Night Life

Tougher Than Leather: RIPCORD Endures Through An Ever-Changing Montrose

“I took a leave of absence from US Airways and took a part-time job at RIPCORD,” says Brad, eight years later the bar manager of the Montrose leather institution. “[I] thought it would be six  months.”

It’s the middle of June, hot as blazes out, and RIPCORD is filling up quickly for an event hosted by the Houston chapter of the National Leather Association. But Brad is gracious enough to take some time out of his hectic schedule to show me around and introduce me to some folks. With the excitement of Gay Pride Week beginning this coming Saturday, there’s no better place I’d rather be. And leather just isn't for the masculine set; a fair share of women are here looking to indulge.

You see, RIPCORD is unlike any other bar in Houston because it caters to the leather/Levi’s crowd. What other bar has a leather shop attached, Black Hawk Leather, and is open Saturday and Sunday nights so revelers can peruse codpieces while sipping on a few suds? I know. I know. You could have a beer at Applebee’s, but variety is the spice of life and you aren't a killjoy. Tonight I’m thinking life is a daring adventure or nothing at all. And if that's the case, then I’m a tad bit underdressed.

For you squares, leather is a subculture associated with BDSM. (I’ll wait while some of you go to to look up “BDSM.”) Just like craft beer or needlepoint, people have their whys and wherefores for being into it. Leather has always been the go-to threads for rough-and-tumble personalities. It makes a statement. From biker gangs to the Ramones and even Fonzie, leather is cool and kinda kinky. Hell, even GOP presidential hopeful Scott Walker recently tried really hard to pander to his constituents by donning leather and strapping his legs around the engine of a Harley. (It didn't work.)

Enter Destiny. Her husband, Sam, is a member of the National Leather Association. Yes, they're married, and she happens to be the Vice President of HgoL, or Houston Girls of Leather. Destiny catches me up to speed on the six leather clubs that call RIPCORD their home; some even have trophy cases filled with plaques and awards and various ephemera. For the record, besides the NLA, there’s Krewe of the New Moon of Uranus, Misfits, Houston Girls of Leather, Bayou City Pups and Houston Boys of Leather. As for the HgoL, “We're proud to hang our colors here," Destiny says with a smile.

All the clubs are service-oriented, meaning they help the community in various ways: raise money for charities, go to hospitals, volunteer with homeless youth, and so forth. The clubs even take turns bar tending on the back patio bar and the tips go to various local organization. (By the way, RIPCORD has the largest patio in Montrose.)
That's when I meet Loyd. A strapping fellow, he's the President of the National Leather Association's Houston chapter. He's been a member for four years and President for two. He tells me about how last year some members went out and bought clothing to help homeless youth in need at Grace Place Montrose.

A short history lesson: A Montrose staple, RIPCORD is Texas’ oldest leather bar and the second-oldest gay bar in the state. While there’s a large number of leather-related events, the bar also hosts the ever-popular Geeks Who Drink trivia night as well as RIPCORD REWIND, a dance night of ‘70s, ’80, ‘90s music. Coming up is Bearracuda Houston a week from Saturday, the last day of Pride Week.

While new bars pop up all the time in these parts, RIPCORD is the last of the great cornerstone Houston nightspots to carry the LGBT torch. Mary’s and Rich’s are long gone, but RIPCORD holds on strong. In terms of local bars, it’s an icon. Not too many places last this long — going on three and a half decades — before a developer decides buy it, tear it down, and build multimillion-dollar condos. Or even worse…decide to turn it into a mattress store.

Hard to imagine, but some 20-plus years ago, I used to live right down the street from RIPCORD. It's long gone now, but I rented a two-bedroom house right across the street from Lola’s at Grant and Fairview for $300. It was equidistant from RIPCORD and Heaven, before Heaven burned down and became South Beach, and I went to both from time to time. Times were a little different back then. And while the landscape and the people of the neighborhood have changed, it’s refreshing to see that RIPCORD has not.

I only lasted in that house for two weeks, though. We got robbed twice in the short time we lived there, and the second time the thieves took everything. I stayed in Montrose as long as I could afford it, and others echo this same sentiment.

“Houston has some great gay bars,” offers Loyd. “When you find one that fills what would otherwise be a void, it becomes extremely important to its clientele. The RIPCORD does that for many people. It is not just a gay bar. I have been going to the RIPCORD for 28 years.”

At 57 and ready to pass on the torch to the next generation, Loyd is a little disappointed about the decision to move the Pride Parade downtown from Montrose this year, but also optimistic for the future, hoping that it means more opportunities and equality for everyone else. Of course, he’s still glad to have RIPCORD.

“For my partner and I, as well as many of our friends, it is our leather home,” Loyd says. “The leather community also encompasses the world of kinky people and people with a multitude of fetishes. Because of the open-minded nature of these people, it is not limited to just gay people. The Ripcord is a melting pot of open-minded gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual and transgendered people.

“It's not a deep, dark dungeon,” he continues. “It's a friendly place where like-minded people gather to have a drink, raise money for others in need and learn from one another. The exterior of RIPCORD might not look much, but to those of us who call it home, it is a true gem in the heart of the Montrose!”

Send your after-dark tips to [email protected].
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Sean McManus