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The evolution of leather

Changes in ownership, location, technology contribute to morphing BDSM scene

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MAL, Mid-Atlantic Leather, gay news, Washington Blade
MAL, Mid-Atlantic Leather, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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.

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But first, the particulars.

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• 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.”

 

 

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Travel

Quito and the Galápagos on Celebrity Flora: blog #4

Turtles, iguanas and birds abound

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Celebrity Flora

After Floreana Island we continued our tour of the Galápagos with stops first on Isabela Island, and then then the next day we continued to spend some time on a different part of Isabela Island, and then went on to Fernadina Island. Then Friday it was South Plaza and Santa Cruz Islands.

Each day there continued to be morning and afternoon excursions off the Flora. Some involved walking, and some were taking a tender around the Island. The first day on Isabela Island we had the option of a long walk and a short tender ride, or just a tender ride in the morning. They warned everyone it was a very rocky trail. I passed on that, and took the tender ride where we saw some amazing sights. Turtles in the water, hundreds of Iguanas on the rocks, and loads of birds of all kinds. Then it was back to the Flora for lunch and relaxing. We had a great lunch outside on Deck 7 in the Ocean Grill and Bar.  In the afternoon we were given the option of a short walk and swim, or just a short walk. Basically, the same thing. It only mattered as to what time you got on the tender to head back to the ship.  I took the short walk and saw tortoises up close, more Iguanas, various birds, including flamingos. We are seeing many of the same animals on most of the Island walks, but there always seems to be a new one, something a little different, and it has been so much fun. I have some great pictures. 

Then it was time for the cocktail of the day; a Margarita, served in the Discovery Lounge on Deck 4. That is the place where we get briefings from naturalists each day, and the place we meet to leave for our excursions. Dinner was at the Seaside restaurant, the indoor dining room, also on deck 4.  Then a lazy evening. They did show a movie in the Discovery Lounge, Life on Fire, about the active volcanos in the Galapagos. There are still five alone on Isabela Island.  It was Valentines Day and to celebrate the pastry chef baked heart shaped cookies. They were really good. I know because I tasted one of each kind. While I haven’t been blown away by the food in general, I think the Executive chef is maybe trying too hard to be different; the pastry and dessert chefs have done a yeoman’s job. Could just be I like sugar.

The next day’s morning options were either a short or long walk, and I did the short one. In the afternoon there was only one option, a tender ride. Then back to the ship for another cocktail of the day. This one called the Yellow Warbler, served again in the Discovery Lounge.  Before dinner there were some games, including a trivia challenge. Then dinner outside in the Ocean Grill and Bar. To eat dinner outside you needed to make a reservation and Mike and Scott did that and ten of us ate together. The evening ended with the option of another movie; Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. There are TVs in the suites with a number of options, and if you are into the news like I am, they had the usual Celebrity channels available; FOX, MSNBC, and the BBC.

Friday dawned clear and the options were a short or long walk. This was to be a dry landing which meant you could step onto shore without getting your shoes wet. But it was not an easy walk as you were on some volcanic rock, and uneven paths. I decided to take a sea day, and stayed on the ship. I used the time to do some writing, including starting this blog, interviewing the Captain, and to relax with some friends who decided to do the same. We had lunch in the indoor dining room where they served a meal which they called Asian inspired. Some sushi and other dishes. The afternoon choices for those who wanted to head out were; a long fast-paced fitness walk, or a short walk. We did pass Daphne Major Island, and a naturalist told us about it. We could see it from our balconies on the Port side, or from deck 7 or 8. I headed to deck 7.

Then for those of us traveling with Scott and Dustin of My Lux Cruise, we got a reminder of our transatlantic cruises. They hosted a 6:15pm cocktail party in their suite. They do this regularly on the longer cruises. They had a great spread and a bartender. It was fun. Then the crew of the Flora wanted to pretend they were a bigger ship, and announced a ‘silent disco’ party in the Discovery Lounge at 9:00pm.  I was surprised at the silent disco as it didn’t seem to fit the Galapagos. But to be fair, there were many who did enjoy it. 

Now our last full day in the Galapagos will be tomorrow, Saturday, and it will be different. I will share that in my final blog, so hope you will keep reading them.

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Travel

D.C. Travel and Adventure Show to highlight LGBTQ travel

Event to take place at Walter E. Washington Convention Center this weekend

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A sunset in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

This weekend D.C. welcomes travel enthusiasts and adventure seekers looking to find their next destination. The ticketed event is open to travel professionals and consumers alike. It’s the first time the event comes to the nation’s capital.

One may wonder why LGBTQ travelers need a pavilion of their own. Ed Salvato, a consultant for the organization hosting the event, is a travel professional who is an educator in tourism, hospitality and marketing at New York University recently spoke with the Washington Blade. 

“Vendors, suppliers, destinations, marketing companies, airline marketing companies, etc. when they think of travelers the image that probably comes to mind is heterosexual couples. Maybe 1.5 kids,” Salvato said. “Most likely able-bodied, and maybe white.”

Gay travelers, however, may feel compelled to ask, “Will I be comfortable with my same-sex partner at your resort, destination, venue? Or “I’m traveling with my same-sex Latino partner and he’s a little younger, and will he be welcome at your resort?”

“The idea you know that, if I send an email or ask that the response can come across as defensive, ‘Oh, everyone is welcome here,’” explained Salvato.

