Metro Weekly

The Secrets of MAL: Centaur Patrick Grady on leather’s biggest weekend

Centaur Patrick Grady on the growth, evolution and brotherhood of Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend in D.C., and his role as its longtime Chairman.

Patrick Grady — Photo: Todd Franson

Patrick Grady used to be the “suit guy.”

It stands to reason, considering he’s spent much of his professional life in the hospitality field. But things changed for the gay man from Peru, Indiana, in the late ’90s.

It was while Grady was working as the Director of Catering at the city’s iconic Washington Plaza Hotel on Thomas Circle, that the Centaurs came calling, wanting to use the hotel as their hub for Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend. Grady, grey-suited, dapper, and ever-courteous, managed the event for the hotel. That first encounter was, for Grady, eye-opening, one that led him to bond with the community — and the Centaurs, in particular — in ways he never could have envisioned. Within two years, Grady was invited to be an associate member of the fabled motorcycle club.

“Being part of the Centaurs,” he says, “has allowed me to have an extended family, and be with people that I enjoy. Some I may only see once a month. Others I see more often. But it’s a good group of people that have fun and enjoy life and enjoy each other.”

Asked if he even owns a motorcycle, Grady just laughs.

“No, I do not. My brother, my family, my brother’s family all have motorcycles, but I don’t, no. However, I look good on the back of a motorcycle.”

In 2003, Grady took the plunge and entered his first leather competition: The Mr. Double L Leather Contest at the historic Double L bar in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He took the title. He’s so proud of his win that, over fifteen years later, it’s still incorporated in his personal email.

At this point, the boyish 56-year-old with the mile-wide smile and dark, tousled hair is a familiar face to anyone who regularly attends MAL. As the Chairman of the weekend, he’s in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly, and that the 3,000 attendees are well taken care of. Along with his 31 clubmates, Grady ensures the weekend is as close to perfect as it can get, year after year.

It’s fitting then, that one year he was bequeathed a nickname by the late Mister Marcus — aka Marcus Hernandez — one of the leather world’s most venerable scribes, who for years penned a leather column for the Bay Area Reporter.

“He called me the Jewel in the Crown of the D.C. leather community,” says Grady. And the reason why? “I had done something nice for him. He left [something] in his room, and I retrieved it and mailed it back to him in California.”

Clearly, for Patrick Grady, it’s always been hospitality, first.

METRO WEEKLY: Let’s start with MAL Weekend. How did you get involved?

PATRICK GRADY: I got involved in 1997 when the event was at the Washington Plaza Hotel. I was working at the Plaza at the time, and we hosted MAL Weekend. We didn’t know anything about it. I thought it was going to be a lot of cordials and liquor and that sort of thing, not understanding the whole concept of people in leather and the fetishes and different uniforms.

MW: What do you recall of that first weekend?

GRADY: I remember our registers couldn’t keep up with the volume. I remember taking a nap in the dining room on a table because we were so busy. I thought the guys dressed up in uniforms were actual police. I said, “Officer, can I help you?” And then they looked at me and said, “No.” Then I noticed they were having cocktails. It was just kind of funny and they laughed.

It took me a few years to understand everything about the weekend — the history, the legacy, the contest, the brotherhood, coming to D.C. to visit with your friends. And treat the hotel bar like your living room.

MW: So it was quite an education for you.

GRADY: Yes, a big education. At that point, Mister Marcus, may he rest in peace, was alive and Vern [Stewart] and Frank [Nowicki] and Patty Brown, and Neil Alexander, may he rest in peace, were all part of the community. So working at that hotel, I got to hear stories from them about the leather community as a whole. And then meeting other attendees — you make friends that I’m still friends with after all these years.

MW: When did you take the plunge and get into leather?

GRADY: I was known as a “suit guy” because I wore a suit all the time. Harold Phillips and Danny Linden gave me a piece of leather — a vest. Mr. S gave me leather jeans, which I still have. The third year, when I had become an associate member of the Centaurs, I went up on stage as we’re introduced to the crowd in just black jeans. And the members said, “No, Patrick. You need leather.” So that’s when I started buying and accumulating leather.

MW: At that time, The Washington Plaza was still open for full business, as I recall. You had other people — families, businesspeople — staying who weren’t part of MAL. It wasn’t closed to the public.

GRADY: Correct.

MW: Did that ever cause any problems?

GRADY: The only problem we had was that people from the far right — the religious people — would occasionally come into the exhibit hall trying to get photographs [to use against the LGBTQ community]. I remember one year PETA was outside protesting. We had an airline crew once at the hotel that weekend that we had to move to one of our sister properties. It was Pakistani Airlines, so that wasn’t a good fit for them at the hotel. Eventually, we closed the hotel off to the public during that weekend, and you had to buy a package to get a room. It wasn’t the huge numbers like we have now. In the old days, we used Almas Temple for the contest and leather cocktails. The exhibit space was in the hotel.

