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Make Room for the Queens

Estella Blow Blackberri Room Bar Gayme Night

There’s no place like The Room

(SPRING, TX) — When it comes to drag queens, there are no two quite like Blackberri and Estella Blow. The duo that works together at various shows across the city (including C U Next Tuesday at Michael’s Outpost and Mary’s Comedy House at Hamburger Mary’s) have an undeniable chemistry as rare in drag as it can be in day-to-day interpersonal relationships. But this dynamic duo doesn’t restrict their talent to Montrose. As a matter of fact, both queens take their talent on the road (by Houston standards, at least) up I-45 to Spring, Texas, where they host their lively “gayme” night every Wednesday at The Room Bar.

About The Room

18582502_1174399439372751_3916616945686667170_n Make Room for the QueensWhile The Room isn’t the only gay bar in North Houston, it is only one of two. For queer people in Spring, Humble, The Woodlands, Klein, and Tomball, the options for a neighborhood LGBTQIA bar north of the loop are, well … limited. True, Humble was previously home to the gay bar Whispers, but the north side of 610 (and even the Beltway), leaves only two gay bars, without traveling so far as Huntsville. These are Ranch Hill (located at exit 73 in the Woodlands) and (host to Blackberri and Estella) the Room Bar and Lounge (affectionately referred to as ‘The Room’).

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Natalie Brackin

The Room, for those who live north of Houston, is a local staple of it’s LGBTQIA community. For the past ten years, the Room has served as a safe haven for LGBTQ locals from Spring and the surrounding area. At the risk of editorializing, it was the very first gay bar that I ever frequented after coming out, where the regular patrons and staff welcomed me with open arms. And for the last eight years, the bar has been managed by Natalie Brackin, who serves not only drinks, but as a favorite to regulars as she makes drinks with that extra ingredient: smiles.

The staff, which alternates daily, also consists of Michael Booth, Erich Barber-Horn, and co-manager Chris Vega. And with each person that keeps this bar running comes an individual personality that keeps customers coming back. From Michael (whose one-on-one interaction with customers resonates with regulars and newcomers alike), to Erich (whose jokes and charismatic perception leave no patron left behind), to Chris (whose style, flair, and sweetness resound throughout the bar even when he isn’t there), to Natalie (whom patrons new and old affectionately refer to as ‘Mama’, even after meeting her only once).

The bar is host to not just Gayme Night, but also to the monthly Roomers Show, hosted by About favorite Tatiana Mala-Nina. It’s ability to draw out Houston’s favorite drag queens has been long-standing. For years, the Roomers cast, has included the likes of Veronica Strutts, Cyn City, Akira Skye, Chloe T Crawford, and various others.

room-bar Make Room for the Queens
Chris Vega, Michael Booth, and Eric Barber-Horn

Without sacrificing its comfy, hospitable feel, the Room maintains the ability to provide a relaxed, low-pressure environment while still playing host to entertainment that packs out its house. This can only be credited to its staff, though especially so to bar manager, Natalie Brackin. The woman behind the magic of The Room is known for her ability to listen to her customers, provide them with sage advice, and quip them with jokes that often result in not only laughter, but long-lasting friendship.  Even when confronted with drunk (not to mention slightly belligerent) patrons, Ms. Brackin is capable of not only maintaining composure, but also defusing the tension to a mild simmer. And why? Because, in her own words, “Everything’s perfect.” But it’s that sort of comfortability that keeps patrons coming back. The way that Brackin interacts with those at the bar—engaging in their stories, listening to their troubles, appeasing their needs for drinks and solace—is the sole driver in that force that has kept this bar running in the time that she’s been with them—increasing its population ever since. With that said, taking a trip up I-45 to the Room is a bit like following the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City—Ms. Brackin, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. You know, if the Wizard had really been a wizard and not a man behind the curtain from Kansas.

