Shared History

After 25 years on 17th Street, JR.'s is an institution for both the neighborhood and the gay community

My first trips to D.C. while I was still a college student in southwestern Virginia were particularly strong indicators of what a country boy I really was. For a 19-year-old who grew up surrounded by open fields, cow barns and combines, Washington seemed huge. The 12-story buildings, broad state avenues, tightly packed townhouses and rage-inducing traffic jams, while all small in comparison to a megalopolis like New York City, still define for me what it means to live in the big city.

Naturally, once I moved here I wanted to live in the gayest neighborhoods I could afford, which at the beginning meant not very gay at all – H Street in Northeast had yet to go through its urban renewal way back in 1990. It took a couple years, but I finally found myself living in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, just off 17th Street.

So JR.’s, along with the many other restaurants and bars sprinkled along that corridor, was a big part of my young gay life in the city. Unlike Badlands or Tracks (or, later, Nation), nightclubs that I would hit on very specific nights every week — the rigidity of a ’90s-era gay-nightlife schedule could approach the level of catechism – JR.’s was a place that offered more flexibility. It was my neighborhood bar, the place where you could meet friends after work for a drink, drop by on Saturday afternoon, and generally go when you felt like it.

Of course, I wouldn’t miss a Sunday night there — ditching out on 75-cent Cape Cods with my friends was simply not done.

All that means I have a lot of memories of the place, from working the long-lost pinball machine to always making my way to Eric Little’s station at the end of the bar to grab my cocktails. I met Rosie O’Donnell there on the upper balcony. I watched Absolutely Fabulous on the giant projection TV screen (now replaced by sleeker flat-screen panels). I hung out there during a blizzard that shut down most of the city, and ducked inside during summer thunderstorms. I met a number of my boyfriends there. I broke up with a couple of them there, too. And I made friends there, who I can still call friends to this day.

Not a bad place to have just a few short blocks from my apartment.

Gay and lesbian bars, like gay print media, face constant predictions of doom and gloom, so to see any succeed long-term gives a certain sense of satisfaction. To see JR.’s celebrate 25 years on 17th Street makes me happy in a totally selfish way as well — it means an important part of my own history as a gay man in D.C. continues as a part of our community, a shared experience across different generations and decades. Things change in our community, as they should — a static life is a boring life. But continuity also has its pleasures, and still being able to people watch with friends from the big windows of JR.’s is one of them.

Twenty-five years of business is an accomplishment to mark and celebrate. My congratulations to Eric Little and Dave Perruzza on shepherding a community institution to the quarter-century mark, and best wishes on the journey to the next landmark anniversary.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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