The Mayor of Montrose

Charles Armstrong, owner of four gay clubs and benefactor to feral cats, is the most powerful man in his neighborhood.

Come 1985, gay Montrose was booming. Gays made up only about 19 percent of Montrose's population, Hill estimated, but the flavor and politics of the neighborhood were distinctly rainbow. That's when 32-year-old Charles Armstrong blew into town, nightclubs in tow. Rumors abound about how Armstrong managed to get control of three bars at so young an age, with so little income. Armstrong's version is that he had worked under a successful gay nightclub operator in Dallas as general manager of Texas operations, and he purchased the three bars located in Houston from his boss by selling his countertop vending machine business. The bars were an instant hit. JR's Bar & Grill, Montrose Mining Company and Heaven (now South Beach) soon turned Armstrong into Houston's largest employer of the gay population. In 2004, he added another club, Meteor, to his portfolio.

When Armstrong discusses his businesses, he never compares them to neighboring bars, whose existence he rarely acknowledges. Instead, he always likens them to Neiman Marcus, and sometimes Bank of America.

"There's three things in my employee handbook that I request of every employee, as well as for myself, and that's honesty, loyalty and professionalism," he says. "Those are three virtues that I just demand." From the start of Armstrong's reign, signing up with him was a marriage-like agreement, whereby employees swore to forsake all others. Whenever a new gay bar popped up, his employees were forbidden to go.

After working for Armstrong for more than two decades, George Konar left to open his own joint, George's Country Sports Bar. He credits Armstrong with everything he knows about the bar business. Recently, George's liquor sales surpassed those of both South Beach and Meteor.
Mandy Oaklander
After working for Armstrong for more than two decades, George Konar left to open his own joint, George's Country Sports Bar. He credits Armstrong with everything he knows about the bar business. Recently, George's liquor sales surpassed those of both South Beach and Meteor.
Since Irwin Palchick opened his new club, F Bar, it's quickly lured employees and patrons away from the Armstrong empire.
Mandy Oaklander
Since Irwin Palchick opened his new club, F Bar, it's quickly lured employees and patrons away from the Armstrong empire.

Most bars never lasted for long competing against Armstrong. He ran the only businesses in town that guaranteed a fat wad of cash at the end of the night. It was a good reason for employees to keep staying out of other bars. "I think people would rather work for a strong leader than a weakling," Armstrong says. "You might resent that strength...but you respect it."

In the late '80s, AIDS began to decimate the population of Montrose. People stopped coming to the neighborhood to eat out of fear they would catch something from gay waiters. Funeral homes didn't want to take the bodies of dead men. In response to the health crisis, Armstrong set up a fund-raiser to help his employees defray the cost of medical care. Staff performed in drag shows at the bars, and all proceeds went into a pot of money called the Employee Emergency Fund. Armstrong would give out money from the fund to help a sick employee buy groceries, pay rent, or afford hospital bills. Beneficiaries were expected to pay the money back. "It was a bridge to transition someone into getting their health restored," Armstrong says. "That way it'll be there for someone else." More often than not, Armstrong says, employees didn't live long enough to pay it back.

George Konar, 56, is tall with snowy hair and green eyes. He worked for Armstrong for 23 years, and he's a self-described blabbermouth. If there's anyone who could dish on Armstrong, it's him. But he says he owes Armstrong his life.

Konar remembers the dark days when men living in the 77006 couldn't get health insurance without taking a blood test. A positive test for AIDS meant no coverage. Armstrong signed up for expensive high-risk health insurance, which covered his full-time employees regardless of their AIDS status. He paid half, and the employees paid the other half. "If you had insurance, you lived. If you didn't, you died," Konar says. "We were lucky — we worked for Charles, and we lived."

As AIDS tore through the neighborhood, the gay community flocked to the nightclubs for a reprieve from sickness and death. But even there, they weren't safe. In 1991, a young gay man named Paul Broussard and two friends were stopped by a car full of high school kids from The Woodlands. The boys asked for directions to Heaven, Armstrong's nightclub. When Broussard told them how to get there, the boys jumped out of the car and chased the men with knives and nail-studded planks. His friends got away, but Broussard was attacked. Hours later at the hospital, he died.