Patrick Grady — Photo: Todd Franson

MW: Was ever any feedback from upper management like “We don’t want this here?”

GRADY: Oh, no. They loved it. The owner, Mr. Bernstein, liked it. The whole crew. There are gay and lesbian people that work for that company still to this day.

MW: Eventually the whole thing had to move over to the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill.

GRADY: Yeah, it just outgrew the Plaza.

MW: How did you choose the Hyatt?

GRADY: We had to think about the hotel company itself. Was it gay friendly? Do they understand? Just because you host a gay event doesn’t mean that you understand what a leather fetish event is. We didn’t want to jump from 340 rooms to, say, the Washington Hilton with 1,100 rooms. So we were looking at a mid-sized venue. They actually approached us, the Hyatt Regency, only because we’d had former members of the Centaurs that had worked there years ago.

MW: And how did it go, that first year at the Hyatt?

GRADY: The first year was rough because they didn’t understand. They had another group in the hotel.

MW: A non-gay, non-leather group?

GRADY: Yeah — a non-gay, non-leather group. Even though the meeting planner was gay, he didn’t have a clue, idiot that he was. So the Hyatt had some complaints. And the letter to the guests that year was a little bit more, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that. Cover your butts!” The Hyatt has that beautiful big space downstairs, but the guys and gals didn’t want to go downstairs. They wanted to be seen in that lobby. So it was just a growing curve for the hotel. They took care of it rather quickly because the next year we had the entire hotel to ourselves. And the team there quickly learned the gay market.

Mid-Atlantic Leather — Photo: Todd Franson

MW: That lobby is fascinating in its own right. I encourage people who aren’t into leather just to come sit in the lobby for an hour or so because it’s so rich with the camaraderie and brotherhood and just the feel of leather. You also see so many different facets of the leather community converge into that one area, into one place. It’s truly extraordinary.

GRADY: Ours is a very accepting community. You make friends for life. And the hotel is doing its best to help provide everyone a safe, fun weekend — a place where no one is judged and people can just enjoy themselves with limits of decorum.

MW: The weekend has grown just in the last few years into an extraordinary showcase for all things leather — the marketplace, fetish demonstrations. There’s a huge puppy play event.

GRADY: The attendees — our guests — bring so much with their personalities and their interests. Tom Buckley with the puppy play, and then the superhero thing that got off the ground last year. You’ve got the gear for the young’uns, and the rubber community. And we’re attracting a lot of Europeans. It’s an easy flight over. It’s growing so quickly, and we’ve been very blessed to have a good group of club brothers and friends of the club that will help put on events at the hotel.

MW: Could you have ever envisioned things getting this big?

GRADY: Oh, yes. But the point is we don’t want it too big. We want MAL to be more intimate, more of a here’s your living room, I’m welcoming you to my home, new friends, old friends, and just enjoy the weekend.

MW: Last year coincided with the inauguration of President Trump. Did you notice a difference in tone during the weekend?

GRADY: I think people were a little bit wary, but it was pretty much business as usual. Once you step through the hotel doors, you leave the real world behind, because no one wants to deal with it.

MW: How many years have you been in charge of running the weekend?

GRADY: I’ve been trying to think of that. Since we’ve been at the Hyatt, I know that. The position — Chairman of Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend — is appointed by the president of the club. Danny Linden was chairman for a year. Larry Barat ran it. I followed Larry many years ago. We’re back at the Hyatt for 2019 and 2020, but other than that, no real plans can be made until we have elections in January. The incoming elected President, he or she would make up their minds on who would be appointed the chair position.

MW: I’d be surprised if it wasn’t you. You keep getting re-appointed.

GRADY: [Laughs.] Because nobody else wants it. But I love it. I love the weekend. I have a deep love of the Hyatt staff and the people there. I just enjoy the weekend. But it’s not just me — all 32 people in the Centaurs have input into the weekend.

Patrick Grady — Photo: Todd Franson

MW: I’ve watched you work the event. You’ve always busy with something or another, but you never grandstand.

GRADY: I’m not the face of leather weekend — our winners [of the Mr. MAL Contest] are the face. The entire club is the face. But I do enjoy talking about MAL, working, planning, trying to keep it fresh.

MW: Speaking of the contest, how is it shaping up this year?

GRADY: This year we’re so far at six contestants, but it could be more.

MW: How much liquor do you go through over the weekend?

