When bar owner Woody Gould closed down the 22-year-old Guava Lamp on June 25, he thought it would just be temporary. But, like so many small businesses across the country, the pandemic caused significant revenue losses for Guava Lamp, and on October 8 Gould announced on Facebook that the closing would be permanent.
While Guava Lamp’s closing was sad news for the LGBTQ community, Viviana’s Nite Club owners Paul Rodriquez and his husband, Oscar Diaz, were able to lease the North Montrose space to open a new Latinx gay club called Papi’s on October 21. “There is a need for a Hispanic gay club in Montrose,” Rodriquez says. “People kept asking me to open one. When I found out Guava Lamp was closing, I took that space.”
After the initial lockdown on March 19, Texas Governor Greg Abbott allowed bars to reopen with restrictions on May 22. But in late June, as cases of COVID-19 soared in the state, he ordered bars to shutter again, expressing regret for having opened them too soon. On October 14, Abbott announced that Texas bars could reopen at 50 percent capacity if county judges allowed it. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo responded to Abbot’s decision by saying that maskless indoor gatherings (including at bars) should not be happening.
So why have some Houston bars been open for months? In August, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) allowed bars with kitchens or food trucks to open by registering as restaurants. That’s what Rodriquez did for Viviana’s Nite Club when he opened at 50 percent of capacity. His new Papi’s bar will also serve food and open at 75 percent of capacity.
While there are mixed feelings about bars being open during the pandemic, Rodriquez makes a point about the need for them. “People need to have a place to de-stress,” he says. “It’s a little risky, but life has to go on. We will provide what is needed: masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and the enforcement of rules.”
All tables were booked for Papi’s October 21 grand opening, which featured bottle service and performances by Jessica Doris Lauren, Aria Crawford, Savana Larue, Angelina DM Trailz, Tisha Flowers, Kayla Monroe, and Lupita Jones. But don’t worry if you missed it, since the club has several more events coming up.
“We will have Mexican Bingo on Wednesdays, and on Sundays we’ll have a Mexican brunch and a show,” Rodriquez says. Drag queen Aria Crawford will have a birthday show at Papi’s on October 24, and there will be regular Fuego Fridays for cumbia dancing with DJ Uri. “Our vision is to continue to serve Guava Lamp’s customers [while also] bringing in the gay Hispanic base,” he says.
Rodriquez purchased his first bar in 2008, and has been very successful with Viviana’s, a popular gay Latin bar in the Heights named after its former owner and trans activist, Viviana Coketa. After retiring in 2017, she passed away from COVID-19 complications last August.
According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, 39 percent of LGBTQ Texans are Latinx. Rodriquez is hoping to capitalize on that market with his two clubs here in Houston. And while he knows opening a bar in the midst of a pandemic is problematic, he’s hoping for success.
“We will do what we need to do to be successful,” he says. “It’s always good to learn new things. It’s a different industry for bars now.”