About Blackberri and Estella Blow

IMG_20180322_000759-e1521699651327 Make Room for the Queens
Blackberri performing at Gayme Night

It’s been no secret that Blackberri had a nice rise to drag queen fame in 2017, bleeding into various hosting gigs in 2018. Still, Darius Vallier, the man behind the bearded-genius that is Blackberri, was the FACE Awardwinner of Drag Illusionist of the Year and the Gayest and Greatest Award-winner for Best Host and Emcee in 2017. But that rise to fame didn’t come without work. Vallier spent time working in comedy clubs to hone his craft, as well as studying design in order to perfect his drag abilities. Now, in 2018, Blackberri’s busy schedule includes shows at Hamburger Mary’s, Michael’s Outpost, and a judging gig at Rich’s Dessie’s Drag Race.

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Estella Blow performing at Gayme Night

As for Estella Blow, whom I first saw right here at The Room a couple years back, she’s no amateur to drag. AJ Speckhard’s (the man behind the lovely Ms. Blow) credits include C U Next Tuesday at Michael’s, the Roomers Show at the Room Bar, and Mary’s Comedy House at Hamburger Mary’s. In addition to her regular shows, she’s also been a competitor in Dessie’s Drag Race at Rich’s Houston (where she now serves as a competitor mentor) every Monday night. Estella, whose comedy chops are as well timed as her drag numbers, is a Room Bar staple that’s made a mark not only on the North Houston audience, but as well as on that of Montrose.

About Gayme Night

For quite a while, the Room hosted its Wednesday Drag Bingo show, where winners won not only drinks, bar tabs, but sometimes cash. The night included not only bingo, but also performances by then-host, Akira Skye, Cyn City, Estella Blow, and various guests from week-to-week. However, after a tiny hiccup with the Texas Lottery Commission in the summer of 2017, the Room transitioned bingo into Gayme Night, where Blackberri and Estella took over following Akira’s retirement from drag.

29511166_2128730720744087_3399457407488589760_n Make Room for the QueensWhile bingo was always a night that drew in a crowd, Gayme Night has proven to be something not only different in vibe, but also in audience participation. Gone are the days of a quiet bar that listened intently while one queen or another called out ‘O-69’ or ‘B-9’ (“you ain’t got the cancer”). Replacing it is an intimate evening of two of Houston’s finest and most personable drag queens engaging an audience not distracted by their own conversations or troubles. And while the games are fun and participatory (from seeing whose inflated balloon can fly the furthest, to blowing up condoms until they pop with an air pump, to drag suicide), it’s neither the games nor the free drinks (which one is gifted if they win) that keep the audience coming back. In fact, it’s the personalities that both AJ and Darius bring to life with Estella and Blackberri. At no point do they allow the audience to drift from their consciousness. Whether that involves Blackberri asking to see the nudes in the phones of those their to see them, or Estella asking how many viewers attend Lone Star Community College like she does, only to insult her own intelligence. Their chemistry, their performances, their ‘sickening’ costumes, and their interaction with the crowd that comes and goes in waves throughout the night all contribute to the success of not only The Room, but the followings of both queens. Both Estella and Blackberri find hilarity in the audience members—”You look like my dog when she had heartworms,” Blackberri told one guest as they dragged themselves across the floor during a game—in each other—”Who’s ready for some bearded beauty?” Estella asked the bar patrons before quipping of Blackberri’s performance “Me neither.”—and in themselves—”I’m gonna head to the back and wipe the sweat from under my titties,” Blackberri teased between numbers.

But of course, neither would be able to pull off this sort of event every seven days past without the other. Each brings their own energy to the bar, each complementing the other in a way that might not quite work with other queens. Their chemistry and interaction is truly something to be admired, something that makes the audience desire more. And while each drag show throughout the Greater Houston Area is special in its own right, as is each and every drag performer, there’s no denying that this weekly show (due in part to the bar staff) is a supernova in and of itself—even if that supernova exists just a little bit outside of the Montrose galaxy.


You can catch Gayme Night every Wednesday at The Room Bar & Lounge (4915 FM 2920 Spring, TX 77388).

You can find both Estella and Blackberri in C U Next Tuesday at Michael’s Outpost every … well … Tuesday and in Mary’s Comedy House Fridays at Hamburger Mary’s. You can also find Estella in the Roomers Show on the second Saturday of each month at the Room Bar, and Blackberri hosting Eye Cons each Saturday, as well as judging Dessie’s Drag Race Monday’s at Rich’s, and as a rotating co-host for Drags to Rich’s at Rich’s beginning Sunday, March 25th.

