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The Mayor of Montrose

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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!"

Starting a new gay bar would normally be an unforgivable breach of loyalty in Armstrong's handbook, but since George's caters to a crowd Armstrong didn't target, Armstrong approved. "Charles thought gays don't like sports," Konar explains. "He didn't think that's where the money is." The two parted with a handshake and a kiss, and Konar credits Armstrong with teaching him everything he knows about the bar business. This month for the first time, George's liquor sales exceeded those of both South Beach and Meteor, per Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission records. "Bless his heart," Armstrong says. "I wish all my employees went on to become millionaires."

Many others left on a sourer note. David Williamson, who's 48 ("But with gay people, it's like a million," he says), spent ten years working at the Montrose Mining Company. Williamson, along with many other ex-employees, says that at the end of the night, bartenders had to turn in a certain number of "spilled drink" tickets, whether the drinks had been wasted or not. A bartender was required to report that they had spilled three beers and three liquor drinks, Williamson says. At the end of the month, the manager would count the tickets. If the numbers didn't add up, they would add more, he says. "We'd have meetings where we'd have to make up a month's worth of waste tickets," Williamson says.

Armstrong claims he didn't know about this policy, and says it must come from his managers. But he called it logical, saying that bartenders rarely record spilled or botched drinks. "In the heat of the battle, it's a way of tracking their spills and wastes and accounting for that," he says. "It's probably a fraction of what happens through the night."

One day last year, Williamson was asked to leave when he received a write-up that said he had overpoured a month previous. "It's really hard to defend yourself against something that happened that wasn't mentioned a month ago," he says. Williamson says he was told that they would accept his resignation, effective immediately. He was banned from all of Armstrong's clubs for a month — standard procedure whenever an employee quits or is fired, according to Armstrong.

Six months before he quit, Williamson had written Armstrong a letter asking for a loan from the Employee Emergency Fund. Williamson, who describes himself as "immune-compromised," had just been in a car wreck. He says he needed funds to repair his car so that he could make frequent doctor's appointments. Williamson's request was denied because of lack of funds, he says he was told. "It kind of confused me, because it's money we supposedly raised for us," he says. Since all loans given from the fund were expected to be paid back — except in the case of death — Williamson still doesn't know why he was denied. "I worked hard for Charles for ten years, and he was not there for me when I needed him the most."

Armstrong says that he receives too many requests to accommodate everyone, and that his employees often loosely construe the word "emergency." "It's for a medical emergency," he says, didactically, "not a personal emergency." Last year, Armstrong gave a portion of the fund to an employee who lost part of his leg. "These are the types of expenses in which funds have been made available," he wrote in an e-mail. Armstrong says that there is currently a balance of $13,000 in the emergency account.

When Williamson left, he wasn't able to find a job in a non-Armstrong bar. He may have had better luck trying today. Many of Armstrong's ex-employees have found employment at F Bar, the new gay bar steps from Meteor. Twenty-eight-year-old Benjamin Lewis worked for Armstrong for five years as a barback, floor man and manager. He lived in an apartment owned by Armstrong that was close to the bars and a popular living choice among employees. When the general manager at Meteor quit to manage F Bar, Lewis decided to follow. "It was time for our community to have something nice that wasn't owned as a monopoly," Lewis says. After quitting, Lewis found out he was banned for life from all Armstrong bars. Then an eviction notice was slipped under his door. He had 30 days to get out.

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Mandy Oaklander
Contact: Mandy Oaklander