What makes a good gay bar? Does it depend on the DJ or dance floor? Is it the strong drinks or the decor? Or maybe it depends on what cute people come in (or who you go home with at the end of the night)?
In reality, it’s not one thing. The ability to be considered a “good,” if not the best, gay bar requires an ambiance composed of many things. And in Washington, D.C., there is no shortage of options.
Esquire magazine recently published a list of the “32 Best Gay Bars in America,” two of which are located in D.C. — Logan Circle’s Trade and Eastern Market’s As You Are. It’s Trade’s second consecutive appearance on the list.
“Trade was started with a kind of mindset of being a little more low-key, not taking ourselves too seriously, and really not trying to be all that cool,” says Ed Bailey, who, along with longtime business partner John Guggenmos, owns Trade and its sibling establishment a block and a half away, Number 9. “I think that resonates a little bit and makes people a little bit more at ease.”
Trade’s strategy of trying to not be “cool” has, in fact, had the opposite effect. Most weekends the line outside the door stretches from the rainbow stanchions at the bar’s entrance to the intersection of P and 14th Streets at the end of the block. Inside, the bar is jammed to capacity.
Trade’s decor is all about making people grin. Take, for instance, the Absolut Vodka sign that hangs over the bathroom with only the letters S-L-U-T lit up.
“Our guiding principle is, if it makes one of us laugh, then that’s going to go up because it’s just mostly supposed to be stupid,” says Bailey. “Over the years, between every event we’ve ever done, we’ve just left one piece [up on the wall]. Now it’s turned into this kind of — whatever you call it — cacophony of crap.”
Another aspect the Esquire piece mentioned was Trade’s unique dance space. Its dance floor is smack in the center of the building, between the bar at the front stretching to the back door leading to the patio and bathrooms.
“Trade was designed with the expectation that maybe there’d be some dancing, but not a significant place where there would be dancing,” Bailey says. “Trade just kind of turned into a dive bar with a dance floor. It’s not the perfect layout, but it’s almost perfectly as quirky as the whole concept of the bar in the first place.”
Trade is expected to get “exponentially quirkier” over the next several months.
“We have acquired the building that’s right next door to Trade,” says Bailey. “We’re going through a kind of negotiation period with the city to figure out exactly how you put those two properties together. We’re expecting to have answers on that in the month of August and to start putting it all together.”
Bailey says it felt nice to get affirmation from Esquire.
“You work really hard to try to make something interesting,” he says. “You hope people like it. You think people like it. But the only satisfaction that you get is from people showing up. So when something as substantial as Esquire, a national media force, says something, you’re like, ‘Wow.’ It’s so satisfying and gratifying.
“You don’t often get a pat on the back. That’s not the way the world works,” he continues. “You’ve just kind of got to know that what you’ve done is good and feel good about yourself. So it’s nice when somebody else recognizes that.”
As You Are also made the list, being praised by Esquire for being a queer event space and cafe as well as a bar. As the legendary men’s magazine said in its brief write-up of the bar, “Stick around long enough and you might just see a coffee-sipping grad student transition into a beer-guzzling karaoke star.”
Metro Weekly reached out to the owners of As You Are for comment but did not hear back as of deadline.
Trade is located at 1410 14th St. NW in Washington, D.C. Call 202-986-1094 or visit www.tradebardc.com.
As You Are is located at 500 8th St. SE in Washington, D.C. Visit www.asyouaredc.com.
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