The gay community rallied around Broussard's murder, and Armstrong was a key player in getting the city to pay attention, says Konar. "It's one thing for a bunch of gays to march, but if you don't know who to call and why we're marching, it's just a parade," he says. "Charles was the one who was able to get all the right people to stand up." This summer will be the 20th anniversary of Broussard's death, and Armstrong is organizing a memorial for victims of bullying and hate crimes on one of his vacant lots.

Konar is now a bar owner himself. In 2006, he opened George's Country Sports Bar. It's a rose-lit club tucked away on Fairview, a few blocks off the main Armstrong drag of Pacific Street. Come happy hour on any given day of the week, every leather barstool is filled with men watching either the Barefoot Contessa or an Astros game. Sketches of shirtless cowboys adorn the walls, along with flyers promoting free HIV and syphilis testing on Monday nights. The bartender, a beefy man with two diamond hoops in each ear, slings drinks at full force. He returns a "How are ya, Leon?" with a loud "Better than a hand job, baby!"

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203 comments
Mike
Mike

No thanks.

I've been to JR's and the rest of "Charles clubs" and they are all the same: shitty bartenders, crappy service, over-priced drinks. I remember the $30 door fee for Madonnarama at SOBE and other youv'e-got-to-be-kidding-me prices this freak charges. He built his empire on the backs of Houston GLBT's pocketbook and returns barely a *speck* to it while demanding military-style loyalty to Him. I can't wait until JR's, the Mine, and Meteor close. Build a Walmart on top of it. I don't give a shit. The only club worth going to was Pacific Street (now Blur) with its sunken dance floor, cute hustlers, great drink prices, incredible bartenders and barbacks and darkened cubbyholes for having sex. Then, all of sudden it closed and we had no where to go. For the love of Pete. Now were inundated with crappy places like F Bar where the 20-something, brandwhores frequent, husband their martini's while blocking the doors to the restroom. Crocker is the only real bar left.

Thomas
Thomas

I moved to Houston from San Diego three years ago, and went out to these bars quite a bit when I first got here. And yes. many of them are outdated and dirty. I went to Dallas for the first time two weeks ago and couldn't believe how lovely and vibrant their main gayborhood strip is. The bars, restuarants and shops are also clean and tidy. Houston can do better.

Amontelongo01
Amontelongo01

Being the forty largest city in the nation, we should have nice bars, more bars. Diffrent bars for us to choose from. It gets old having to go to the same OLD bar, and I literally mean old!!! I will have to agree that the Armstrong bars are old and dated. Armstrong really needs to invest back into his bars to keep up with the demand and competition. I too had friends come in from out of town and were surprised of what nasty old looking bars our "mayor of Montrose" had to offer. I say out with the old and in with the new! we need to allget along and developed an amazing gayborhood. Growth is good, and we live in a large enough city for all to be successful in there business. However it will take some planning and organizing, but we need to be able to respect eachother and get along! I really hope a developer comes in to Montorose, it's long overdue.

John Smithfield
John Smithfield

Montrose is dying - for a variety of reasons. A lot of the LGBT community has moved out of the neighborhood. There was a time when we, the LGBT community weren't welcomed in other establishments - so we needed a "Montrose" to gather and associate. Because society's attitude towards LGBT men and women has changed - we've gone into the mainstreem of society. Today, being gay is accepted - and straight people, for the most part, are no longer uncomfortable being around us. We no longer need a "Montrose" to "hide in".

The internet has also made it easier for the LGBT community to connect with each other from the comfort of our own homes. I believe a lot fewer people go out to the bars because of the "internet".

The bars aren't really lame as indicated by someone else - there are just too many of them - that offer the same type of atmosphere and venue. And the infighting and competition between bar owners has caused that. They need to evaluate the situation and cooperate.

There is, no real reason to go to Montrose. There are only two major events a year; Pride and LUEY. The LGBT community needs to be given a reason to go somewhere. And, again, offering a plethera of bars with the same atmosphere - aint a reason.

And, as for bar owners banning employees who either frequent other estblishments or go to work for another establishment - get a clue. Many of us who frequented your bars become friends with the bartenders - and, when you ban them, you lose their friends as well. If we can't associate with them in your establishment - we'll find one where we can. There are other choices.

