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Country roads, take me home

New W.Va. gay club hopes to succeed where others nearby have failed

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The Club, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade
The Club, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

A recent night at The Club, a new gay bar in Martinsburg, W.Va. (Photo by Dale Gish)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Gay-popular entertainment districts are almost always found in major metropolitan areas, but there’s a smattering of clubs and restaurants in the close-by regions of Maryland’s Cumberland Valley and West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle that are drawing decent-sized crowds despite being more than an hour from either Washington or Baltimore.

For decades, The Lodge in Boonsboro, Md., has been pretty much the only gay nightclub in the region. Formerly known as Deer Park Lodge and at times closed altogether, it’s been thriving again under new management since 2011 when partners Ryan Dryden and Joe Velazquez moved from Washington to reopen and run it.

Since January, it’s faced some competition as The Club (theclubwv.com), a new gay bar/club in Martinsburg, W.Va.’s Spring Mills area (about 21 miles from The Lodge), took over a large spot formerly known as straight bars Ambitions and before that, Gatsby’s. Owner Coby Myers, a gay sheriff in West Virginia, has his gay friends Jarvis Jerry Brooks and Dale Gish running the operation. They say, so far, business has been good and that they’re carving out a niche for themselves in the region by offering strong customer service, a “family”-type atmosphere and a clean and newly remodeled space. It’s about 80 miles from Dupont Circle.

“A lot of people feel it’s just easier to get instant gratification now on the Internet,” says Brooks, who DJs at The Club in addition to booking talent and planning events. “I think my thing is just that a lot of clubs have forgotten the whole aspect of a family feel, where everybody knows your name and there’s a home bar feel to it. You’re not just a number, you’re not just a door cover, there’s more to it than that.”

But can it last? Are there enough LGBT residents in these parts of Maryland and West Virginia to support two small-town gay clubs? A few others have come and gone in recent years. The Mariner Club, locals say, had a decent run for a few years on Martinsburg’s Winchester Ave. It was across the street from Sugar Daddy’s, a male strip club that, although not technically gay, had gay strippers and more gay male patrons than straight women. But both are now closed.

And more recently Spin/Club Underground, which was in downtown Hagerstown just a few doors down from the historic Maryland Theatre, died a relatively quick death after being open less than a year. Brooks, who DJed at the gay club (his DJ name is Jerrbear), says business was “hit and miss.”

Those involved say they see a brighter future for The Club.

“For one thing, it’s not mismanaged,” says Ray Stagner, a drag queen who performs as Cheyenne and who debuted at The Club last Saturday night.

Wearing full drag makeup but dressed in a ball cap, jeans and guy’s T-shirt while puffing on a cigarette in The Club’s downstairs smoking-allowed pool room, Stagner, a Hagerstown resident, says gays and drag performers in the region will support both The Club and The Lodge. Because of liquor laws, The Club can stay open an hour later (until 3 a.m.) on Saturday nights whereas the Lodge closes at 2.

“I think it’s great,” Stagner says. “If people want to go here one night they can, or they may do like we used to do in the old days. As soon as they called last call at Deer Park, we used to bail from Hagerstown and come down here to Gatsby’s once they closed the bars in Hagerstown.”

Last Saturday night at about 10 p.m., The Club had a healthy crowd though it wasn’t packed. The space is mammoth — there’s a large dance area, stage, bar, tables, seating area, downstairs pool room, kitchen and a huge outdoor patio and bar Brooks says they “can’t wait” to use once the weather gets warmer.

“It reminds me of the old Tracks in D.C.,” he says. “There’s so much potential for this space.”

All the interiors have been redecorated since it was Ambitions. The hardwood dance floor, Brooks says, is the one original component — it dates to the 1950s.

A diverse crowd mills about including 20- and 30-ish gay guys, a few older gay men, a few lesbians and a drag queen or two. A few dance, but not many. It’s still early. Several make trips up and down the half-flight of stairs to take smoke breaks. The pool room is less opulent, but the smokers don’t seem to mind. Large industrial smoke eaters keep the room clean and from upstairs it’s impossible to tell there’s smoke in the building.

Gish says the region is large enough that gays are coming from Winchester, Va.; Cumberland, Md.; even Greencastle and Chambersburg, Pa., and that The Club will thrive. Gays from Baltimore or D.C. who want a change of scenery even visit on occasion, he says.

