Fairfax County's first gay bar builds a following in Herndon
Friday, December 31, 2010; 10:49 PM
Austin Jennings is the manager of So Addictive Lounge, a Herndon bar and grill, where he's learned that it's a lot of work, this business of going fully gay.
There are gay and lesbian bartenders to hire, and more drag queens to book, and fruit-flavored Michelob Ultras to add to the beer list, and an entire menu to be made over, with salads replacing all that deep-fried food, Jennings said, "because gay people are conscious of what they eat." And he has repainted, too. "Gay people have an eye for detail and decorating. It's a stereotype, but it's true."
So Addictive, which started out as a coffeehouse (thus the name), launched a weekly gay night last summer - a Wednesday gathering that initially consisted of four people, including Jennings and his boyfriend, drinking beer, watching "Modern Family" at the bar and wondering where everybody else was.
Now, the Wednesday night drag shows - featuring a wild mix of makeup, wigs, spangles and Lady Gaga impersonations - fill the place. Their success has persuaded Jennings and So Addictive's owner to swap out the bar's weekly hip-hop and Latin nights and turn their place into the only almost full-time gay bar in Fairfax County, home to more than 1 million people. The new format took effect on New Year's Eve; the only straight holdover on the schedule, for now, is heavy-metal Monday.
The arrival of a gay bar in the heart of a quintessentially suburban community nearly 25 miles outside of Washington is a milestone for the gay community. It's also a broader test to see whether a business that caters to gay men and lesbians can succeed and gain mainstream acceptance in a town that was once featured in a book on the 100 "Best Places to Raise Your Family" in the United States.
By flying a rainbow flag directly across from the old Herndon Town Hall on Elden Street, So Addictive already has become a key marker in the gay diaspora. Sarah Gustafson, president of the gay rights organization Equality Fairfax, recently e-mailed the 900 people on her list to announce the "fantastic news" that "yes, Virginia, there is a gay bar in Fairfax County."
"There's a tremendous amount of gay, lesbian and transsexual people who live in the county, so it's really great that a bar's coming to us," Gustafson said. "People might not realize there's a significant gay and lesbian population in the suburbs; everybody assumes we live downtown. But we are everywhere. We are your neighbors, and having a neighborhood bar finally puts a permanent face on that."
So far, a niche market
Along with Freddie's Beach Bar in Crystal City, So Addictive will be one of just two full-time gay bars in the northern half of a state that activists say is not exactly the most hospitable place for gays.
After Congress voted to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in December, for instance, Robert G. Marshall, a Republican state delegate from Prince William County, promised to introduce legislation banning "active homosexuals" from the Virginia National Guard. In 2006, Virginia voters approved an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage.
For years, state law prohibited drinking establishments from becoming "meeting places" for prostitutes, gamblers, drug users, criminals - and homosexuals. The reference to homosexuals was removed in the early 1990s, according to Philip Bogenberger, a spokesman for the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Still, many gays worried: When Jake's Restaurant and Pub in Manassas started a gay night several years ago, it billed the event as a "private party," because Jake's owner was worried about reaction from social conservatives in Prince William County. (Jake's has since become Mackey's, which does not have a gay night.)
So Addictive's transformation into a full-fledged gay bar has turned at least some heads in Herndon. At Horn Motors, an auto parts store one block down Elden, an employee who answered the phone Friday said of his neighbor: "I don't think you want to print what I got to say."