The more things change, the more lower Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach has pretty much stayed the same over the years, give or take a bar or biergarten. And the consistency has made it the go-to destination of choice for LGBTQ Washington. Forget Ocean City Maryland or the Jersey Shore — this is where the gays are.
It all starts with Poodle Beach (1103 South Boardwalk), where the boardwalk ends. Poodle is still the main gay stretch of sand — though actual poodles and their owners, tend to congregate at North Shore Beach (15099 Cape Henlopen Dr., Lewes), way past the other end of town. Aqua Grill (57 Baltimore Ave.) has long been the place to see-and-be-seen after the beach thanks to its large outdoor patio right on the gayest block in town — not to mention its crew of shirtless bartenders. Several years ago, the Purple Parrot Grill (134 Rehoboth Ave.) significantly expanded its footprint, taking over the space behind it to create another open-air venue. And the leafy, lush backyard Biergarten is a perfectly beachy and inviting retreat complete with palm trees, sand, and picnic tables.
A block away is divey mainstay the (Frog) Pond (3 South First St.), popular with locals, live music fans, lesbians, and bears, the latter for the monthly FURst Friday Happy Hour. Meanwhile, just outside of Rehoboth proper are a few recently established venues popular with the local LGBTQ community, including neighboring lesbian-owned establishments Murph’s Beef & Ale and Java Jukebox (37169 Rehoboth Ave. Ext.), which regularly hosts women’s parties featuring DJ Nan.
Back towards the beach is Rehoboth’s one true new bar for 2018: Diego’s Hideaway (37298 Rehoboth Ave. Ext.). Darryl and Joe Ciarlante-Zuber, former owners of Dos Locos (208 Rehoboth Ave.), bought and renovated the business that had been operating as the Double L, which had fallen on hard times — it didn’t even open until halfway through the season last year. While no longer an explicitly leather/fetish venue, the brighter, tropical-minded Diego’s nevertheless will continue the fetish-oriented party Gear It UP Fridays, as well as Philadelphia-based DJ Steve Durkin’s popular Saturday event ManDance — billed as “the biggest gay dance party in Rehoboth.” (That is, obviously excepting for Sundance, the annual Labor Day fundraiser.)
Of course, one gay venue has always towered above the rest. The centrally located Blue Moon (35 Baltimore Ave.) remains grand central for gay Rehoboth in so many ways. It offers the best variety in live performance, particularly drag — national stars Sherry Vine, Miss Richfield 1981, and Dixie Longate will appear this summer, in addition to the Blue Moon Divas. And among those former pop stars and disco divas who should have been a bigger deal, few can top the Moon’s resident belter Pamala Stanley, who performs every night and sometimes twice on Sunday. Nobody has been “Coming Out Of Hiding” as much as she.
Even after 37 years, the Moon, under the watch of Executive Chef Lion Gardner, is still a top contender for best place to eat in restaurant-rich Rehoboth. Several other longtime fixtures also remain top-flight considerations — from influential, 44-year-old gourmet Back Porch Cafe (59 Rehoboth Ave.), to fine-dining Eden (23 Baltimore Ave.) and its more affordable offshoot Jam (21 Baltimore Ave.), to the oft-overlooked Confucius Chinese Cuisine (57 Wilmington Ave.). Among upscale seafood options, one newer spot worth its catch is Dogfish Brewery’s casual-chic Chesapeake & Maine (316 Rehoboth Ave.). Meanwhile, one notable gay-owned restaurant set to open later in the season is The Pines (56 Baltimore Ave.), a casual eatery in the former Java Beach/Hobos space, across Baltimore Avenue from Aqua, and coming from Tyler Townsend and Bob Suppies.
All in all, Rehoboth remains largely unchanged, and certainly recognizable to anyone who’s ever spent any significant time at the resort in recent decades. It’s still as gay as you remember it — if not a little gayer — and certainly more lesbian and queer in general. It’s also more appreciably LGBTQ-friendly now — in no small part because of the work of Steve Elkins, who co-founded the pro-LGBTQ organization CAMP Rehoboth (camprehoboth.com) in 1991 at the height of anti-gay sentiment, conveyed in a popular bumper sticker at the time: “Keep Rehoboth a Family Town.”
The unofficial mayor — and certainly the gay mayor — of Rehoboth, the 67-year-old Elkins died of lymphoma in March, leaving behind his longtime husband and CAMP co-founder Murray Archibald. Among other advances in making Rehoboth LGBTQ-friendly, Elkins was instrumental in landing the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center (229 Rehoboth Ave.) for Sundance — at the time, 1994, getting approval from a city-owned facility for a party where many gay men would be shirtless and dancing suggestively was so controversial as to be all-but unthinkable. Although full details, including the party’s DJ, have not been revealed, the 31st Sundance is set for Labor Day Weekend with a return to the Convention Center, newly reopened after a two-year renovation. That’s one small sign of continued progress — and of Elkins’ continuing legacy.
For more information on Rehoboth Beach and the beaches of Delaware, visit visitdelaware.com.