“You see someone’s mother,
she’s out with another,
while her old man’s workin’ today.
And while he’s out slavin’,
she’s bringin' trouble
She says she's home cookin',
in truth she's out lookin',
down at the old
singing her song,
it won't take her long,
a hot one to hook her."
from an old Blues Song
LEGEND OF THE
Edited by Rick Archer
(written in April 2008 by Rick Archer)
The Four Palms has been closed over
twenty years. But in its day, the Palms served as the
inspiration for the annual SSQQ Sleazy Bar Whip Party. You
should probably read the story of the
Bar Whip Party first in order to better understand this story
about the Four Palms. But if you prefer to read this story
first, you will definitely enjoy going back to read the SSQQ Sleazy Bar
story after this one. Due to the split identity of the Four
Palms, you will soon see why there needs to be two stories that are
those people who are unaware of the connection between the Four
Palms and SSQQ Dance Studio, the Four Palms was one of my favorite
places to visit back in 1986 when I went Whip Dancing
in a row.
Every Sunday night
featured a live Blues band known as the Soul Brothers who played
some sweet sweet music indeed. It wasn't until I heard these
guys play that I understood the connection between Blues music and
Whip dancing. Their brand of Texas Blues literally made the
women move in ways I never thought possible.
The Four Palms is the place where I truly fell in love with the
Whip. It is also the place where I learned a complete new
style of dancing to fit the music. For these reasons, the Four
Palms will always occupy a unique place in my memory.
The Four Palms was a pretty rough place.
For an over-protected West Side college boy like myself, I had no idea
blue collar East Side joints like the Four
Palms even existed. Every visit was an eye opener to be sure.
What I did not know was that the Four Palms carried a deep dark
secret. I had heard some rumors about the past, but it wasn't
till I read the following Houston Post article in 1986 that I
realized the rumors were not only true, but they were still true
in the present (1986). To be honest, I was pretty shaken by
the article you are about to read. Although what I read
didn't keep me from going to club, The Four Palms was never quite
the same for me afterwards.
To my mind, the Four Palms had a split identity. There was the
Sunday evening Whip dancing that I participated in and there were
the other activities during the week that are covered in the
article. Since these two worlds barely intersected on
Sunday evening, once I got used to the place I was completely at
ease. From personal experience, I can assure you that there
were some very rough characters at the Four Palms. However
they never bothered the dancers. Although they didn't dance,
they liked listening to the Soul Brothers' awesome music just as
much as anyone else. They would sit in at the bar drinking and smoking their
cigarettes. The music and watching the dancers served as great entertainment.
Yes, they occasionally ogled, leered, and grinned, but who cares?
The Four Palms went out of business in 1987. This happened just one short year
after the Houston Post article appeared. Although the
alternative lifestyle was definitely not
my cup of tea, I never had my nose rubbed in it. Not once was I
hustled, propositioned, treated rudely or in any way made to feel
unwelcome. Nor did I ever date anyone I met there. I
went strictly for the music and dancing. In fact, I came to feel so safe at the Four Palms that I had
no qualms about inviting my dance students to join me. There
was usually a whole group of us there.
As a result, I have nothing but fond memories of this place. After the club was
gone, I began to miss it so much that I created a dance party in its
honor - the SSQQ
Sleazy Bar Whip Party.
People have asked if I danced with anyone in this story or knew
anyone. I have stared at the pictures and studied the names.
To be honest, I can't remember meeting any of these people.
They are all strangers to me. Furthermore, there is one
section in the article about "Mr. Blue Blazer". Let me assure
you in advance that is NOT me.
Here now is entire story of
the original Sleazy Bar known as the Four Palms. Put your seat
NOTE: This 1986 Article originally appeared in
the Houston Post
Overhead the Four
Palms on a Tuesday afternoon, the sun glows like a flaming yellow
candle. It may be brilliant outside, but inside the Four Palms
it is as dark as
midnight. As you enter, you hear the din of the crowd
and the loud jukebox music, but you can’t see a thing. You
instinctively pause to let your eyes adjust lest you be trampled to
death by an unseen mob.
Soon it becomes apparent the room is packed
with men in cowboy boots and women in stiletto heels.
The Four Palms is
the land that time forgot. Opened in 1951, this club is a
throwback to another era.
