Co-grand marshals Alan Pierce and Gary Miller say they are fortunate to have family, friends and a successful business
Tammye Nash | Senior Editor
Alan Pierce and Gary Miller, co-grand marshals with Chris Bengston of this year’s Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, have been partners in life for 26 years, and partners in business for 12.
The two, who own the popular country-western bar Round-Up Saloon, said this week they’ve seen a lot of changes through the years, and are first-hand witnesses to the fact that it does, indeed, keep on getting better.
“Last year when we were celebrating the Round-Up’s 30th anniversary, we asked some of our customers who have been around awhile what they remembered from the early days of the bar, back in the 1980s,” Pierce said.
“Back then, the cops were still harassing people in the gay bars. It was still illegal for two people of the same sex to dance together. So when the cops would come in the bar, all the customers would just stop whatever they were doing and sit down on the dance floor,” Pierce said. “They would just sit there, very calmly, until the cops left.”
It was the same, he added, in Houston where he lived and worked for about 5 years as a school teacher.
“They were still arresting people in Houston,” Pierce said. “Since I was a school teacher, if I had been arrested, I would have immediately lost my job.”
These days, he said, “It’s definitely not that way anymore. It has definitely gotten better.”
Pierce, who was born and grew up in New Mexico, made his way to Texas when he went to college at Abilene Christian University. After college, he moved to Houston where he worked as a school teacher and came out as a gay man. In 1983, he left the field of education and bought in as co-owner of the Brazos River Bottom, a gay country-western bar in Houston, in 1983.
That’s how Pierce met the new president of the Texas Gay Rodeo Association, a man from Dallas named Gary Miller.
Miller, born and raised in the Lake Texoma area, was married “for awhile” to a woman with whom he said he and Pierce “still have a great relationship. I have a wonderful son, and a wonderful daughter-in-law and two wonderful grandsons.
“They are all very accepting of us [he and Pierce]. They come down here to the bar to socialize with us, and we are included in all the family gatherings and events. That’s a big part of why it just keeps getting better for us, because we have these children and grandchildren in our lives,” Miller said.
Because he got married early and had a son, Miller — who Pierce gleefully points out is the older of the two — “didn’t come out until I was a little older, in the early 1980s,” Miller said.
But he quickly got involved in TGRA, and it was on a TGRA trip to Houston that he met Pierce.
“We were just friends at first. We were friends for at least a couple of years before we actually started dating,” Pierce said. Miller added, “When
we started dating, I was in Dallas, and Alan was still in Houston. We kept Southwest Airlines pretty busy, going back and forth to spend time together.”
In 1987, Pierce finally decided to move to Dallas so he and Miller could be together full time. By then, Miller had been working for several years at The Round-Up Saloon, thanks to his friendship with bar manager Tom Davis. And when, two years later in February 1989, the Round-Up’s building was destroyed in a fire set by an arsonist, Pierce was there to help rebuild.
After the fire — which was set by a man who had robbed the offices of the Dallas Gay Alliance next door and started the blaze to cover up the robbery — the Round-Up relocated temporarily to a building on Maple Avenue at Throckmorton (the building that most recently housed The Brick/Joe’s until that bar relocated to Wycliff and
the building on Maple was torn down).
It was the end of what had been a difficult decade for Dallas’ LGBT community. “So many people were sick and dying,” Pierce said, “and there was nobody willing to take care of them except the [LGBT] community.”
But as the ’80s came to an end, advances in treatment for HIV/AIDS were beginning to give those with the disease a brighter outlook, and Dallas’ LGBT community was also beginning to shine.
“The whole thing was really beginning to blossom,” Pierce recalled. “We had all these organizations and services in place. We were still fighting the police department’s ban on hiring gays and lesbians, but that was changing, too. Things were getting better.”
Even the fire, which was without a doubt a horrible thing to happen, turned out to be a kind of blessing in disguise for the Round-Up, giving bar owner Tom Sweeney a chance to rebuild, creating a bigger and better space than before.