As for calling Charles Armstrong the "Mayor of Montrose", based on some of the behavior described in your article - which some of us have experienced - he needs to be impeached or overthrown. Actually, he's more of a "dictator". If he's not careful, the only "subjects" he will have are the feral cats he feeds. He needs to learn a lesson from the feral cats - give them want they want and they will "patronize" your establishment. Once you stop giving people what they want they, like the cats, will stop coming.

Jason
Jason

Nobody goes to JRs or MMC anymore because they're gross, stinky and outdated, which is very sad, considering how much $$ that man has. Gays from other cities called our bars lame and ugly before new bars like F Bar and Vue opened, or Meteor, for that matter. But Armstrong didn't create Meteor. He bought it and "redid" it. The concept was already there.

In the late 90s, when i came out, a friend of mine's family owned a bar supply company. She said JRs sold more alcohol per square foot than any other place in Houston.

In my opinion, he's taken advantage and not put $$ back into his bars. Dallas has revamped their Mining Company and JR's many times over since the late 90s. What facelifts have ours gotten? Nothing. Except a cheesy glass front door of JR's. Hello, the Santa Fe look went out about 20 years ago. . . I could go on and on.

denniS
denniS

"At the time, Montrose belonged to widows and empty nesters."

In the late sixties and early seventies, the Montrose was our local hippie (although a lot of us preferred "freak") mecca. Also, tons of Rice and St. Thomas students, as well as many individuals of various ages and social strata (some of them gay) who wouldn't have fit into your lazy generalization, lived there.

Montoya
Montoya

I swear to God, you are all freaking nerds. patheic, the whole lot of you, especially all of these Hutto knee-padders! Get a freaking life,you rejects of society!

RGR
RGR

I found the article to be serious lacking and quite sophomoric in its attempt to appear as true journalism. There were many areas in the article that had a chance of becoming more if the writer would had dug deeper rather than just gloss across some tid bits of information. Mr. Armstrong feeds cats and runs bars but who is he, how did he get there where is the story? Additionally, there could have been more of an article referencing the fact that there are quite a number of other GLBT bars opening up throughout Houston drawing in crowds. From my read this was just about Armstrongs bars and F Bar. Clearly I believe the writer missed the mark and maybe should consider more glossy pieces or reviews which require less investigational skills.

c. harvey
c. harvey

In this day and age of collaboration and high tech, maybe Mr. Armstrong needs to adapt. Of course a man is free to run his business as he sees fit. But it seems not a good idea to bar former employees from your club after they have moved on. It might be wise to keep the lines of communication open to see what your competition is doing and maybe revamp your club or services. Meteor and SouthBeach are nice clubs. Maybe what all club owners ought to do is harness the power of social networking and get people back into the clubs. The internet seems to have made the biggest dent in the gay club business (I don't know a thing about straight clubs) and it's gotten boring. It's up to the club owners to recognize and set new trends. This isn't the 80's anymore.

JanieBT
JanieBT

Charles Armstrong is a class act.

Native Houstonian 1974
Native Houstonian 1974

What is the true and accurate story on Charles Armstrong? Where is he from? What was/is his connection to the deceased Frank Caven? How did he acquire the bars on Pacific Street? The truth NEEDS to be told and DO NOT post hearsay and/or conjecture.

Cory Sinclair
Cory Sinclair

Chris Hutto is the Mayor of the City of Montrose, dammit.

Enraged birther
Enraged birther

I want to see a birth certificate...long form, where you at Hutto?

MontroseBetch
MontroseBetch

Pointless article, poorly selected title. Nothing new.

Chris Hutto
Chris Hutto

And "Crossroads", I think it was in very poor taste to post my address and would appreciate it if you removed that post.Thank you.