When you are at the Four Palms, you just never know when one thing
might lead to another.
For example, over in the corner next to a restroom, a woman in snug
jeans drops a quarter into a pay phone.
“Ronnie, this is Camille. How you doin’?”
she drawls. Pause on the other end, but no answer.
“Just got here, probably be here until 4.”
Another pause followed by
Camille's nervous giggle.
“Yeah, Ronnie, come on over. I’ll buy you a
beer.” Another pause, but again no response. The phone
hangs up. No matter. The connection has been
made loud and clear.
Two hours later
Ronnie walks into the Four Palms all smiles and grins.
Now he finds his voice. He
Camille at her table with a ready excuse for his
silence and tardiness. “Had to wait till my
old lady went out to run some errands.”
Ronnie and Camille chat for a moment.
Bypassing the promised beer, five
minutes later they leave together. And that’s how it goes
sometimes at the
Over the years, the Four Palms has developed a reputation for the
steamiest, sexiest mid-afternoon encounters in town. But it’s not
exactly a Swinging Singles club. If Cheers is the place
where everyone knows your name, the Four Palms is the place where
everyone is married… but not to each other.
In its heyday, this smoke-filled Telephone Road hot spot was known
as a “pressure cooker” club, the original home of lounge lizards and
so-called bad girls.
Indeed, they say that back in the old
days the Four Palms had a reputation for sin along the same lines as
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,
the infamous Chicken Ranch
brothel in nearby La Grange.
That was back in
the Fifties and Sixties and Seventies. So what is the Four Palms like in the
These days, as
far as the regulars are concerned, they aren’t talking, at least not
much. Taking a chapter from Vegas, there’s a code against kiss and
tell. But a few people are willing to talk in vague generalities;
just enough to let this reporter know that in its day, the Four
Palms was just as wild as people say it was.
When it came to sin, this
place was worth an entire chapter in Texas folklore.
Or at least that's what some people say
when they are sure no one is listening in...
The Four Palms is
pretty easy to overlook from the outside. It is a simple square
one-story brick building standing all by itself on the Texas prairie
maybe about 6,000 square feet if that much.
There is nothing on the outside to suggest anything out of the
ordinary is going on here. And it looks the same today as it did
when it opened back in 1951. That’s when the legends began.
It seems that during the Fifties, shift workers from nearby
companies got off work at 7 am. Rather than head home, many got a
bite to eat, then began showing up at the Four Palms when its doors
opened around 9 am. Salesmen came too.
Rumor has it that
the club’s first owners began offering housewives a buck an hour to
come sit at the Four Palms. That’s
all they had to do – just sit. Anything else was up to them.
The owners were simply stocking the pond.
Soon enough, the fishermen would appear.
Back in those
days, a buck was pretty good money for just sitting down.
Some of the local
ladies obliged, rushing Junior off to school, kissing the old man
goodbye and then making a beeline to the Four Palms. Some ladies
talked, some ladies danced while others began to sneak off with
shift workers for afternoon quickies at the nearby No Tell Motel.
By 4 pm, the Four
Palms would be empty. The Cinderellas would shed their go-go boots
and turn back into their housewife personas. They would race home
to prepare dinner for husbands and kids. The joke was the husbands
would find their little darlings sweating over a pressure cooker
complaining about how long it took them to get dinner ready each
day. Truth be known, the pressure cookers prepared the dinners
quickly enough, but the kitchen-ignorant husbands back then didn’t seem
to catch on.
slaving over the stove all day,” the wife would supposedly
complain. And where she got her extra spending money or the extra
glow in her cheeks was nobody’s business but her own.
home!” Sure enough, it was kind of a lewd variation of the I
Love Lucy show, the popular early-50s program
that featured the adventures of a stay-at-home
wife. Of course,
these amoral antics were hardly suitable for 50s prime-time
is our first visit to the Four Palms, a get-to-know-you trip.
We will be visiting again next Tuesday as for the club's 35th
Anniversary Party. At first glance, it is obvious the
club’s clientele has aged. Today, the management assures, the
action is now more friendly flirtation than erotic romp. But it seems like a good time to check under
the rug and see if Houston’s legendary
pressure cooker club is still cooking after all these years.