 

Love Me Tinder, Pt. II

Less Than Butterflies Gay Dating Houston Grindr

Less Than Butterflies Column

The morning after the 2017 Houston LGBT Pride Celebration, there’s more clean-up work to be done. Unloading the liquor, Stephen, another chair, and I found glasses in which to pour ourselves morning cocktails. Just behind me, I heard gravel crunching beneath someone’s feet as they approached, but I didn’t turn.

“Omigod,” Stephen muttered. “What is he doing here?”

Finally, I spun around, only to find Ezra approaching us at the U-Haul with something in hand.

“Well, good morning,” I said with a look on my face caught somewhere between a smile and confusion. Stephen reached down into the cooler, from which he pulled a bottle of some kind of of pre-mixed Ketel One concoction. He then poured a bit into each of our wine glasses and handed one to me.

Ezra raised his hand to reveal a tiny metal object.

“I accidentally stole a box-cutter last night,” he said with an awkward chuckle.

Stephen raised his wine glass to his lips, one side of his mouth curled upward and said, “Uh-huh.”


That night, I drove from the Hyatt Regency where I’d been staying through downtown. I was heading to Rich’s, where our team was meeting to celebrate the end of another successful event. Taking the long way round, I passed the Alley Theater where the marquee boasted a production of Freaky Friday: A New Musical. At the red light at Texas Ave. and Louisiana St., I snapped a blurry photo of the marquee before heading to Midtown

Single or dating, everyone in the club was drinking and dancing, making the most out of the evening while I opined about Ezra to my friends. I was certain that they were sick of hearing it. Over-and-over again, Stephen did his best to steer the conversation back to business, but it was the last thing any of us wanted to discuss. We were there to celebrate. Well, they were. I was there to be obsessive about a boy.

The number of times I found myself checking my Tinder to see if Ezra had messaged me was bordering ridiculous. It only became more frequent as I continued to drink, as did my kvetching. Stephen insisted that I ask him on a date, but my nerves couldn’t handle the idea of rejection that often accompanies the notion of dating. Instead, Stephen and I took selfies with our friend Lauren. Everyone danced upstairs. I smoked too many cigarettes. All the while, shots of Fireball were being taken. And the more shots that I took and the more vodka-cranberries I slurped down, the less Stephen’s idea to ask out Ezra seemed frightening. Hell, I was attractive and smart and talented and funny. Sure I may have had the face of a 6 and the body of a circus freak, but my winning personality was at least an 8. 

The fear returned the moment I hit send. Nothing had ever been so sobering.

“Fuck!” I screamed. “What do I do?” I asked Stephen and Lauren as I stared down at the text message I sent. The picture of the marquee for Freaky Friday stared back at me in a message to Ezra, the caption reading, “Wanna go?”

“I’m not really sure that that message constitutes asking him on a date,” Lauren told me as she handed me another Fireball shot. “Calm down. You’re freaking out over nothing. Just be more clear that you’re talking about dating and not a friendship.”

“That’s . . . a terrible idea,” I muttered. 

The longer that it took for him to text me back, the worse the neurosis became. I checked the timestamp over-and-over again. 11:58 pm. But just after one in the morning, my battery at 2%, my phone finally dinged from my pocket with a confirmation from Ezra.

Relieved, I sat there on the patio of Rich’s. One wave of neurosis having passed, a new tide of it rolled in thanks to Lauren which began to kill my buzz.

Was Lauren right? Should I clarify? Was it worth it?


We began our evening at Merida—a Mexican restaurant just a hop, skip, and a jump outside of Fifth Ward that I’m nearly certain Ezra only knew of by Googling “Mexican restaurants Houston not Pappasitos.” Despite both our initial desire to eat something, we spent our time drinking margaritas until we’d both lost track of time in our conversation. True, I was a bit overzealous in the conversation. It’s a habit of mine, especially when dining with someone I think is cute. These are basic rules of wanting someone to like you.

  1. Have an interesting subject to discuss.
  2. Don’t talk too much about yourself.
  3. Ask questions—not too personal.
  4. Don’t let the conversation trail off.
  5. Use one topic to lead into the next.

