Bar Fight

Margaret Lindsey has battled bad debt, bad luck and a bunch of men in suits to keep Blondie's open - right in the middle of downtown La Porte

"I was pissed, really. Because I didn't really get any money, and it was like I had them in a bind, but they had me in a bind too," she says. "I wanted everyone to know what they had done to me. But in my lawsuit it said I couldn't discuss this or else they'd turn around and sue me."

Let's say you haven't seen Margaret since grade school. Last time you saw her she was so shy that if you spoke to her, she cried. To ask her a question, even if you were a teacher, you had to go through her twin brother, the only person she talked to. At recess she clutched his belt loops and he steered her to the restroom and playground.
Don Kellogg has stood by Margaret, telling city officials that he knew they purposefully delayed her building plans.
Steve Lowry
Don Kellogg has stood by Margaret, telling city officials that he knew they purposefully delayed her building plans.
Tim "T.K." and Adele Karl met - and married - at Blondie's.
Melissa Hung
Tim "T.K." and Adele Karl met - and married - at Blondie's.

Let's say, with this image in mind, you walk into Blondie's one day and see her carrying on, launching words like missiles -- of Looney Tunes' Acme variety. Margaret herself never thought she'd own a bar. And now, she claims, Blondie's is famous. This Blondie's? This ordinary-looking bar? Well, she concedes, nomadic construction workers know about it, people from Louisiana and the ship crews, some of them foreign, the guys who live from port to port. As T.K., one of Margaret's customers, explains proudly: "When the seamen come here, they go to Wal-Mart and to Blondie's."

What really put her on their maps, Margaret says, were her lingerie shows. Women modeled racy bikinis and silky negligees, men got a little rowdy, and the cash register rang all night long. In fact, Blondie herself used to model some outfits, back when she had a nice figure. But there's another figure she likes better: $4,000 in a single night. Blondie's was so packed there was hardly room to move.

Ever since Blondie's opened, Margaret featured lingerie shows once a week. So she was dumbfounded, she says, when in the summer of 1996 the city protested her shows. Although La Porte does not consider bars with lingerie shows to be sexually oriented businesses, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission does. So Margaret applied for a city SOB permit. City hall, in turn, feared Blondie's meant to go topless.

The main issue though, says Bruce Coplen, Margaret's lawyer at the time, was selective enforcement. Margaret ended the shows in October. Business hit bottom. Yet, another bar continued to offer lingerie shows unbothered.

"I don't know if her advertising on her sign bothered them, with people going to city hall and the chamber of commerce," says TABC agent Don Horton, who acted as a messenger between city hall and Margaret. "I don't really know what their objective was. But they seem to have gotten crossways." Horton did notice, though, that the city never protested Sam T's, now called Sam and Daves, another bar that lures customers with lingerie shows twice a week. Sam and Daves is a nice bar with high ceilings in the newer west side of town. City employees drink there.

Margaret also felt singled out when it came to inspections, which dropped on her like bombs after she was approved for a $300,000 small-business loan in July 1996. Financed by Houston firm Independence Funding, Margaret purchased the adjoining property, paid off La Porte State Bank and planned to use the remaining 80 grand for a face lift to Blondie's.

But when, on July 31, 1996, she applied for the necessary building permit at city hall, building official Debbie Wilmore informed her of an unfortunate discovery: Blondie's was located in a floodway. Margaret must not build anything anymore, or else she could exacerbate flooding.

That evening, fire marshal Paul Hickenbottom and fire inspector Teri Crate issued Margaret 14 citations, including two that cited her vent hood for improper location, although it had passed previous inspections in the same place.

The following day, Margaret says, Wayne Wade from the Harris County Health Department visited to tell her and her staff that the city had asked the Health Department to write citations on Blondie's until it closed. In an interoffice memo to human resources, Hickenbottom says he doesn't recall that request. Wade did not return repeated calls from the Press.

Then, Margaret says, Al Fields, president of Bayshore Bank, called Margaret's loan officer at Independence to advise him that she had applied for an SOB permit. And was he aware that sexually oriented businesses are not eligible for small-business loans? Without funding, Margaret could not make improvements to Blondie's, or worse, the lending firm could foreclose on her property. Fields denies making any calls. "We certainly were not her lender, and were not aware of the situation she had," Fields says. He adds, "It's really inappropriate to be into a discussion of her business. Any dealings with Ms. Lindsey are confidential."

Yet Bruce Hurta, Margaret's loan officer, remembers the call well, because bank presidents rarely call other lending institutions. "It was funky to get that call from him," Hurta says. "Obviously he didn't want her expanding her business, I would guess that's why. They are across the bayou in a pretty bank building, and she's in a shabby bar building."

And according to an affidavit filed by assistant city attorney John Armstrong and a fax from Bayshore Bank to Armstrong, Fields did contact the city about Blondie's funding and the loan regulations. "They've got everyone's balls," Margaret says of the bank's power in La Porte. "And I don't even have any."

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