The Four Palms
used to jump daily from 9 to 5. Now, though
the club is open daily, the
action is limited mainly
to Tuesdays from 1 to 5 pm when a complimentary
buffet is offered and a disc jockey spin country and western tunes
plus 1950s rock and roll. Yes, Elvis lives at the Four Palms.
call it a microwave joint now,” jokes owner Maxie.
Maxie says times have changed. The oil economy dipped. Women went
to work. And no one seems to have as much time or money to while
away the day at the Four Palms.
Sexual mores also
have changed since the early days. In the Fifties, a day at the
Four Palms was a naughty adventure. Even
though adultery was an unspeakable
taboo in the Fifties, that didn't slow anyone
down at the Four Palms. Today extra-marital affairs no longer shock anyone, at least
not in the minds of the Four Palms regulars. In quiet asides, they
point out adultery is a common theme on prime-time television.
Pointing to evening soaps like
Dynasty, these days adultery seems
be increasingly accepted. That said, rumors of rampant
adultery at the 1986 Four Palms is total nonsense. Or so we
The place is jammed. It seems that every
Tuesday 200 regulars and various newcomers make the
pilgrimage to the Palms. The place is so
crowded, once the beer starts flowing it is fairly easy to strike up
After some quiet checking, it seems at least some
remnants of the 50s Four Palms-mentality
still live on. Today's event reminds of
an era when anything goes and nothing is really taboo.
It all seems a throwback to the time when sex was a
little more illicit and maybe a little more fun than it is today.
regulars have come here now for several decades. “Don’t you dare
tell how old I am,” says a woman who admits to being in her 70’s.
“The young guys won’t dance with me!”
Some patrons are
growing a little hard of hearing, turning gray and losing teeth.
But the midnight darkness inside the Four Palms has its benefits.
The gloom is as flattering as plastic surgery, hiding crow’s feet,
erasing wrinkles and disguising potbellies in the deep shadows.
However, not all the patrons are elderly. A casual glance shows
there’s an unusually wide range of ages from 25 to 75. Apparently a
new generation is drawn to the peculiar benefits of the club.
On Tuesdays, the
Four Palms citizens come together for some “hot” town meetings. For today’s
Tuesday event, another ancient tradition lives on. Owner
estimates about 80% are married and present without spouses. At
times the characters and the stories they tell are reminiscent of a
spicy B-movie. But those who know and love the place say the Four
Palms mostly resembles a small town for adults only, with its own
set of mores and moralities. That
said, over the years, some very firm rules of conduct have been
Regulars know the unwritten codes of the Four Palms.
Newcomers must learn by osmosis.
Unwritten Code No. 1:
Regulars must call to reserve their table. Waitresses
place small cardboard reserved signs on their usual
tables. If they don’t show up by 1 pm sharp on Tuesday,
their table goes to another customer.
Unwritten Code No. 2:
Regulars sit at the tables that ring the edge of the
dance floor. Newcomers generally hover at the bar or in
the back by the restrooms.
After a man asks a woman to dance, he escorts her back
to the table, but he never sits down at her table
unless asked. No man owns a woman’s time just because
he dances with her. No commitments; no hassles.
Unwritten Code No. 4:
Regulars watch out for each other and keep the law and
order. If a regular is hassled, or “manhandled” as one
woman puts it, she can depend on other regulars for
Unwritten Code No. 5:
Owners and waitresses pledge anonymity to their
patrons. If regulars come in with an unfamiliar person,
Strong and her won’t show any signs of recognition. “We
don’t say ‘hi’ because the regular may not want the
person to know they’re coming in here all the time,”
Most people agree with
owner Maxie that the Four Palms is tamer than in the old days.
"Definitely not as many
says one. But the thrill of illicit fun
- a little dancing sweet
and close, a little kissing in the corner - seems to loom in the
shadow of every conversation. A constant banter of pickup lines,
double entendres, and explicit talk gives an indication that a spark
might turn into flame at any time. It is obvious that sex is on everyone’s
The thrill of the fling survives at the Four Palms. And so, of
course, does the paranoia. After a couple
hours of making the rounds, It’s fair to say most people who
frequent the Four Palms on this Tuesday afternoon don’t want to talk to
reporters, don’t want their names used or have
their photos taken.
