There’s a lot of change in the air with the D.C. gay leather community. As Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend is in town for its annual festivities, we decided to ask around and see if the changes are just coincidental, natural evolution of a maturing scene or indicators of a larger cultural shift of some type.
The bottom-line answer, not surprisingly, is that it depends whom you ask.
But first, the particulars.
• The Leather Rack, still gay-owned but under new management, has a new name. Now known as Adam & Eve, it’s still at 1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (location of the nearly 40-year-old business since 1991) but is a slightly different shop.
“We felt the name attracts a broader audience, not just gay guys into leather” current owner Russwin Francisco, who bought the business from James McGlade (who’d owned it since 1994), wrote in an e-mail. “We do love gay leather guys and we’ll support the leather community in any way we can. We simply want to ensure that other folks with other sexual fetishes feel as comfortable in our store regardless of gender, sexual orientation or identity. Consequently we are offering women’s fetish wear, toys and accessories along side our men’s [items].”
Francisco is gay, married to a man and has been in Washington for more than 30 years.
McGlade didn’t respond to requests for comment but said in a press release issued when the change became official in November that he was “grateful for our time here as the Leather Rack” and “we wish to thank you for your patronage and endorsement over the years.”
“Jim is a good friend,” Francisco says. “It was a natural transition.”
• As has been widely reported, the D.C. Eagle’s days at its current location at 639 New York Ave., N.W. location are numbered. The most recent official comment was that owners would be there through the end of March via an agreement with the developer of a high-rise office complex that will displace the Eagle and other businesses in the area.
Eagle owners and management staff are being tight-lipped on their plans. Repeated phone calls, e-mails and Facebook messages to Ted Clements, Peter Lloyd and Carl Domer went unacknowledged this week.
Eddie Ortiz, president of the D.C. Boys of Leather, says he sees Clements regularly and though he can’t offer anything official, he understands an announcement is imminent. The Boys have a monthly bar night at the Eagle, as do many of the local gay leather groups.
“I understand the owners do have a location identified, but they haven’t given me a location yet,” Ortiz says. “I think they’re going to announce it over MAL weekend. Ted is the one I talk to a lot.”
David Merrill, who’s gay and DJs the monthly fetish/gear party CODE, says it’s never wise to count the Eagle out.
“We’ve heard rumors of the Eagle’s imminent demise multiple times in the past and, of course, those rumors turned out to be greatly exaggerated,” Merrill says. “I’m certain they’ll open in a new location.”
• The Baltimore Eagle, however, hasn’t been as lucky. It closed last month at its 2022 N. Charles Street location and its fate remains uncertain. The estate of former owner Richard Richardson, who died suddenly in 2007 (he’d purchased it from Tom Kiple in 1995), had been running it in recent years. New owner Charles Parrish did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
In the meantime, many in the Baltimore gay leather community have moved over to Leon’s Leather Lounge, known casually as “the Triple L” at 870 Park Ave.
Rodney Burger, president of the ShipMates Club, which had called the Eagle “home” since the bar opened in 1991, said the last night it was open was memorable.
“It is my understanding that the new owner plans to turn it into office space,” he wrote in an e-mail. “How fitting that the last Saturday the bar was open was our ShipMates’ Daddy Christmas benefit. The bar was packed and we raised $3,000 for Moveable Feast. We closed the bar with a bang.”
He also said Triple L owner Ron Singer made “a nice offer” and they plan to continue meeting there.
“I just hope we can get in there to clear out our trophy case and banners,” Burger said later in a phone interview. “There’s the entire history of the Baltimore leather scene in there including banners from some clubs that haven’t existed for 30 years or more. I’m actually having nightmares about losing this stuff — we need to make sure we can get in there and get all that safely out. I hope it’s OK and doesn’t end up in a dumpster somewhere.”
Those active in the Baltimore leather scene say they’re hearing the Eagle could reopen elsewhere, but nothing definite is known.
“I’ve heard everything from three to five months, I’ve heard longer, the rumor mill is full of stuff,” Rik Newton-Treadway, known as “Hooker” in the leather community there, says.
