As the first few notes of Etta James’ "At Last" played for John Dascoulias and Clifford Pugh’s first dance, knowing nods, hugs and smiles broke out among the wedding reception guests. It was a moment more than two decades in the making, perfectly encapsulating their love story in song.
The start of many “how we met” stories often involves mutual friends, a party and an immediate spark. Such was the case for Dascoulias & Pugh, who met at party in the mid-'90s and just clicked. At the time, Pugh was a features writer at the Houston Post and the relationship prompted Dascoulias to avoid a certain section of the paper.
“I knew I liked him, so I stopped reading his stories in the paper so I wouldn’t have a bias,” Dascoulias said. “It was important to me at the time.”
That sort of principled thinking guided the couple through the years. Fiercely committed, completely connected, they appreciated their backgrounds and cultures. Dascoulias is Greek and Pugh, who is editor-in-chief of CultureMap Houston, is part Lebanese and the two wove elements from each other’s heritage into their relationship.
It was Dascoulias who introduced the idea of the couple getting married, especially once the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in June 2015, but still Pugh resisted. After all, they were committed to each other and no piece of paper would change that. But the decision became much more pragmatic after Pugh was in a serious motorcycle accident in April. The wedding license became more than a symbol — it was about security.
“There are some real concerns we were dealing with like health benefits and Social Security,” Dascoulias said. “There wouldn’t be a question if we were legally married.”
So, after a 22-year relationship, Dascoulias and Pugh decided to make it official in a no-frills courthouse ceremony at a Harris County Courthouse Annex on Chimney Rock in May. But, as natural-born dancers and all-around fun guys, they also wanted to celebrate their special moment with the people they loved, doing what they loved.
“We wanted to dance!,” Pugh said. “We wanted to dance with our family and friends and have a great time.” The one hitch? Pugh was still recovering from a broken leg suffered in the accident and was maneuvering around on a walker, so the couple pinpointed November 5 as the wedding reception date and started planning.
Change of venue
Gallery owner Deborah Colton graciously offered her spacious venue for the reception, and the couple planned to tent the elegant backyard for an outdoor reception. But when the couple discovered 10 days before the reception that the city of Houston would not issue a noise permit past 10 pm, they scrambled to find an indoor location and moved the celebration to the plush new luxury event space, LifeHTX.
The couple worked with event planner Deborah Elias of Elias Events to create an elegant homage to Dascoulias’ Greek heritage with tables decorated with blue-and-white tableclothes, evil eyes peeking out from floral sculptures, and a white wedding cake trimmed in blue. Meaningful details like homemade baklava by Dascoulias’ mother and Greek pastries made by his aunt from Ohio were additional nods to his Greek culture.
As promised, music and dancing took center stage at the reception. After the sweet first dance, Pugh and Dascoulias encouraged guests to join them on the dance floor. Houston’s favorite good-time singer Bubba McNeely of the Bubba and Greg Duo entertained party guests during dinner and then amped up the party atmosphere afterwards, followed by DJ Chris Thomas.
The LifeHTX walls served as vibrant digital backdrops to the dancing of the Kalamatianos, a traditional Greek wedding dance. Guests held hands and began creating concentric circles around the couple and showered Pugh and Dascoulias with money, another traditional way of blessing the couple with prosperity and good luck. They also honored Pugh’s heritage, incorporating traditional Lebanese dancing — know as the dabke —to the party, with his Alabama cousin leading the way and Elias, who is of Syrian descent, offering high-pitched trills in celebration.
It was the perfect ending to a new beginning, and one Pugh is thankful for. "I wanted to wait until I could dance to really celebrate our marriage," Pugh said. "It was definitely worth the wait."
• Reception Venue: LifeHTX
• Reception Planner: Elias Events
• Food: Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine
• Florist: Rexberry Events
• Cake: For Heaven's Cake
• Grooms' Tuxes: Zegna from Neiman Marcus
• Band: Bubba and Greg Duo
• DJ: Chris Thomas, Bradley David Entertainment
• Photographer: Daniel Ortiz Photography
• Invitations: Bering's
• Rental: Aztec Events and Tents