And Pierce, who had worked in construction, too, in Houston, was there to handle most of the rebuilding for the bar, Miller said.
Eventually, longtime Round-Up manager Tom Davis died, and Miller took over as bar manager. Then in 1999, owner Tom Sweeney decided he was ready to sell, and Miller and Pierce were there to buy the nightclub.
The Round-Up came with a long history of community involvement, and Pierce and Miller said since they bought the bar they have worked to keep that tradition alive.
“We lived through the ’80s, through the AIDS crisis when we all got involved to raise funds to help our friends,” Miller said. “And we have just kept on helping. Because once you get that feeling that comes from doing something good for someone, you never want that feeling to go away.”
As a country-western bar, the Round-Up has always had close ties with TGRA, and has always helped to raise funds and supplies for the Resource Center Dallas’ food pantry and other AIDS programs. The nightclub and its owners developed a relationship with Legacy Counseling Center and Legacy Founders Cottage, a hospice for people with AIDS, when some of the bar’s employees needed the hospice’s services, and the Round-Up continues to hold annual fundraising events for Legacy.
“We have a great venue for events, and it’s necessary to continue raising money, so we do it,” Miller said. “There’s still an AIDS crisis and there are still a lot of people who need help.”
Pierce added, “And if it’s not AIDS, then it will be something else, someone else who needs help. I have always said that about the gay community: We take care of our own.”
Despite the sometimes dire economic situation over recent years, Pierce and Miller said the Round-Up has continued to thrive. Its reputation as the premiere country-western gay bar in the country brings in plenty of people visiting Dallas, including some well-known celebrities over the years, like Tyne Daley, Chelsea Handler and Emma Watson.
And of course, there’s the Round-Up’s status as the bar in Dallas that helped Lady Gaga get her start, booking the singer in 2008 when she was still an unknown. Now, Mama Monster makes it a point to visit the Round-Up whenever she’s in Dallas.
The Round-Up is also a longtime member of the Dallas Tavern Guild, with both Pierce and Miller having held several offices there. They are also proud members of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, which this summer revived Razzle Dazzle Dallas.
“We enjoy what we do, and we are always trying to think of ways to make things better,” Miller said. “We’ve been very fortunate. And I’ll tell you one thing that has helped make things better for us is the ban on smoking in the bars. Alan and I were behind that from the start. I know it hurt some of the bars, the ones that didn’t have patios and didn’t have any way to build a patio. But it’s been nothing but good for us. Our business increased the first night of the ban, and it hasn’t gone back down since.”
Both Miller and Pierce agreed that luck has been on their side over the years, giving the Round-Up a chance to evolve into “a great place to socialize,” Miller said.
“I think people like coming to our bar because they can relax and enjoy themselves there. There’s no big drug scene there, and we work hard to keep the drugs out. We’re not known as a place where there’s a lot of fighting in the bar, because we just don’t allow that,” Miller said. “The scene has changed a lot over the years. There are a lot more straight people who come in now. They like our music; they like to dance. Everyone gets along.”
Pierce added, “I read somewhere not that long ago that gay bars are becoming extinct. I don’t think we are becoming extinct, I just think we’re evolving. And that’s a good thing.”
Miller and Pierce said it is a great honor to have been chosen to serve with Bengston this year as grand marshals of Dallas’ Pride parade, and Pierce said they feel doubly honored tohave been chosen grand marshals of the Dallas parade and honorary grand marshals of the International Gay Rodeo Association’s finals rodeo coming to Fort Worth in October.
“It’s a good feeling, a really good feeling, when you’re chosen by your friends and colleagues for something like this,” Miller said. “Alan and I are very lucky in our life. We’re a good fit for each other, a match that will really last. We’ve been together now for 26 years, and it really does just keep getting better.”
For more information, go online to RoundUpSaloon.com
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.