When Jo McDaniel first met David Perruzza, it was at a rally to support D.C.’s bid for the 2022 Gay Games. As an employee of Cobalt, the sister bar of JR.’s, she knew Perruzza by name, but had never spent time with him. Earlier this year, Perruzza approached McDaniel about becoming full-time manager of A League of Her Own, the queer women’s bar that he planned to open on the lower level of Pitchers.
For McDaniel, a veteran bartender who’s worked at Apex, Phase One of Dupont Circle, Freddie’s Beach Bar, and Cobalt since the early 2000s, Perruzza’s vision for A League of Her Own matched what McDaniel saw as a need within D.C.’s queer female community for their own safe space. She agreed to come on board as the new bar’s manager.
McDaniel says A League of Her Own’s casual atmosphere, as well as the ability to access parts of Pitchers, such as the mezzanine-level dance floor, via internal stairwells, allows patrons to pick and choose their own unique experience.
“I’m seeing some of the most adorable date nights happen over our video games,” she says. “And then, on Sunday, I had these two gorgeous girls sitting at a table over by the windows in ALOHO, holding hands across the table, while another two or three groups were at the bar.”
While she praises the party promoters that stepped in to hold pop-up events at straight bars following Phase One’s closing, she notes a lot of women are looking for a casual atmosphere where they can grab a drink after work, without having to worry about getting dolled up. She hopes both Pitchers and A League of Her Own can provide that space for those people.
“Especially for feminine presenting queer women, and non-binary people, having a space that they can come into where their presentation isn’t questioned is all they’re really looking for. Straight bars can’t offer that.”
METRO WEEKLY: It’s been a while since there’s been a full-time bar for lesbian or queer women in the city. How hungry has the community been for its own bar?
JO MCDANIEL: Incredibly hungry. I think there was a large amount of our community who did not have a daytime casual place to go, that felt safe.
MW: What do queer women in D.C. want from a bar?
MCDANIEL: What I’m finding is that queer women don’t want to be told what to do. They don’t want to be told what to wear, they don’t want to be told what the theme is. They just want to have a space they can come into and do whatever they want. They want to know that they have a safe space at 6:30 on a Wednesday night. I think that’s what we’ve been lacking, the ability to cater to all ages of queer women. The more grown-up lesbians and queer women aren’t going to come out to a 10 p.m. party once a month. They want to be able to have friends in town and go out for drinks earlier, or have something that doesn’t feel so much like a club.
MW: There’s been some criticism of A League of Her Own’s space, such as “They’re relegating us to the downstairs. They’re making us go through a separate entrance.”
MCDANIEL: I fight against that all the time. The ground level was chosen because it has a separate entrance, and because there is a marginalized group of queer D.C. that does not feel safe in what would stereotypically be a gay men’s bar. I’ve had a couple of customers who specifically waited for A League of Her Own to open, because they felt safer in spaces where there aren’t a large group of cis men. I had one customer in particular who told me she followed us on social media because the fact that we had a separate entrance made her feel safe. At some point, she may feel safe enough to move throughout the building, but that is why Dave chose that location with a separate entrance and a separate security guard, for that percentage of the population in queer D.C. who have had bad experiences and do feel safer in that way.
MW: How successful do you think you have been in making people of diverse orientations and gender identities feel welcome?
MCDANIEL: I really want to make sure we’re labeling ALOHO as not just a lesbian bar, but a lesbian and queer bar. I want to make sure that we include our pansexual brothers and sisters, and non-binary or genderfluid people, and make sure they recognize that this is their space. That’s why the first line on the sign at the staircase leading to ALOHO says, “This is a space for people who have not found their space anywhere else.”
MW: Have you had any hostile encounters that you’ve had to deal with since opening?
MCDANIEL: There has been some negative catcalling on the street that some of our patrons have experienced, and that has been addressed with MPD. The weeks before ALOHO opened, I was bartending at Pitchers and had an experience where someone posted a negative Yelp review where I got called a “dyke cunt.” It was this guy who I just wouldn’t serve told me I was discriminating against him because he had an Ole Miss shirt on. I was like, “No, I just said you could have some water and come back in 20 minutes.”
MW: How did it feel to be called a “dyke cunt”?
MCDANIEL: I have been a bartender for 13 years. I have dealt with every level of horrible drunk you can, so I have a pretty thick skin when I’m behind the bar. So that didn’t really affect me so much. What bothered me was the number of people from my community who were here that he could possibly have said something to next.
MW: Do you think A League of Her Own is going to resonate with its audience?
MCDANIEL: I would like to think so. I’m getting a lot of feedback from groups that want to hold fundraisers, and the one thing we are going to do that we will host, that will be an ALOHO event, is an open mic night. There’s a big queer music scene in D.C., and there’s some incredible talent, and that’s something that we have the space for, because the space we’re in was once a karaoke bar. However, we’re not going to do karaoke here — Dave is adamant about not doing karaoke.
MW: Dave got characterized as anti-female after a PoPville article about turning away a bachelorette party. What’s your take on that?
MCDANIEL: The PoPville article about the bachelorette party generated 700 comments in three hours. I fell into a hole reading all of that. It can spiral out of control. I think it’s so fascinating that so many people form opinions without ever having had a conversation directly with someone. And what I really find interesting is that there are people like, “Well, [Dave] hasn’t addressed this.” Why would he go on social media and address something? If you want to have a meeting with him, he literally is in this building at all times.
I worked at Freddie’s for a long time, so I understand bachelorette parties, and this is the problem for me with bachelorette parties, and large groups of straight people who come into this space: A bachelorette party is meant to be raucous. That’s the goal, is to get very drunk and very loud. A bachelorette party is almost never meant to be respectful. So coming into a space that was designated to be safe for queer people, and being very straight and very drunk and very loud takes up a lot of space — and there’s a lot of touching, because gay men are “safe” to touch.
I find that with bachelorette parties, there’s a mob mentality involved, there’s too much booze involved, and it’s intrusive to a space, a vibe we’re trying to create, an energy we’re trying to create of safety across the board. If a group of four guys come into Pitchers and are having a nice chat on Friday at 8 p.m., and this wild bunch with sashes and penis straws comes in making a spectacle of themselves, they’re asking everyone to just shift their attention, and I feel like that’s intrusive. That’s not what this space is meant to be. There are bars for that. There are spaces specifically for that. This is not that kind of place. Anybody gets too loud, too drunk, too raucous, queer or straight, bachelorette party or whatever, we’re not gonna have that because that’s not what we’re trying to do here. So making out on the dance floor? Golden. Loud and drunk and raucous? That’s not what we’re here for.
MW: Do you have any other special or recurring events planned in the coming months?
MCDANIEL: On Thursdays we’re going to start doing a craft cocktail night. And our weekend nights have been really awesome. What I’m really loving is that people are coming to us, or leaving from us to go to other women’s parties. Parties that are monthly, or just on the weekends, or also to XX+. I had a group come in, they’re like, “Yeah, we were just at XX+ and now we’re coming here.” I think the fact that we have options now is blowing the mind of our older community. Our younger community is like, “Yeah, we knew this was coming.” And those of us in our 30s are like, “We did not, but good for us!”
A League of Her Own is located at 2317 18th St. NW. For more information, visit facebook.com/alohodc or follow the bar on Twitter at @alohoDC.
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