Chris Hutto
Chris Hutto

All the comments from my Montrosians are very kind and I am very touched by them. But really, I think this is getting a bit out of hand. There are so many people that actually do so much for the community every day. Their good deeds are rarely acknowledged and they don't hold themselves up as heroes but they are. Let's not forget that they are the ones that truly make Montrose the great neighborhood it is. Now, as far as titles go, the original "Mayor of Montrose" has always been Sonia Gracia. I was only given the title of Mayor of the City of Montrose by the Free Press when they wrote the letter to former Mayor Bill White declaring, tongue in cheek, that the Montrose was seceding from Houston and I was "appointed" as the new City's Mayor. If you want to call yourself Mayor of whatever, by all means, go right ahead. I am not going to have my feelings hurt in any way. But please, no more arguing. It only makes us look like self-important snobs and we are certainly better than that. Leave that to the outer-loopers :)

Amanda
Amanda

In light of the mostly friendly (and sometimes inexplicably vitriolic) exchange about this article, Mayor Chris Hutto and his constituents would like to extend an open invitation to the Houston Press, and to any skeptics, dissenters or curious residents in this debate, to meet this delightful character personally over a beer at Catbirds Lounge. He would love to answer any questions you may have, and there are many of us that would love to share our stories about why we love and defend this guy's title so fervently. Should Houston Press accept our invitation, we will post the date and time here. This would be much more fun, beneficial, and personal than a cold digital comment battle. Note: if we may schedule it for a Thursday, Bill Schadewald (passionate old-guard Montrosian and recently retired editor of the Houston Business Journal) would no doubt be happy to weigh in.

Also, as I mentioned below, Montrose mayoral elections are coming up, and they are open to all...

updateinfo
updateinfo

David Nastasi is a Convicted FEDERAL FELON, stole banking information from peoples mail boxes and printed checks on a computer and cashed them at various banks with Charles Minor in Indiana and Kentucky, lives in Hallendale Florida with his mother, and hasn't kept a job for years. Nastasi never had $20,000 to loan to anyone in 1992 or any other year........ Nastasi in 92 was kept by a JOHN JOHNSON now deceased.Minor received many years in prison.

Crossroads
Crossroads

Let it be known that Chris Hutto does not even live in the Montrose. He lives near the Gulf Freeway and Telephone Road.

Henry McClurg
Henry McClurg

Two things: This lead story is typical Houston Press. I know most of the players involved. But I understand the type of journalism employed here. It works. It's not right, but it works. And the other thing: I, Henry McClurg, am the real Mayor of Montrose. I demand a recount of the vote. I'll take this to the Supreme Court if necessary.

RuhRoh
RuhRoh

I also am trying to determine what the point of this article is...I find that I am having an increasingly hard time trying to determine a point in a lot of HP stories these days. Look, it would be great if Mother Theresa, Lady Di, Dolly Parton, the Dalai Lama or Oprah owned all of the gay bars in Houston so we knew our kweer dollars were going to a sweet and caring individual but this is soooooo not the point. People choose a gay bar to go to based on either good drinks, customer service, comfort, atmosphere, and how cute the bartenders and other boys in the bar are. I do not know Charles Armstrong or Irwin Palchick personally. I have a met Irwin once. Seems like an okay guy. The bottom line is F Bar does come at the right time as a lot of people do feel as though Charles Armstrong does take his customers for granted (i.e. not reinvesting the money he makes into his establishments to make his bars more comfortable or appealing). This story would have had a point if Charles Armstrong's F Bar "dilemma" was told as an economic cautionary tale about valuing customers and keeping your business current; however, instead Mandy Oaklander decided to cheapen her piece to a trashy National Enquirer equivalent about people's "shady" pasts that should not concern anyone nor many people probably care about. What is your point Mandy!?!?

Sincerely,

Kweer

Jack
Jack

What in the heck is a Hutto? I know there's a boony town near Austin named that. Whatever Hutto is, it can't be good. And, whatever Hutto stands for, well, he can't touch Charle's jock strap and I'm sure this Hutto would want to do so!

Amanda
Amanda

Maybe, but if we keep Chris Hutto elected as Mayor of Montrose, we don't have to worry about lame and ugly bars. We will only recognize Catbird's as the official bar of the 'Trose. Long live Hutto!

Amanda
Amanda

Why don't you just go and die or something Montoya? We don't need your kind in this world. Chris Hutto is the best Mayor eVar from Montrose, not some stupid pro-homo bar owning dude. Hutto was given the term first by this publication. All hail Hutto!

SuperMoon
SuperMoon

Go back to Pearland, hon. The grownups are having a conversation.

