Wasn’t D.C. just voted the country’s No. 1 gayest city by the Advocate? And weren’t we supposed to weather the recession better than any other major American metropolis? You wouldn’t know it by the health of the city’s gay nightlife—the past year alone has seen the shuttering of four gay bars and nightclubs.
Delta Elite Social Club: Closed for good after 37 years, Delta Elite catered to black LGBTQ men and women, the kind of place where you’d dance to hip-hop and go-go music in a dark basement until the wee hours of the morning. One regular, Leo Sheridan, said he heard that “it wasn’t making enough money for rising rent costs” in its fast-gentrifying Brookland neighborhood.
Remingtons: For nearly 20 years, Remingtons’ large dance floor was filled with gay couples two-stepping and line dancing while others leaned on the wooden railings to watch the pseudo-country-western scene. But after the DC Cowboys dance troupe disbanded, Remingtons tried to attract a more diverse LGBTQ clientele, hosting hip-hop nights, karaoke, and a Latino night with mixed success. (The changes prompted racist comments on GayCities.com: “The clientel [sic] looked as though they just got off the bus from Anacostia. It was scary!”)
Lace on the Avenue: Lace opened in 2008 as a nightclub for LBTQ black women and women of color. The older couples who frequented the spot loved the vibe and upscale decor, but a series of identity crises (it changed from a nightclub to a bar to a lounge/restaurant) left people confused. The Woodridge location was probably a deterrent, a mile and a half from the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station in a place where at least one Yelp reviewer still felt “sketchy” waiting for a bus.
Phase 1 Dupont: Opened in 2012, Phase 1 Dupont was the second location of the Eastern Market lesbian bar, filling the huge space that used to house Apex. But beyond the opening night event that attracted hundreds, the space was often sparse. Patrons accused the (male) owners of making some missteps, like relying too heavily on drag queens for entertainment, painting the walls a clichéd pink, and not including enough bathrooms.
What does the demise of these places have in common? Hard to say. Maybe it’s the gentrification of Northeast D.C., where two of the four were located. Maybe it’s that women still make 77 cents to every man’s dollar, so lesbian bars can’t survive when women aren’t spending as much on nightlife as men. (Though Phase 1 Dupont could not be reached for comment, the bar is rumored to be reopening as a non-lesbian-specific club in time for this year’s Pride festivities.) Maybe it’s that African-Americans have less disposable income than whites and are a shrinking slice of D.C.’s demographic pie—but Lace and Delta Elite have always relied on patronage from Maryland and Virginia residents.
Or maybe it’s part of a nationwide trend away from gay-specific spaces, now that queers can more freely meet and connect in public, online, and in traditionally straight spaces. But then how to explain the ongoing popularity of places like Nellie’s and Town? Maybe it’s just that the four shuttered bars were poorly managed establishments. In the last few years, there had been plenty of vocal complaints: Remingtons smelled bad and needed to be renovated—management was tired of running the place. Delta Elite charged too much of a cover, and though it was always fun, “it honestly felt like a gritty music video,” Sheridan says. Lace’s downstairs dance space wasn’t large enough and the quality and prices of drinks were inconsistent. Phase 1 Dupont billed itself as the “largest lesbian club in the nation,” but one look inside, and it was clear that the title referred to the size of the location, not the number of patrons.
Regardless of the criticisms, there is certainly a nostalgia for these and other spaces we’ve lost over the years, including Chaos, Apex, the Edge, and BeBar. Is this the end of an era? Or are we about to see the next wave of new queer establishments?