As lesbians transform with the times, so has the place they play.
By Nancy Ford
It’s a family affair for Nick Vasakis. Managing partner for Chances Bar, Nick, and his spouse, Annie, are longtime Houston entrepreneurs whose family owns diverse enterprises throughout the city. Their immediate family has grown to include two sons and a daughter.
“One day they’re going to figure out why they have so many aunts,” laughs Nick.
Those “many aunts” number in the thousands, all patrons of Chances, the anchor club in the four-bar complex long recognizable as a hub for Texas lesbians. This month, Chances celebrates 14 years as the southwest’s meeting place for women, but also five years as a leading venue for women musicians.
Looking at the dozens of organizations and groups found in these pages, it’s hard to imagine a time when bars were once the only places gay men and lesbians could gather to form social, political, and, yes, romantic friendships.
Despite increased visibility in recent years, it remains a cultural fact that the bars are often still the first place a gay person, out or not, looks for community. It’s Chances, with its adjacent clubs G Spot, Chi Chi Bar, and the Barn, located at the corner of Westheimer Road and Waughcrest Drive, where every week for 14 years, gay women and their friends find companionship, camaraderie, cocktails, and much, much more.
“Chances doesn’t have a lesbian night,” Vastakis says, referring to clubs that sometimes have a once-a-week, designated “ladies’ night” or happy hour for lesbians. “We’re lesbian seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s more than just a bar—it’s a church to some people.”
As fast food franchises and prefab town homes spring up all around it, Chances is one of the very few family owned businesses helping Montrose hold onto its Bohemian spirit.
“Our crowd is changing, too; the evolution, the layers, the skins that Chances has gone through over the years is amazing,” Vastakis says. “I guess it changed in 14 years along with how being a lesbian has changed in 14 years. It’s changed quite a bit. Almost every night of every week you can turn on the TV, with the multitude of channels we have, and you’ll find at least one scene of a girl kissing another girl.”
What hasn’t changed over the years is a lesbian’s propensity to express herself, a need that Chances hasn’t ignored. In the past years Chances has been a notable live music headquarters for lesbians and women musicians—remarkably, the only venue in the Gulf Coast region offering a permanent, ongoing stage each Saturday night for this specific genre.
“If anything happens in the celebration of femininity, I hope we’re the first ones to put it on stage,” Vastakis says.
“There are a lot of great bands with guys out there, but Chances being a lesbian bar, it goes along with our thought it’s a natural place for women to get a gig.”
Most of the bands that perform Saturday evenings are Houston-based, but the club’s annual Battle of the Bands, leading up to the June Pride celebration, attracts bands from Houston and beyond. “We get them in from Austin, San Antonio, different places,” Vastakis says. “They compete, and the winners get contracts to play at Chances.”
A fire in 2006 prompted a redesign of Chances’ showroom, enabling acts like The Cliks and Bitch + The Exciting Conclusion to include Chances on their national tours.
“The Cliks is the biggest band we had so far,” Vastakis says.
“Some of these bands we’re bringing in, we’re using them as steps to bring in bigger names to let them know we’re a large venue and we can support them.”
But it’s not just all fun and games at Chances. Many local organizations, including AssistHers, Lesbian Health Initiative, the court systems, Human Rights Campaign, and others raise vital funds on nights when Houston Comets games and reruns of The L Word aren’t flickering on the club’s multiple TV screens.
“When you can be on a fishing trip with your straight buddies manning it up, and be able to brag that you paid for all these mammograms—that’s straight man’s bragging rights, right there,” Vastakis says proudly. “To be able to see an immediate impact, to do something with a nonprofit agency that directly affects somebody’s life, that’s a huge deal.
“It’s just a bar, but being able to give back, that’s my favorite—seeing it affect people more than getting them drunk. I think our crowning moment is all the fundraising that we’ve done.”
Vastakis estimates that by 2000, Chances had helped raise more than half a million dollars for charity. “And it’s really nice to see some of the younger girls getting into it,” he adds.
Vastakis hopes to add a women’s scholarship fund to the array of charities Chances helps fund. “It doesn’t always have to be about sickness and tragedy,” he says. “I’d love for some group—a legitimate group—to come to us and try to put out a couple of scholarships annually.”
Fortunately, most of our community’s many nightclubs welcome male and female patrons equally. But among them, Chances distinguishes itself by maintaining a tradition started by Kindred Spirits and then continued by The Ranch as the place in Houston where gay women meet, every night of the week, in a nonjudgmental, safe environment.
And though Chances is undeniably, by definition, a bar for lesbians, Nick insists that Chances is not a bar exclusively for lesbians.
“The thing that works for us is that everybody is welcome. As long as you act accordingly, we’ll accept you. If you act like an idiot we’ll show you the door—headfirst, usually!”
Nancy Ford interviewed Kate Clinton for OutSmart’s July issue.