Just ahead of their 5th anniversary, historic country music club Neon Boots has a full week of events planned to celebrate the big milestone. One of the bar’s partners, Debbie Storrs, sat down to About Magazine’s Wendy Taylor all about it.
(HOUSTON) – Life, no matter who you are, is all about phases and change. The only thing that remains consistent in life — as the old adage goes — is change itself. And for a city with a history as rich and vivid as Houston, it’s rare to find something that withstands the test of time and manages to remain constant. Still if any city were to come close to making it happen, it would be a city like Houston, Texas. That place — the one that may not be exactly the same, but that certainly holds up close to the original — is called Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon; and this month, Neon Boots is celebrating its five-year-anniversary with a celebration that pays great homage to its old Houston roots.
The bar once known as the Esquire Ballroom opened in 1955 at the hands of Raymond Proske. The Esquire was notorious for its variety of acts that passed through its doors over the years leading all the way up until 1995. Legends such as Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn lived their humble beginnings at the Esquire, some even launching their careers there. And while the Esquire shut down for business in the mid-90s, and while several other business ventures came and went over the years, Neon Boots was finally born in 2013. But what’s most magical about Neon Boots isn’t how many years its been open — although it’s safe to say that maintaining a successful, LGBTQ business five years is no small accomplishment. What’s most impressive is that, at the hands of its many new owners, Neon Boots has been completely renovated and restored in such a way that the history of the Esquire Ballroom is still very much alive — one room of the bar even named after it where karaoke is hosted nearly every single night.
But now the bar — which sees patrons of all sexual orientations, gender identifications, races, religions, and more — boasts an exuberant number of events weekly that reel in guests from all over the city. From karaoke, to dance lessons, the summer concerts, to Latin nights, and so much more, Neon Boots — in just five years — has become one an extraordinary landmark for Houston’s LGBTQ community and beyond that maintains and honors its building’s beautiful history. That’s thanks to the club’s original six partners who went into this business together in August of 2013: Jim Gerhold and partner Jim Moore, Rodney Myers, Ron McLeroy, James Daily, and Debbie Storrs. But, of course, it’s also thanks to Neon’s current partners, which still include Gerhold (who tragically lost his partner, Moore, of 37 years recently), Myers, McLeroy, and Storrs; the newest partner, Fernando Garcia, husband of Daily who sold him his interest. And just a few weeks ahead of the big celebration, About Magazine editorial consultant and renowned musician Wendy Taylor sat down with one of the bar’s partners, the hilarious and kind Debbie Storrs.
Wendy: I know that Neon boots has a really rich music history. Here in Houston, and in Texas, it’s a pretty big deal. Did you want to tell us a little bit about that history?
Neon Boots: Well, I don’t even know where to start, because it started way back in 1955. That’s when this place was built. Raymond Proske built it — we lost him a couple years ago. Bless his heart. But he owned it for forty years. And over those forty years, the great legends of country music all had their time here.
Patsy Cline? Willy Nelson?
The actual play about Patsy Cline [the musical Always … Patsy Cline] was written about this place. This is where she was performing when they wrote the play.
Are you serious? I didn’t know that part. That’s neat.
Yes, it is. Willy Nelson used to sleep in our parking lot. He did. He was trying to sell his songs for ten dollars. And they said they wouldn’t buy the songs, but that he could perform here if he’d like. And so he slept in our parking lot many nights. And then of course, there’s his song that was written about this place, too, when he was driving back and forth to Pasadena. And the history that I’m talking about right now — those two items at least — are written in our Esquire Room. If you go, we dedicated that branch to Esquire.
What happens in the Esquire Room now?
Well, it’s a wine bar, primarily. And also karaoke. And it’s a great, great place. Almost every night we have karaoke in there.
It is so fun doing karaoke here.
We have some really great singers too.
Yeah, there’s some really good talent here. It’s a good blend, too. It is a country bar and everyone who comes in here is your typical 21st century American and they like everything from rap to showtunes to country, old country, new country.
You never know. I tell everyone, “We’re an everybody bar.” Not a “one way or the other” kind of bar. We’re an everybody bar. We want everyone to be comfortable here and have a good time. And we have all kinds of different people that come through here. And some of the old-timers that used to come here and dance when it was the Esquire Room we’ll see occasionally. A couple of them will come in and right away you can tell they’re very skeptical because they’ve heard about the history of the place maybe being a gay bar. So you can always tell because the wife has got the heels on [that are] about three inches tall. She’s got the big purse, right? And she’s holding onto the husband; she’s got him so close to her that they could wear the same pants. So they both come in and their eyes are just as big around as saucers and they don’t know what to expect. They’re just looking. And so I’m the first one to look to them when I see somebody like that. I’ll say, “Is this your first time here?” And they’ll say, “Yeah, it’s our first time.” And I’ll tell them, “Oh, that’s wonderful. We’re so happy to have you. Please feel free to walk around and check the place out. You’ll see a lot of history there and you’ll see the different stars on the walls. Be sure to check out our great patio in the back and just have a great time and let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
I loved singing on the back patio y’all had when I first started coming here — when y’all first opened. You had giant Jenga back there.
Yes, we have it tomorrow.
It’s so stinking fun. It’s so, so fun. And one of the things I love most about coming here — aside from that fact that every time I walk in this door I feel like I’m in a room filled with the nicest people that exist in Houston — I’m always welcomed. It’s so warm … it’s like Cheers almost. You know? It gives me that Cheers feeling. It’s like a southern Cheers.
