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You don’t have to freeze your fanny out in the cold in order to smoke a cigarette at Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant.
Jennifer Michie, a 28-year-old lesbian from Springfield, finds herself spending more time at the Crystal City restaurant since D.C.’s smoking ban took effect at the start of the year.
”You can stay inside, have a beer, enjoy a cigarette and be with your friends,” she says. ”It’s nice.”
Freddie’s owner Freddie Lutz
While owner Freddie Lutz admits that Washington’s smoking ban has had a positive impact on his business, he also concedes that a smoking ban in Virginia is inevitable. Luckily, he says, the ability to light a cigarette has not been the driving force behind the establishment’s six successful years.
So, what is the driving force? Lutz singles out the diverse crowd that packs the space for Freddie’s weekly events, from the Sunday night ”Freddie’s Follies Drag Show” to the Monday ”Wise CRACK Trivia Night!” Not to mention the always popular karaoke.
Ray Martin, operations manager at Freddie’s, says that diversity was on full display last year on Memorial Day.
”We had the bikers, the gays, the straights, the drag queens — every walk of life you could imagine,” he says. ”Including three nuns from England.”
Sean Helbert, a 22-year-old resident of Crystal City, frequently stops by because of the mix of people he finds.
”You see young people, older people, gay people, lesbians, even straight people on occasion, that come here. It’s a friendly atmosphere. When you get to know people it’s almost like a family.”
On March 2, Freddie’s celebrated its sixth anniversary, making the bar and restaurant one of the longest-lasting gay establishments in Virginia.
”Being from Virginia myself and knowing the struggle that Virginia has [had] in gay rights, to have a place like Freddie’s where you can come and be yourself…[is] a nice change of pace,” Helbert adds.
A ”change of pace” is one way to describe Freddie’s dÃ©cor, which includes lots of purple and pink flamingos. Michie describes it with a laugh as ”a flamingo-ridden beach bar on crack.”
That’s because Lutz, an art major from the Rhode Island School of Design and the owner of more than 30 Hawaiian shirts, always thinks big.
”I have a tendency to sort of over-think things,” he admits.
”I was sitting here one night and Jymmye Jaymes was doing some Donna Summer number and I was just looking at the stage thinking, you know, I really want hydraulics, and I want her as she’s singing…to raise up and I want the ceiling to open up, and she goes out of the ceiling and a helicopter picks her up, and takes her across Crystal City,” he says with a laugh.
Even as a child growing up in Crystal City, where he currently lives with Johnny Cervantes, his partner of nine years, Lutz says he had big ambitions.
”I wasn’t exactly subtle growing up. I used to dress up and put on plays,” he says. ”Nine times out of 10 I would have the female part.” While those childhood roles included Pocahontas and the Wicked Witch of the West, these days, Lutz is more often seen in heels when performing as Tina Turner.
To help keep Freddie’s growing, Lutz hopes to attract more people to the restaurant’s full menu.
”My clientele really has the drinking part down,” Lutz says, ”but we really need help getting the food [eaten].”
Last year, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control fined Freddie’s $1,000 because its food profit was two percent under the minimum requirement to sell alcoholic beverages.
”The bad part is that it’s on our record and if we continue with that sort of history, they will close us,” he says.
To help boost food sales, Freddie’s is now offering lunch on Tuesdays through Saturday. Martin has also helped revamp the menus, which include a variety of new dishes.
While growth may be on the horizon, things weren’t as certain in March 2001, when Lutz bought the Fox Hole restaurant and bar and converted it into Freddie’s. Initially, he wasn’t sure that his new business would be a gay one.
”When I first opened it up, I had questions like, ‘Is it going to be a gay bar?”’ he says. ”My answer was we want everybody to feel welcome here.”
After watching an episode of Queer as Folk, a friend suggested that Lutz include a rainbow streak, seen in the logo for the show, in Freddie’s logo.
”I had about five friends over and everybody said, ‘You can’t do that, in this neighborhood in Virginia, blah blah blah,” says Lutz. ”I basically said, ‘Thank you so much for your opinions now I’m going to do whatever the hell I want to anyway.”’
And so he did. In addition to the streak in the logo, the restaurant features four large rainbow flags near the entrance that Lutz put up about two weeks after opening.
”We somehow still maintained this open door policy that it’s a gay bar, but everybody’s welcome in here,” he says. ”Like if straight people come up out front and I’m standing out there and they’ll see the flags and they’ll say, ‘Is this a gay bar?’ I always say, we like to think of it as straight friendly.”