Food + DrinkLifestyle

South Beach Is Back!

After COVID and four years of remodeling, the premier LGBTQ Houston dance spot returns to Montrose.

JR’s owner Charles Armstrong (photo by Allison Wilkins / Even Thayer Studios)

South Beach, the gayborhood’s longtime home to late-night dance parties, sexy staffers, drag queens, and laser lights is reopening after four years.

“I’m also excited for a new generation of [LGBTQ youth] to discover the South Beach experience,” says club owner Charles Armstrong. 

South Beach was built on the ashes of Heaven, the former nightclub in the same building. Armstrong spent $2 million to rebuild and turn the Pacific Street anchor into South Beach. Opened in 2001, it became the go-to spot for the LGBTQ community in Montrose.

In February 2018, Armstrong announced he was shuttering South Beach for extensive remodeling. The club was on the brink of relaunching with a completely new look and feel early in 2020, just when the pandemic was forcing everything to shut down.

“The club’s renovation was already 80 percent complete when the global pandemic brought the whole world to a stop,” says Armstrong, CEO of Charles Armstrong Investments, which also owns JR’s Bar & Grill. “We’ve remained closed since that time as we waited for more of the population to become vaccinated for protection against the coronavirus. Two years ago, we were in uncharted territory and I had a moral problem packing a dance floor full of people in the middle of a health crisis.” 

The renovated dance palace is inspired by modern residential living in a style similar to all the luxury high-rise and mid-rise apartments that have sprouted up inside the loop since South Beach first opened in 2001. Armstrong wanted to change South Beach from a hard masculine, industrial look into a warm residential feel to create the ultimate house party. 

To bring his vision to life, he enlisted the consulting talents of award-winning interior designer John T. Robinson, of Houston-based Robinson & Associates. His attention to textures in his condo designs had previously earned him a top prize in the ASID Interior Design Awards competition. Robinson has worked as an interior-design consultant to Armstrong for decades, including their million-dollar makeover of Meteor that earned him an ASID win in a commercial renovations category.  The newly remodeled South Beach pays homage to Meteor by prominently displaying the former club’s sign on the 1,500-square-foot patio.

“We brought back some of the design elements from Meteor like Austin chalk-white limestone, but on a bigger scale, with the intention of creating a nightclub with a lounge-like feel,” Armstrong explains. “We took it from a hard, masculine aesthetic [created with] steel, concrete, and exposed electric to a soft, contemporary residential feel.” 

To reinvent the 10,000-square-foot interior, they chose rich mahogany wall sections, Carrara marble for the front bar, and black granite throughout. But the pièce de résistance is, without question, the two Restoration Hardware quartz-crystal chandeliers hanging in the main entrance and above the dance floor, the latter version weighing 450 pounds and rotating along with the twirling bodies it illuminates on the dance floor. There’s also a new state-of-the-art sound system with its own special effects. “A whole universe of LED lighting has come forth in the last 15 years, so we’ve done a lot with lighting and fixtures,” Armstrong notes. 

“Technology may have changed the way people do things, but the human desire for togetherness and life-affirming celebrations remains the same. I want to build and maintain a village that’s a safe haven for the gay, lesbian, and transgender community, and I want to keep contributing a whole lot of money to organizations and politicians so they know we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re paying attention to what’s happening in the world.”

South Beach’s original interiors had previously won several awards from local design publications, and Armstrong predicts its current evolution will be equally impressive. “If I were to ever get a tattoo, it would say ‘Evolve or Die!’”

South Beach
819 Pacific Street

This article appears in the July 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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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, among others.
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