In the wake of the Pride Orlando shooting, we’ve had a few celebrity TBLG people talk about their first time visiting a gay bar in a New York Times article.. I thought that was a great story idea, so I’ll talk about mine.
It was June 1980, a mere two weeks after I’d graduated from high school. The pull to become me was becoming stronger but I was still living at my parents house and prepping to go to college. I still had quietly put together a stash of femme clothing I kept hidden along with a growing collection of clipped Houston Chronicle and other newspaper articles about trans people I stuck in an unmarked manila envelope.
One day I stumbled across a Houston Defender newspaper with an article written about legendary female illusionist Tommie Ross, who would later become Miss Continental in 2000. She was based in Houston at the time and performing at the only Black oriented gay club on Lower Westheimer at the time called Studio 13.
It probably got its name because of its address at 1318 Westheimer Rd, and I decided to check it out and the Sunday Studio 13 divas show that she was one of the performers for,
As I entered the split level converted house that Sunday night, it became the portal to another exciting and interesting world I would continue to visit until I moved to Louisville in 2001.
There was a sunken dance floor that led to the stage and dressing rooms in the back for the showgirls, along with two bars on the lower level and the DJ booth on the east side of the club where the DJ would spin his music. Upstairs was another bar and pool table, with windows facing the McDonalds next door and south to Westheimer. In the back there was a high walled patio with a hot tub, but it stayed covered, and especially after Houston started experiencing the first wave of AIDS deaths in 1981.
In the front on the Westheimer side of the club was an enclosed patio with a high fence so no vehicles passing by Studio 13 could spot you. It allowed you to get away from the crowds and noise inside and enjoy a somewhat quiet conversation. It became one of my fave spots when I got tired of the crowd inside.
But the thing that immediately caught my attention was all the female illusionists, drag queens and trans women who looked like me.
Some were early in their transitions, while others were drop dead gorgeous as they elegantly glided through the club.
I met one tall trans sister who I struck up a conversation with. She introduced me to several people and put me so much at ease that I came back on Thursday for Studio 13’s Talent Night amateur drag show and met Cookie LaCook, the ‘Mouth of the South’ and longtime emcee of that show until she passed away in 2007,
One of the reasons I love amaretto sours to this day is because she introduced me to them.
I eventually made my first public foray out en femme at Studio 13, and started hitting the other Montrose area trans friendly clubs like the Boobie Rock that later became Chances, EJ’s, QT’s, Cousins, and the gay owned 24 hour restaurant a few blocks up Westheimer close to Waugh Drive called Charlie’s.
It was Studio 13 where I had some memorable times during the 80’s and 90’s. It also brings a twinge of sadness when I think about it because many of the peeps I met during my first foray into Studio 13 would be dead by the end of the decade from AIDS. Some of the peeps I met moved elsewhere because of the hostility that was stirred up by Steven Hotze and his evil minions in the wake of the vicious 1985 repeal of the Houston non discrimination ordinance that passed in August 1984 with sexual orientation only language in it.
Carla, one of my trans homegirls I met during those Studio 13 trips died in 1990 when she broke her neck after she was shoved down some apartment stairs during a heated argument with her boyfriend. She used to rub it in when we hung out about being a petite 5’2″ size seven pump wearing sistah and used to tell me that I was going to transition.
Too bad she didn’t get to see me do so.
Studio 13 allowed me to get comfortable being out and dressed in public as Moni, and I even met a few people that are still my friends to this day. I discovered that me and Nikki Araguz Loyd’s late teens-early 20’s self actually crossed paths there since from time to time she would either do Talent Night or just hang out with a friend there. I eventually met Tommie Ross, and discovered to my dismay one night she plays a mean game of pool.
Unfortunately in large part due to the gentrification of Montrose, many of those gay bars closed down or were bought out, and Studio 13 eventually became a casualty of that gentrification push. Studio 13 became Rascals in the late 90’s, and was eventually sold after I moved to Louisville in 2001 to become what is now the Royal Oak Bar and Grill.
Studio 13 may be ancient Houston TBLG history, but I still have the memories from those times my twenty something-thirty something self wandered through its doors.
I’ll always remember DJ Tony Powell spinning house music until the club closed. Cookie LaCook hosting Talent Night and making her ‘f*****g great audience’ laugh.
I’ll remember the pageants, the talent nights and the one Studio 13 Talent Night in which there were 12 contestants and eight of them performed to Anita Baker’s ‘No More Tears’ to the point I hated that song for a while.
I still call that Anita Baker song to this day ‘The Houston Drag Queen National Anthem’.
I’ll remember hanging out in Studio 13’s cramped parking lot after its 2 AM closing and watching peeps trying to pick somebody up to go home with. The hilarious night in 1983 I watched the entertaining spectacle of some suburban jerk calling himself trying to do some trans bashing and unfortunately for him picking on a Latina trans girl who fought in Golden Gloves before transition. She whipped that jerk’s azz while in heels and without breaking a nail as we stood by laughing.
But it all started because I wanted to see Tommie Ross perform.