It’s funny you say that, ’cause so many people have said that. It feels like a Cheers environment for them too.
Yeah, and I love that it’s a good blend. You have gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian. Like this is the bar where everybody from every age, every race, every gender comes and hangs out.
We’re an everybody bar.
It’s awesome. I love being in a room where everybody is and where everybody is welcome. I love this bar. But anyway …
We don’t have customers. We have friends and we have family — and most of it is family. It’s very true.
So I know y’all also have a really successful Latin night.
That is a lot of fun.
You have to get here early or there will only be parking three blocks down. You know, we open on Friday at 4, but you won’t see many of the Latino dancers in here until about 10:30 or 11 o’clock. The dancers come out late, but they party when they get here. They make up for lost time when they get here. We’re open until 3 on Friday night.
That’s nice. Y’all often sell food.
You’ll have food out front or out on the patio.
That’s right. We do. We have a taco truck, but it’s not really a truck. But the taco people, have been with us for quite a while now. And they do very well out there. Everybody likes it. And then on Saturdays, of course, with the summer concert series out on the patio, we grill burgers out there.
Those are pretty good, too.
Yes, it’s a lot of fun. So, do you want to talk a little bit about the summer patio series?
It’s been the first time we’ve done it. We’ve talked about doing it for several years and finally I said, “You know what? I’m just going to do it.” We’ve had a lot of people come, great stars. In fact, you are one of our favorites.
Well, thank you so much. I’m looking forward to coming back.
And everyone loves Wendy. And everybody knows it’s Wendy. We could write a song, but it’d never sell. And we have Paige Lewis, who’s going to be the last act for the summer. She’ll be here the last week in August. And then tonight we’ve got JassyB. We’ve had Starr Jernigan. We’ve had just a number of people that have come through. So we’ve had some really good talent come through. And everyone’s enjoyed it; and I hope to continue. I’m not going to do the summer series after August. I’ll probably take a month off and let it cool down a little bit. But probably in October or November I’ll bring back the Fall because when it gets a little cooler it’s really nice on the patio. So, anyway, that’s the plan. And we’re always looking for local talent. I try my best to get Christina Wells. I called her and paged her and Facebooked her. But she’s just a busy girl right now. And we can understand why. So we’re very proud of her and wish her well and hope she goes all the way. But anyway. I was trying to get her before the summer was over. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
She’s going to come back when she can.
She’s amazing, and she’s such a great support to our community. And god, she’s so talented. She’s so stinking talented. I’m such a big fan of hers. Okay, so to get down to the big event you have coming up at the end of this month, you’re celebrating your five-year anniversary.
Unbelievable that it’s been five years; and it’s totally flown by.
You blinked, you were open, and now it’s been five years.
Some days I think it’s amazing and other days I think, what was I thinking? You know? But it’s been quite a challenge and quite a journey. And I don’t see it being over anytime soon.
I don’t either. I just think it’s going to keep getting better. So as far as the actual event, when does the party start?
Well, the party never stops here.
[Laughs] When does the anniversary party celebration begin?
It’s going to start the 23rd, on Thursday. And we’re going to have all kinds of things going on the whole week. And then Friday night, of course, will be a big celebration with our Latino night. Saturday we’ve got a show coming here with Bubbalicious, who’s the emcee. We’ve got an illusion show coming with some of the top performers in the city — actually, in the state. So, we’re looking forward to that. It’s going to totally be a sellout. There’s no doubt about it. That’ll be a dinner show, it’ll be from 7 to 9. There will be a VIP meet-and-greet. All kinds of good things that are happening for that. Really looking forward to that. It’ll be a big way to start it off. And we’ll just be continuing the party on the whole weekend.
Well, I hope we go another 50 years — if we could beat Ray Proske and be here as long as he was. You know, I’m trying my best to get Willie Nelson here. I’ve tried everything. I sent him a care package. I sent him one of our shirts — one of Esquire Ballroom’s shirts. I wrote him a nice letter — handwritten. I Fedexed it to him and said, “Just let us know next time you’re in town and we’ll send a limo to get you. We’ll take great care of you. You don’t even have to sing a song. Just stick your head in. And if we know you’re coming.”
Anyway, we never heard anything. But I know he’s not in very good health. And then Loretta Lynn, who also started here, she actually was a waitress here before she starting singing.
So I’ve been trying to get her here as well and haven’t had any luck. She’s not in good health either. So it’s been a great community, we’ve had a lot of fundraisers here for the community.
Yes, you have done some amazing things. In fact, I’ve done a few of the Houston Gay Rodeos. They have a lot of them here, too. They’re a wonderful organization, as well. Shout out to the Houston Gay Rodeos. Y’all do a lot for the community and I really just love you guys. The staff, management, owners. Top to bottom, even the patrons, they helped me with my equipment and I was like, “You don’t work here”. If you want to go out and have a good time and know that you’re going to have fun and that everyone’s going to be fun to be around and friendly, you want to come to Neon Boots.
You know, like I said, we’re an everybody bar. We try to have a variety of things for people to do. Some people don’t dance and they want to stand around and watch the other people dance.
Speaking of, you do dance lessons.