“We’re seeing our weekend door counts increase every weekend,” Gish says. “I think it will only improve as the weather warms.”

There are about 12 on staff but DJs and drag performers are independent contractors. Brooks says they’re seeing about 200 come through the doors on an average Saturday night. A few times it’s gotten close to 300. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday and on weekends there’s a $5 cover. Eighteen-to-20-year-olds can get in anytime but have to pass Breathalyzer tests when they come and go. Gish guesses about 20 percent of the clientele might be “some variation of straight” and says the crowd, because of the smaller overall numbers, is more integrated than in city bars. He says straights, lesbians, bears and twinks all party together here.

Despite rumors of bad blood between The Club and The Lodge, the owners of the latter say they bear no ill will.

“It’s really not a question of competition, it doesn’t matter how many there are in the area, there are more than enough [LGBT people] to go around,” Velazquez says. “So far business has stayed good for us and been pretty good for them. Whether it stays that way, time will tell.”

He says there are even some unexpected benefits at times.

Of The Lodge’s drag cast, Velazquez says he encourages them to perform at other bars.

“They get fans who will then follow them from show to show and we have some people who only show up for the drag shows, so it’s good for them to be out at different bars in the area,” he says. “I have no problem with it. It’s a free world. If I wanted to have them sign an exclusivity contract, I would, but we don’t.”

There are also a few gay-owned restaurants in the region — the Gourmet Goat and Georgia Boys Café in Hagerstown, and Café Izmir in nearby Funkstown, Md.

The Goat, (41 North Potomac Street), has been in its present location for seven years and is known for its vast array of martinis. Owners Steve Cook and Paul Deputy live on site and run it “very much hands on,” Deputy says.

Café Izmir is owned by Nihal Mizah, who’s straight. The cafe became an LGBT destination of sorts during the time The Lodge was closed. Lesbian Karla Auch helps her manage it.

Gish says he thinks it’s more than a coincidence. Although these areas, he says, will never have the large gay communities Baltimore and Washington have, there are LGBT people here and he says they’re more comfortable being out and open than they were even a decade ago.

“I think there’s a social change happening,” he says. “And not just in the media, but in families too and the culture in general. It’s becoming more accepted to be gay and be open about it, or lesbian, or bi or trans or whatever you are. Society is becoming more accepting and these business owners want to pursue their dreams without feeling that they’re going to be persecuted. I know all these business owners and I support them all and wish them the best.”

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Autos

All charged up: BMW i7 xDrive6

Fairy dust goes a long way in this all-electric luxe sedan

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BMW i7 xDrive60

Sometimes it’s good to be a fairy godmother. That’s how it was for me when organizing a surprise dinner party for my husband Robert, who was celebrating a milestone birthday. 

Event planning isn’t my thing, yet somehow the stars aligned. It seemed like all I had to do was wave a wand and — voila! — the magic began.

Make reservations at a fave intimate restaurant, which often gets booked months in advance? Zing! Ensure that family and childhood friends from across the country could all attend the same weekend? Zing! Find a handsome pianist to serenade us with Broadway show tunes. Zing again!

The only thing missing: a stunning chariot. But then, at the last minute, my test car for the week turned out to be—zing!—the all-electric BMW i7 xDrive60 glam sedan. 

BMW i7 xDrive60

$121,000

MPGe: 87 city/95 highway

Range: 291 to 321 miles 

Fastest charging time: 212 miles in 34 minutes (80% charged) 

PROS: Hyper fast. Sublime cabin. Dazzling tech.

CONS: Pricey. So-so cargo area. A sedan in a world of SUVs.

IN A NUTSHELL: To drive or not to drive, that’s the question with the BMW i7. Rarely is it more exciting to be the passenger than the driver in a sports sedan, especially a Bimmer. But as I chauffeured my husband to the restaurant on his birthday, he seemed to be having way too much fun enjoying the dizzying array of creature comforts.

Spa treatment. The futuristic seats, made of quilted Merino leather, are as plush and comfortable as anything from Roche Bobois. But the optional cashmere/wool fabric looks and feels even better. All seats—both front and rear—come with ventilation and heating that activates much quicker than in most cars. The superb massage function does bodywork like a real masseur—but without the need to tip 20% when your session ends. 

