WANDER through Dupont Circle's popular gay bars and clubs, and no matter where you go, the soundtrack seems to be the same. One lounge spins pumping house music. Another blares a thumping Madonna remix. Overplayed retro booms from a third.
That's why the monthly Taint party at DC9 (1940 Ninth St. NW; 202-483-5000) is such a relief: Mixing indie-rock, Britpop, electro and new wave dance tunes, it's like a gay and lesbian version of the Black Cat's popular DJ nights.
Taint's DJ Rock Chasty (Eddy Perez) combines old favorites by New Order, Kraftwerk and the Clash with newer tracks by Royksopp, Air and the Gossip. Crowds of men and women dance on the club's stage under a movie screen showing indie-rock videos. Dozens of others pack the area around the bar or chat on the lounge's couches. The crowd -- whose fashion sense skews toward vintage T-shirts and jeans -- is lively.
"People's eyes light up when they see a gay bar like this," enthuses promoter Karl Jones. "They're like, 'Wow, there's an alternative.' " Taint is a revival of sorts for Washington's "alternative" gay scene.
Jones is friends with Michael Eichler, who ran a similar night called Feint at the Staccato Lounge from October 2002 to June 2003. When Eichler left for grad school, though, Feint ended. Jones and his friends Danny Fowler and Malia Miller-Censi decided to pick up the torch, saying there needed to be a place like Feint that avoided the usual "Cher, Madonna and Kylie [Minogue] remixes."
"[Dupont's club-heavy] 17th Street, to us, exemplifies a certain type of attitude -- it's kind of monotonous," Jones says. "Seventeenth is too queer for its own good." Instead, he prefers more "edgy" spots like the Black Cat and DC9, but, as Edinburgh-born Fowler notes, "our gaydar isn't perfect."
The partners began searching for a venue in October. "One of our priorities was to get a place where we could get a DJ," Fowler explains. "It was a struggle. . . . We went to a mix of venues, gay and straight, and DC9 turned out to be the most receptive."
For Taint's June debut, Jones and Fowler say, they expected about 100 people. According to DC9's doorman, 277 came through, a good mix of men and women, as well as their straight friends. Most impressive, though, was the laid-back crowd's willingness to hang out and converse on and off the dance floor. "The music was perfect," Fowler says. "The environment made people happy to go out and talk to people."
Jones concurs: "There's no pressure to hook up or talk to the right boy or get the right phone number," he says. "People should be able to engage each other on a level other than their biceps."
Taint is held on the first Sunday of the month. There is no cover charge. Doors open at 8, and the music begins about 9.
DARK AND STORMY NIGHTS
Humid July days (and equally humid nights) call for special summer drinks, preferably of the tropical variety. Mojitos are great -- especially those served in the old-Havana lounge on the first floor of the salsa-crazy Habana Village, full of mint leaves and garnished with huge stalks of sugar cane -- but that Cuban rum drink has seen its day in the sun.
If you're ready to try something new -- beyond mojitos, apple martinis and the like -- one of my warm-weather libations is the Dark and Stormy, a bracing mix of ginger beer and dark rum that originally hails from Bermuda. It's been showing up on trendy bar menus lately, and for good reason: It's a fantastic, refreshing drink.
(Don't let the name fool you -- ginger beer is a sweet, nonalcoholic carbonated beverage similar to ginger ale, but with an extra spicy tang.) You'll find a pretty traditional Dark and Stormy at the Islander Restaurant (1201 U St. NW; 202-234-4955). Owner and chef Addie Green hails from Trinidad, and weekends find an international crowd sipping fruity rum punch and Trinidad's Carib beer on the sidewalk patio and inside the narrow lounge, grooving to lively Caribbean music.
To make the Dark and Stormy, the bartender fills a cup with ginger beer and drizzles dark Myers's rum on top. Slices of lime decorate the rim. The Islander makes its own ginger beer, which can be candy-sweet, but is balanced somewhat with pungent spice. It's truly one of a kind.
You won't find late-night reggae in the small bar at Ceiba Restaurant (701 14th St. NW; 202-393-3983), but you will find an excellent Latin-flavored cocktail menu that turns out to be one of the best bargains in town. Every drink -- including the Pisco Sour, mango margarita and Dark and Stormy -- is $7.
Ceiba's Dark and Stormy is a strong and uncomplicated version: a glass more than half-full of Gosling's Black Seal rum -- the caramel-like rum that is one of Bermuda's leading exports -- topped with a bottle of ginger beer and the juice of two freshly squeezed lime halves. There's not much atmosphere at the bar, and most of the patrons milling around are waiting for tables in the restaurant. That's fine with me -- the better if you want to have a conversation after work or just linger over drinks and a few plates of ceviche or duck empanadas.
The lightest and spiciest Dark and Stormy of them all may be the version at Palette (1177 15th St. NW; 202-587-2700), because the bar takes the concept a step further -- it infuses Gosling's Black Seal rum with fresh ginger, giving the drink an additional burst of flavor. As with most of the drinks on the airy bar's menu, it's a winner.
Also worth mentioning is the Dark and Stormy at the Crossroads restaurant and nightclub (4103 Baltimore Ave., Bladensburg; 301-927-1056), a favorite dance venue for the local Caribbean community and a popular concert hall that hosts the likes of Maxi Priest and Bounty Killer. Just beware -- there are often steep cover charges at the door, and the club can be rowdy on weekends.
You'd expect to find a Dark and Stormy at Ginger Cove (822 E St. NW; 202-248-6007). Walls in the Caribbean restaurant and bar are colored vibrant blue and mango orange. About 40 different rums are offered on the menu, alongside cocktails with names like Reggae Riddim and Dip 'N' Fall Back. Problem is, Ginger Cove doesn't stock ginger beer.
Instead, the bartender suggests I try the rum punch, which is steeping in a large pot next to rows of name-brand liquor bottles. It's a mix of light and dark rum, the restaurant's homemade ginger-infused lemonade, fruit juices and "secret ingredients." For $5, it's a steal. Later, I discovered the rum punch is similar to a "modern" Dark and Stormy recipe devised by New York bartender extraordinaire Dale DeGroff.
Ginger Cove isn't alone -- a number of places I visited in the quest for the Dark and Stormy didn't stock ginger beer, including the outdoor Island Jim's Crab Shack and Tiki Bar in Brookland or the bustling bars along the Georgetown waterfront.
Then again, anywhere you can find ginger beer, you can get a Dark and Stormy, including rock clubs like the Black Cat and the microbrew-heavy Rams Head Tavern. Just ask the bartender to pour a 3-to-1 ratio of ginger beer to dark rum (Gosling's is best), and don't forget the fresh lime.