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N.J. gay couple celebrates 51st anniversary

Vince Grimm and Will Kratz met at a downtown Reading, Pa., gay bar

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay New Jersey

Vince Grimm and Will Kratz (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

VILLAS, N.J.—Vince Grimm had just left the U.S. Army Security Agency after a two-year deployment in Korea when he returned to the Reading, Pa., gay bar scene in 1961. A 20-year-old farm boy quickly caught his eye at the Big Apple Bar.

“We saw each other on and off at the bar,” said Grimm. “He was cute, blonde and kind of flamboyant — just my type.”

More than five decades later, Will Kratz pointed out with a hearty chuckle during an interview at their home that overlooks Delaware Bay a few miles north of New Jersey’s southernmost point that they consummated their relationship in the back of a 1957 Cadillac. “There was plenty of room,” added Grimm.

Kratz, who joked he was 13 when asked his age (he turns 73 later this year,) noted that Reading crime boss Abe Minker essentially allowed the gay bars to flourish because they provided a steady stream of revenue to what Grimm described as the “most corrupt city on the East Coast.” He said this pre-Stonewall scenario was a far cry from nearby Philadelphia where undercover officers regularly shook down the city’s gay bars.

“That didn’t really happen in Reading because there was income coming in from everywhere,” said Grimm. “There was a price to pay for people that had businesses and everything like that, but he kind of controlled everything. The bars were basically a safe place to go.”

“So were the streets,” added Kratz. “Nothing bad ever happened on the streets.”

The couple, who celebrated their 51st anniversary the day before the Blade interviewed them on Aug. 9, stressed that they never experienced any sort of harassment or discrimination outside of Kratz’s much older brother who never accepted his homosexuality. Their sexual orientation was never a secret to their parents and classmates. “Everybody knew us,” said Grimm, 75. “We were sexually active in school; never had any problems.”

“We had no idea we were setting a precedent”

Kratz began to perform in drag on stage in the backroom of the Zanzibar, another downtown Reading gay bar, in 1959. Grimm quickly noted that Kratz was underage at the time, but management overlooked this fact.

“They didn’t give a shit at the bar, as long as you behaved, as long as you weren’t too small to get over the bar,” added Kratz.

Kratz decided a couple of years later that he wanted to make the shows bigger. He approached the owner of the Big Apple Bar whose relatives owned a picnic grove outside Reading with buildings and a pavilion. They agreed to rent the space to him.

“Then we decided, well we’ve got to have money for these drag shows and where are we going to get it? Well let’s have barbecue chicken parties, so we had three a summer at that location,” said Kratz.

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay New Jersey

Kratz and Grimm also organized drag shows that became increasingly popular among locals (Photo courtesy of Vince Grimm and Will Kratz)

Nearly 300 people paid $5 to attend the first party that took place in 1961, but they quickly grew in popularity. Up to 1,500 revelers who came from as far away as northern New Jersey, Baltimore and even D.C. on themed buses that included those dressed as Vatican officials and the Pope attended the parties. A lesbian once arrived on an elephant with two tigers she borrowed from a local circus.

Grimm noted that they were the Reading Brewery’s largest single customer — the company delivered beer to the parties in tractor trailer trucks. Organizers also hired local firefighters, police officers and justices of the peace to work in the parking lot to thwart underage people who wanted to sneak into the gatherings.

“There was no other place for them to go, so that was like our first line of defense,” said Grimm. “Plus it made us kind of look legitimate.”

They soon, however, began to draw the attention of the Pennsylvania State Police because they created traffic jams on the local roads. Grimm noted that some of the troopers who investigated them were homophobic.

“We had some stand offs when they would come in and just kind of sit there in a car and try to intimate people,” said Grimm, who was the president of the group that organized the party. Kratz was its treasurer. “One time I think I must have stood out — stood there just staring at ‘em for like an hour, not making a move: well, when you’re ready to ask me questions I’ll be happy to answer.”