Many community members may be familiar with this response. Many also may not have found the response to be true. A city or destination may come off as being liberal due to its politics. But what about that particular hotel you booked in the next town over?

“It should be, ‘Oh, everyone is welcome here! What are your needs and concerns? What can we do to make you feel comfortable?’ That to me makes me want to visit the destination,” Salvato said.

The point of the pavilion can go larger than just LGBTQ individuals. It also reflects the diversity, equity and inclusion of other individuals.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“In reality,” Salvato says, “everyone travels with unique characteristics, some hidden, some not so hidden. Two Black travelers, a traveler in a wheelchair, solo women. A family coming up to me and asking where they can go for a family reunion which includes a bi-racial lesbian couple. A grandmother wanting to send her son and his husband on safari, where will they be safe and welcome? That kind of thing.”

There is also the stereotype of the gay couple being rich, white, living in an elite neighborhood in a city, and traveling frequently.

“But that’s not really the case. We’ve got a lot of ‘Chuck and Bobs’ out there. Let’s say, Chuck is an accountant, Bob is a public school principal, they live in Jersey somewhere, almost all their neighbors are straight, they may have a child they adopted together. Where can they go as a family on their vacation and feel comfortable?”

The LGBTQ pavilion will be an inclusive space. But, of course, Salvato expects there’s going to be a touch of whimsy for which our community is known.

“At a recent event, we had three bears promoting an event in Fort Lauderdale. A really cool bear event.”

As Salvato earlier explained he once saw camels as part of a vendor display and photo opportunity, this reporter was confused.

Trained bears! Indoors?

“No. Members of the gay, male bear community.”

Madrid, Spain (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Félix Alcaraz Vellisca, the consul for Tourism Affairs with the Tourism Office of Spain, explained why the country is consistently ranked one of the best international destinations for LGBTQ tourists.

“Spain is already widely known as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly destinations on the planet, but it is important to continue communicating and explaining this to all our potential visitors. Spain is a very diverse and heterogeneous country but sometimes,” he explained. “LGBTQ travelers know only the most important spots. But we want to gradually publicize other destinations that may be interesting for LGBTQ travelers. In any case, we are happy to know the extremely positive perception that all LGBTQ travelers have of our country and the desire they have to visit us. And that’s why we will be at the D.C. Show, to help travelers to fulfill their wishes.”

Vellisca, and his organization, are also using this appearance at the pavilion to celebrate the 2026 Gay Games, which are being held in Valencia.

“The audience comes largely from the United States,” she said. “We also want to be there to communicate this event and provide information about it.”

Vellisca’s booth will also entice guests to come experience Spain through a raffle of Spanish gastronomy.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Of course, there are also destinations which are normally welcoming centers for the community. One state in particular which some LGBTQ travelers may be wary of heading due to some recent press: Florida, which has come under scrutiny due to the “Don’t say Gay” law. 



Many would-be tourists have stated they wouldn’t spend their travel dollars in the Sunshine State. But that’s a blanket statement that will potentially harm gay-friendly destinations and gay-owned businesses. Towns like Wilton Manors, adjacent to Fort Lauderdale, and Key West come to mind known as they are for gay guest houses, nightclubs and dining options.

Michelle Pirre, who represents the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, will not be at the D.C. event but was at a recent New York event representing Florida’s West Coast.

“The NYC Travel Pavilion was amazing and well planned! While thousands came by our booth, we spoke directly to over 1,000 LGBTQ attendees with a genuine interest in our area,” she stated. 

Clearly she wants gay travelers to realize her destination is and continues to be welcoming. 

“We collected hundreds of names for our newsletters, distributed standard visitor guides, LGBTQ guides and so much more collateral from weddings to golf and arts and culture, we had very little leftover. Looking forward to next year,” she said.

Aaron Tabor and his husband David Ardelean, the first gay couple married in Everglades City, Fla., met in Wilton Manors. They found their way back to Tabor’s hometown located near Naples on the Florida Peninsula’s West Coast. They later became stewards of the Parkway Motel and Marina of Chokoloksee, as they are avid outdoorsmen, they were saddened to learn so many LGBTQ tourists were swearing off the Sunshine State due to the controversies coming from Tallahassee.

“Living authentically, we openly invite and affirm all of our guests regardless of their individualisms,” the couple shared. “Political theater can be dramatic sometimes, but this doesn’t need to stand in the way of the enriching travel experiences we offer guests as the gateway to the great southwestern Florida outdoors.”

Their motto is, “Fuss less, fish more!” to entice LGBTQ travelers to still come to Florida they hosted a booth at the New York show. For the D.C. event: Timothy Kelley, the Parkway Motel and Marina Manager will be on site at the booth to explain and engage visitors along with a $200 travel voucher sweepstakes along with some really cool swag give-aways. 

This is a ticketed event taking place on Feb. 24-25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. To learn more, visit TravelShows.com and look under “Shows” to book one or two day tickets to the event.

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Photos

PHOTOS: Cupid’s Undie Run

Scantily-clad joggers face freezing temperatures for a cause

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Cupid's Undie Run was held at The Wharf DC on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Cupid’s Undie Run, an annual fundraiser for neurofibromatosis (NF) research, was held at Union Stage and at The Wharf DC on Saturday, Feb. 17.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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