Concert-hall acoustics. Other high-priced rides offer premium audio, but the standard Bowers & Wilkens stereo in the i7 is bravo: 18 speakers and 655 watts. Better yet, my test car had the much-ballyhooed Diamond Surround Sound System, with 36 speakers powered by a 1965-watt amplifier. Yes, two of those speakers use actual diamonds to increase clarity. The result is perhaps the best-sounding vehicle acoustics ever.

IMAX-like screen. The Rear Executive Lounge Seating package adds a reclining right rear seat with footrest and a center console with foldable table that serves as a floating desk. Think first-class seating on an airplane. Most impressive is the huge, 31-inch 8K theater screen that drops down from the ceiling and comes with Amazon Fire capability. All rear window shades lower and the panoramic-glass roof shade closes when in theater mode. Built tastefully into the armrest on each rear door is what looks like an Apple iPhone to control the rear lighting, movie screen and other functions. Any home theater system should be so good.

Racecar features. Up front, the driver is spoiled with many other goodies. A curved digital screen, the same as in the cutting-edge BMW iX SUV, houses a 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 14.9-inch infotainment monitor. Two motors—one for each axle—creates an impressive 536-horsepower. Press the accelerator and—whoosh!—the i7 sprints from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds. The amazing auto-leveling suspension absorbs potholes and speed bumps as if this 6,000-pound sedan were floating on air. 

Rolls-Royce aura. BMW, which also owns Rolls-Royce, has sprinkled the i7 with stately design cues. This includes softer, more graceful styling and none of the severe, chiseled angles of previous BMWs. Other plusses: Swarovski crystals in the headlights and 22 precision-focused LEDs in the high beams. But the illuminated grille, while impressive, has a more ominous vibe. (Stephen King’s Christine, anyone?) 

Full-size comfort. The i7 is a full-figured ride, more than 17-feet long and 6.4-feet wide. Here’s where the automatic parking comes in handy, allowing this BMW to parallel or perpendicular park itself. Trunk capacity is 18 cubic feet, which is decent but less than some competitors. Inside, though, there are plenty of clever storage compartments. 

A pretty penny. Full of options, my test car was a wallet-busting $152,000. But that’s a bargain—well, sort of—compared with the high-performance i7 M70. With 650 horsepower and a 0-to-60 time of 3.5 seconds, the M70 is the fastest all-electric M car ever made. It also costs $169,000. 

Alas, such sticker prices are too rich for my blood. Sorry Robert, maybe if we win the lottery.

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Real Estate

A look at down payment assistance programs

Pride in ourselves, Pride in homeownership

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(Photo by GaJaS/Bigstock)

One of the most popular questions at our home buyer seminars is “What are the down payment assistance or first-time homebuyer programs available where I live?”  There are various programs sponsored by multiple jurisdictions with the help of local banks, federal grants and loans as well. Knowledgeable lenders in the area will direct their eligible borrowers to these programs when a home purchase is being considered. Some of the programs are frequently mentioned in the local news: HPAP, EAHP, and DC Open Doors. There are also other options such as:

• FHLB grant for down payment assistance and/or closing costs

• Bank portfolio loans such as the Sandy Spring Bank loan, which can be 3% of the home purchase price – paired with a 97% first trust loan which is 100% financing at market rates

• Citibank Home Run

• Bank of America Down Payment Grant or Home Grant

• Chase Dream Maker Grant

• DC Open Doors – (DC Purchases only)

• HPAP/EAHP (for DC purchases only, when funds are available.)

All of these programs, grants, and loans come with guidelines and regulations, which may include income limits, household size limitations, geographic boundaries, homebuyer education classes, occupying the home as a primary residence, and funds availability. Some are easier to use and implement than others. Others may be available but can take 60 or more days to close on a home purchase, where another buyer may offer a seller a 30-day close. Some of these options may be stacked together to help build the buyer’s purchasing power.  

In many cases they are worth exploring, and “seeing if the shoe fits.” A knowledgeable lender will be able to help a prospective home buyer to “try on these shoes” and see if there is a good fit. The best local Realtors and lenders will help a buyer understand which can be used at the time of purchase, and what types of documentation are necessary for each instance.  

