Two new LGBTQ-specific spaces are opening in the D.C. area with one slated to open within a few weeks, and the other by the spring of 2023. Construction and final permitting processes are currently underway at both locations.
The first location, expected to open in mid-February, is Bunker, located in the subterranean space that once housed Tropicalia nightclub, at 2001 14th St. NW.
Owned by the producers behind the KINETIC Presents LGBTQ dance parties, Bunker seeks to establish itself as the District’s answer to what has been a dearth of LGBTQ-specific dance clubs following the establishment of Nationals Park, the closure of Town Danceboutique, and the pandemic-related closures of the DC Eagle, Ziegfeld’s/Secrets, and other venues that once played host to top DJs and live musical entertainment.
While KINETIC Presents and other event producers have been able to establish occasional parties at predominantly straight clubs like Penn Quarter’s SAX, or the Langdon neighborhood establishments BLISS Nightclub and Echostage, there has not been a regular LGBTQ-owned-and-operated space for the community to gather.
“We’ve been throwing events now for quite a few years, and the District, after the closure of really every gay nightclub — both before COVID and then during COVID — has really been lacking a true dance floor,” says Zach Renovátes, one of the Bunker co-owners.
“We as a community need safe spaces, and for a city with such a high percentage of LGBTQ individuals, we have a distinct lack of safe spaces,” he continues. “So it was really essential to us that we be able to create a space, designed by LGBTQ individuals for LGBTQ individuals. It’s a space where people can truly feel comfortable to be themselves, to not fear judgment or have worries about what’s going on outside.”
Renovátes continues: “The call had been growing from various party-goers and friends that we needed a space dedicated to the LGBTQ community every single weekend. We continued to hear those rumblings, and people would say, ‘Oh, D.C. doesn’t have a great nightlife scene.’ And I would ask, ‘Well, what about the KINETIC events?’ And the answer would be, ‘Oh, we love the KINETIC events, but they’re not every weekend.’
“And so by providing a space for our community that people know with consistency will be open every single weekend and have a live DJ and entertainment was critical to us.”
Bunker aims to pack four nights a week — Thursday to Sunday — with high-caliber DJs, musical acts, and drag shows. The latter has become especially important at a time when drag and other expressions of gender nonconformity have come under attack from Right-wing activists that have accused performers of allegedly seeking to “indoctrinate” questioning or LGBTQ-identifying youth.
“We intend to create a space where people from our community know, every single weekend, they can come and get an incredible live DJ experience, with a lighting operator who knows how to make it feel like a dance floor environment where people can just let loose and be themselves,” says Renovátes. “We intend to bring top-tier DJ and drag talent into the space.
“Something that was really important to us when producing events with KINETIC was that we were continuously bringing different music,” he continues. “So while we throw a great number of circuit parties, we also produce disco events, house music events, EDM music events, and so on.
“At Bunker, we fully intend to bring different genres of music every single weekend. You may not be a fan of disco, you may not be a fan of circuit, but one night of the week at Bunker, you will have music that you will enjoy.”
While Bunker hopes to be a destination for club-goers in the city, with its nightly lineups attracting different types of patrons, the club also plans to offer a 7 to 9 p.m. happy hour on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, which can serve as a “first stop on someone’s journey for the night” if they are doing a bar crawl or heading out to other clubs further away from the U Street corridor.
“We’re going to have some really unique programing, which we’ll reveal later, to keep those happy hours interesting and unique,” says Renovátes. “We intend to open a bit earlier on Sundays and we’ll have a weekly afternoon-into-nighttime tea dance. We’re currently getting everything finalized now.”
The physical club will also serve as a gathering space that the co-owners can utilize as a meeting hall for the community and inform patrons of important community developments, as well as crime or public health emergencies.
“We were at the forefront of the monkeypox crisis when we reached out proactively to the city and worked with them to start helping to distribute information to our community via social media and via our communications channels,” Renovátes says.
“But when you have a space, you can communicate that information directly to patrons. You can post informative documents and materials. It’s so important to us that we give back to our community. We fully intend to leverage the fact that will actually have a dedicated space to work with additional organizations that might need a place to bring people together, to disseminate information that is critical for the health and safety of LGBTQ citizens in the District.”