I may have broken rule #2 more than once, but I did my best to balance each instance out by asking a question about Ezra. While I knew I wouldn’t completely grow to know him in that hour-long conversation, I did learn enough about him to keep myself afloat for later. For one, his sister was at the time in rehab; he was from Arkansas (to which I responded by informing him that nothing good happens in the A states, and that I was glad he’d made it out); he and his family weren’t particularly close; and in the years since he’d moved to Houston, I was pretty much the first friend he’d made.

Friend. I heard it as soon as he said it. Nevertheless, I persisted.

Unfortunately, just as the slight sinking feeling in my stomach had eased, I learned something about him that sink-holed my insides.

“I hate Houston,” Ezra remarked as I nearly spit out my margarita.

“What?!” How could he possibly hate Houston? I’ve lived here my entire life and can’t imagine that anywhere else in the world even exists, at times. I understand the opposite end of the argument, however. Houston is hot most of the year. It’s too spread out. The city is poorly planned. It exists in a red state. But the bad, for me, has never outweighed the good.

“So where do you see yourself?” I asked timidly, a margarita straw hanging out of my mouth as to keep my face from any sort of expression.

“I’m thinking about Denver. I need snow in my life. I’m actually going up there in a few months to see if I really would like to move there.”

I entertained the subject a little bit longer, even going so far as to tell him how great Denver really was and that I was sure he’d love it.  

Had it not been for the good omen the universe delivered in the form of an elderly man at the next table having a heart attack, I may never have been relinquished from the awkwardness of feigning enthusiasm. It was only then that either of us looked at the time to realize that we were running late for Freaky Friday.

We made our way to the Alley Theatre, where we were joined by two friends, Courtney—another chair at the nonprofit—and the girl she’d just begun dating, Jennifer. Throughout the entirety of the show, there was equal intrigue and delight that both Ezra and I took in the music and story. Mine may have been a bit more enthusiastic than his—nothing gives me quite the same kind of thrill as live theatre—but his was certainly a close second. At intermission, the two of us drank vodka from a flask I’d snuck in, and when it finally started to settle on top of the tequila during act two, the pep only increased. Once or twice glances were exchanged (nervous on my part, socially awkward on his). But when the show was over, it was decided that the four of us would meet Lauren in Montrose for drinks.

Not even that drunk, I’d lost my car in the underground parking lot. Courtney and Jennifer were to ride back with me, as they’d Ubered to the theatre, but found their way into Ezra’s car when mine came up missing. I searched high and low for that car for roughly fifteen minutes before a pair of headlights shone upon me. Pulling up in a tiny Mini Cooper was Ezra, rolling down the window and telling me to get in, where I found Courtney and Jennifer in the backseat.

It was then that the thought crossed my mind, just a few hours into this not-date, I had already accidentally played my damsel-in-distress card and had to be rescued. Amateur mistake.

La Grange was just like any other gentrified straight bar on Westheimer. The drinks were overpriced, the food was rubbery, the bartenders thought they were cultured because they somewhat racistly knew the difference between Gloria Estefan and Selena, and it was full of hipsters without a cause. Lauren asked us to regale her with how the night had gone thus far, making sure to mention that she hadn’t been invited to the musical.

“Well, this motherfucker took me to a restaurant on the outskirts of Fifth Ward. So I’d say things have been . . . dangerous,” I teased

Ezra laughed as a round of Fireball shots hit the bar for the three of us. Courtney and Jennifer had wandered off with some of their hipster friends.

“Well, you can pick the restaurant next time,” Ezra said to his own defense as we downed the shots.

It shouldn’t have, but that tiny statement stuck in my head for the remainder of the night. It wasn’t as though he was saying that we would hang out or see one another again, but he’d definitely left the door open to the possibility.

Soon, it was time to go; so Lauren, Ezra, and I piled into my car to ride back to the Montrose Center where they’d parked their own. Exiting the vehicle, Lauren jumped into her car, while Ezra and I stood around awkwardly, waiting for the other to be the first to say goodbye. There were no goodnight kisses or follow-up plans made further than that one previous, subliminal suggestion. Even without asking the question Lauren implored me to ask of Ezra, I had my answer. Certainly we both had a nice time. It may have even been the nicest first not-date I’d ever had.