Grimm recalled one incident in which the state police claimed that underage people had attended the party. Troopers called the state Liquor Control Board that subsequently confiscated the tractor trailer that had delivered beer.

“We got on the phone with the Reading Brewery and said we have a problem,” recalled Grimm. “They said you don’t have any problem. We’re going to be there with another tractor-trailer of beer within the hour. Don’t worry about the Liquor Control Board; we’ll take care of them. Another tractor-trailer full of kegs of beer showed up within the hour.”

The only other incident that the couple said they had was a rumored police raid. The couple sought advice from another local District Justice about what to do if authorities arrested them, but she was initially confused about the entire situation.

“‘Oh my God you’re having these huge parties and all you guys are queer,’” said the judge, according to Grimm. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ She said, ‘Well … the law is the law and I’ll abide by the law. If you’ve not done anything, if everything is in place you don’t have anything to worry about.’”

Grimm then reached out to a Reading lawyer who worked for the American Civil Liberties Union to “cover my bases.” He also didn’t understand the potential problem that the couple faced.

“I tried to explain everything to him and he said the ACLU doesn’t have anything to do with a group like yours,” said Grimm. “They haven’t even gotten involved yet in gay groups. This was something totally new.”

In addition to the three parties they organized each year, Grimm and Kratz also staged drag shows that featured choreographers and up to 10 performers on stage at any given time. Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand proved popular muses, but some participants wrote entire operettas and made their costumes.

“The fire police people and the local JPs kind of found out that we were having these shows and they said, well how come you never ask us to come to these shows. We said you can come,” said Grimm. “They started to come to the Sunday matinees; they would come in suits. Their wives would come in their furs. It was totally unbelievable. This was their theater. We were their theater and they were actually the best audience that we had. We got standing ovations. They would go crazy. They couldn’t wait for us.”

A combination of Philadelphia’s burgeoning drag scene and a lack of interest among younger people prompted the couple to end their parties in 1979.

“It sounds like we were doing great things only in retrospect now because back then, we knew what we were doing, but we had no idea what we were doing,” said Kratz, who designed displays for the Strawbridge and Clothier department store at the time. “We knew our drag. We knew how to sew costume. We had no idea we were setting a precedent, for anybody. We just wanted to provide a safe place for the 1,500 or so people who ended up coming and the 500-600 who came to our shows in four weekends. We had no idea we were pre-anything else like Stonewall. We weren’t out on the streets looking for freedom. We already had it.”

Couple’s activism, generosity expands beyond Pa.

Grimm, a former engineer, joined a Bucks County group that supported people with AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic in the early 1980s that became the template for Pennsylvania’s statewide service organization for those with the virus. He also volunteered for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance and became a board member after he and Kratz retired to Cape May in 1996.

They also joined GABLES Cape May, an LGBT community and support group with more than 200 members from across the county that formed in the mid-1990s in response to homophobic commentaries about the area’s growing gay population that began to appear in the local newspaper. The organization has raised nearly $150,000 for the local Red Cross chapter and other community organizations. Both Grimm and Kratz are also on the Lower Cape May Regional High School’s advisory board.

“We know that the gays that are going to the high school over here are being harassed and are being harassed by their classmates,” said Grimm, who said this bullying does not occur at a nearby technical school where the students are more accepting of their LGBT classmates. “The kids are basically walking around hand-in-hand and nobody cares.”

The group also played a role in efforts to secure passage of both New Jersey’s domestic partnership registry and civil unions law — the couple entered into one two days after the state’s civil unions law took effect in 2007. Grimm, who is also a minister, continues to officiate these ceremonies throughout the Cape May area.

“The biggest reason for us to do it immediately was death things,” said Kratz. “When you die, the tax rate is astronomical. Now that’s going to be somewhat less. Domestic partnership is not marriage, but it’s close. We’ve heard stories and meet people that one lover died and they had to sell the house and the business to pay the tax.”

