Metro Weekly

Local Nightlife: A Look Back at 2006

Stadium closes Southeast clubs, BeBar beats opposition, DC goes smoke-free, Virginia's first leather contest

End of an Era

(Photo by Todd Franson)

THE BASEBALL STADIUM was a long time coming, but the end of Southeast’s cadre of gay nightclubs and businesses still seemed sudden. One day the recently vacated buildings were gone, replaced by a giant patch of dirt that will someday be home to the Washington Nationals.

The first to close were housed in the immediate footprint of the new stadium, a block of GLBT bars and adult entertainment establishments, including the city’s premier drag nightspot, Ziegfeld’s, longtime home to performer Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s final performance at the club was, to say the least, emotional, and tinged with a touch of anger at the city for closing the space she called home for 25 years.

Also gone: Secrets, a male strip club that adjoined Ziegfeld’s, and Heat, another male strip club that had been open just over a year (occupying the space that once housed La Cage). The GLBT community also lost The Follies, an adult book store that housed a movie theater; Club Baths; and perhaps the most iconic establishment of the bunch, Glorious Health & Amusements, better known by its revealing nickname, ”The Glory Hole.” An era that had its roots in the ’70s had ended.

Nearby, the 30,000-square-foot behemoth known as Nation shuttered mid-summer, bringing to an end the popular GLBT Saturday night dance party VelvetNation, produced by nightlife impresarios John Guggenmos and Ed Bailey.

Velvet’s Last Dance
(Photo by Henry Linser)

”Nation may be the last of its kind as a big, dark warehouse space,” said Guggenmos a few weeks before the Velvet’s final party on Saturday, July 15. ”Nightlife is cyclical, and the large…warehouse experience is probably gone until the 13- and 15-years-olds of today are the 25-year-olds of tomorrow.” Bailey noted that a search for a replacement was frustrating, at best. ”Washington, D.C., has developed into such a real-estate commodity market that it’s pushed out people who want to do what I do,” he said. ”The price of real estate has made it impossible — or really, not a good business decision — to buy a building anymore. Rent is astronomical. Lease prices are off the charts…. Nothing has presented itself as a viable opportunity.”

The final Southeast closing came abruptly in early September, as The Edge/Wet, a male strip club shut down three weeks before its previously announced closing date, leaving employees stranded without jobs. Ironically, Wet is the only club that seems set to reopen in the near future, having recently applied for a transfer of its liquor license to 2046 West Virginia Ave. NE. Protests from a tiny but vocal battalion of civic groups and private citizens were dismissed on Dec. 13 by the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Be Bar Brouhaha

THE GAY OWNERS of Be Bar spent much of 2006 fighting opponents who sought to keep the city from issuing a liquor license to the lounge at 1318 Ninth St. NW.

While much of the protest centered around the lounge’s proximity to a church-run daycare center, there was always a whiff of homophobia in the air. Following an initial hearing of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in April, Bishop C.L. Long of Scripture Cathedral Church, which houses the daycare center, was asked by reporters whether the owners’ sexual orientation had anything to do with the protest. Long responded that answers to questions about gays could be found in the Bible.

The answer to Be Bar’s questions, however, were found at the ABC Board. And the answer was ”yes.” Be Bar opened for business over Labor Day Weekend. A possible added bonus for owners Tom McGuire and Mike Watson was the November election, which saw the defeat of Leroy Thorpe. As chair of ANC 2C, Thorpe helped lead the protests against Be Bar.

No Butts

THE PAST YEAR was the last for Washingtonians to smoke ’em if they had ’em in most restaurants and bars. The move to make D.C. smoke-free, which has gone into effect with the new year, has involved the gay community perhaps more than any other community in the city. First, gays and lesbians have a statistically higher rate of smoking than their mainstream peers. Second, one of the leading opponents of the smoke-free push was gay nightlife promoter, Mark Lee. Third, the no-smoking camp drew much of its impetus from the gay community. Groups like the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C.; the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club; Asian Queers United for Action; and the National Coalition for LGBT Health endorsed the smoking ban.

Dogwoods and Rawhide

VIRGINIA GOT IN on the Mid-Atlantic Leather action last year with the new Mr. Old Dominion Leather Contest. The contest is the commonwealth’s first leather contest affiliated with the Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather competition held in D.C. every January.

The reigning Mr. Old Dominion Leather, Rudy Benavides, won the title in October at a contest held at Freddie’s Beach Bar in Crystal City and sponsored by the D.C. chapter of the Men of Discipline. The Leather Rack, Titan’s Ramrod and the Green Lantern also helped sponsor the title in various ways. Benavides is expected to compete for the MAL title this month.

Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather, Scott Harris, who will step down at MAL this month, said in September: ”The goal is for this to become a mainstream contest throughout Virginia. It may take time to take hold, but we’d like to galvanize the community across the state.”

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.