The club’s name, Bunker, refers to the subterranean space with 11-foot-high ceilings that will house the club.
“When my partner and I found the space, I descended the stairs and saw the polished concrete walls, and the name immediately popped into my mind,” says Renovátes. “The space is truly beautiful with architectural elements that we were able to uncover when we started doing the demolition.
“We’re super excited because this space has so many unique creations that are bespoke. When people first descend down those steps, it is truly going to be an experience that they’ve never had before, period.”
The other new addition, The Little Gay Pub, is the brainchild of three longtime restaurant and bar industry fixtures — Dito Sevilla, Dusty Martinez, and Ben Gander.
Located at 1100 P Street, just a few blocks away from Logan Circle, the ground-level bar, which once housed the Commodore, is located below a five-unit apartment building. The space is expected to have a total capacity of about 140, with about 85 seats inside and a sidewalk café and “summer garden” providing additional outdoor seating.
The co-owners, who have a combined experience of 37 years in the bar and restaurant industry, have a shared vision of The Little Gay Pub as a “gift” to the community, providing an LGBTQ space for people in the Logan Circle/Shaw neighborhood where one currently does not exist, and where there’s a dearth of drinking or eating establishments that can rival those near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center or along nearby 14th Street NW.
Sevilla, a realtor by trade, notes that the neighborhood has a large LGBTQ population but does not have any businesses catering to that particular crowd.
“It’s in a sort of bizarre little dead spot between Ninth and Seventh Streets and Logan Circle,” he says. “It’s a great location because it’s close to everything, but not on top of everything. It’s not specifically in a business district, but not an overly residential zone, either. And being so close to Logan Circle, where the Stonewall Bocce league plays — which we hope will be reinstated there soon — it’s a perfect space. We aim to just be a great little addition to the neighborhood, a neighborhood that really sorely needs it.”
The co-owners collectively describe the space as “historically charming,” paying tribute to the history of the LGBTQ community.
“We’re making a space that looks like it was built out of the Victorian era into the Edwardian age,” says Sevilla. “It looks like an old hotel vibe, a very Wes Anderson-y take on quirk, where pomp and circumstance have been shelved and taken over by three quirky gays who decided to overdecorate it into its next iteration.”
Despite its ornate decor, the bar’s atmosphere will be largely casual, with regular hours of operation, no cover charge or special dress code, and a come-as-you-are vibe.
“Everyone’s always welcome,” says Sevilla. “We imagine it to be like a pub, where everyone’s in a public house…. It’s decidedly sophisticated, but inexpensive, so it caters to anyone who wants to have an elevated experience on a budget.”
The Little Gay Pub has a kitchen that the owners plan to utilize, beginning with about a dozen food items that one could classify as “elevated pub food,” meaning more than your typical fried pub fare.
While the liquor license and final settlement agreements are still being processed, the trio behind The Little Gay Pub note that their spotless records, as far as ABRA violations, and their longstanding reputations appear to have aided them in opening without much pushback from the city, describing the process of applying for various licenses and permits as “drama-free.”
The pub is supported by the newly-elected local ANC commissioner, has gained nearly 3,000 followers on its Instagram page — typically a signifier of the type of excitement surrounding its eventual opening — and neighborhood opposition has been virtually nonexistent.
“Everyone who’s stopped by has had a kind word to say,” says Sevilla. “Neighbors of all ages, all sexes, all orientations, pet owners, have come by the corner, stopped in while we’re under construction, and given us well-wishes, asked when we’re going to be open, asked about our programming, which is still in the works. Eventually, it’s going to be exciting for everyone to come and see what we’ve done.”
The Little Gay Pub is aiming for a soft opening around March 1, depending on how quickly a liquor license can be obtained. They have already posted notifications indicating their intent to begin hiring and training staff, noting that they’re looking for a combination of “fresh faces with a couple of seasoned veterans.”
“We think the public will be very happy with what we’ve done,” says Sevilla. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but we’re not trying to go in on the cheap, and there are very few shortcuts we take.
“We take our job seriously and we take nightlife and the enjoyment of the public seriously. And I think that we do that in a fun, quirky way, but in a way that still seems familiar to people.”
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