He added that he does not think that he and Grimm will live to see the day when gays and lesbians can legally tie the knot in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie in February vetoed a same-sex marriage bill, but Kratz stressed he expects gay weddings will eventually happen in the Garden State.

“I thought if marriage passes, am I going to have yet another dress because we had to do two ceremonies,” he joked.

When asked about the most romantic thing the couple had done for each other, Kratz immediately said travel. He and Grimm went to India and Egypt in the 1970s and have traveled around the world twice. They established the Nguyen Zian Quynh-Vince Will Education Foundation to help fatherless Vietnamese children attend school after they visited the Southeast Asian country in 2006 and befriended a guide after whom they named it.

“That’s probably one of the best, rewarding things we do,” said Grimm.

Both men stressed they remain in love with each other after 51 years.

“I’ve never had a day in my life that I wanted to kill him,” said Kratz, although he joked he came close last month after Grimm left his passport in his suitcase when they boarded a cruise ship in Copenhagen. “Never, never have I had a moment where I said I didn’t want to be here.”

Grimm added that Kratz has “backed me all of the way.”

“If I had one wish it would be that everyone could have a supporting partner like he is,” he said.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Kevin Norte

    August 17, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    is so refreshing to read about another fortunate couple who have withstood the test of time. Vince Grimm and Will Kratz represent not only role models but for my husband and myself who have been together since 16 in 1978, something to aspire too. We were only joking yesterday that we could imagine our 50th anniversary but that it was only 16 years away so we better fixate on a higher number. Since Don and I were only 16 years old when we met and it will be 16 years to our 50th anniversary, we can image a future where we will be together 50 years.
    Reading about Vince and Will inspires hope in us. My husband and myself are hungry for role models. We do not know of any lgbt couple personally who have been together for longer than we have. How we lived growing up sounds similar to Vince and Will. We lived under a defacto don’t ask don’t tell policy of acceptance for about the first twelve years of our relationship in New Jersey. If AIDS wasn’t ravaging the 1980s, it might have been sooner. Since 1990 our home has been in Los Angeles (first West Hollywood of course, then Hollywood). I (along with my husband Don) congradulate the couple on an astonsihing achievement and look forward to joining the Golden Age Club in 16 years.

    • Rory

      September 24, 2012 at 7:03 am

      Not sure we can call ourselves role models but my partner and I have been together 34 years and are looking forward to at least hitting 50 together!

      • Rory

        September 24, 2012 at 7:05 am

        Dang, hit “post” too soon. Meant to add, these guys are an inspiration to us all!

  2. Muh'd D Muh'd

    August 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Oh God the overseer of every thing protect our faith andd guide us to good path, do not let us be part of the peoples yor curse (e.g. Thi useless couple) for the seek of your last prophet Muhammad (SAW).

  3. marniece Lepore

    August 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Someone in our office emailed this story to all of us at the visitor bureau. I was impressed with your articale. I love Reading and it was heart warming to realized how progressive we were. As a 73 widow of 25 years,mother of 2 boys,grandmother of 4, I never was aware of the problems of homosexuality; now I think about it and how cruel humans can be. Wish we could all love and accept each other as we are.

  4. Jean Rabian

    August 18, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Just read the article and it brings back fond memories of working on the shows with Vince and Will at the “grove” back in the days when I was partnered with someone from Reading. We had such great fun. Also the picnics at the “grove” were such a fun and exciting. Am now partnered a friend I met in Philadelphia in 1978 — 34 years and still growing and enjoying life together. Thanks for that great article and refreshing my memory of those wonderful times together.

  5. Michelle Parry

    August 22, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    I have never been so happy or proud to call these two absolutely amazing men my Uncles! All our love and congratulations on 51 Fab years.