No offense is taken. After all,
their spouses aren’t supposed to know they are here.
Fortunately for the sake of this article, a few people are willing
to chat. Here are their stories.
QUEEN OF THE FOUR PALMS
been my whole life coming in here,” says a
tiny and quite spunky woman nicknamed Jo.
“I’ve gotten everything from this
place. It’s got guts. It’s got people who care. At home I’m
nobody. Here I’m somebody.”
Jo stands only 4 feet 8 inches, but appears taller in
spike-heeled open-toe dancing shoes. She’s a proud grandmother
today, but when she first started coming into the Four Palms in
1957, she was a young and very bored housewife.
“My husband and I brought out the
absolute worst in each other. I walked into the Four Palms and it
brought out the good in me,” she says.
place saved my marriage. I would have left my husband long ago.”
Jo perches at her usual table on the edge of the dance floor
as she sips her usual drink: a glass of water.
week and she has brought red and pink camellias to hand to
friends who share her table.
Red balloons and crepe paper hearts dangle from the ceiling above
the dance floor. “Be My Valentine”
in gold letters stretch across the band platform.
As waitresses wiggle through the press of
bodies, Jo takes note of the packed house.
“Honey, it used to be like this
every day of the week,” Jo says of the
enormous crowd. The implication is
that times are changing.
In her salad
days, Jo wore hot pants and silver go-go boots for outings to
the Four Palms, making a quick change into her hausfrau garb before
returning home. Jo chuckled
about her outfit changes, calling herself a “daytime Cinderella”
with a 4 pm curfew instead of midnight.
Once, Jo says, her husband walked into the Four Palms. Luckily for
her, she had time to duck out the back door. She ran to the bar
across the street, called up the Four Palms and said,
some good-looking guys over here for me to dance with pronto!”
wears a burgundy sweater, slack set, and a blond wig covering her
silver hair. She watches intently as an attractive man with sandy
blond hair and mustache escorts her friend Virginia back to
the table after a dance. The man plops down in an empty chair
without being invited.
rather you sit somewhere else,” Jo says politely but
somewhat agitated. “This is my table. This is
for my girls.” The man leaves. He’s an out-of-towner from
Pennsylvania who doesn’t know the rules.
the girls want to sit at my table because I know all the good guys,”
continues Jo. A man, 32, in a blue V-neck sweater asks
Little Jo to dance and she dissolves into the crowd with him. Her
friend Pat leans over and says, “Jo is
like the favored daughter here.” To the regulars, Jo
is known as the Queen of the Four Palms.
proud of her regal title and one other thing: her cleavage. Jo normally wears plunging necklines to show off her figure. Today,
the neckline of her form-fitting sweater dips low to reveal a
décolletage which she points out is pretty phenomenal for a woman
A few yards away
from Jo’s table, the DJ introduces the tune “Talk to Me” in a
low, sexy baritone. “Talk dirty to me. I
love it,” he says. No one needs any encouragement. Dancers
spill onto the floor. Bodies meet belt buckle to buckle. Lights
from the flashing mirrored ball above the dance shed iridescent
circles on swaying figures.
can get anything you want out of this place,”
fond of saying.
“I have morals. I wouldn’t
go to bed, but it’s wonderful to be asked. A young cute 28-year-old
tells me I’m sexy, hey, I like that. I like to believe I am
A man with a salt
and pepper beard stops by Jo’s table, greeting her with a
bear hug. “Hi, doll,” he says. For Jo and many others, the club is a home away from home. She
has befriended many people here, helping women over heartbreaks and
occasionally playing matchmaker. Friends, in turn, have helped
her. Since she doesn’t drive, Four Palms’ regulars have driven her
back and forth to the club for almost 30 years.
“This one woman would pick me up. She’d have
a date. She’d go to bed with someone and then come back to the Four
Palms and get me home in time for dinner,” Jo says
smiling, impressed by her friend’s loyalty.
THE TEXAS WHIP
While other women
dash off to motels, Jo says she is a lady. She comes to the
Palms primarily because she loves to dance.
Jo trains her own dance partners.
