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Saving Houston’s LGBTQ Bars and Nightclubs

Owners get creative during the shutdown.

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BUDDY’S owner Christopher Barry is selling digital gift cards to raise funds for his employees (Facebook).

Note: This article was updated on Monday, March 23 at 1 p.m. 

While the forced closure of Houston’s bars has been tough for every bar owner and employee, it’s been especially hard for BUDDY’S, a new gay bar in the heart of Montrose. The bar, known for its karaoke, pool, and DJs, has barely been open 12 weeks.

“I still have start-up costs to pay—contractors and inventory,” says owner Christopher Barry. “We have tens of thousands of dollars in inventory I bought for events that are now cancelled.”

He also has 23 employees, and he’s trying to help keep them afloat while they wait for their unemployment checks to arrive.

Barry spent 12 years selling medical implant devices before buying the former Bayou City bar on Grant Street, the gateway to the Montrose gayborhood.

“I saw that the gay bars were failing,” Barry explains. “I didn’t know why, until I started working at them. It used to be that they were the only safe places for the LGBTQ community to go to make connections—a place where they wouldn’t be outed. But the culture has changed. Now [queer people use apps] to make connections, and the bars are just for entertainment.”

So Barry brought in karaoke nights, popular DJs, and pool tables. He offered steak nights, RuPaul’s Drag Race watch parties, and special Happy Hours for veterans and allies in the community. And he had a lot more events on tap, including an Astros watch party that is no longer happening. 

Still, Barry is staying very busy. “I’m working on a new website,” he says. “And right now, my main focus is getting the community to buy digital rainbow gift cards.” Donations start at $25 and go up to any amount.  You can donate the cards back to BUDDY’S, or save them and use them later when the bar reopens. “All the money will go to zero-interest loans for the employees,” he explains. “I’m hoping to hire them all back when this is over, and they can pay back the loans over time with 20 percent of their tip money.” 

He also plans to offer party planning at some time in the future, so the gift cards can be used for that, as well as at the bar. 

“Right now, the ban is 15 days, but we just don’t know how long it’s going to go on,” Barry says, remaining cautiously optimistic. 

Other than encouraging all of his employees to file for unemployment benefits right away, working on his website, and promoting the gift cards on social media, he’s also been working with the Greater Houston LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce. One of the group’s recent teleconferences promoted a Small Business Administration grant program and encouraged members to apply.

“The SBA isn’t a fast loan,” Barry notes. “It’s going to take a few months, but it’s better to be prepared now for the long haul.”

For more information about BUDDY’S, go here, and buy gift cards here.

In addition to BUDDY’S, here is a list of LGBTQ Houston bars that have requested financial assistance for their workers:

    • ReBar Houston owner Jeffrey Harmon created a Gofundme page to raise funds for his staff. To donate, go here
    • Pearl Bar Houston owner Julie Mabry is selling “coronavirus credit” cards to customers who can buy food, shirts, and door covers once her bar is open again. Funds will go towards paying her staff during the closure. You can also donate directly to Mabry’s staff here
    • The managers of Hamburger Mary’s Houston created a Gofundme to collect donations for its floor staff who are unable to work as its dining room is closed. To donate, go here.
    • Management at Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon created a Gofundme to raise funds for its over 25 staff members who are currently unemployed and have no additional income. To donate, go here.
    • Rumor’s Beach Bar owner Todd Slaughter has pledged to offer financial assistance to 17 of his employees while they cannot work due to bar closures in Galveston. In order to make this possible, he created a Gofundme, which you can donate to here.
    • Gray Stephens, owner of Croker Bar, Tortilla Joes, and Barcode has created a Gofundme account to raise funds for employees at his three locations. To donate, go here.

If you know an LGBTQ bar or restaurant fundraising for its employees, please send an email to [email protected].

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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