For more than 10 sultry summers, the arrival of Capital Pride brought a formidable line to Town Danceboutique.
At the massive warehouse on Eighth Street NW, Washington’s LGBTQ party crowds coalesced to shake off worries and fears, and to find life-affirming energy in dancing till last call — in being themselves. But after last year’s celebrations, the stray tinsel and glitter was swept away, and Town shuttered to make way for new apartments and shops.
Several months later, so went Cobalt, which had anchored Dupont Circle’s 17th Street nightlife strip for 20 years. Announcing its closure in March, its owner noted that Washington’s gay bar industry was changing. Dating apps had transformed how people met, and it was no longer at bars; parties were moving from exclusively gay spaces to venues whose regular crowds were far more mixed. When Capitol Hill’s historic lesbian bar Phase 1 closed two years earlier, its regulars similarly suggested that social changes meant that the clientele were newly free to be themselves anywhere, not just at Phase. It was progress, and yet, it was bittersweet.
The demise of a handful of bars might not signal much in straight circles, though the closure of gay and lesbian bars is a nationwide phenomenon. Gay bars have long been safe havens, places that fostered a sense of community among those who felt unwelcome elsewhere. “They’re something that straight bars just aren’t — they aren’t the only place someone can go to be themselves,” says Ed Bailey, co-owner of a group of bars that includes Trade on 14th Street NW and Number 9, nearby on P Street.
But as this year’s Pride approaches, few are mourning what was lost. Instead, many are lauding a sea change in the scene, where new events and venues have embraced a fresh ethos of inclusivity, fostering a sense of oneness among glitter-loving twinks, bearded bears, feathered drag performers, fan-waving black voguers, non-binary and trans college kids, and, yes, their straight allies — groups that have long seemed disparate.
“Maybe the marriage ruling was a moment of a kind of ultimate assimilation for our community,” says Bailey. “Maybe our community naturally reset itself.” Bailey cautions that this may be too simple a conclusion, and yet he believes that something new is afoot. “It feels like a true moment of far more awareness within our community of the breadth of the community.”
In Adams Morgan, a pair of bars — Pitchers and the lady-centric A League of Her Own, both for queer sports fans — have opened in tandem, under a single roof. Pitchers’ promise? To be “a bar for everyone.” In mid-June, the Hirshhorn will throw its inaugural Hirshhorn Ball, with drag performers, voguing and DJs plucked from the LGBTQ community.
At the 9:30 Club in April, Bent, a relatively new quarterly party helmed by Steve Lemmerman (who goes by DJ Lemz), quickly sold out with a message of a new queer world order. “There are no rules!” the performer Pussy Noir (a.k.a. Jason Barnes) bellowed from the stage that night. He paused for a beat. “There are rules. Don’t rip up the floors or anything.” Bent features dancers who might stalk a short catwalk, dipping into the spotlight only to vogue hypnotically. It enlists DJs and drag performers and even, on occasion, a band. And it welcomes everyone — all forms of gender identity are represented on the stages and in the crowd, Pussy Noir would remind the crowd. (The next Bent is post-Pride, on July 13.)
Even Pride is getting in on the spirit: for the first time its opening party, thrown by Bailey and the Trade crew at nightclub Echostage, is 18 and older — an acknowledgment of the energizing influence of younger members of the community. “The youth are definitely claiming this ‘queer’ space,” says Ryan Bos, executive director of the Capital Pride Alliance. “For the elders in our community, that was very much a derogatory and hate-filled word, used to bully. The younger generation have been trying to reclaim that word.” Getting the generations together, even on a dance floor, he says, has sparked a conversation.
Phil Powell, who describes himself as “sort of D.C.’s unofficial dandy,” could be found taking it all in at Bent recently, admiring the way various scenes and aesthetics merged on the dance floor of the 9:30 Club.
“A lot of people feel like they’re underrepresented,” he says, like they didn’t fit into the boxes that D.C.’s gay bars once seemed to check. “We’re starting to realize we need each other.”
Want to experience D.C.’s more inclusive LGBTQ nightlife? Capital Pride is a great place to begin.