We do. We have dance lessons on Thursday nights at 7:30 when we have line dance. And then at 8:15 we have a west coast swing class that has really been hopping. We have a couple of pros that have been teaching it for us. Johnny Q and John Lindo. These guys travel all over the world teaching and judging contests for this kind of thing. So, we got very fortunate to know both of them. I’ve known John Lindo probably 25 years. He used to fill in with another organization I’m involved in, an international organization for country western dance clubs. So when he walked in here, I saw him, and he had moved here from San Francisco. I said, “Oh my god.” You know, leave the door open because you don’t know who’s going to come walking in.” And he said, “I’m looking for a place for my west coast swing class.” So I said, “You’re not looking anymore.” He said, “I hoped you were gonna say that.” So here he is teaching that, which is wonderful and we have a great class. And again, it’s a mix. More than 50% of those people will be straight people. And sometimes more than that, which is fine. And then we have Sundays every quarter. They have a big workshop that lasts for five or six hours. So, that’s very well attended. And we have some very exciting things coming up too. One of the first time we’ve ever done a pet fashion show.
Oh my god. You’re doing a pet fashion show?
Yup, it’s going to be a pet fashion show. It’s coming up in October and I know that you know Carol Wyatt and Sally Wyatt-Woodell and all those girls.
I have to come to that.
You do have to come to that. It is going to be amazing. And we’re going to get these wonderful, loving pets adopted and to good homes. But it’s going to be hysterical. So I’m looking forward to that. And then of course, we have the Queer Queens of Comedy coming back. When they come we actually sell Depends at the front door, because you’re going to pee your pants.
That’s a nice little parting gift.
We double up our Clorox that week. Anyways. That’s also going to be a dinner show. David Alcorta is going to be catering that with his wonderful Mexican food. And I heard a rumor there might be some filet mignons in there too.
Oh, I’m there for that.
So that’s going to be coming up. And then there’s the illusion show that I was talking about. And the second Saturday of every month we have the Ranch Round-Up. We’re not the usual country dance bar. We’re just not. But it’s a bunch of women that have all gotten together. Women are different than guys. You know? We nest. We get into a relationship and we nest. Guys, not so much. They really support a bar a lot more, so it’s very difficult.
And that’s one of the things I was talking about when we were in our editorial meeting — telling some of the girls what you were trying to foster here for the lesbian community is amazing because if you want to go to a lesbian bar in Houston you only have one other option, which is Pearl. And Pearl is great. But if you wanna go and relax and just meet people, you go to Neon Boots. So I think they were very intrigued by what you’re trying to build here and we’re going to get that word out hopefully so more people come.
We need the community here. We need the women to come out and support these events so we can keep doing them for the women. And they’re for the guys, too. They’re not just for the women. But women don’t have as many choices and options to go out to clubs or bars as the guys do. So trying to promote some things that would interest women and maybe get them out here is important. And I think the summer concert series has been one of those avenues. It’s been pretty successful with them; and we see some of the regulars that have continued to come. I hope that the Ranch Round-Up will be the same way. It’s only once a month so maybe the women can come out. That one night a month maybe they can drag themselves away from the TV. You know?
Neon Boot celebrates it’s fifth anniversary show on Saturday, August 25th with the Illusions Show, featuring Kara Dion, Dina Jacobs, Adeciya Iman, Christina Ross, Lauren Taylor, and reigning Miss Gay USofA Janet Fierce Andrews. That night on the patio, a live concert featuring Paige Lewis will be held. For tickets, click here.
You can follow Neon Boots for years to come here:
REVIEW: Drag at Bar Boheme
Twice a month, Montrose’s very own Bar Boheme hosts a monthly drag brunch, which spans from noon to 4 PM starring Chloe T. Crawford, Angelina DM Trailz, Chloe Knox, and Cyn City.
(HOUSTON) — It’s no secret that Houston is at no shortage of drag shows throughout the city. With most Montrose bars hosting multiple during the week, the city has a variety of shows to choose from spanning from comedy shows, gentle cabarets, and even competitions spanning the course of several weeks. But the integration of drag shows into predominantly straight bars is still rather rare, even if those straight bars are located directly in the heart of Montrose. But for Bar Boheme, that hasn’t been the case for quite some time. Bi-weekly on Sunday afternoons, the upscale bar and restaurant located at 307 Fairview — just a hop, skip, and a jump from most of Montrose’s most popular gay bars — offers a drag show to its diverse audience of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Directed by Chloe T. Crawford, the show features drag queens Angelina DM Trailz, Chloe Knox, and Cyn City.
The show began a few years back when the idea for a drag brunch came about that soon led to Chloe T. Crawford, London Adour, and Raja performing for the Boheme patrons. From that point on, as Crawford points out, the bar would simply pick up the phone and call her when they wanted to have special events that featured drag queens; and she would put together a cast. The cast has grown to include Angelina, both Chloes, and Cyn in the time that’s passed, with Ondi making appearances when one of the cast members is out. And although Bar Boheme isn’t targeted toward the queer community, the cast had nothing but kind things to say about the bar staff, owners, and what they’ve done to aid and expand the community. Crawford says herself, “It’s funny because Boheme isn’t your typical neighborhood bar … but it is a neighborhood bar. But most of the people who come here are from the Midtown-Montrose area. So it’s a catch-all of people from all around.”
These queens aren’t newbies to what they’re doing, either. Cyn City recently just retired her Treasure Island USofA Newcomer pageant crown and took up the Austin Newcomer crown. Additionally, Chloe Knox was the first alternate to Miss Gay Texas America in 2018 and Crawford was Miss Gay Harris County America that same year. Each queen appears in multiple shows throughout the city, with Angelina DM Trailz hosting Houston’s Best Drag Show at Guava Lamp on Saturdays as well as the monthly show, Angelina & Friends, at the same venue once a month on Sundays (a new installment coming tomorrow). In addition, Cyn City is the host of F-Rated Fridays at Hamburger Mary’s.
