5 questions with charles armstrong

'Mayor of Montrose' reveals details on the grand return of his legendary LGBTQ+ nightclub

'Mayor of Montrose' on the grand return of his legendary LGBTQ+ club

South Beach nightclub interior
An 8-foot chandelier hangs over the dance floor. Photo by Michael Anthony
South Beach owner Charles Armstrong
South Beach owner Charles Armstrong. Photo by Allison Wilkins/Even Thayer Studios
South Beach nightclub interior
Details include marble bars and LED lighting. Photo by Michael Anthony
South Beach nightclub patio
The patio pays homage to Meteor. Photo by Michael Anthony
South Beach nightclub interior
One of two bars. Photo by Michael Anthony
South Beach nightclub interior
South Beach owner Charles Armstrong
South Beach nightclub interior
South Beach nightclub patio
South Beach nightclub interior

One of Houston’s most legendary dance clubs will once again welcome revelers beginning this weekend. Montrose staple South Beach will reopen its doors this Friday, July 15.

First opened in 2001 as the ultimate party destination for Houston’s LGBTQ+ community, South Beach provides club goers with over 11,000 square feet of space to dance the night away.

After an over 15-year run, owner Charles Armstrong closed the bar in 2018 for renovations that were nearly complete in the spring of 2020, but the club remained closed for two more years due to the global pandemic.

Working with interior designer John Robinson of Houston-based Robinson & Associates, Armstrong took inspiration from the contemporary interiors of the high-rise and mid-rise apartments that have sprung up around Houston. The result is that South Beach’s formerly industrial interior has been given a contemporary renovation that features mahogany wood walls, Carrera marble bar tops, and black granite.

In what’s surely the most eye-catching change, the bar’s giant mirror ball has been replaced by an 8-foot tall, 450-pound, quartz crystal chandelier that rotates over the dance floor. Additionally, lighting designer Tim Hannum has installed a comprehensive set of upgrades with color-changing LEDs that help set the mood.

Armstrong, dubbed by some “the Mayor of Montrose,” also owns JR’s Bar & Grill, touted in a press release as the city’s oldest continuously operating gay bar, under the banner of Charles Armstrong Investments, Inc. He previously owned Montrose Mining Company, which became a location of Arizona-based wine bar and restaurant Postino in 2019. He also owned Meteor, a contemporary lounge that closed in 2016; the bar’s sign is displayed on South Beach’s expansive, 1,500-square-foot patio. 

CultureMap spoke to Armstrong about the changes to the club and how it feels to be reopening South Beach after four years away. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

CultureMap: Why decide you to renovate South Beach?

Charles Armstrong: A dance club, especially a GLBTQ+ club, has a certain life. Bars can run forever. Dance clubs have a finite life. You’ll see a lot in the straight nightclub industry that bars have an even shorter lifespan where they have to re-concept and start over. In the gay dance club scene, that’s true as well, but it’s a longer life. South Beach had reached that period.

CM: How do you describe the renovations overall?

CA: Looking at the mid-rises and high-rises that have cropped up in urban spaces all across the United States, one common thing I’ve seen in this trend is that they have a contemporary interior: the lobbies, the units themselves might have hardwood floors, granite countertops, finer appointments. The common areas have a resort-style pool, contemporary lighting, beautiful stonework, etc.

I’m calling it Restoration Hardware meets Montrose. It’s a blend of bringing warmer, richer ideas of living into a nightclub environment. That was the whole inspiration of updating. The original inspiration was a masculine, industrial dance complex. So, moving away from that to the ultimate house party.

CM: Tell me about the chandelier. I’ve heard it’s quite a showpiece.

CA: I fell in love with this massive, magnificent, spectacular chandelier. It’s 8-feet tall. I call it the ‘mother of all chandeliers.’ That’s our new centerpiece. It is absolutely stunning.

My current lighting and sound guy, Tim Hannum, he does some of the most popular dance clubs. . . I asked him what could we do to mount the chandelier to the ceiling, can we make it rotate? He searched out to find the right company to produce the right system to where we can rotate the chandelier, and it’s completely illuminated with LEDs. It’s a magnificent centerpiece.

CM: How would you describe South Beach for someone who’s never been there before?

CA: The spirit of South Beach is a celebration of cultural richness, cultural diversity. Where Houston had always been more of a segregated city in the ’80s and ’90s, the beauty of Miami South Beach is the cultural richness of all these cultures colliding.

I wanted to bring that back and make South Beach a celebration of diversity, where people from all walks of life could be welcomed under one roof. Gay, straight, whatever, be kind of one another, be tolerant of one another, and be compassionate towards one another, you’ll get along fine and have a great night.

CM: You’ve been closed for four years. What are your expectations for the reopening?

CA: I listened to a CNBC report with an interview of the CEO of Bumble. She made the point that basic human needs are for desire and connecting.

None of that has changed. The desire to meet the true love of your life. They’re out there.

People don’t ever stop the quest for love. Whether you’re gay, straight, male, female, whatever, that universal desire to meet the right person, it can happen in a restaurant, it can happen in a nightclub, a church or synagogue.

You just have to get out there and be engaged. The great love of my life I met 42 years ago in a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. You just don’t know when the lighting bolt is going to strike you.