Deep in the heart of Montrose, gossip flows as freely as the liquor. Throw club owner Charles Armstrong's name into the mix and you'll get more than an earful, no matter which gay bar you're in.
Everybody knows about the feral cats, for instance. Cats run freely around Montrose like they do in Malta or Israel, thanks in part to Armstrong. He makes his employees feed and water the cats day and night. Many think he cares more about his feral cats than he does his own staff.
Armstrong, the subject of this week's cover story, is the owner of four of the most popular gay bars in Houston: JR's Bar & Grill, Montrose Mining Company, South Beach, and Meteor. Nobody can beat Armstrong when it comes to volume of liquor sold to the gay community. No one has for a quarter of a century.
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That type of success doesn't come without a good dose of resentment, some of which spawns the countless rumors about Armstrong. Eighty percent of what you hear about Armstrong, I'm told, is pure fiction. "It's just queens talking," I heard over and over again.
But there's no denying that Armstrong hasn't gotten to the top by being nice. His policies have always been tough, and he demands the utmost loyalty from his employees.
So when glamorous new F Bar opened up in March and drew away many of Armstrong's employees and customers, things got ugly. F Bar is owned by Armstrong's nemesis Irwin Palchick -- a businessman with a not-so-clean past. For the first time, Armstrong's home at the top is under threat.
It's a story few wanted to touch. In the words of a bar owner: "You do realize you're starting a war, right?"