Just off South Capitol Street, in a dreary neighborhood dotted with warehouses, hundreds of men and women dressed in leather, lace, denim and eye-stopping colors twirl nightly in the mirrored, strobe-lit world of Tracks D.C., a high-tech disco.
Opened two years ago in a Southeast backwater near the Navy Yard, Tracks has become one of the city's most popular clubs, thanks to its huge dance floor, pulsating music transmitted through one of the best sound systems in town, extensive video collection and dazzling light show.
Outside, Tracks boasts an official-size volleyball court, wading pool, a raised wooden deck for dancing and regular monthly barbecues with chicken, steak, pork chops and all the trimmings.
Tim Dale, a 32-year-old interior decorator, said he's at Tracks six days a week. "This place is fantastic; it's like fantasyland. I dance, I eat, I watch all the latest videos and I come to meet my friends for a good time."
Patrons are met at the entrance by a large sign that reads in part: "Tracks is a gay-owned . . . , gay-managed . . . gay club for gay men and women," but regulars say that on some nights the crowd appears to be almost evenly split between gays and nongays.
"We want everyone that comes to our club to know that it is a gay-owned, gay-operated club for gay men and women," said Marty Chernoff, a former engineer and now president of Tracks D.C.
"A lot of people think this is just the newest avant garde club in town," he added, "but it's not a club for just everyone. It's a club for gay people. We have created an atmosphere where gay men and women feel comfortable with one another."
"We don't have a problem with nongay people who want to come here for the music, we have a problem with people who want to come here because they think they are going to see some kind of side show," said Chernoff, citing cases where nongays have made derogatory statements to gays.
"If your intent is to hear our music, dance and have a good time then there is plenty of room for you at our club . . . . We don't discriminate at the door," he added.
Chernoff said that after running a successful Tracks club in Denver he and other owners decided to come to D.C. and build a sister club.
The city "has a substantial gay market, laws that are not antigay business, an enlightened mayor who paves the way for new businesses, a history of positive actions toward gay rights and because it has a fairly high per capita income," Chernoff explained.
Regulars at Tracks say the club has widened its appeal by playing rhythm and blues on Wednesday night, which draws a largely black crowd, and punk rock on Saturdays, which attracts a large young crowd from the suburbs. But in keeping with its philosophy, the last Tuesday night of each month is set aside for lesbians.
Danny Williams, also an interior decorator, said he goes to the club on Wednesdays and special nights. "On Wednesdays they play good music and you have a good mixture of everything -- gays, straights, blacks and a few whites; it's like a big melting pot."
Michelle Callender, a dental assistant, said Tracks is the only gay club she likes. "Do you want to know if I'm gay?" she asked. "Well, no, I'm not," she answered. "But that doesn't matter, because I love to dance and I love good music and this place has the best of both."
Callender said she also goes to "straight clubs" but gets bored with the "networking" and "guys coming on" to her."
"There are a lot of straight women that come here because the guys are so friendly and all they want to do is dance . . . . I feel safe here," she added.
Although some patrons complained about the presence of nongays, others said they didn't mind at all.
Dale added, "On Saturday most of the people appear to be straight, but one never knows until he asks."
The industrial area east of South Capitol Street between the freeway and M Street has become a popular address for gay clubs in the last few years.
"The area is ideal," Chernoff said. "We already knew that there were other gay clubs in the area and we looked around and found this building."
The owners of Tracks spent $3.5 million on the club -- $1 million for the purchase of the building, another $1 million for the renovation and $1 million for the light and sound systems.
The 12,000-watt sound system pumps out rhythms to the 2,000-square-foot dance floor. Suspended from the ceiling are 400 light fixtures, 200 of which are rearranged once a month for different affects.
"They spin, they fly, they gyrate, they go coo coo," said light man Jim Logan as he pushed several buttons on a master control board that created a design of red, blue and green circles and triangles to reflect on the dance floor.
"I can actually lower the ceiling, fill the room with smoke and create any color or design you could imagine," he said. "There is nothing like this in any other club in the city."