As the co-founder of the events and lifestyle website Brightest Young Things, which throws an annual party during Capital Pride, Svetlana Legetic has seen the good and bad sides of the festival. “Pride is meant to be a celebration for all,” she says, but “over the years the number of ‘satellite’ Pride celebrations proves that some communities felt underrepresented in the mainstream celebrations.” So when planning this year’s flagship kickoff event, Legetic and her team decided to offer “something a little different than just a dance party,” she says. “How do the people who don’t want to dance to circuit DJs all night get to celebrate this?” The result is a party with an open bar, music and a New Year’s Eve-style countdown to the Smithsonian’s LGTBQ+ Pride Month, but also an inclusive range of well-known national acts, such as headlining DJ and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Aquaria, and up-and-coming locals KC B. Yonce and Ruth Allan Ginsburg. It’s a lineup that Legetic says is “across gender and sexual identifiers and, in my opinion, reflective of Pride in 2019.” Friday from 8:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. 800 G St. NW. $60-$75.
This party, which celebrates D.C.’s “lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender and gender nonconforming communities,” is sponsored by Whitman-Walker Health in conjunction with Tagg Magazine and local event promoters Lure. Pride has come a long way since Lure’s first party in 2009, says producer Sterling Higgins. “In the past, womxn during Pride struggled with a voice to tell their narrative and places to celebrate safely their triumphs. Our first events were a few hundred womxn from us creating safe spaces to gather, dance and celebrate. Now we’re collaborating with womxn-owned organizations and national nonprofits to produce events for several thousand womxn to listen to amazing DJ’s and watch performances.” This year’s event returns to Big Chief in Ivy City, which has a spacious rooftop deck and large dance floor. This year’s event returns to Big Chief in Ivy City, which has a spacious rooftop deck and large dance floor. That’s a good thing, because music comes from DJ Alex Love, a fixture in the main room at Eighteenth Street Lounge and at the Dirty Goose. Lure’s Karen Diehl says the biggest change, for her, is that, “It’s no longer an LGBT environment. The rainbow has expanded to an LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, etc.) environment, and I think it’s important to provide a space where we all feel welcome. We lean more to a female-identifying crowd, but we do not discriminate.” Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. 2002 Fenwick St. NE. $10-$100.
Every June, DC Brau’s Pilsener undergoes a significant makeover, adopting a new name, Pride Pils, and new art on its cans. Proceeds from the sales of the limited-edition lager are donated to SMYAL, a local nonprofit that works with LGBTQ youth, and the Blade Foundation, supporting LGBTQ-focused journalism. (The event has raised $23,750 since 2017.) The release party for Pride Pils was traditionally held during a dog-friendly Yappy Hour at Town Danceboutique, but with that club’s closure, it’s moving to Dacha Beer Garden in Shaw. DC Brau co-founder Brandon Skall says he’s been impressed with the growing interest in Pride Pils — more than 100 bars and retailers will sell 28,000 cans this year — but also the transition of the Pride Pils artwork, which is chosen by public vote. “The first year was a welcoming, celebratory image of a unicorn,” he says. “Last year was more of a protest image,” showing “a diverse group turning away from Washington institutions.” This year’s can features a luminous portrait of the late Marsha P. Johnson, an activist who had a leading role in the Stonewall uprising, created by D.C. artist Maggie Dougherty. Dougherty’s original design, featuring 27 pansies, represents the 27 trans people who were killed in 2018 and early 2019. By the time the beer and accompanying T-shirts were produced, Skall says, another pansy had to be added. There have been three more deaths since. The new artwork “addresses issues that trans people face, which are often swept under the rug,” Skall says. “It’s something that really resonated with people.” Thursday at 4 p.m. 1600 Seventh St. NW. Free; beers priced individually.
Booty Rex began almost a decade ago as a fusion of two different all-female DJ nights: the Anthology of Booty and She Rex, at an Adams Morgan bar named Chief Ike’s Mambo Room. “It started off as a group of friends coming together,” says Ebony Dumas, who spins with Anthology of Booty as DJ Natty Boom. “Back then, there were a lot of punks and working-class folks.” Booty Rex eventually moved to the Black Cat, where they could offer DJs spinning different genres on different floors to appeal to more people. But Dumas says that Booty Rex’s crowd still attracts those turned off by how corporate — and how much of a spectacle — the Pride Parade has become. This year, with the Black Cat slimmed down to one floor, Dumas says the soundtrack will be contemporary, with current hip-hop and tropical bass spun by a team of six DJs. The mix of the crowd “definitely influences the music,” Dumas says, “but all six or seven of us have a pretty strong influence as DJs.” June 7 at 8 p.m. 1811 14th St. NW. $15.