GRADY: [Laughs.] A lot. I know a minimum of fifty cases of vodka alone will be consumed. Maybe between five and six hundred cases of beer. And then cases of whiskey, gin, rum, scotch and tequila, in that order. Jameson’s whiskey will be big this year — they’re making a big push into the gay community. So we’ll have plenty of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey on the bars for MAL.

MW: Does the club make money off the weekend?

GRADY: Not directly. No one is paid to do this for the club. But what we do take in, we give to charity. Last year we gave away $85,000 dollars to charities. We gave to Casa Ruby. We gave to the Leather Archives and Museum — a large donation. We donated to the Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Center because we had a title holder from that area. We try not to be political with any donations. We’ve given to Team DC’s college scholarship. We’ve given to Charlie’s Place over the years. HIPS is also an organization that we have given donations to. It’s across the board so to speak.

MW: Would you say the Hyatt, in your experience, is a gay friendly company?

GRADY: Oh, yes, extremely gay friendly. And long before it was novel to be that. Long before other hotels started jumping on the bandwagon of “Oh, let me take the pink dollar.”

MW: What is the most challenging thing about running the weekend?

GRADY: Trying to make everybody happy. Trying to get people just to be patient and understanding that, yes, there’s going to be maybe a line or two at the elevator. All of us in the club are striving to make it better each year and to make sure our guests are welcomed and enjoying themselves. It’s challenging to achieve that, with things that we can control.

There’s all these events at The DC Eagle, but we’re not sponsoring them because we can’t control it. But they’re still using our name, MAL Weekend. There was a time years ago that nobody cashed in on this weekend, but now the world’s changed. Everybody is cashing in on the weekend, which just gives our guests more opportunities to go to dance, to go to a play party, to go to another bar to socialize there and to bring business to those venues as well, because some of the guests may be from a smaller town or small city that maybe has one gay bar or two gay bars, but at least this weekend helps people to go visit our bars. That’s very important to us.

MW: Is Frank Nowicki hosting the contest again?

GRADY: Yes! Emcee extraordinaire. It’s his 25th anniversary as a former Mr. MAL. At his 20th, we had Ella Fitzgerald perform as a surprise, and then gave oxblood roses to him. It’s a week away, and I still don’t know what I’m doing for him. A pat on the back, maybe. [Laughs.]

MW: It’s rumored you bring a lot of your personal leather gear to the event.

GRADY: Yes. I usually change three times a day at the hotel.

MW: You’re the Cher of the leather community.

GRADY: [Laughs.] Yeah.

MW: Is there a difference in what you wear throughout the day? Obviously, you’re going to wear something formal to Leather Cocktails.

GRADY: I do jeans and shirts and vests, and then Rubio had these beautiful leather jeans. Then leather pants and one of my black and blue shirts, or light blue shirt, that sort of thing. I love gauntlets, too, which go on the wrist. They all call me “Wonder Woman” because I have large and small gauntlets. And boots.

I understand leather is a fetish, but there’s also a fashion side to it. It’s very expensive. And let me tell you, you have to stay a certain size once you get a piece of leather clothing made, because if not, there it goes. But I love the feel that the energy, the sexiness of leather. That, for me personally, is what I like about it.

MW: What does the weekend mean to you personally?

GRADY: This weekend is very personal for me because, as most people know, I’ll be crying half the time.

MW: Why?

GRADY: Missing some of our members that aren’t here with us anymore, missing friends that unfortunately can’t make it, seeing the former titleholders, because I know how much work they put into competing and then becoming Mr. MAL, and representing the club to the best that they can be. And just the work. I mean, it’s eight months worth of work that the club puts into it. And you can look around the room and everyone’s having a great time. The formal leather cocktails, which is the tradition from New York at the Waldorf, when you were personally invited, and hearing stories of people that actually were invited and went to that party is just the legacy tradition of the community. I’m a big softy on that. I just enjoy that.

Mid-Atlantic Leather — Photo: Todd Franson

MW: How do you feel when it’s all over?

GRADY: I’m relieved that it’s over — and happy that it’s successful, that people are happy, and that there’s a new title holder. I’m excited for the winner.

MW: How has leather changed your life?

GRADY: Leather gave me the confidence that I needed to be Patrick, whether I’m in leather or out of leather. When I’m in leather, it’s a different persona. I’m still Patrick, but I’m not this wimpy suit-wearing guy. The kid wearing braces in school that was picked on at times. Leather allows me to be myself, to be who I really am deep down inside.

For a full schedule of MAL and ancillary events, visit our resource guide or check out the Nightlife.

For tickets and pricing, visit leatherweekend.com. For more information on the Centaur MC, visit centaurmc.org.

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Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.