True Grit
Socially conscious two-steppers

Houston's gay cowboy heritage: Long before Brokeback, Brazos River Bottom always stood tall

Houston's gay cowboy heritage: Long before Brokeback, Brazos River Bottom always stood tall

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Decades before "Brokeback Mountain," Houston's own Brazos River Bottom provided a glimpse of gay cowboy grit. Courtesy of www.brbhouston.com
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In comparison to the strobe lights and stardust of the Fairview strip, the Bottom offers a decadent dose of authenticity. Courtesy of www.brbhouston.com
News_Brazos River Bottom
"It's always been country western and it's always been gay," says bar manager Harwood. "It's gone through several owners, but it really hasn't changed."
News_Brazos River Bottom
News_Brazos River Bottom_dance lessons
News_Brazos River Bottom

Decades before Brokeback Mountain, Houston's own Brazos River Bottom provided a glimpse of gay cowboy grit.

After 32 years, BRB is still two-stepping strong. Between complimentary line dancing classes, charity drag shows and a Mr. and Mrs. BRB pageant, the country western club (and the town's oldest gay bar in its original location) illustrates how our raucous rodeo heritage permeates all levels of Houston culture.

"It's not something you would find in New York," bar manager Robert Harwood says of his establishment. Hand-cut magazine images of disrobed cowboys from magazines decorate the paneled pine walls, while inspirational videos stream on overhead televisions.

Campy? Perhaps. But in comparison to the strobe lights and stardust of the Fairview strip, the Bottom offers a decadent dose of authenticity. On Saturdays (the club's most popular night), it's not unusual to meet a hinterland homo, in town to tear up the placard dance floor. And it's not just gay gauchos at BRB — the dive attracts a mixed crowd of lesbians and straight people.

A strong social conscious also sets BRB apart from the rest. Talented two-steppers are invited to gitty up this month for the Mr. and Ms. BRB contest, which raises funds for a rotating roster of local charities. Participants will pull out all the stops, from formal wear to a spirited talent number. The 2010 Mr. BRB has recently hosted a series of philanthropic baked potato nights, proving that the bar's clientele is more concerned with big hearts than caring about empty carbs.

Since the mid-1980s, the bar has played host every Sunday to a drag show, from which the country queens donate tips to an AIDS-focused nonprofit.

In the past decade, Brazos River Bottom has watched the area that surrounds its 1887 building just beyond the outskirts of Montrose become a bastion of heteronormative nightlife. For years, the club was the sole sign of life in an urban prairie — Harwood paints a picture of a loner cowboy bar amid ramshackle shotgun houses and fields of wild grasses.

With new neighbors like a mega-Spec's and Wonder Bar, parking can get cramped, but Brazos River Bottom remains the same.

"It's always been country western and it's always been gay," Harwood says. "It's gone through several owners and remodels, but it really hasn't changed."