What’s most intriguing about the show at Boheme — not to mention what makes it stand apart from the other shows each queen performs in — is that the queens aren’t performing for the type of audience they’re used to performing for (jaunty queer folks who are excited to see a drag performance). They’re performing for a mixed bag of individuals of all gender identities, sexual orientations, and expectations. But one thing stands true amongst the audience: they’re all excited to see the queens come out and perform a four-set show (something not often done in a drag show) while also spending time with the audience afterward, serving up champagne, taking photos with patrons, and remembering that they’re doing something to bridge the sometimes growing gap between the straight/cis-community and the queer community.
Tomorrow, on St. Patrick’s Day, the queens will be joined by guest star Violet S’Arbleu for a special holiday edition of their show. Join them beginning at noon and going until 4 PM to see something a bit out of queer element, but worthwhile to support our community and (again) help bring together two communities that often can be segregated by our current political climate.
Editor’s Note: Infighting, Woodlands Pride, + the Room Bar
Update: Both Ryan Elkins and The Woodlands Pride issued statements and apologies to the Room Bar & Lounge this afternoon following this piece.
Let me start by saying that this is not going to be a gossipy piece about some silly Facebook argument. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s best to go and trot back along to Facebook. What this is is an opinion piece about the behavior of an individual high in the rankings of Texas’s newest Pride celebration that made remarks about something I hold near and dear to my heart, how it has the potential to negatively affect the LGBTQIA community, and why that’s not okay.
This past weekend, the Woodlands hosted its inaugural Pride celebration to mixed emotions when the news initially came out (no pun intended) many months ago. Many were excited and proud, and many were also curious as to why the Woodlands (which is only an approximate 40 minutes outside of Downtown Houston) needed its own Pride. I, personally, thought that the idea was lovely and wanted to support the Woodlands Pride in whatever way we could. While the Woodlands is considered by most to be a part of the Greater Houston Area, the cultures of LGBTQ Houston and LGBTQ Woodlands are quite different in many ways, which is something important to remember. The bars in North Houston for LGBTQ people are limited and there is no “gayborhood” proper like Houston has in Montrose. To add to that, and in a more general sense, life outside the loop is far different than life inside it. But what I’d like to focus on the most is that second point I made about the bars.
In The Woodlands — which is an independent township in Montgomery County lying partly in Spring, TX and partly in Shenandoah, TX (basically South Conroe) — there is only one gay bar, Ranch Hill Saloon. Ranch Hill is owned by Debbie Steele, a prominent member of the North Houston LGBTQ community that dedicates her life and bar to serving its people. And in the rest of North Houston, there is only one other gay bar for people of our community to flock to, the Room Bar & Lounge. The Room is owned by another important person of notoriety, Lorraine Crowne, who opened one of Spring’s first gay bars in 1997, the Rainbow Room (a separate entity). Both Ranch Hill and the Room are excellent bars in separate ways, and also in those that intermingle. They both have excellent staffs, small and hometown feels, and serve a community of LGBTQ people that don’t have a lot of other places within their niche to relax and be themselves on their side of town. That being said, they’re also very different bars. Ranch Hill serves a more rural, country feel to it that one might expect at a place such as Neon Boots in Houston, while the Room has a more go-with-the-flow vibe and sort of acclimates to whatever audience walks through the door.
But their aesthetic differences and similarities aren’t really the point here. The point, if I may, is that both are bars that serve an underserved community of people in a predominantly conservative area of Houston.Both, however, prove to get very busy on the weekends; and since they are so small, they often see a variety of patrons that cross over from the other’s side of the tracks. They’re both hosts of several events that support the community with fundraisers, drag shows, karaoke nights, and more. Neither is perfect, but both are pretty fantastic. And that ain’t easy, folks; and it certainly does not come without hardship.
That’s why it struck me as odd when I was directed to the Room Bar’s Facebook page this weekend and saw a negative review (which has since been deleted) about the Room Bar from board director of the Woodlands Pride, Ryan Elkins. The review read as follows:
This rubs me the wrong way for two reasons: one of which is a bit personal, and the other regards our social actions toward one another in the LGBTQIA community. I’ll start with the latter. I’ve also included some personal photos here to show just how much time I have spent at the Room Bar and why I love it (you’ll have to pardon some of them, as I’ve lost about 50lbs since they were taken).
Historically, gay bars were the only places in the world that LGBTQ people could go and be themselves. When Sodomy laws and the criminalization of homosexuality was prevalent, these bars were the only places to go and be around people like you. Moreover, they were some of the only places queer people could go to meet partners and friends that shared adversities, trials, tribulations, successes, and joys. In 2018, it may not seem as though queer bars hold quite as much significance, but the fact of the matter is that they still do. Being LGBTQIA is still illegal in many places around the world — some of which are even known for punishing these people by death. Gay bars are churches, homes, safe havens to people on the LGBTQIA spectrum. There are still many in the world who feel forced to remain in closets or fear coming out that seek out these places in order to let out a sigh of relief. It’s a bit like that cigarette you sneak at work when things get particularly overwhelming or that dance you do when you get out of the shower naked because no one can see you and you just need to feel a reprieve from real life. Granted, it is both of these things and much more on a greater scale. It is, however, a similar sensation.
