Houston’s Art Gallery Scene Is Prolific With Several Gay-owned Spaces Worth Stopping By
A leather bar isn’t the first venue I’d expect to serve as classroom for a gay history lesson, but that’s exactly how they roll in Houston, Texas. Despite its world-class Museum District, the Eagle Houston (611 Hyde Park Blvd. Tel: (713) 523-2473. eaglehouston.com), in the city’s nearby, leafy “gayborhood” of Montrose, is an integral part of The Bayou City’s LGBTQ timeline and as well as a still buzzing, multilevel drinking and dancing destination.
In the Eagle’s second floor bar space, LGBTQ historian J.D. Doyle has assembled a small group of visiting queer journalists who look above at an illustrated timeline that stretches from one end to the other, marked by national and Houston-specific milestones, starting with the 1950s formation of the Mattachine Society and 1969’s Stonewall Riots. Also covered that evening was the 1991 gay bashing of local Paul Broussard whose murder led to a high-profile case, protests, and conviction, which the 2015 documentary The Guy With The Knife (www.theguywiththeknife.com) revisits. The lesson concludes with the 2010 win of the Mayor’s office by openly lesbian candidate Annise Parker who served three terms until 2016, and the huge nationwide success of Marriage Equality in 2015.
On the wall opposite the timeline, one of gay artist Scott Swoveland’s famed murals depicts a scene from Mary’s, a legendary Houston bar that between 1970 and 2009 served as an invaluable social, organizing, and resource hub, especially during the worst years of the AIDS crisis. Other areas of the Eagle bear collages of vintage Houston LGBTQ newspaper and magazine covers, content, and advertisements (some for rather seedy, long since shuttered bars), which is also the handiwork of Doyle: check out his website, www.houstonlgbthistory.org, for a near exhaustive collection of timelines and archival material including photos and video.
That night I return to the Eagle for a full immersion in Houston’s LGBTQ present, with a bar crawl and performance by one of the area’s most beloved, impossible-to-miss drag personalities, Blackberri (www.instagram.com/theblackberri). The alter-ego of Louisiana native Darius Vallier, Blackberri numbers among the small but noteworthy (and international) population of bearded drag queens which includes Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst, Berlin’s Bambi Mercury, Montreal’s Anaconda La Sabrosa, and Portland’s Diana Fire.
“I love that Houston has so many opportunities for entertainers to express their art in any form,” Vallier tells me. He describes Blackberri as “a Disney Villain with the heart of gold,” and created the character in 2016 for a 10-week local drag race competition.
“Houston is the perfect melting pot of all different styles of drag,” Vallier opines. “Dallas is know for pageant drag, which is beautiful, and Austin for alternative drag, which is artistic, but here you can go to a show and see an AFAB (assigned female at birth, but possibly tran or nonbinary-identified) performer, a bearded queen, a national titleholding queen, and a goth queen all at the same bar in the same cast. You never know what you’re going to get, which makes Houston so special.”
Indeed, diversity and progressiveness is key to Houston’s appeal for me, and likely a pleasant surprise to the first time visitor. To get the scoop on the latest LGBTQ news and scene happenings (and drag shows), check out the 26-year-old, monthly OutSmart Magazine (www.outsmartmagazine.com) and its constantly updated website, as well as website My Gay Houston (www.mygayhouston.com), from the city’s official tourism office, Visit Houston (www.visithoustontexas.com).
Meanwhile, be sure to consider visiting during annual events Houston Pride (www.pridehouston.org), which is scheduled to take place in the fall of 2020 (specific dates TBA), the African-American and Latino Houston Splash (www.houstonsplash.com), set to celebrate its 21st Anniversary in late April 2021, LGBTQ film festival, QFest (www.q-fest.com), and parties thrown by community fundraising entity Bunnies On the Bayou (www.bunniesonthebayou.org).
I arrive in Houston during the pretty darned gay (in more than one respect) grand opening weekend for downtown’s newest hotel, the 354-room C. Baldwin (400 Dallas St. Tel: (713) 759-0202. (www.hilton.com/en/hotels/houcuqq-c-baldwin), where disco diva Gloria Gaynor, of “I Will Survive” fame, headlines the party’s entertainment. Contemporary and chic, with nods to local history (the name references Charlotte Baldwin Allen, a.k.a. the Mother of Houston), a super cool lobby lounge with a solar system-esque chandelier, the Rosalie Italian Soul restaurant from Top Chef Masters’ Chris Consetino, and guestroom views of Houston’s sprawl, the C. Baldwin is also convenient to Houston’s extensive underground tunnel system (approx. seven miles’ worth). I’m also within walking distance to the George R. Brown Convention Center, where Houston’s Art Basel equivalent, Texas Contemporary (www.txcontemporary.com), kicks off during my stay; 2020’s edition is scheduled for October 8-11.
Houston’s own art gallery scene is prolific, with several gay-owned spaces worth stopping by, including David Shelton Gallery (4411 Montrose Blvd, Suite B. Tel: (713) 393- 7319. www.davidsheltongallery.com), Hiram Butler Gallery (4520 Blossom St. Tel: (713) 863-7097. www.hirambutler.com), and Jumper Maybach Fine Art Boutique (1131 Uptown Park Blvd. #4. Tel: (832) 523-4249. www.jumpermaybach.com), which showcases and sells work and goods by its namesake clown-faced artist. The Corpus Christiborn Maybach, real name Ben Workman, funnels his queerness and messages of empowerment into his creations, and was the subject of a 2016 documentary, The Jumper Maybach Story.
