For many gay Washingtonians, the first stop on Friday night in Rehoboth Beach for the past 30 years has been the Blue Moon.
Built in 1907 as a Sears Craftsman Home it has evolved into a welcoming blue and yellow landmark on Baltimore Avenue, which serves as a place to socialize, share news, find the parties in town, see the latest summer fashions and find love.
More than a building and a social center, many feel that the presence of such a gay-friendly establishment has helped change the face of Rehoboth Beach from a sleepy town, where locals occasionally clashed with the gay community, to one of the most popular gay resorts in the country. Even before there was a Camp Rehoboth, many regarded the “Moon” as the community center for Rehoboth Beach.
Joyce Felton, an original owner of the Blue Moon, said she realized, “that there was a need for a community service center.” It was in one of her restaurants, according to Felton, that organizing meetings were held for both the Sussex County AIDS Committee and a newsletter that later became Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, a local LGBT newsmagazine.
Although there were gay restaurants and bars in the beach resorts when Felton opened the Moon in 1981, unlike some of the others, this one was not tucked away on a quiet street with windows covered. The Blue Moon was out in the open, gay and proud, but the early years were not easy.
“We deliberately wanted our restaurant to be in the open and have a cutting edge,” Felton said, adding that she was surprised at the hostility she received from some locals when she opened. According to local lesbian author Fay Jacobs, in an article printed in Delaware Beach Life, sometime during the first year the Moon was open, the mayor at the time said he had received a letter complaining about “gay food in Rehoboth” and explained that there was no way this town wanted a gay restaurant.
“The harassment and threats continued for years,” wrote Jacobs, with objects thrown into the Moon by angry local residents. But now Felton believes that “economically it would be disastrous to turn back the clock to the 1970s when such homophobia reigned.”
John Berdini, co-owner of Cloud Nine and a bartender at Blue Moon from 1984-1993 remembers the hostility its employees and customers faced during those years. Police, he said, often wouldn’t show up when there were bottles thrown into the bar and after other anti-gay incidents. But because of Felton’s perseverance, the restaurant and bar succeeded.
“The best years of my life were spent at the Blue Moon, as we became a family because we knew we were in this fight together,” Berdini said. He calls Felton a trailblazer for gay businesses, noting, “Joyce Felton legitimized gay businesses in Rehoboth Beach.”
Current owner Tim Ragan says “The Moon has become the anchor of Baltimore Avenue, and as such has attracted other LGBT businesses, making Rehoboth Beach a great destination point for LGBT tourists.”
Since its inception, the Blue Moon was always changing and evolving. Although the restaurant has always remained, the bar area was built in what was the house’s garden in 1982 and two years later an atrium area was opened. Locals and visitors alike look forward to the annual opening of the Blue Moon to see the structural changes that occur inside virtually each off-season, including raising the floor in the outdoor bar area and adding a retractable roof to deal with the Rehoboth summer showers and heat.
In addition to the physical changes in the Blue Moon, the changes in entertainment have kept the crowds coming. At one time the bar was for drinking and cruising, then it began to have piped in music and occasional live performers. In recent years it has established itself as a place to enjoy live entertainment; one of the most popular resident acts is singer/songwriter Pamala Stanley, who performs most summer evenings and is in her sixth season at the Moon. During the summer months there are cabaret performers, karaoke, drag and special events most nights. Drag queen Mona Lotts hosts a popular karaoke party. Added to the mix this year is Joe Kovacs, a famous puppeteer and actor who performs every Tuesday night with his puppet Gretta.
For some, no trip to Rehoboth Beach is complete without a visit to the Blue Moon, be it for food, drink or entertainment. For Knight Champion, a D.C. Realtor and frequent visitor to Rehoboth, “each night at the Blue Moon that I hear Pamala Stanley is a joy, especially since each show is so different.”
For Paul Kuntzler, longtime gay activist in D.C., his first stop is the Moon. “I start every trip with dinner at the Moon, said Kuntzler, “and then I come to the bar to have a few drinks.”
No story about the Moon would be complete without talking about its unique Moon Pie. For some who come just to eat at the highly rated restaurant, a meal must include this dessert, a delicious combination of Oreo cookies, meringue and four types of ice cream, piled about eight inches high. For many, the challenge is to finish the pie on their own, but more often than not it is regarded as a dessert for the whole family to share.
On Oct. 9, the Blue Moon will officially celebrate its 30th anniversary and to its current owners, another 30 years is not out of the question.
“As times change, we are willing to make the changes to keep us a relevant part of the community,” Ragan said.
The rich history of the Blue Moon, its struggles against homophobia and its willingness to change with the times suggest that, indeed, the Moon can continue to thrive and help build a better Rehoboth Beach.
Love Weekend in Rehoboth
This holiday weekend marks the annual Love celebration in Rehoboth Beach, a two-night dance party held at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center.
Red Love — Saturday from 8 p.m.-2 a.m., with DJ/Remixer Joe Gauthreaux. Open bar/$40.
Blue Love – Sunday from 9 p.m.-2 a.m., with DJ Mike Reimer. Open bar/$40
Red and Blue Love Dance Ticket Package: $75
Ladies 2000 — Lady Love Tea Dance on Sunday, July 3, 4-8 p.m. with DJ Steve Singer. Cash bar/tickets $15.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit camprehoboth.com.