MAL appears to continue thriving and local gay leather enthusiasts say it’s a major highlight of their year and remains popular with both locals and those who come from out of town.
“There’s always a huge percentage of local people at MAL,” Merrill says. He’ll be spinning his “deep house” and “progressive tribal” music at two special CODE parties at the Crucible this weekend. “I think most local guys into some part of the leather scene make it to at least one of the MAL events. There are so many things to do over the weekend — dance events, play events, times to socialize, the cocktails the Centaurs do — there’s a little something for everybody. That’s one of the great things about the leather community — it’s so diverse.”
Ortiz, whose Boys group is having its own free party/dance tonight at 10 in the Congressional Room at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill (the sold-out host hotel), says he “can’t wait to get going and start dancing.” Though married to his partner of 14 years who’s not into the leather scene, Ortiz is in a slave/master relationship with a leather lover in Michigan whom he sees about once a month and who will be here this weekend for MAL.
“It’s such a fun time,” he says. “It’s great to see people you haven’t seen since last year and it gives us a chance to really hang out in our leather, do play scenes in a safe environment, be who we are, make new friends and also see some of the local people who don’t come out as much unless it’s for MAL.”
Ortiz, by the way, says the Boys club, which even has a couple female members, is about having a boy mindset.
“It’s how you identify in your heart,” he says. “It’s who you are on the inside. There’s no certain way it has to be, but it does tend to be more service oriented. You don’t have to be a complete bottom. Boys can top, but it’s about taking care of a dom or having someone be in charge of you and dominating the play scene.”
With trust and communication in his marriage, he says his other relationship is “working out great for us.”
As for the D.C. scene overall, some say it’s just natural evolution.
Woody says it runs much deeper than simply who owns a leather bar at any given time or where it might be located.
“The smartphone has brought with it a lot of degrading factors,” he says. “There are all these mobile apps now — Scruff, Growlr, Grindr — all these things we didn’t have before. Now I can find a trick a half a mile from me with my GPS-embedded tracker and there are people coming up with different websites all the time. … You can order up anything you want, so there are not as many people interested in romance anymore. Yes, there are still softies with good hearts who want relationships and certainly gay men have always had their hook-up side, but I think there’s a higher turnover ratio when everything’s online.”
Newton-Treadway, who says lots of guys from Baltimore come to D.C. for Leather Weekend (“Are you kidding? It’s practically in our backyard — it’s like a giant cheesecake for everybody who’s supposed to be on a diet.”), says the changing leather scene is much deeper and more complex than it may initially seem.
“I think there are aspects of the lifestyle that in a way are becoming more underground, less in your face,” he says. “I think the economy hasn’t helped. The Internet hasn’t helped. It’s many, many, many different things. I would say long gone are the days when a leather bar could count on the gay leather community to keep it open. With everything out there online, you don’t need to go out. Not long ago, there wasn’t any AOL, hell, we didn’t even have cell phones. You had to go out for dick. It didn’t come to you unless you were in the middle of the gay ghetto and sitting on your front porch. So there’s a lot of change occurring and a lot of contributing factors. And even when you do go out to the bars, everybody’s got their nose in their phone. They might even be texting to someone who’s right there in the bar, but they won’t go over and talk to them.”
But the bar scene in the leather world is far from dead. Jacob Pring, who organizes CODE and the XXX parties at Green Lantern and the Crucible, says he sees lots of younger guys coming to his events and gets anywhere from 100 to 150 guys to an average event.
“There’s always new people coming in,” Pring says. “People bring their friends. It’s fun. No attitude, no drama.”
Ortiz says he’s not so sure it’s changing as much as everybody says.
“I still go out,” he says. “I don’t just sit at home online all the time. I know lots of people who go out and support the clubs.”
Merrill says it is changing but it’s futile to pine for the past.
“Every community changes over time,” he says. “It’s not gonna be 1975 forever. I don’t know what things will look like in another 10 years, but I’m looking forward to finding out.”