I discovered a trove of LGBTQ merchandise, including books and really adorable gift cards, at the freestanding store for 30-acre, multi-space art exhibition complex The Menil Collection (1533 Sul Ross St. Tel: (713) 525- 9400. www.menil.org), and a cornucopia of fantastically cool, witty, and subversive home goods, apparel, accessories and souvenirs about five blocks north at Space Montrose (1706 Westheimer Rd. Tel: (832) 649-5743. www.spacemontrose.com), where 70-percent of its stock is sourced from Texas-based entrepreneurs. Sassy thrift shoppers are in for a treat, since several incredibly curated vintage shops are situated just across the street, notably Pavement (1657 Westheimer Rd. Tel: (713) 528-5500. www.pavementhouston.com), where a Spice Girls concert T-shirt absolutely called my name.
Local, funky and hipster-friendly goods also reign at The Whimsy Artisan Boutique (1802 Yale St. Tel: (281) 773-1295. www.thewhimsyartisan.com), and one can easily spend a couple of hours at the six-year-old, two-floor, distinctly Houston Manready Mercantile (321 W. 19th St. Tel: (713) 861-6618. www.manready.com). Located in the leafy, historic and residential Houston Heights district, which hosts a First Saturday Arts Market, Manready Mercantile takes a masculine, progressive approach towards the apothecary concept and has taken off in a big way.
The owner, Travis S. Weaver, is a passionate, philanthropic, and extremely LGBTQ-friendly native Texan from humble beginnings. I shared a deep, richly informative conversation over dinner with him at the home of gay real estate power broker and Mayoral hopeful Bill Baldwin and Baldwin’s partner (and fantastic chef) creative fashion director Fady Armanious. While sipping an Old Fashioned at Manready you can craft scented soy candles (in a whiskey glass) with scents that are the antithesis to flowery, like cedar, tobacco, sandalwood, juniper, and teak. The clothing selections and other goods are superbly curated, and it’s a must, especially when combined with a couple of hours’ strolling, shopping, and dining in the very Houston Heights’ district.
The Museum District has seen updating in the form of a 2019, $34 million expansion and renovation of its 24-year-old, now 57,000 square foot Holocaust Museum Houston (5401 Caroline. Tel: (713) 942-8000. hmh.org). And in Montrole, a few shuttered LGBTQ spaces have been repurposed as LGBTQ-friendly businesses recently, notably a location of popular Montrose wine bar chain Postino (805 Pacific St. Tel: (713) 388- 6767. www.postinowinecafe.com), which formerly housed Houston gay bar Montrose Mining Company between 1978-2016 (memorabilia from that establishment and era occupies a wall).
Food scene-wise, urban food halls have caught on in Houson in a big way. Opened in August 2019 and located in the Bank of America Tower, the 35,000 square foot Understory (800 Capitol St. www.understoryhouston.com) comprises up to eight vendors and dining experiences, which at the time of my visit include SeaSide Poke, Mama Ninfa’s Tacos y Tortas, Filipino-inspired burger spot Flip N’ Patties, and craft java purveyors Boomtown Coffee.
Another summer 2019 newcomer, the 9,000 square foot Bravery Chef Hall (409 Travis St. Tel: (713) 909-0691. www.braverychefhall.com) is dedicated to outstanding Houston chefs and their concepts: my epic, delicious tasting dinner included dishes from visually impared, insanely talented Masterchef winner Christine Ha’s Vietnamese gastropub The Blind Goat; Kokoro’s superb sashimi and sushi; miraculously light yet scrumptious Roman-style pizza by Ben McPherson’s BOH (the secret is a protein- heavy, low-gluten flour); and James Beard Award semifinalist Richard Knight’s butter chicken from his American-dinerwith- a-twist, Atlas.
Come evening, it was back to Montrose for a Friday night bar and club crawl, which included Tony’s Corner Pocket (817 W. Dallas St. Tel: (713) 571-7870. www.facebook.com/pages/Tonys-Corner-Pocket/252715648741822), which Lady Gaga once graced with her presence; friendly piano bar and drag queen showcase Michael’s Outpost (1419 Richmond Ave. Tel: (713) 520- 8446. www.facebook.com/michaelsoutpost); and that national standby, Hamburger Mary’s (2409 Grant St. Tel: (713) 677-0674. www.hamburgermarys.com/houston) for a little Blackberri action (she absolutely raked in the tips). Those seeking late night dancing should definitely swing by Numbers Nightclub (300 Westheimer Rd. Tel: (713) 521-1121. www.facebook.com/numbersnightclub), which is open until 3:30 A.M.
When visiting, also try to catch violin-playing Latinx drag personality, Angelina DM Trailz (www.instagram.com/iamqueenangelina), in action.
And Vallier adds: “If you’re a fan of alternative drag, be sure to check out Guava Lamp’s (570 Waugh Dr. Tel: (713) 524-3359. www.guavalamphouston.com) biweekly ‘Smoke Break,’ an amazing artistic experience, and JR’s (808 Pacific. Tel: (713) 521- 2519. www.jrsbarandgrill.com) ‘Millennial Dolls’ which is every Wednesday night at 11 P.M. with some of Houston’s rising stars.” See you on RuPaul’s Drag Race soon, we hope, Houston squirrel friends!.