On any given Saturday night, the lights are dim and the music is thumping. The swell of the crowd mixes leather daddies, doe-eyed twinks, and a healthy smattering of every LGBTQ subculture in between. The drinks are flowing as easily as the breeze on the patio. This is Ripcord, a Montrose landmark that’s celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend.
Priding itself as Houston’s best gay leather bar, the establishment can morph from a mild-mannered daytime neighborhood bar to a popping weekend disco spot. It can be a sin den or just a friendly place to grab a beverage and enjoy the company of others.
Ripcord will mark their milestone with a three-day menagerie of special events December 9-11. The full schedule is available online.
Assistant manager Piero Arevalo, an employee for more than five years, shares why he believes the bar has been so successful. “When I started working here, I realized that [the community has] so much love for this bar. Everyone here is like a family. Compared to the cliques at other bars, everyone here is friendly and nice.”
Inside the bar’s standard gray exterior exists a pretense-free zone. “I tell people Ripcord is like a hole in the wall, but you’re going to find cheap drinks and good music. You’re not going to feel judged or criticized for the way you act, or for where you come from. I think that’s what makes us so great,” Arevalo adds.
During the bar’s 40 years in Montrose, many of its customers have actually become Ripcord employees. General manager Ryan Allen first started visiting the bar in 1993, and was particularly intrigued by the leather-and-Levi’s community that gravitated to 715 Fairview.
“I was just turning 21 and experiencing what Ripcord had to offer. I felt welcomed and comfortable. I knew [my affinity for leather] was different, but I didn’t know what direction that would take me. I wasn’t this cookie-cutter person—I was different, and I was looking for other like-minded people, because I knew I couldn’t be the only one who enjoyed that scene,” Allen recalls.
Allen specifically remembers the bar staying open until 4 a.m.—back before apps like Grindr and Scruff had been invented and gay men relied on the bar scene for meeting Mr. Right (or Mr. Right Now). Ripcord was a well-known Montrose cruising spot.
“At that point in time, Ripcord was a different environment than what you see now. Donna Summer’s ‘Last Dance’ was always the last song of the evening, so that was the signal [to figure out] if you and another man wanted to continue [your evening elsewhere],” Allen admits.
Ripcord has been a home to many in the kink community, and it is known for hosting many leather-associated philanthropy groups. Social clubs like the National Leather Association-Houston and The Mistfits often host bar nights there. Ripcord also sponsors Mr. Prime Choice, the oldest leather title in Texas and a qualifying round for International Mr. Leather.
The bar has earned the respect of both the community and the local media. The bar has received several OutSmart magazine Gayest & Greatest awards, most recently for being the Best Place to Show Off Your Leather. This year, the Houston Press’ Best of Houston® feature named it Houston’s Best Gay Bar. Of particular note, the website mentioned two of the bar’s most popular weekends: “Ripcord is a must-see location for the LGBTQ high holy days: Halloween and Pride Weekend. The Halloween costumes show off-the-charts creativity (and sometimes a lot of skin), while Pride weekend is filled with a nearly palpable sense of community unique to this special celebration.”
The bar is also home to several alternative drag performers on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Snatch’d is a show hosted by Reign LaRue each Tuesday (including her drag family’s LaRue Takeover on the third Tuesdays of the month). Every third Wednesday of the month features the Adriana’s Dungeon show.
This is a far cry from the days when Ripcord was a men’s bar where women and drag queens could only enter with special permission—and even then, only in designated areas of the bar.
Over the years, Allen says, the bar has adopted a more inclusive mindset. “When I came on board, we set out what our policies are and what our values are going to be. You cannot discriminate against 50 percent of the population, not in today’s times. Those practices are out. That is not something that we stand for. We do recognize that earlier part of the bar’s history, but that was part of the previous ownership.”
Allen stresses that the bar is now a radically inclusive place. “We do not practice discrimination at all, be it silently or openly. I am very transparent about that. We’re welcoming to everyone.”
As Ripcord gears up for its 40th anniversary, Arevalo sums up the special feelings people have about how the bar has endured for so many years. “A lot of bars come and go. That’s the reason we want to highlight and celebrate these 40 years, because we really don’t know the future. Let’s celebrate this moment in the time that we have.”
Ripcord, at 715 Fairview, is open 1 p.m.–2 a.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. More info at theripcord.com