The 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots is the theme of the first big event of Pride. “It’s to remind us of how Pride began and why we can celebrate our victories today,” says Aaron Riggins of Trade, which is co-producing the event with Capital Pride. Riggins and the organizers are proud of “the sheer number of diverse queer artists that will be onstage,” with performances happening constantly throughout the huge space, headlined by “RuPaul’s Drag Race” veteran Vanessa Vanjie Mateo and veteran D.C. DJ Ed Bailey. Looking back to Stonewall, “our cast of performers is meant to be a reflection of the diverse participants that have been fighting for our freedoms since,” Riggins says. June 7 at 9 p.m. 2135 Queens Chapel Rd. NE. $30-$35.
From 2008 to 2018, Mixtape was one of the city’s best monthly dance parties, thanks to DJs Matt Bailer and Shea Van Horn and their eclectic selection of ’80s remixes, electro-pop, disco and hip-hop. Though Mixtape came to an end last September, Bailer is bringing it back for a special Pride revival with guest DJs Keenan Orr, Lemz and Tezrah. “Pride has been a freaking good time,” Bailer says. “People have been out and about all day, drinking and parading.” The DJ, who spins tunes at a number of gay bars around town — he’ll be at Pitchers on Friday — says he matches that vibe with “uplifting, soulful and sexy” music for everyone to sing along with. Bailer says that he’s also noticed the atmosphere at Washington’s LGBTQ bars becoming “more inclusive, more queer” over the past year or so. He’s hoping that will continue when Mixtape makes its comeback. June 8 at 10 p.m. 815 V St. NW. $18.
Last year’s inaugural Pride on the Pier featured a waterfront DJ and beer garden. This year’s celebration is more akin to the National Cherry Blossom Festival, with a full afternoon of music and family-friendly games and activities, capped by a 30-minute fireworks show over the Washington Channel. DJ Rosie of the local Lure parties and Pride veteran Drew G are among the artists spinning tunes, while wine and beer flow at gardens on the piers. VIP tickets include unlimited food and drinks as well as access to a designated fireworks area. June 8 from 2 to 9:30 p.m. 101 District Sq. SW. Free. VIP $75-$125.
Pitchers opened just in time for Pride last summer, giving Adams Morgan a new gay sports bar with three levels and two rooftop areas. After the big reveal, owner Dave Perruzza (previously the longtime manager of JR’s) says, “I noticed a few pride flags go up [in the neighborhood], which was great.” This year, outside of sponsoring a float in the parade, Perruzza won’t be doing anything special for Pride. Pitchers, along with its sister lesbian bar, A League of Her Own, is just open as usual, with no cover charge. “We don’t have the extra staff to do anything too crazy,” Perruzza says. For most people, though, being open is enough. 2317 18th St. NW.
Red Bear Brewing opened to acclaim (and long lines) at the former Uline Arena this spring, and the NoMa brewpub, which bills itself as D.C.’s first “100 percent gay-owned brewery,” is gearing up for its first beery Pride celebrations. June kicks off with an hour-long Pride Yoga party (Saturday at 10 a.m.), followed by drinks in the taproom. Other events include an LGBTQ comedy night, with nine performers benefiting the Trevor Project (Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.); an “all-inclusive” rooftop party with deaf DJ Nico DeMarco to raise money for LGBTQ youth charity SMYAL (June 8 from 4 to 8 p.m., $65-$95), followed by a taproom drag show with Desiree Dik (9 to 11 p.m.); and an open-bar rooftop tea dance with Dik and DJ Electrox benefiting the nonprofit LGBTQ youth organization Casa Ruby (Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m., $65-$95). 209 M St. NE.
Eight packed days of Pride festivities kick off on June 2 with a special edition of Glam Box, which has become one of the Logan Circle bar’s signature events. “It is basically a dress-up party,” says manager Aaron Riggins. “Costumes, drag — it’s a great example of unbridled queerness. There’s been such a pushback against masculinity, and conforming,” Riggins says, which makes Glam Box “a relief.” It’s also a great example of Trade’s ethos: Anywhere else, dressing up might not have been masculine enough for some in the community, according to co-owner Ed Bailey. But Trade encourages acceptance of what Bailey calls a “reality that seems a little outdated.” That’s reflected in the rest of the week’s schedule, which finds drag shows, happy hours, DJs and late-night performances — more than 30 local artists in all — sharing space on 14th Street NW. 1410 14th St. NW.