She speculates over the years she has taught more than 30
men how to do the “Texas
Whip”, a tricky rhythm and blues dance popular at the Four
Virginia adds most men are afraid to learn because the dance is
confusing. At that statement, Jo rolls her eyes
“Men can be such fools. The girls would kill
their father to get to do the Whip, but the guys can’t seem to
figure that out.
They would rather run their mouths. They spend all
this time yapping stupid lines they think gets the gals all worked up.
Don't they know we have heard every line a
million times before?
Men should learn to say one thing – ‘You wanna dance?’ –
then shut up and
get it going on the floor.
A guy can do his talking with his feet, his hands and his eyes. All
he has to do is learn to dance
and try smiling once in a while. Then he would get more action
than he would know how to handle.”
Jo concludes that good whippers are always in demand.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like or how
old you are, if you can do the Whip you got it made.
I could spend a whole day in a guy’s arms if he can dance.”
Virginia pipes up, “Yeah, and maybe a
That remark gets Virginia a frown and a poke in the ribs from
Virginia grins and laughs.
JIM AND BOBBY
sits diagonally across from Jo at his usual table. His black
cowboy hat brushes his eyebrows. “It’s all
about tradeoffs,” Jim philosophizes. He is in a mood to
discuss marriage. “I started coming in here
nine years ago. My wife goes to Randy’s. I come here. She likes
modern music. I like country-western.”
Jim says he
loves his wife but in the seventh year of marriage they decided to
go their separate ways when it came to clubs.
still can’t believe your wife agreed to this,” says Bobby, 67, a tall, big-bellied man.
Bobby, who’s been coming
into the Four Palms for 20 years, says his ex-wife would have bought
the place if she could have kept him barred from it.
Jim looks forward to Tuesdays at the Four
Palms. Self-employed, he
rises at 4:30 am on Tuesdays to get his work done early so he can be
at the Four Palms by 1 pm.
Bobby are “running mates.” A running mate at the Four Palms is a
pal you sit with but don’t necessarily leave with.
have known this guy longer than the law would allow,”
jokes with his friend. “He’s a good
conversationalist, good friend, good fisherman, and terrible driver.”
that he once hired Bobby to work for him on the condition that he
stay out of the Four Palms. “I told
‘First time I catch you at the Palms, I am
going to fire you!’” recalls Jim.
I didn’t work for him for too long,” laughs
men decline to explain why Bobby was forbidden to visit the Four
Two women come
over and ask Bobby to dance. He beams.
won 189 dance trophies. That’s why the girls beat a trail over here,”
he yells from the floor as he twirls the women around in a slow whip
Jim says his
wife doesn’t worry about him hanging out at the Four Palms.
knows I am with Bobby and she thinks he is too old to cut the
mustard,” Jim says.
Jim ducks a question about why
Bobby’s age somehow puts the
wife’s mind at ease. Yet another unsolved mystery at the Four Palms.
THE WISTFUL SMILE
At a table near
the dance floor, a woman in a white ruffled satin blouse
makes eye contact and beckons.
A sad smile crosses her pretty face. It's
obvious she has a visitor known as The Blues. Her chin rests on her arm, which is draped over the
back of her chair. The woman declines to give her name, but
it weren’t for the Four Palms, I would dry up and die,” she
“My husband thinks I am happy
because he brings home a big paycheck. He says, ‘Have a good day,’ every morning.
That’s it. At night he just wants me to keep
his beer cold and TV working and he’s happy. I have no one to talk
The woman’s coal-black hair is teased, framing her delicate
features. Like most married women
interviewed, she says if her husband knew about her regular Four
Palms excursions, “he would kill me.”
When she was younger, she worked. Now at
60, she figures her age
would work against her being hired anywhere.
“As it stands, I drive a Cadillac and live high style.
But I have no way to support myself. It’s
either live with him and stay in this lifestyle or divorce him and
live on skid row.”
And then after a
long pause she surmises, “Isn’t all this
tacky? We do so many ugly things.”
ANGEL AND MARY LOU
Angel, 35, sits
on a stool at the bar talking to a woman friend.
like to look at good-looking men,” she says, explaining why
she has come to the Four Palms for the past five years.
like to dance, but with no commitments.”
Mary Lou, a 35-year-old data processor, wife and mother, adds,
is my crock pot hour. I put on the crock pot in the morning, leave
it on low. Then I come here.”