And that’s what makes this review not just useless to our community, but degrading and regressive. Surely the board of directors at the Woodlands Pride has a partial attitude toward Ranch Hill, as Ranch was the official after party sponsor for the Woodlands Pride and the Room was not. Making Ranch Hill the official after party venue was a smart decision. It’s not only a great venue, but it is conveniently located to the site of the Woodlands Pride, and the visitors of the event were likely familiar fans of the bar. But what does it say about the attitude of at least one member of the board of directors of the Woodlands Pride about the community when one of those directors is publicly smearing a safe haven for queer people on social media? How is it progressing us toward equality and normalization if we are tearing one another apart rather than lifting one another up?
With that said, I don’t know what Elkins’ experience at the Room in late August was like before he posted that status update. I have a few details from sources close to the situation that say Elkins allegedly was served by a bartender who didn’t seem all that interested in customer service. I also am not completely cognizant of what exactly went down at the Woodlands Pride between them and the Room Bar. In a comment left on the original review, Elkins stated that there were comments being made about the after party at Ranch Hill that were unkind to both Ranch and Woodlands Pride. From my understanding, these comments, however, did not come from the staff of the Room Bar, and were unbeknownst to the staff until after the review was posted online.
And I’d like it to be said that if that was the case, I am in no way making excuses for the Room Bar’s staff or patrons. The issue here isn’t one on the side of the bar exclusively. It’s an issue of why we, as LGBTQIA people, feel the need to perpetuate infighting within our community rather than rising above snide remarks, regardless of who they come from. It’s also one of why higher-ups in Pride Celebrations don’t recognize that they have a responsibility to set that example. I, for one, worked as the volunteer coordinator for Pride Houston for two years, and was an occasional volunteer in the years that passed before that. What I learned in that time — and not without a lot of working on myself to make changes to my behavior — is that everything that we do is a perpetuation of the organization we represent. I had my ass handed to me more times than a few from our board directors about how I behaved and spoke on social media. And while I’m a staunch believer that everyone has a right to say and behave how they feel so long as it isn’t hurting anyone, I also understand that when affiliated with something, your words and actions not only impact your reputation, but that of the others around you. More importantly, I had to learn for myself as the volunteer coordinator then and as the editor-in-chief of one of Houston’s largest queer publications that our job as pillars of the community is not to put down one another or to react to silly commentaries that ultimately are trivial in the long run.
But as I said before, I have a personal connection to the Room Bar. While I (again) don’t know the experience in great specificity that Ryan Elkins had at the bar, I’d like to share with everyone my experience with the bar, its staff, and the community I became a part of there in order to reiterate that one bad day does not undo the good that a person or establishment does over many years. That statement is two-fold. This one bad Facebook review does not undo all the good that I know Ryan Elkins to have done and continue to do in the community, nor does it undo the good of the Room Bar.
The Room Bar has been open at 4915 Fm 2920 Road #148 for eight years now, the better part of a decade. Its owner, Lorraine Crown, may not be LGBTQ herself; but she has been in this community advocating for our rights and providing a safe space for queer people for over twenty years. Back in 1997, she opened one of the first gay bars in the area, The Rainbow Room located off of Ella and I-45. When the Rainbow Room shut down several years ago, Crown opened the Room Bar and Lounge on 2920, transforming what was once a bar named Uncle Sam’s.
The Room Bar was my very first gay bar. I wasn’t even out to anyone yet except for a handful of close friends, and I would sneak over to the Room when I had nothing else going on — scared and hoping I’d not run into anyone that I knew for fear they’d tell my mother. What I was met with was not a tension of anxiety, however, but a sigh of relief. From the moment I walked in and saw the flame-haired bartender Natalie Brackin standing on the other side of the bar, I was made to feel like I was a part of a family. Brackin introduced me to new friends, took the time to get to know me, and remains to be one of my closest friends to this day, some three years or so later. That bar was my reprieve for the next couple of years. I’d spend my time there after work to take solace in being around people like me after being overwhelmed by homophobia at work, met my first boyfriend there, hosted our first fundraiser for my forthcoming TV show there, released my American Library Association Award-nominated book there, and made some of my favorite memories there.
While I neither live on that side of town any longer nor make it out to the Room Bar as often as I’d like, I still spend a great deal of time with Brackin, as well as my other friends that I made there. My close friend Nick and I still get together for drinks and good music, my friend Ryan (Fuller) is the karaoke DJ there who goes to great lengths and key transpositions to let me sing any song I want, and some of my best friends and drag queens perform there on a weekly basis. The Room was even kind enough to let us film an episode of Wineding Down with Anthony there just a few weeks back. Brackin, in particular, has a way of making people feel special, and not because she’s looking for a fat tip. It’s because Natalie Brackin is genuinely invested in the bar and wants it to succeed; but this is more so because she is genuinely interested in the people that pass through its doors and wants to see them happy and well. That’s a rare thing to find amongst bartenders, who truly have some of the most chaotic and stressful jobs in the world. They’re friends of patrons, therapists of patrons, and sometimes even the only family patrons have, especially so in this community. It speaks not only to the Brackin’s work ethic that she behaves this way, but also to her heart. In the years that I’ve been patronizing the Room, I’ve never once seen or heard Natalie treat any new customer differently than the next or those that she’s been friends with for years. The bar’s manager, Chris Vega, is equally kind, which is what has made them such an effective team since Vega made his way to the Room Bar after leaving Ranch Hill a little over a year ago. When Brackin recruited him, he brought a new kind of life into the bar — not to mention many of Ranch Hill’s customers — and took it upon himself to aid in reinventing the bar’s aesthetic. He too is a genuinely kind person who speaks in a soft voice that he almost never raises and smiles and laughs with all his friends and customers. You couldn’t find two better bartenders.