Although, at the end of it all, I knew it was nothing more than that: not a first date.

I won’t lie: underneath the fun I had and the fact that I was happy to have had it, there was a thick layer of disappointment. It was comprised of a few things, just the least of which were his plans to someday move away. But more over, it was disappointment in myself. It wasn’t as though I’d gone and fallen in love with this boy. Jesus, we’d only just met. Still, what I’d learned about him in just the short time since we’d met certainly had made him a contender in my mind.

Alas, my Millennial mindset flourished in a dating world that existed near-completely in the realm of Tinder. Because of that, I’d been robbed of the courage or ability to ask to see him again. I couldn’t even bring myself to ask for a second not-date, despite the fact that we had matched on Tinder to begin with.

What Tinder hadn’t robbed me of, however, was my meet-cute. My accidental run-in at the bookstore, so to speak. It hadn’t taken away a fun, insightful story to tell my adopted Syrian children someday, even if Ezra wasn’t going to be their other father. Sure, Ezra and I were not dating and may never, but I still got my meet-cute. And while I’ve never been terribly certain that I buy into God or the fates or the Universe, something along those lines had at least aligned so that Ezra and I could get to here. 

As we stood there, making small talk that was killing me, I knew that I hadn’t seen the last of Ezra Rochester.

Still, in knowing I’d see him again at some point, as he got into his car and drove away, I couldn’t help but wonder what was to come. Could something come of the awkward, but nonetheless fulfilling series of events that had transpired that night?

Thus far, dating in Houston had yet to work in my favor. Somehow, a not-date with one of the five million strangers in this city was far more comfortable than an actual date. That alone sparked a sort of fear in me, though. That fear drove me to wonder—with all thanks to the Tinder gods—if I might end up falling for this boy by mistake somewhere down the line.

Back to Part I

Houston Leather Pride Grows Stronger & Larger

Houston’s Fourth Annual Leather Pride In Montrose Wrapped Up This Past Weekend With Men, Leather, Food Trucks, And Some Nasty Pig!

(Houston) — Deciding to don my newly-minted custom harness, I went down to Houston’s Eagle and check out the fourth annual Leather Pride. As soon as I turned the corner of Hyde Park and Stanford Street in Montrose, I was amongst a sea of men and women in leather and gear. A reminder of when I attended the Folsom Street Fair a number of years ago – only local!

The parking lot across the street from the Eagle had been transformed into 12-15 mini booths where vendors were selling their wares along with several food trucks and a bar where I could satisfy my Dos XX craving and have a few shots of Patron before the night began. Among the mini-shops offered was a booth from my favorite brand, Nasty Pig. Lots of cool erotic art, clothing, jewelry and of course the necessary fetish gear to kick the night into gear.

About-Magazine-Houston-Leather-Pride-2017-D-1024x768 Houston Leather Pride Grows Stronger & LargerI spent quite a bit of time there and even grabbed a bite to eat from a Korean/Mexican fusion truck – amazing! I walked across the street to Eagle and was inundated with the intoxicating smell of leather upon entering the bar. I’m a fairly fit guy, but was blown away by how many muscle jocks were there, all in harnesses and other gear.

Out on the back patio a Mistress named Jennifer was tying people up to a St. Andrews cross and flogging them; “you’ve been naughty and need to be punished,”  I hear her say to someone. I’d have to have more Dos XX to participate!

There was also a substantial booth by gay custom silversmith Tribal Son, who had flown in from Ft Lauderdale to participate in the weekend.

About-Magazine-Houston-Leather-Pride-2017-C-1024x768 Houston Leather Pride Grows Stronger & Larger“I’m here every year”, said owner Peter to About Magazine. “I totally believe in what these guys here are doing” he continues. I decided to treat myself and bought a silver bear claw on a woven leather lanyard. Really butches up my look I thought.

I walked over to the dancefloor and it was slammed with shirtless men. I approached the DJ booth and learned that spinning was no other than bear DJ Matt Consola. Matt does remixes with Division 4 and has had numerous Billboard hits. He also is the owner of “Swishcraft”, the nation’s number one Gay dance music label.

