The Mayor of Montrose

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Says Armstrong: "It's perfectly anyone's right in America or Texas as a property owner to evict someone. Ex-employee? Adios."

Lifelong bans and evictions aren't Armstrong's typical parting gifts to employees who leave. The defection to F Bar is personal, says Armstrong. F Bar's owner is Irwin Palchick, a longtime Houston resident and storied entrepreneur. Neither man likes the other, and both hint at dark secrets in each other's past. Palchick is permanently banned from all of Armstrong's clubs.

Though the flight of some of his best employees came as a shock to Armstrong, the opening of F Bar didn't. "Irv pops up every decade like a horror film," he says. "Like Freddy and Jason, he keeps coming back." Laughing at his turn of phrase, Armstrong adds, "You can put that one on the record."

The sweat from damp, grinding clubgoers hasn't yet seeped into F Bar. Instead, the bar still smells as fresh as the grand opening of an art museum. Crystal chandeliers and marble columns accent the interior, and every surface is lacquered with glossy black paint. It's the kind of place that immediately makes you feel underdressed.

Irwin Palchick is sitting in his office at the back of his club. A 63-year-old, heavyset man with fluffy silver hair, Palchick is wearing a gold watch and thick tortoiseshell glasses. He's also wearing khaki shorts, a detail that concerns him when I take his photograph. Palchick demands to see the photos, and he shoots down the first four with a curt "no." He instructs me to publish the fifth one, a headshot. "Don't make a mistake," he says flatly.

F Bar was dreamed up while Palchick and his 33-year-old partner were traveling in Asia. Palchick came across a lounge called Fashion Bar, which was full of dark leather, chandeliers and elegance. "I said, 'Wouldn't this be nice to have in Houston instead of just the sterile-type clubs?'" says Palchick. Three years later, F Bar arrived.

"I'm not competing with Charles," he says. "We're doing our own thing here. I have a great staff...we have about 60 years' experience between us."

Earlier, a doorman at F Bar estimated that ten out of their 16 employees came from Armstrong bars.

Palchick won't say how he funded F Bar, but notes that he owns a successful beauty-supply business. The last club he owned was called Sazarac Celebrity Grille, in 1992, and he says that he's always wanted another.

A man named David Nastasi says he remembers Sazarac Celebrity Grille well. He lent Palchick about $20,000 to start it, he says. He also says he recalls seeing the door padlocked half a year later. "He paid none of his employees," Nastasi says. "They were working on promises." Nastasi alerted his attorney that he was going to sue Palchick for the money he was owed, and the attorney collected bounced paychecks from employees as part of his investigation. Copies of the checks are all stamped with "funds unavailable." According to an investigation by the Texas Employment Commission, Palchick was ordered to pay one of his employees, Zera Harmon, $340 in unpaid wages.

A few years later in December 1997, Palchick pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of insurance fraud, paid a $1,000 fine and received deferred adjudication. Palchick served 18 months on probation, and the charge was subsequently dropped.

Palchick declines comment on his past.

The next business day, Palchick calls the Houston Press repeatedly, claiming that his "competitor" Charles Armstrong had set us up to write a negative story about Palchick. "Charles is after me," he says. "He's mad; we've taken some of his business, but not intentionally. We've just opened our club wanting to do something nice for the gay, lesbian, black, transgender community."

(No word on the apparently neglected bisexual community.)

Though Palchick may be shaky on what the acronym stands for, Palchick says that of all the LGBT bars in Houston, F Bar is currently number one. At press time, F Bar's tax records were not available on TABC's database.

George Konar thinks F Bar's success is only momentary. "I wouldn't trust that owner with used toilet paper," he says. "In my opinion, he's nothing more than a con artist." Konar isn't surprised that the club is so popular. "The gay community is the type of community that if they want something brand-new, they want it today. They want it right now, they want it all pretty, and it must be the most spectacular thing in the world," he says. That's F Bar today, Konar says. "But in two years? They'll say, 'Big deal. What has F Bar put back into the community?'"

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Mandy Oaklander
Contact: Mandy Oaklander