It’s also fair to mention that they make excellent drinks.
The Room Bar — just as I’m sure Ranch Hill is to many — is a special place to me even after being out and moving into Houston where I quickly ingratiated myself into the LGBTQ community deeper than I ever had been with my role at Pride Houston and here at About. But there was a moment when I realized how special the bar was to me that I’m certain to never forget for as long as I live.
It was in the wee hours of the morning of June 12th, 2016 when I was at the Room Bar while another gay bar in Orlando, FL was being gunned down by a domestic terrorist. I was at the Room to see the Tatiana Mala-Niña perform in her monthly drag performance at their “Roomers” show, which also featured Veronica Strutts and since-retired Akira Sky and Estella Blow. Many other people like me were at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando that night having the same sort of fun we were, until a man entered the club and opened fire, killing 49 queer people of color simply because they identified as LGBTQ and dared to go out and celebrate themselves.
I remember waking up later that morning, seeing the news of the shooting, and crying like I’d never cried before. These people — while different from me, certainly — were like me in a lot of ways. Many of them were gay Latinx people like myself who had only gone out to have a good time with their friends. Some of them were out of the closet to their families and friends, but others — like me — were not. I couldn’t help but think about how real the violence against LGBTQIA people was and how that could have been any bar in the world, including that same night that I sat on a bar stool on the left side of the Room bar watching my soon-to-be friend Tatiana celebrate herself and her audience.
That evening, I made a trip to my mother’s house and deliberated all night long how to tell her that I was gay. We watched the coverage together as I working up the nerve to tell her during it, backing out, and trying again. I spent the night at her house because I couldn’t make myself do it then, and I went to bed sick at my stomach, never having felt before that I’d been lying so blatantly about something in life. But the next morning when I got up for work, I took a shower, caught my mother outside while she was smoking a cigarette, sat down with her and told her the truth about who I was and the life I’d begun to put my toes in the water of over the last year.
Once I said it, before I even saw how she was going to react, my whole life changed. Weights I’d been carrying around for twenty-two years flew off of me and I could finally move my extremities again because the chains and shackles had come off. I felt liberated, and I owed it in immense amounts to those poor souls that had lost their lives at Pulse Nightclub the morning before in a way I knew they’d never get to know. They changed my life, which is the least respect I could pay to them after they’d met such a tragic end. I wished they’d been around for me to thank them. And my mother was supportive, and she was kind, and we moved on with life as per the usual. She was raised a conservative Christian, but as a nurse knew that there was science emerging daily to prove that people are not making a choice to be gay. How could they? Who makes a choice to live a life of ridicule and adversity, all-too-often one that ends the way it did for those 49 people in Orlando. But she asked me that very same question I’d been asking myself all along through the coverage of the Pulse Massacre: what if it had been you?
And, you know, what’s funny about coming out is that even moments after you do it, you have these tiny, pocket-sized moments of clarity that just seem to make you go, “Oh. I’m not sure why I didn’t see that before.” I had one of those right then, thinking about how much fun I’d had the night before with my friends — new and old, gay and straight — as I danced and drank and took for granted the fact that I had been safe in my own safe haven.
“You know, I would never want to die,” I told my mother, “but if I were to have died last night, I can’t think of anywhere else I would have wanted to be or where I would have been happier.”
You don’t have to understand my story, Ryan Elkins; although I’m sure that if you look back in your own timeline as a gay man, you have a similar story relating to a similar establishment or person. Maybe for you that’s Ranch Hill. Maybe not. But if you don’t think that that’s something ‘unique’ or ‘special’ about the Room Bar, as stated in your review, I’m not quite sure what else is. Because, you see, LGBTQ bars are sometimes hit-or-miss. But the defining aspect of them is not one person’s snide opinion about the establishment; it’s the way they protect our people from the ugly, nasty world out there where we are not yet equal or normalized. And as leaders of our community, as you and I both are, it is our job to see to it that all LGBTQ businesses that are working toward goodwill, equality, intersectionality, and normalization are boasted rather than shot down.
This is not the part of this letter where I call for Ryan Elkins’ resignation or anything. Quite the contrary. I know Ryan through mutual friends, and I like him a great deal. Thanks to those mutual friends, we have had the opportunity to have spent time together. I have always and will always continue to support The Woodlands Pride, including in our forthcoming highlight of it on Wednesday that two reporters from About wrote up about the event. They were so impressed, and I was sad to have missed it due to having plans with a close friend of mine I’d had scheduled for several months. I think it is a lovely — and clearly successful — endeavor to have another Pride in our larger, spread out area of Texas. But I will say this to Ryan Elkins here publicly: Shame on you for posting a nasty review about a bar that paid to be an entry into your festival, that showed up and supported our community and your cause — as well as countless others throughout its near-10 year life, and that continues to do so inside its four walls in more ways than I think you realize. But more to the point: Shame on you for doing so while preaching about equality, diversity, intersectionality, and inclusion to the LGBTQIA community of North Houston. I know you enough to say that you are better than this.