  6. Elizabeth Miller

    August 23, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Hey Uncles Will and Vince! Michelle’s sister-in-law, Liz here! Loved the article. What fun lives you two lead! Best congrats to you both on your fifty first anniversary! Wishing you many more happy years together!

  7. Patti Grimm

    September 27, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    To my favorite cousins…. I so enjoyed this article of love, inspiration, dedication and giving back. The love you share to each other is amazing and inspiring. How lucky am I …..

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Real Estate

Helpful tips for homebuyers in seller’s market

2021 has been a great year for home sales

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COVID-19 housing market, gay news, Washington Blade

Without question, 2021 was a great year for home sales. Sellers across the country, in many cases, found themselves listing their homes and quickly having not just one, but multiple offers, many of which were at asking price or above. With limited inventory and high demand, it has been an ideal year to sell—and conversely, often a difficult year to buy. Buyers who are interested in a particular home, or even in a specific neighborhood, often find themselves facing stiff competition to have offers accepted. 

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that many buyers haven’t had successful and rewarding home buying experiences—just that doing so often means making an extra effort and taking helpful steps to make an offer the most competitive that it can be. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few helpful tips for buyers in a seller’s market:

  • Plan ahead with mortgage pre-approval: While there are certainly a wide variety of strategies that real estate agents and financial advisors may recommend, and while those strategies might vary depending upon the buyer and the circumstances of a particular market, one thing almost all experts agree on is that obtaining a mortgage preapproval is a smart decision. A mortgage preapproval is an ideal way to reassure sellers that a reputable lender has verified your credit and approved your buying power up to a certain limit. If you’re caught in a bidding war with another potential buyer, having preapproval establishing that you are ready, willing, and able to buy just might give you the advantage you need in a competitive market.
  • Be willing to look under budget so you can bid higher: In this highly competitive market, many home buyers find themselves in a situation where they are in a bidding war with another—or even several other—buyers. In that situation, you may find yourself having to make an offer at, or even in many cases, above, the asking price. This means that you may want to adjust your budget—and bidding—accordingly. Choosing to make an offer on a home that has an asking price that is already at the top of your budget may mean that you simply don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to making an offer over that price. Choosing a home slightly under the top of your budget means you’ll have more flexibility to make a bid that is more competitive and likely to be accepted.
  • Consider offering non-price-oriented incentives: Without question, making a highly competitive offer is going to be the key to increasing your chances of having that offer accepted. It’s important to remember that there is more to an offer than just price, however. Buyers may want to consider increasing the appeal of an offer by supplementing it with other incentives beyond just the dollar amount itself. Examples of such incentives might include things like foregoing the seller-paid home warranty that is often offered as part of the process, offering a shorter closing period, not making the purchase contingent upon the sale of a currently-owned home, or other such incentives. Doing so may give you the edge you need to have your offer selected over other competitive bids.
  • Retain the right real estate agent: Often, for LGBTQ buyers, especially in a competitive market, this piece of the puzzle is particularly important. In many, although certainly not all, cases LGBTQ buyers are drawn to specific areas of a city or community where other LGBTQ individuals live. That means that in a market where inventory is already limited and going quickly, there can be even fewer homes available upon which to bid. When that is the case, you will need a real estate agent who knows the community that you’re interested in, and who can quickly help you identify and take action toward making offers on homes that fit your needs. Having the right agent can make all the difference between a smooth and successful home-buying experience, and a stressful one

Jeff Hammerberg (he/him/his) is the Founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526, [email protected] or GayRealEstate.com

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Dining

Jane Jane brings throwback joy to busy 14th Street

Cocktail bar characterized by warm Southern hospitality

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(Photo courtesy of Deney Lam)

There is no standing at Jane Jane, the new classic cocktail bar in the heart of 14th Street. Its 850 square feet is for sitting and savoring, drinking in the relaxed retro vibe and the thoughtful craft cocktails. 