Today while Mary
Lou is at the Four Palms, a rump roast and carrots simmer at home.
“When I get home I just have to cook the
spinach,” Mary Lou giggles. “And I
say, ‘Here’s dinner.’” She says her husband would be furious
if he knew about the Four Palms. But she believes that if men can
play around, so can women. What's fit for
the goose is fit for the gander.
you only have one life to live, you should live it the way you want
to. Not the way everybody else wants you to live,” Mary Lou
from the dance floor looking thoughtful. “To
be truthful, I think we all have this little person, a child, inside
trying to get out of being an adult. We come here to play.”
And on that note, Angel waltzes off to the dance floor again.
like to mess around,” Mary Lou says, covering her mouth with
her hand as if she were whispering a treasonous secret.
is like the other me when I am here. Did you ever see the movie
Mary Lou explains she has two personalities: one for the Four
Palms and one for home. For her, the Four Palms brings out the
personality that likes dancing and the idea that men other than her
husband find her attractive.
“So far, I haven’t met the right man to
move my chimes here. But if I do, I’ll take
a date with him. But you
have to be careful because there’s AIDS and herpes going around.”
Mary Lou isn’t the only one to bring up the topic of sexually
transmitted diseases. Another woman
said she accepted “every
good offer and a few bad ones” for sex back in the Swinging
Seventies. But these days, the thought of
hooking up with the wrong guy and dying for the
effort has taken quite a bit of
steam out of her sails.
"These are different times."
MR. BLUE BLAZER
A young man
dressed in a blue wool blazer and button down oxford shirts whisks
Mary Lou off to the dance floor. This man is so clearly out of
place here it is hard to resist wondering what his story is.
Later the same man, who looks like he took a wrong turn on his way
to a Houston west side singles bar, says he doesn’t visit the Palms
on any regular basis.
don’t fit the demographics in here,” he says peering through
"I think I represent a
socio-economic bracket above these people.” Mr. Blue Blazer
says he is a 30-year-old married professional, a graduate of MIT who
earns $60,000 a year. He comes to the Four Palms to drink and
dance. Ordinarily, he says, he would more likely be at Happy Hour
at the fashionable Remington Hotel than the Four Palms. When he
comes here, he says, he tries hard to leave his socioeconomic
bracket in the car. From the looks of him, he isn’t trying very
hard to blend in.
Mr. Blue Blazer
says he imagines his wife would be angry if she found out about his
afternoon excursions to the Four Palms. Then he rethinks that.
a presumption that everybody is here for quick afternoon sex. But
my wife wouldn’t be that upset because the mitigating circumstances
are I don’t come in here for sex. I come in here to commune with
the natives. I do live in Houston and this is part of the culture.”
He enjoys looking
at the women here, finding something both poignant and intriguing
about a woman, “let’s say from Pasadena”
who obviously gets all dressed up to come to the Four Palms on
don’t come in here looking for intellectual stimulation. Sometimes
I try to give it out, but it doesn’t work,” he says. "I
don't come looking for hookers either. There aren't any
hookers here. Too much free stuff going around."
If Mr. Blue Blazer
doesn’t come in for intellectual stimulation and he doesn’t come in
for sex, it is difficult to understand exactly why he is here
because a casual glance reveals he can’t dance either.
Another unsolved mystery at the Four Palms.
Later on, a conversation with Jo reveals
Mr. Blue Blazer is a
marked man. The Queen of the Four Palms is well aware of his
presence. With her usual candor, Jo confides,
"Once in a while he comes in here slummin'.
We assume he got lucky once and keeps hoping
lightning strikes twice. Since he is convinced no one will recognize
him here, he figures this is the perfect place to
operate. Except the guy
sticks out like a sore thumb."
Jo pauses to catch her breath. "He
he doesn’t have a clue how to talk to our women. He thinks we are all a bunch of
loose women dying to hop in bed. He spends
his whole day going up and down the bar
offering drinks to one lady after another.
We just shake our heads.”
“That guy is a running joke to all of us.
We call him ‘Preppy
never get lucky again because we warn everyone, but he is too stupid
to figure it out. Preppy Boy keeps coming and we keep
SING ME A SONG, PIANO MAN
Anniversary Party marks
our second visit to the Four Palms. As before, the smoky room is
pitch black. Although it is broad daylight outside, inside it
feels like night time.