And to the Room Bar, I say this: Get your people. If you hear something, saying something. I am not here to excuse any actions or words that may have been perpetuated, as they clearly upset Mr. Elkins and the staff of both the Woodlands Pride and Ranch Hill. We cannot, however and to both parties, continue infighting in the community if we want success and normalization of our people. We must set aside our differences and come together to continue to raise people up. The Room Bar has a responsibility to the community just as Mr. Elkins does. I do not, however, believe that anyone on its staff or any of its regulars were the speakers of the not-so-nice language, nor do I believe they have it in them to intentionally hurt anyone. They wanted to support the Woodlands Pride, and that’s what they were there — like so many others — to do.
This is, however, the part of the letter, where I call on not only Ryan Elkins, but the Woodlands Pride as a whole, to issue an apology to the Room Bar for Elkins’ commentary. While he is entitled to his opinion, just as I am here in this letter, it is important for all of us to be more accountable of the things we say and do. I for one am not innocent of behaving the same way. I often make jokes like, “Screw OutSmart!” as there is a misguided belief that OutSmart and About have some sort of rivalry going on. But anyone who knows me or my publication knows that I genuinely support OutSmart and all our other publishing partners in the community. We’re all hear with a similar goal (to spotlight and raise up our community) and we all do so in different, yet equally effective ways. And I know for fact that Mr. Elkins wants the same for Woodlands Pride. Unfortunately, words of inclusion and diversity and support are not enough when you perpetuate actions that speak louder than hollow words.
The Room Bar is small, and quaint, and it is sometimes dead as hell. But whether there is 1 patron in the bar or 100, the staff always does its very best to give the community — myself included — a place to call home.
Do better. Be better. Love each other.
About Magazine + About Media Group
The Last Five Years: Neon Boots Celebrates an Anniversary
This past Saturday, About Magazine had the honor of being invited to Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon for a special event to mark their five-year anniversary.
(HOUSTON) – When Neon Boots says that they’re going to throw a party, let me tell you … they throw a party. Houston’s favorite country & western LGBTQ bar located at 11410 Hempstead Rd. celebrated its five-year anniversary this past Saturday with a slew of performances in their Illusions Drag Show and with a special finale to their Summer Concert Series out on the patio with a performance by singer-songwriter Paige Lewis. The bar’s co-owner, Debbie Storrs, sat down with About Magazine leading up to the party for a special interview after which she invited us to be her guests at the event.
And why? Because that’s just the sort of thing that Storrs and her business partners (Jim Gerhold, Rodney Myers, Ron McLeroy, and Fernando Garcia) do for their patrons and the people that they love. For five years, the smart folks behind Neon Boots (which previously also included James Daily and the recently passed Jim Moore) have been giving back to the community that’s kept them in business for half a decade with concerts, dance lessons, nightly karaoke, parties, drinks, food, and more. And the night of the fifth anniversary was no exception, with the owners even providing a special champagne toast to round off the performance and commemorative anniversary pins for all their guests.
The evening began before the seven o’clock hour with patrons of the bar rolling in for the Illusions Show, which featured some of Houston’s most talented drag entertainers, including the current reigning Miss Gay USofA, Janet Fierce Andrews, Dina Jacobs, Adeciya Iman, Lauren Taylor, Amanda Nicole (who filled in last minute for Christina Ross) and About Magazine favorite, Kara Dion. The ladies performed a number of tributes, parodies, and favorites to a zealous audience that broke out their dollar bills for each and every performance. Kara Dion — who recently suffered a sciatic nerve injury — made her grand reappearance that night, approaching the stage slowly at first only to break out into the normal grandeur and drama that keep fans coming back to see her over-and-over. The audience was so impressed with Dion, in fact, that before she was even halfway through her very first number, a line had formed from the stage all the way to the end of the dance floor to tip her as she performed. These lines recurred during each of Kara’s numbers. Dina Jacobs brought out the best of Tina Turner and Dame Shirley Bassey, while Amanda Nicole put forth a tribute to Lady Gaga and Rihanna, among others.
Outside on the patio on what turned not to be a terribly humid or unbearably hot evening, Paige Lewis performed a set that wowed audiences on the patio throughout the evening. A native of Katy, Texas, Lewis is a singer-songwriter who spends half her time in Houston and the other half in Los Angeles. This September, Lewis will begin her tour through California, Texas, Washington, and Oregon.
Following the drag show, Storrs took to the stage to thank her entire staff, her special guests, friends from in and around the LGBTQ community and the city of Houston, and to unveil a brand new piece of their bar that she described previously as something she was “very excited” about (featured below). But once she’d had time to thank everyone around her and those who couldn’t be there — including a teary-eyed message of love to her late business partner, Jim Moore — Storrs kicked off the remainder of the night by telling the excited crowd, “Now let’s party!”
And so everyone did. The house only seemed to continue to pack itself out as the night progressed. The dance floor became busy with regulars who fell in to enjoy a few drinks and good music; the historic Esquire Room packed up nicely as Dina Jacobs filled in to host karaoke where the About staff and friends sang and spent time around the bar. Out on the patio, patrons new and old clinked glasses, spoke to the staff, laughed over drinks and cigarettes, and listened to music that played overhead as the night drifted away. All-in-all, the night was an overwhelming success. Neon Boots has done the very thing that Storrs told About just a few weeks ago: they’ve created an “everybody bar”. Sure, the history of Neon Boots — which occupies the space of the former Esquire Ballroom, which was open for forty years before closing in 1995 — is surrounded in tales of country music legends like Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, and Loretta Lynn; and sure, its’ an LGBTQ bar now that hosts events in the community’s honor by working with Pride Houston, the Texas Gay Rodeo Association, and many others. But what you see when you walk into Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon is exactly what you get: a mixed bag of patrons — whom Storrs affectionately says are not “customers” but “friends and family […] but mostly family” — of all different sexual orientations, races, religions, gender identifications, and more.
