New Houston LGBT country-western bar is the largest in Texas.
by Karen Derr
If you’ve been heartbroken over the closing of the Brazos River Bottom in March, despair no more. A new country-western bar just for you is opening this month. Neon Boots Dancehall and Saloon is located at 11410 Hempstead Highway, between Antoine and 34th Street—yes, outside the loop, but not too far. Just past the Northwest Mall, the location is only seven miles from the heart of the Montrose area.
Neon Boots resulted from a collaboration of six devout country-western dance enthusiasts and BRB orphans: Jim Moore, Jim Gerhold, Debbie Diane, Rodney Myers, Jim Daily, and Ron McLeroy. Jim Daily, who was a patron at the BRB for about twenty-five years, says, “Houston has supported a gay country-western dance bar for decades, so we believe we are filling a vacant niche, rather than competing with other bars.” The partners seem fit to be tied at having nabbed a venue any Texas music buff would be proud to have. The location, steeped in country-music history, will lay claim to the title of the largest LGBT country bar in Texas.
Neon Boots was formerly the Esquire Ballroom, which opened in 1955 and headlined country music legends including Patsy Cline, George Jones, Charlie Pride, Loretta Lynn, and Willie Nelson. The play Forever Patsy Cline is about a chance meeting with a fan who became a lifelong friend when Patsy played at the Esquire, and Willie Nelson is said to have gotten his first break at that club. His song “Nightlife” is reported to be inspired by his time working there in the 1950s. The huge oak dance floor is the original, and the stage is where Patsy Cline belted out Willie’s hit song “Crazy.” The Esquire Ballroom, which closed in 1995, was a Houston institution that held many fond memories for Houston country music fans.
General Manager Robert Harwood, who previously managed and tended bar at the BRB, says Neon Boots is dedicated to offering something for everyone. While it’s definitely a gay bar, he stresses that everyone is welcome. With over ten thousand square feet in the building and the two patios, there will be a space for whatever mood you’re in. In addition to the dance floor, there is a raised area with tables that will have table service, and three bar areas. The Esquire Room will be a quiet area with views of the dance floor where patrons can relax around a separate bar and juke box. It will also offer fine wines by the glass and display historic club memorabilia.
Activities planned include weekly karaoke, live music, dance lessons, horseshoes, gay bingo, drag shows, and Sunday benefits. The partners envision Neon Boots being a destination club and tourist attraction. They are already advertising in regional publications, so travelers can add this Texas-size club to their itineraries.
Neon Boots visitors are first struck by the abundant free parking—rare in the Houston club scene. The interior décor is Texas country western through and through. A cedar wall greets you, and the colors of the Texas flag are the predominant theme. The table-service area is front and center, and is probably the best place to view the dancers. The club has the capacity for 750 guests, and the parking lots will be patrolled at night by security in golf carts to make sure everyone is safe and comfortable.
The owners fully expect to attract more than just gay clientele, and they stress that everyone is welcome as long as they are friendly and respectful of same-sex couples dancing. With the popularity of shows like Dancing with the Stars, interest in couples dancing is definitely back in fashion. The club will offer free dance lessons early in the evening so that guests are ready to show off their moves by the time the dance floor gets crowded. They plan to offer two-step, waltz, swing, and line-dance lessons.
While filling a void, the Neon Boots Dancehall and Saloon owners stress that they won’t try to recreate the BRB. They hope to be a Houston destination for all kinds of Texas country-western fun, while giving BRB orphans a place to reconnect. Owner Jim Gerhold says, “We know we’ll need to offer the community something we can be proud of and something that will be above the ordinary.”
You can follow the opening-month plans of Neon Boots at neonbootsclub.com.
Karen Derr is a Houston-area Realtor and the founder of Karen Derr Realty, now Boulevard Realty. She writes and speaks about home and small-business topics.