bodybuilder, with chiseled muscles, a fake tan and no body hair. He shows off his barrel chest by wearing a sports coat without a shirt, and the rest of his wardrobe typically consists of shorts, some sort of hat, a silver necklace and a cigar in his mouth.
Brayton said he usually dresses like that, unless he’s at work, and his job is the reason he’s such a partygoer. He said he works in the funeral business near the intersection of 34th Street and Ella Boulevard.
“I see so much sadness that when I’m off, I want to be around a lot of people that are happy,” Brayton said. “It’s hard to explain. I just need to be around people with energy and having a good time.”
Brayton, a 59-year-old grandfather, is a fixture at Houston Astros games, University of Houston football games, Houston Greek Fest, Festa Italiana , the barbecue cookoff at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, comic conventions and the Texas Renaissance Festival – where he trades in his signature garb for a barbarian outfit. He also attends Dickens on the Strand in Galveston and makes monthly visits to New Orleans to hang out in the French Quarter.
He said his favorite annual event is White Linen Night in the Heights, which Brayton has attended every year since it started in 2006. He’ll again be decked out in all white at this year’s free community event, scheduled for 6-10 p.m. Saturday on the 200 and 300 blocks of 19th Street.
Event organizer Mitch Cohen said Brayton has become his own attraction at White Linen Nights in the Heights, which showcases 60 artists along with the eclectic group of businesses between Ashland Street and Yale Street. Brayton, whose nicknames include “The Captain,” “The Tan Man,” “Mountain Man” and “Brutus the Barber Beefcake,” after the former professional wrestler, said he typically stays in one spot and is greeted by a stream of people who want their pictures taken with him.
“He’s become Mr. White Linen Night,” Cohen said. “Everybody knows him. They all love him.”
Brayton said he grew up in New Jersey, near Philadelphia, before joining the Navy. Afterward he moved to Houston, in 1982, and during that decade is when he developed his weekend style and persona.
He said the hit TV show “Miami Vice,” which aired from 1984-90, served as inspiration. Co-star Don Johnson, who played one of the stylish undercover detectives, typically wore a sport coat with a T-shirt.
Brayton said he got a good initial response to his look, and he makes a significant effort to maintain it. He said he tans once per week and exercises early every morning, swimming for 30 minutes and lifting weights for 30 minutes.
Now that there’s an expectation for Brayton to look a certain way in public, he feels obligated to meet that expectation. He said the rise of social media has played a significant role of that aspect of his life, with Brayton having become a local celebrity of sorts.
“I was doing it before the internet, but the internet’s changed my life,” he said. “It’s crazy. I always have to be in character.”
Brayton said he doesn’t make any money off the photos he takes with admirers, his event appearances or his social media posts showcasing the places he goes. He enjoys perks, though, such as getting into events for free and not having to wear a shirt.
He said he dresses the same way around his family, so there’s no differentiating between the person and the persona. But it fits Brayton, who calls himself an “eclectic” and said he’s drawn to all things art.
Brayton likes to call things “PRICELESS!!!” on social media and regularly dishes out compliments about the way other people look.
“He’s super nice,” Cohen said. “He doesn’t have a bad or mean word to say about anybody.”
Brayton’s job provides plenty of unpleasant, unsettling experiences. So when he’s off the clock, he likes to take his mind off of them.
He does that by being the life of the party.
“I know how fragile life is,” Brayton said. “I’ve seen so much sorrow that I love to see joy.”