The whole gang is here - Jo, Bobby, Jim, Virginia, and more. The longer the visit, the more this place
begins to resemble the
lyrics from the Billy Joel song
nine oclock on a saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in
Theres an old man sitting next to me
Makin love to his tonic and gin
He says, son, can you play me a memory?
I’m not really sure how it goes
But its sad and its sweet
and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger mans clothes
Bobby greets us and proudly displays
his finest dancing duds, including a tan straw hat and flashy
two-tone loafers. Bobby is lookin' good by
his own admission.
His date is a brunette bombshell named Patsy nolastname.
“Just call me Patsy.”
band plays some Texas Blues. Bobby
escorts Patsy to the floor. He
proceeds to swing and twist Patsy across the dance floor.
Jo says to watch carefully - they are
dancing the Whip. Next to me, there is one man who
doesn't need to be told to watch. Patsy's hips are
moving in ways that make my photographer blush. He
refuses to blink lest he miss something.
As they dance, Bobby's face
is flushed but he wears a cocky grin. Bobby
never worries about
overdoing it on the dance floor. He goes as
hard as he can until there's nothing left.
His buddy Jim says,
to die here and have his casket put on the dance floor like a New
Orleans wake. Why not?”
This is an obvious variation on the Viking who wishes to die
in battle with a sword in his hand or a cowboy who wants to
die with his boots on, but in Bobby's case, Jim's remark
seems completely appropriate. Bobby is truly putting
on a show with his stylish partner Patsy.
Jo can't stand watching Bobby and Patsy have all
the fun any longer. She hollers to a guy to get his butt up.
The man grins and obediently comes to her table to fetch her for the
ritual walk to the floor.
Now just a few feet away
from Bobby and Patsy, Jo glides around the dance floor in a mauve
silk evening outfit with her usual plunging neckline and blond wig.
She definitely still has the moves. Her
girlfriends marvel at her joy.
“If anyone is going to go dancing through the
Pearly Gates, it’s gonna be Li'l Jo,”
from the sidelines.
Virginia's poignant remark speaks to the loyalty and love these
people feel for each other. It may be an odd Band
of Brothers, but there is no doubt this group is tight. This
Anniversary Party has a lot of people thinking about the past and
wondering how many more anniversaries there are going to be.
a self-described philosopher named Jeff opines
about the significance of the Four Palms.
Jeff is here to enjoy the Four Palms’ 35th anniversary party.
is not your normal everyday club,”
Jeff as he leans
his elbow on the bar and holds his drink in his
other hand. “It has roots way back.”
he has frequented the Four Palms for 12 years. He says he was an
accountant in the oil industry until his company declared Chapter 11
Today Jeff is decked out in a Panama hat with a Korean war medal
around his neck. When asked about the medal, Jeff laughs at
being busted. He admits he is too young to have
served in that particular war. He smiles coyly and hints that none
of the women here have ever figured that out. It seems the medal is
a great tool for starting conversations.
"You ain't gonna
tell 'em, are you?"
Jeff elicits a promise that although the medal may appear in
the article, his name will be changed. That compromise works
"That medal trick was getting old anyway."
Reassured that his identity will be
protected and that he has found a worthy confidant, he continues his thoughts.
As we sit at the bar, Jeff strives to find a phrase to put the place into
perspective. Finally he suggests, “The Four
Palms is a place where loneliness meets its match.”
Where have we heard that before? Why, it’s another shot of Billy
Joel déjà vu!
And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes, They're sharing a drink they call loneliness
But its better than drinkin' alone
Jeff continues. "This place
serves a purpose. This is a strange group. They see
things a little differently than most of their neighbors, but they
can't talk about it without being condemned. So this is their
only chance to hang out with people who see things the same way.
No wonder they are so tight-knit."
When asked if the
“pressure cooker” club still sizzles,
a few people
go all the way back and they aren't talking. Thirty five years
is a long time. We don’t know if the same sort of things
happen today that used to happen at the Palms, but let’s put it this way,
the reputation lingers on.”