SuperMoon
SuperMoon

You've raised a fine point. The best thing about this neighborhood is that it is constantly in flux. It's up to the residents (i.e. the patrons and the $ source) to decide what's next, and the right businesses lend an open ear to that. Change is not tough around here, it's gradual.

SuperMoon
SuperMoon

He wasn't born - he simply appeared, many years ago, materializing from a cloud of sparkles, catnip bubbles and Nag Champa. Legend has it a band of golden unicorns and singing bluebirds then carried him gently down a rainbow to the side patio at Numbers.

Amanda
Amanda

Ladies and gentlemen... here is a gracious and humble man.

Goos
Goos

How long ago did Larry move out, and why? Many of us struggled to remain in the hood we love, and found a way to do so, with the help of our community.

Amanda
Amanda

Yes, and he will be the first one to openly admit to that! The Montrose became an expensive place to live! However, he spends all of his time and money in the 'Trose, so people are surprised to find out he resides in Eastwood. Now, if he lived in Pearland, he would no doubt be stripped of his title. But no one I've ever encountered seems to mind.

Crossroads
Crossroads

And he has lived there since at least September 23, 2008.

Larry Lingle
Larry Lingle

Sorry Henry, I should have cast my vote for you. Hope you are doing well.

Goos
Goos

Good old fashioned ignorant narrow-mindedness and just a soupcon of intolerance. "I don't know it, so I reject and fear it. I don't know what it is, so it must be bad." We have come so far... Thanks, Jack, for reminding me why I moved to the 'trose so long ago.

Ike
Ike

Whatever, Jack & RuhRoh! C.Hutto is the mayor of montrose, so represent. It's not like anybody has a beef with Amstrong, except of course for those who do (lol). Anyways, it's cool to see someone write about the Montrose area, but I don't even know the point of this article. What is the point of this article? The only thing that stands out here though, is the sudden sneaky announcement that Amstrong is the mayor of montrose. If Amstrong is the mayor of montrose, Warren Buffet is the President of America.

Mejanejane
Mejanejane

Hmm, that was such an interesting article. My daughter lives in Montrose, she isn't gay. She is goth. And she says the same thing. Everyone is leaving Montrose. She feels like her scene is dying too. And talk about outdated bars. I was just at JR and South Beach, not horrible but not Washington. Look at the poor Goths with #'s. It should be condemned.

Amanda
Amanda

I don't know who the imposter troll is using my name but it's pissing me off enough for me to want to leave the 'Trose for brighter lights. You people make me sick! X'(

Amanda
Amanda

And hey, Impostor Amanda, let's knock off the nastiness. If you're going to pretend to be someone else so you can act like a troll, you should at least get your facts straight (THIS publication? Nope). We've all been civil on here. Your attitude might serve you better on YouTube or Yahoo News.

Amanda
Amanda

Obviously a different Amanda...

Crossroads
Crossroads

Whatever helps you sleep at night, dear.

Larry Lingle
Larry Lingle

Oh yes, for those busy reading these comments and do not know their Montrose history Henry McClung is well qualified to judge journalism having published a few gay newspapers in his day. But the, probably even Chris Hutto did not know that, not living in Montrose and all.

Amanda
Amanda

Whoever you are impostering me, it's flattering... really. You are obsessed with me and my need for attention is being fed like gas to a log. Keep up the good work! I think I'll go please myself now.

Amanda
Amanda

I want at least six new fake Amandas by noon tomorrow. Get to work.

Amanda
Amanda

Kind of flattering that I am getting attacked now instead, though. Keep it coming, guys, I'm laughing my ass off.

Amanda
Amanda

This is just hilarious now.

Amanda
Amanda

Then why so antagonistic? We appreciate and welcome your opinions, in the true spirit of the Montrose, and invite you to personally meet Mayor Hutto (please see above). Even if HP chooses not to show, the Mayor will be happy to welcome you, buy you a tasty beverage and clarify anything you find unsettling about him or his title.

Crossroads
Crossroads

I've lived in the Montrose for a little over 12 years.

Amanda
Amanda

Crossroads, do you live in Montrose? I'm curious, as your unnecessary condescension and general animosity just seem, well, kinda un-Montrosian.

Ringo
Ringo

Nope, he (and the rest of us) know Mr. McClurg and are fans of his work.

 
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