When Houston’s reigning LGBTQ+ nightclub South Beach shut its doors in 2018, it was supposed to remain closed for just two years for a much-needed renovation. When the pandemic hit, however, owner Charles Armstrong—affectionately referred to by many as “the Mayor of Montrose”—decided to postpone the club’s reopening due to safety concerns. This Friday, after a break of over four years, the celebrated club is finally reopening.
“The remodel was already 80 percent finished in spring 2020 when COVID happened,” said Armstrong, who is also the steward of neighboring JR’s Bar & Grill, Houston’s oldest continually operated LGBTQ+ bar, in a statement. “We remained closed as we waited for the majority of the population to become vaccinated for protection against COVID. 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.”
Crisis aside, the new South Beach was worth the wait. When the club initially opened in 2001, the section of Montrose that it calls home was decidedly less posh than it is today. Its new design, which can best be described as Restoration Hardware meets Miami Vice, reflects the changing demographics of the neighborhood and is inspired by the proliferation of upscale accommodations that have sprung up in the area in recent years. While the old South Beach sported industrial interiors that were stiffer than its drinks (and from personal experience, we can attest that the drinks were indeed quite stiff), the new South Beach features a contemporary interior reminiscent of an upscale apartment—one that thankfully still offers generous pours.
For the remodel, Armstrong enlisted award-winning designer John Robinson of Houston-based Robinson & Associates, who previously worked with Armstrong on the look of now-defunct LGBTQ+ lounge Meteor. For South Beach 2.0, Robinson deployed high-end materials like mahogany, Carrara marble, black granite, and oak flooring to give the space a warm, residential look. To make sure the warmth won’t be confused for quaintness, Robinson placed in the center of the dance floor a new, 450-pound, 8-foot quartz crystal chandelier that, of course, rotates within a 14-foot truss directly over the dance floor—a pièce de résistance so luminous it would make Liberace pivot to the most major of keys.
South Beach has also been upgraded with the latest in sound and lighting technology, which will help give the space major house-party vibes. Also returning are the nightclub’s famous ice jets, which when triggered spray clouds of cold and foggy air onto the dance floor—and in so doing decrease the space’s temperature by 20 degrees in an instant (while also providing cover for a stolen kiss or two).
“Technology may have changed the way people do things, but the human desire for life-affirming celebrations, complete with ice jets spraying out a thick cloud of air, remains the same,” said Armstrong rather cheekily of South Beach’s new tech but age-old mission. “People want to be together, and I’m going to give them just that with the ultimate house party.”