IN MEMORY with Rick Archer
One year after this article
appeared, the Four Palms closed its doors
for good in 1987. As I stated in the "FORWARD", I was unhappy to see it go since I thoroughly
enjoyed dancing there. This place holds only good memories for
That said, as I said earlier, I thoroughly disliked this
article when it first appeared back in 1986. Even though I had
been going to the Four Palms to dance every Sunday evening for some
time, I had no idea what went on when I wasn't there until I
read the article. I
had heard a rumor or two, but never realized the
exact nature of the club until it was spelled out for me in print.
I knew the Four Palms was pretty
rough around the edges, but I was still surprised by how upset I was
with this article. Even though the author clearly was
non-judgmental, that didn't stop me from passing my own judgment - I
found myself disturbed by lifestyle of the Four Palms regulars.
Reading the stories of all these people running around on their
husbands and wives left me uneasy. Of course we are all adults
and we understand adultery exists. But to discover an entire
group of people make this a regular part of their lives was a bit
tough to comprehend.
Some of the people seemed
so proud they were fooling their spouses and getting away with something.
Well, aren't they clever? Oddly enough, 8 years earlier
I had taught dance lessons at a wife swappers club known as the
Jet Set. When asked to compare the
two places - Four Palms versus the Jet Set - I said I actually
respected the people at the Jet Set more because at least there was
consent involved. Here at the Four Palms, the article gave the
impression that people spent all
their time lying and sneaking around behind the backs of their
husbands and wives.
Nevertheless I didn't say anything. When the article appeared
back in in 1986, I decided it wasn't any of my business.
As long as the
Sunday staff and my fellow patrons continued to treat me with the
same respect I had enjoyed so far, that
was good enough for me. Certainly I wasn't the only person at
my dance studio who
read that article, but no one ever brought the subject up for
discussion. Mind you, for that matter, I was going through a
divorce at the time, so I had my own problems to deal with.
Most people didn't talk to me about anything serious since I was
pretty grouchy back in those days.
So I put this story away and forgot about it. By
chance, twenty years later I ran across this story again in
early 2008 as I was combing through my
archives looking for another document. Since the Four Palms
had played a large part in my life back in 1986 (Sleazy
201 Nights), I thought I would
publish the story.
But first I thought I would read it again
and see what it had
to say. Curious, I unfolded the article and started to read it
from the perspective of looking back twenty years further down
My eyes began to bulge. Nothing had changed. I was
uncomfortable with the stuff I was reading.
questions crossed my mind.
could not understand why the Houston Post had published an
article like this. What were they thinking? Don't
get me wrong; it was a well-written if perhaps depressing story.
But I could not begin to imagine a family newspaper writing
about a topic like this, especially not in its Sunday edition!
This article was more appropriate for The
Houston Press with its racy, edgy stories, but certainly not the
staid Houston Post. It was like opening the Sunday Houston
Chronicle and finding this story in Zest next
to the book reviews and new movies.
Second, I could not
help but wonder if this story accelerated the demise of the Four
Palms. In many
ways, this story felt like an Exposé. As I read the article, I
realized it detailed the intricacies of a forbidden lifestyle. It was meant to be
non-judgmental to the lifestyle, but I wonder in retrospect if it had a
destructive effect. If an avowed fan of the Four Palms
like me came away with a bad feeling, what would the average reader
That said, my own theory
about the demise of the Four Palms was captured by the passage in the
AIDS and herpes.
"But these days, the thought of
hooking up with the wrong guy and dying for the
effort has taken quite a bit of
steam out of her sails."
More than one cynic has suggested that the onset of AIDS has done
more for 'faithfulness' than all the preachers since the beginning
Despite the article, I have only fond memories of
the place. I had great times
regulars left me alone. No one ever propositioned me. No
one ever treated me poorly. The dancers I hung out with were
fun. And the Soul Brothers Band was
wonderful... with their magic music, I could dance all
But there is not one shred of doubt in my
mind - when it comes to sleazy bars, whoever wrote the definition for
the dictionary must have had the Four Palms in mind.
bars are dirty, disreputable, and dark places
socially unacceptable, tawdry people
marked by dishonesty and low-character of
quality, where the smoke is so thick you can hardly breathe and the
music is much too loud."
much sums it up. Rest in
Peace, Four Palms.