At the foot of the mixed-use Liz development where Whitman-Walker is the major tenant, Jane Jane’s creative use of a shoebox-sized space brings throwback joy to a busy thoroughfare. 

In the pre-COVID days of 2019, Whitman-Walker approached the Jane Jane owners, hospitality veterans Jean Paul (JP) Sabatier, Ralph Brabham and Drew Porterfield, all gay men, to make good use of the vacant parcel, and ensure it would be run by LGBTQ entrepreneurs. “It required some gymnastics because of the layout,” says Brabham, “but we came up with this cozy classic cocktail concept.” 

The hangout spot is an effort by the trio to “celebrate hospitality. We want everyone who walks into the space to feel like friends of ours we are having over for drinks or a bite. Its a cocktail party in our home,” he says. They felt connected to the idea of a tiny bar—a space where they would want to have a drink.

Named for Brabham’s mother, Jane Jane is as alluring and lively as it is intimate, each detail in the experience characterized by warm Southern hospitality—right from the bowl of spiced nuts that swiftly appear at each table at the beginning of service.

Sabatier, who has held stints at D.C. institutions like Rappahannock Oyster Bar, Maydan, and Compass Rose, oversees the bar and cocktail program, organized by spirit. (For their part, Brabham and Porterfield, romantic partners, also act as co-owners of Beau Thai and BKK Cookshop; Porterfield is also the current Curator and Director of Long View Gallery in Shaw.)

Sabatier has presented classic cocktails with a few noteworthy nods to current zeitgeist, as imagined by his lengthy experience behind the bar. The booklet-like menu includes a broad selection of familiar favorites like a Negroni, Manhattan, martini, but also features Sabatier’s handpicked favorite classics like the Boulevardier (a whiskey Negroni), Last Word (gin married to herbaceous green chartreuse) and Air Mail (rum, honey and cava). Drinks fall in the $13-$16 range; a “Golden Hour” runs daily until 7 p.m. featuring beer and wine specials and a punch of the day. 

Sabatier’s creative juices flow on the first page through cocktails like the vividly named Tears at an Orgy, with brandy, orange and maraschino, as well as the best-selling, highly Instagrammable Crop Top, a gin cocktail with a red-wine floater—and a name that matches the look of the bi-color drink. “It’s fun, delicious, and speaks to the space,” says Sabatier. He notes that their vodka of choice comes from Civic, a local, women- and LGBTQ-owned distillery.

Sabatier, a classically trained chef and Culinary Institute of America graduate, also oversees the small selection of bar bites (the space has no kitchen, part of the required “gymnastics” to make it functional.)

Beyond the complimentary vessel of rosemary-flecked mixed nuts, other bar snacks run from pickled vegetables to a Southern-style Pimento cheese dip and an onion dip creamy enough to make your grandmother blush. The “Jane’s Caviar” dish is a spread of trout roe and crème fraiche and comes with a towering mound of shatteringly crisp chips. A weekend brunch is in the works, which will serve goodies from local bakeries.

The retro-style interior recalls both California and the South, with only 32 seats inside and a 14-seat patio. Cozy booths done up in a hunter green as warm and inviting as a cool aunt are slung below walnut-wood walls and bar. Bright patterned tiles run the length of the floor; the back wall has playful cocktail wallpaper. A charming needlepoint by the restrooms kindly requests of guests, “please don’t do coke in the bathroom.”

The owners note that while Jane Jane is not explicitly a gay bar, its location in a traditionally gay-welcoming institution means that it has LGBTQ in its bones.

“Supporting LGBTQ people, businesses, and causes has been in Jane Jane’s ownership’s DNA at every establishment at which they have been involved,” they say, having supported local LGBTQ+ organizations like Casa Ruby, Victory Fund, SMYAL and the Human Rights Campaign, among others. 

Porterfield says that they were surprised that, given the locale, people assumed Jane Jane was a gay bar. “It’s not a gay or straight bar, just a fantastic cocktail bar that welcomes anyone to hang out with us,” he says. 