In our experience, the programs are there for those who need it, and in many cases make the difference between what a buyer has available to bring to the table, and what they need to get the “Sold” sign put out on the lawn, and the keys in their hand. Some buyers may decide to investigate these options and go without the program or the available funds anyway.  Perhaps the interest rate is higher when using a program as opposed to going without it, meaning the monthly payment will be more when you use these programs.  Each buyer has their own criteria of what makes a good fit for them.  As with anything, “Mama said you gotta shop around.”  It’s worth considering the various down payment & first time homebuyer assistance options available when looking to purchase and deciding which option(s) provide the best fit.  

Don’t hesitate to reach out for more information.

Joseph Hudson is a referral agent with Metro Referrals. Reach him at [email protected] or 703-587-0597. Tina Del Casale is a mortgage banker at Sandy Spring Bank. Reach her at 301-850-1326.

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Advice

How much fighting is OK in a relationship?

I love my boyfriend but we can’t agree on anything

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Is it good for couples to fight a lot? (Photo by Andrey Popov/Bigstock)

Dear Michael,

How much arguing is OK in a relationship?

Sometimes I think I’d like to spend the rest of my life with my boyfriend Adam but other times he drives me absolutely crazy.

We get into these fights where he just refuses to see it my way. He insists he’s right and digs in until I agree he has a point. He can never just agree with me or let it go.

The thing is, he doesn’t always have a point and if I won’t concede that he does, he says I don’t respect his intelligence.

Our fights range from Madonna’s talent (or lack thereof) to what is or isn’t OK to eat for breakfast, to whose job it is to take out the garbage, to what the best abs exercises are, to where we should go on vacation this summer, to whether recycling plastics accomplishes anything, to whether we should have sex in the morning or at night. I’m sick of it!

On the other hand, Adam is smart, funny, and super-hot. 

Is it normal for couples to fight so much? I don’t know why it’s so hard for him to see it my way sometimes.

Michael replies:

Sounds to me like you guys are in an ongoing power-control struggle where one of you is continuously trying to influence the other (power move), and the other one is continuously refusing to be influenced (control move).

There’s nothing “wrong” with making power and control moves. We all do them, all the time. They’re part of every relationship: Writing this reply, I’m making a power move, in that I’m wanting to influence the way you think about your relationship. If you disagree with me, you’re making a control move by not accepting my influence. No problem at all: You don’t have to let me (or anyone) influence you.

The problems arise when these moves become the ongoing operating system of your relationship. One of you keeps telling the other person how to behave or think, or what is “correct”; and the other won’t agree, no matter what the issue. You each dig in. Warmth and collaboration go out the window. You can’t have a loving relationship when you’re mired in a power-control struggle.

The problem is not that you two see things differently. That’s an unavoidable part of life.  In any relationship, partners will at times have very different opinions, even about very important matters. The problem is that you’re choosing to argue about it, to try to prove that you are right and the other person is wrong. He won’t see it your way and you won’t see it his way. 

Notice that I’m putting you in the same boat as Adam. That’s because you’re joining him in this dynamic.

One thing you two can do to get out of this dynamic is to stop arguing about things that are a matter of opinion. It’s not possible to prove you’re right. Doing so just gets you dug in against each other.  

In general, it’s a waste of time to argue about why you are right and your partner is wrong. If you win the argument, your partner loses. And if one of you is the loser, you both lose because you wind up with a bitter relationship.

Instead, you could have fun enjoying the reality that each of you has very different opinions, even about very important things, and each of you has the job of figuring out how to live and generally be happy with someone who is different in some big ways from you. 

If you each start letting yourself be influenced by your partner, even if you don’t always agree on what’s “best” or “right,” you’re going to open yourself up to all sorts of experiences, possibilities, and ways of looking at things that you hadn’t considered. That’s one of the great ways that relationships push us to grow.

If you think I have a point, I’m glad. You may decide you’d like to make some changes in your relationship. Remember, though, that Adam is his own person. Perhaps you’ll be able to influence him to consider a new way of approaching your differences, perhaps not. 

That said, you have a lot of power over yourself. And if you decide you don’t want to keep getting stuck in power-control struggles, you can change this dynamic on your own simply by not participating. Not in a game-playing, “I’m right and you’re wrong” way, but by taking the position, over and over, that you two are different and sometimes see things differently, and you aren’t going to fight about who is right and who is wrong, because that isn’t going to get you anywhere good.

(Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].)

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