After dancing a bit, I went upstairs. They had changed the lighting to where it was very dimly lit with two muscle dancers in harnesses on dance boxes in the middle of the room. I couldn’t take my eyes off the dancers, wow! I had so much fun, I continued the next day for the disco Sundays, which was a closing party for the weekend.

This is our fourth year doing Houston Leather Pride,” Houston Eagle owner Mark De Lange explains. “All the larger cities have a leather pride, it’s time we do too!”

De Lange explained how the event has grown each year and the event is to ‘celebrate the spirit of leather through friendship and fellowship.’

About-Magazine-Houston-Leather-Pride-2017-a-1024x768 Houston Leather Pride Grows Stronger & Larger

It was also great to hear the event also generates money for local charities. “This years’ beneficiaries are Legacy and the JD Doyle LGBT Archives,” De Lange said.

It’s always scheduled for Columbus Day weekend yearly. Congrats to the team who put the weekend on and keep up the good work! As I watched the constant smiles on people’s faces and saw their ability to express themselves I realized this is something our community needed all along. See you next year!

Click here for more information on Houston Leather Pride

Queer Artist ‘The Hound’ Releases New Video Starring Adult Film Star Adam Ramzi

Queer Artist 'The Hound' Releases New Video Starring Adult Film Star Adam Ramzi

Queer Artist ‘The Hound’ Releases New Video Starring Adult Film Star Adam Ramzi

(HOUSTON) – Queer Artist ‘The Hound‘ has released a new single, “Can’t Let You Go,”  and stars adult film-fox Adam Ramzi as the no-good ex The Hound can’t break free from.

The Hound tells About Magazine he drew inspiration from Alanis Morissette’s “Your House”.

“I wanted the viewer to think that they were watching me moving around my apartment, burdened by memories.  Suddenly, they realize that it’s not my place, that I’ve broken into the home of my ex who is now with someone else.”

Co-directed by The Hound and Adrian Anchondo, the music video features choreography by Andrew Pearson and some incredible dance moves by Ramzi.   It also has the distinction of being banned from Instagram for being “too sexually explicit”.

“Adam brings the relationship to life in the video,” continues The Hound.  “There were a few scenes that we kept doing over and over again and it got so very real. I could tell we were both channeling some true life experiences.”

The-Fox-and-The-Hound-2-300x169 Queer Artist 'The Hound' Releases New Video Starring Adult Film Star Adam Ramzi

The Hound knows about the dangers of a toxic love.  He admits to being in a low place in life when writing, “Can’t Let You Go.”   “I didn’t know what I wanted anymore.  I was very depressed and found myself in an incredibly toxic relationship with someone who suffered extreme highs and lows, and I was coming to terms with the fact that just because it’s love, doesn’t make it right. People also love heroin and meth, and he was definitely like a drug to me.  It took everything falling apart for me to finally walk away.”

One of the lyrics that resonates with him most is:

I could see the end,
but it was easier to pretend,
that we’d make it out alive and I wouldn’t lose a friend.

“There’s this awareness that the relationship would eventually fall apart, but until it did, things could be swept under the rug,” he explains.

The Hound grew up in Santa Clarita, a suburb outside of Los Angeles.  Music was an escape from his parent’s divorce and his dad’s alcoholism.

He came out 14, when, as a freshman at Los Angeles County High School of the Arts, he caught the eye of a popular senior.  “It was the second week of school and I heard this very cute and talented guy liked me,” he remembers.  “I wasn’t out, but that changed very quickly.”

He’d go on to date other boys in high school, including Lawrence Alarcon, his eventual bandmate. After graduation, they formed Orchid and Hound in San Francisco and began performing and releasing records.  When they broke up, The Hound kept his name.

“My songs are about my life and the lessons I’ve learned,” he explains.  “Being human means making mistakes; hearing that voice of reason and consciously choosing to ignore it.

“One thing I have learned is that relationships define us and we struggle with who we are without them. The worst ones can be impossible to let go of.”

The Hounds’ “Can’t Let You Go” is available on iTunes, Spotify and all digital platforms.  The music video is available on Youtube.

Visit his website or follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.