If the fifth anniversary celebration at Neon Boots proved anything, it proved that Debbie Storrs was telling the truth when she said that Neon was an everybody bar. Young, old, Black, white, gay, straight, trans, Asian, Latino, and otherwise, everybody came out to Neon Boots to have a gay old time — the kind that only a place as special as Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon could provide.
Check out the rest of the pictures from the rest of the photos from the anniversary here.
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Join Us at Neon Boots’ 5th Anniversary Party
Houston’s favorite LGBTQ country bar, Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon, will be celebrating its five-year anniversary tomorrow, August 25th. About Magazine will be in the house and we invite everyone to join us for a night of live music, drag, dancing, karaoke, food, and laughter.
(HOUSTON) – The city’s largest LGBTQ country bar, Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon, may only be 5-years-old now, but the history of its building — the former Esquire Ballroom, which began the careers of many legends such as Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline — goes back decades. As discussed in our previous piece about the bar’s anniversary, the Esquire Ballroom opened back in 1955 and saw everyone from Willie Nelson to Loretta Lynn. While it officially shut down in 1995, a full forty years later, the current business owners of Neon Boots have made a special point of keeping that history alive — even naming the bar’s quaint karaoke room the Esquire Room.
Tomorrow, Neon Boots will celebrate five years with two big events — one on the main stage indoors, and one on the bar’s beautiful and spacious back patio. While both events are scheduled to begin at 7PM, visitors will have the opportunity to move back-and-forth to both. Inside, the Neon Boots staff and patrons (whom co-owner Debbie Storrs affectionately refers to as “family”) will be entertained and delighted by the Illusions Show — a drag performance featuring some of Houston’s top drag queens: reigning Miss Gay USofA Janet Fierce Andrews, Dina Jacobs, Adeciya Iman, Christina Ross, Lauren Taylor, and About Magazine favorite and former Miss Gay Texas America, Kara Dion. The show goes until nine and standing room tickets are available for just $5. Patrons who wish to dine can purchase other tiered ticketing options, table reservations and bottle service. Food will be available at the event as well. Guests who attend will also receive a commemorative Neon Boots anniversary pin as a gift from the bar’s owners.
Out on the patio, Neon Boots will be hosting its final free concert of the summer, wrapping up the Summer Concert Series that has proven to be a success this past year with performances by such Houston singers as Jasmine “JassyB” Branch, Starr Jernigan, and About’s very own Wendy Taylor. Bringing the concert series to a close will be none other than singer/songwriter and Katy-native, Paige Lewis. Neon Boots’ delicious and enormous hamburgers will be served (while supplies last) on the patio for just $5, but admission to the concert is free of charge.
So put your best boot-scootin’ boots on, warm-up your voice for karaoke with in-house karaoke host and vocalist Steven Tilotta, put on something cute for a picture in front of the step-and-repeat, and come have a great Saturday night celebrating Neon Boots with About Magazine editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez, and creative director, Wendy Taylor.
See y’all there!
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This Free Life ‘Struts’ the Dallas Strip.
This Free Life hosted an event at The Round-Up Dancehall & Saloon in Dallas with a ‘Strut’ contest hosted by Justin Johnson won by Kimberly Moore.
(DALLAS) – This Free Life is an organization focused on 18-26 year olds living in the LGBTQ+ community that want to live a tobacco-free lifestyle. This past week I had the pleasure of attending one of their events at The Round-Up Dancehall & Saloon in Dallas, TX.
As I parked my car and began walking towards the front of the venue, I noticed a line halfway down the sidewalk and that’s when I knew I was in for an exciting night. It was the first time that The Round-Up had done anything 18+ and the building was packed. This allowed This Free Life to target a wider scope of individuals rather than the 21+ crowd they were used to hosting. This display showed the community just how supportive The Round-Up is of this initiative and how influential the This Free Life movement has become. This Free Life creates a safe space for young people to come out and not feel obligated to start smoking or continue smoking in order to be social. Especially those from 18 to 21 who are new to the community and use smoking as a tool to meet new people.
About Magazine had the pleasure of talking with a few patrons throughout the night; and all of them said they would definitely be back for future events. They also added that out of all of the events they had been to lately at LGBTQ bars and clubs, this was one of the best because it was targeted toward a great cause and because they still had so much fun. The evening eventually led into a “Strut Contest” hosted by Justin Johnson! Contestants have their best “struts” and then the audience voted for their favorite. The winner, Kimberly Moore, walked away with a sickening $250. The audience was so invested and enjoyed everything from the free swag, open bar, educational value and entertaining competition. About Magazine looks forward to attending many more events hosted by This Free Life and maybe even “strutting” into a collaboration of our own.
Make Room for the Queens
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
While 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’).
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.
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
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 Award–winner 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.
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.
While 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
A 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.
- Have an interesting subject to discuss.
- Don’t talk too much about yourself.
- Ask questions—not too personal.
- Don’t let the conversation trail off.
- 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.
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.
I 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.
“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.’
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
(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 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.”