Nevertheless, the owners have taken into consideration the significance of being in the Liz development, as both gay men and as part of the hospitality industry. “It highlights the lack of representation as gay owners in this bar and restaurant world,” says Porterfield. They note the lack of women, LGBTQ and BIPOC representation. 

“It’s very special to us that we opened in this space,” says Porterfield, “so we want to show that we have opened a place that is all about inclusivity.”

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Autos

One lean, mean green machine

New Ford Mustang Mach-E is electrifying

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(Photo courtesy of Ford)

Here’s a shocker: Electric vehicles have been around for over 180 years. By the time of the first Hershey bar in 1900, EVs had hit their own sweet spot—surging to almost 30 percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S. But when Henry Ford began to produce cars on his moving assembly line in 1913, the popularity of the gas-powered Model T soon short-circuited EV sales. Cue to a century later, when the debut of the all-electric Nissan Leaf in 2010 sent a jolt through the auto industry. Yet it would take another decade to get drivers charged up about anything other than gas-powered rides. Today, it’s hard to keep track of all the EVs out there, along with other green machines like hybrids. While the current microchip shortage has slowed or stopped production on many cars for now, I was lucky enough to drive the all-new, all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E. The experience was, well, truly electrifying.

Ford Mustang Mach-E
$47,000
Range: up to 305 miles
0 to 60 mph: 4.2 seconds

When the Ford Mustang Mach-E was first announced, many auto aficionados were left scratching their heads. After all, a Mustang is one of the most iconic muscle cars ever created, and the Mach-E designation sounds suspiciously like the “Mach-1” branding used on flashy high-performance Stangs. Yet this new Mustang is a crossover SUV—and an electric one to boot. While the initial designs were captivating, plenty of skeptics remained. Luckily, they needn’t have worried. I was mesmerized the moment the Mach-E arrived, eager to run my hand along its sinewy side panels and strapping rear end. To keep the design as aerodynamic as possible, there are no traditional door handles. Instead, you use the key fob, your smartphone or a push button on the window frame to pop open the door. 

On the inside, there’s a small latch in the armrest versus the typical door handle. Such design elements are not only aesthetically pleasing, they also save space and reduce weight. Other novelties: This is the first Ford vehicle to use recycled animal-free fabrics, as well as a vegan steering wheel that’s as durable as leather. On the space-age dashboard, the premium Bang & Olufsen speakers are concealed beneath fabric covers that mimic the look of pricey home-theater speakers. And the unique design of the quiet cabin allows for a subwoofer that is 50 percent lighter than usual, yet still retains a deep rich clarity. As for the gigantic 15.5-inch vertical touchscreen in the center of the dash, it resembles a sort of funky oversized iPad from “The Orville.” Along with large climate controls for easier viewing, the touchscreen has interactive maps to locate the nearest charging stations. Those maps came in handy during two weekend trips, as did the heavily bolstered seats that helped prevent driver fatigue but also were easy on the tush. In total, there are five Mach-E trim levels, each with differing configurations for power and range (the distance you can travel on a full charge). 

While even the base-model Mach-E is fast and lively, it’s the high-test GT version that strikes like a thunder bolt. Rocketing from 0 to 60 seconds in just 3.8 seconds, the Mach-E GT is quicker than a Toyota Supra super coupe. And thanks to lower-than-expected ground clearance and a superb suspension, the Mach-E is just as agile. Those grippy regenerative brakes help, of course, allowing you to speed up or slow down using only the accelerator pedal. 

It’s worth noting there are other EVs in the Ford stable, including the electric F-150 Lightning full-size pickup, the E-Transit commercial van and various green machines on the way. By 2030, Ford is aiming for 40 percent of its global sales to be EVs. That’s a great goal for a company that once helped pull the plug on the “electric horseless carriage” but today is leading the charge with its own cutting-edge EVs.

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