Last Dance

The shuttering of Apex is the closing of another door on the past of Washington's gay nightlife

by Sean Bugg
Published on July 7, 2011, 8:14am | Comments

You miss things the most when you realize they'll never return.

Over the course of 20-odd years in D.C., I've watched a lot of bars and nightclubs close their doors, whether from declining business, encroaching development or just simple fatigue on the part of the owner. But the sudden shuttering of Apex feels like the final closing of the doors on a chapter of my own life.

I'm part of the cohort of D.C. gay men who still tend to think of the long-standing nightclub as Badlands, a name that was ingrained into my young, collegiate mind when I began my late '80s turn on the city's gay club scene. It was part of the nightclub trinity of my youth: Badlands, Lost & Found and Tracks.

All gone, now.

Badlands was a place of many firsts for me. It was the place where I first ran into a fellow Washington and Lee student, prompting me to dive into hiding behind a group of queens because my closet-honed reflexes had yet to adjust to the idea of friendly territory. The video bar in the back was where I met my first real boyfriend — also my second, third and possibly fourth. It was the place where I first danced with abandon on a packed and sweaty dance floor. It was the first place I got into a heated political argument with a gay Republican. It was the first place where I got hit on by a porn star.

All that, on the first night.

Just joking. It was at least a month before all that happened. But it felt like a high-speed whirlwind at the time.

Badlands became a part of the pattern of my life. Friday nights were spent doing the upstairs/downstairs routine cruising between karaoke and peanut barrels above and the tightly packed dance floor below. It felt every bit as natural as the Saturday night figure-8 at Tracks, running from Billy's bar and patio at one end and the oversized dance floor at the other.

All this is why the closing of a longtime gay business brings about both nostalgic reveries and senses of loss. For many people, Badlands — and Apex after it — played a formative role in their lives. The same goes for the litany of other bars and nightclubs that are part of the past, not the present. Sitting in the Nationals baseball stadium is like being on another planet compared to the days when Tracks, Nation, Ziegfeld's and Lost & Found drew in flocks of gay crowds.

While the loss of a community icon should be lamented, we should also remember that our world can't stay preserved in stasis forever. People, places and things change over time. Despite our deep connections to parts of the past, it's good that our city and our community changes and evolves. It would be deeply boring if D.C. were the same in 2011 as it was 1991, just as it would be depressing if my life were the same now as it was then. It was fun, but now it's done.

While I would have hoped Apex would go out with more of a bang — I could have used one last blast from my not so illustrious past — I still offer condolences and best wishes to everyone involved in the business. And, naturally, my thanks for the memories.


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