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Country roads, take me home

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



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 (, 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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Surprise rides of 2022

Fun, frugal, and full of frills



Nissan Frontier

Each January, I list my top vehicle picks of the year. But with so many contenders this year, the focus this time is on surprise rides: Three solid choices that are unexpectedly fun, frugal and full of frills.

Mpg: 18 city/24 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.3 seconds

Sure, Tesla, Rivian and other newcomers may be garnering lots of press these days. But other automakers also have been upping their game. Cue the Nissan Frontier pickup, completely redesigned with bold, bad-boy styling. This includes a pugnacious grill, menacing headlights and sleek LED taillights. Inside, new laminated side windows reduce wind and road noise. Refined, soft-touch surfaces are a pleasant surprise, as are various clever storage spaces. And then there are the zero-gravity seats, built to alleviate driver fatigue. Despite the space-age description, these NASA-inspired seats have a traditional design but are built with 14 different pressure points to reduce stress on tired muscles. They may not be as fancy as massaging seats in luxury vehicles, but they feel just as effective. Other cabin niceties include large easy-to-read gauges and an optional 9-inch touchscreen, along with wireless charging, Wi-Fi and 10-speaker Fender stereo. One minor annoyance: the steering column tilts but has no telescopic function. While there may be a few less-expensive pickups on dealer lots, none come with as many features. As for performance, the 310-horsepower V6 is the best in its class, and overall handling is more akin to a well-mannered SUV than a workhorse hauler. For off-road enthusiasts, a Pro-4X model comes with heavy-duty Bilstein shocks, electronic locking rear differential for better grip and beefy all-terrain tires.

16 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.3 seconds

Jeep Wagoneer

While oversized rides don’t really fit my urban identity, the all-new Jeep Wagoneer had me almost pining for a Brady Bunch lifestyle in the burbs. Out of production since 1991, this resurrected land yacht made me feel safe and secure on the road. It also tapped into my love of a beloved cruiser: the Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon that I drove across country in my 20s. (Alas, those tawdry travel tales are another story.) But while such behemoths may be described as big and boxy, the Wagoneer is definitely chic, echoing many of the more sculpted elements of a ritzy Range Rover. Powered by a gutsy V8 Hemi engine, this super-sized SUV quickly hustles down the road. A mild-hybrid system not only helps conserve fuel but also adds some extra oomph. Front-wheel drive comes standard, though many buyers will prefer one of the four-wheel-drive options for even better drivability. Air suspension lets you raise and lower the Wagoneer, which has up to 10 inches of ground clearance and can trek through two feet of water. Along with offering more standard features than most competitors, there’s also more second- and third-row legroom. The rich interior, with contrast piping and stitching on the seats, includes a wraparound dashboard with up to three large screens. Two more screens are available for rear-seat passengers, who can stream thousands of programs via the Wi-Fi. Notable amenities include automated parking, rear-seat monitoring camera and premium 19-speaker McIntosh stereo. Fully loaded, a Wagoneer can reach $75,000. That’s still less than the primo Grand Wagoneer ($89,000), which can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in a wickedly fast 5.7 seconds. That glam model, with goodies such as a refrigerated front console and a hidden touchpad safe to store valuables, can easily top $100,000.

Mpg: 24 city/31 highway
0 to 60 mph: 8.6 seconds

Mitsubishi Outlander

Of the three vehicles reviewed here, the updated Mitsubishi Outlander was the biggest surprise. After all, the automaker isn’t the most popular or reliable brand on the block. But like a washed-up diva making a stunning comeback, the Outlander is now taking its star turn in the highly competitive crossover market. The overall styling is dazzling, with sheet metal that has been stretched and pulled into an edgy origami design. Built on the same platform as the Nissan Rogue, this new Outlander is taller, wider and longer than that popular compact. It also offers a third seat, even if legroom here is miniscule. And despite what is a capable but rather tepid engine, the Outlander handling is crisp and spirited. Driver visibility is especially good, and I found the cabin to be pleasantly quiet. But most notable are all the amenities, including head-up display, wireless smartphone integration, 10-speaker Bose stereo, panoramic sunroof, power tailgate, heated steering wheel, heated seats (both front and back), a full slate of the latest safety gear and much more. Another plus: the 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. All in all, it’s nice to see Mitsubishi start to regain its footing—with the Outlander center stage.

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Real Estate

Is cash always king?

How to stay competitive in the face of all-cash offers



With more all-cash offers these days, there are still ways to stay competitive if you need a mortgage.

One of the frequently asked questions I get as a real estate agent serving the DC Metro area and Delaware beaches is: How can I be competitive in a market that is seeing an increase in all-cash offers? 

I get it, the real estate market is super competitive, but it’s not just because of the low inventory, it’s also because of the cash offers sellers are seeing.

Money is money right? Why would a seller be inclined to take a lower all-cash offer versus a higher offer with a mortgage. Let’s break it down a bit. 

An all-cash offer usually comes with very limited contingencies in addition to the more important piece, which is the timing. A cash sale can close in less than a week whereas a sale with a conventional mortgage can usually only be expedited to a 21-day close. Don’t lose hope! There are still a few ways you can have a competitive edge over cash offers with a few steps your agent can advise you through:

OFFER CASH – THEN ACQUIRE FINANCING: If the stars align and you are purchasing a home that the sellers currently reside in, you can expect that they will need some time to gather their items and move — they also have to gather their great great grandmother’s wedding dress and Uncle Fester’s golf clubs that they just HAVE to keep. This will allow you time to go the conventional mortgage route. Please note that this is a very detailed alteration and it is recommended fully that you speak with your real estate agent prior to doing this to ensure that you are fully educated with the pros and cons of this method and what is at risk. The biggest item to highlight is that a mortgage comes with the infamous appraisal. The appeal of an all-cash offer is that there is no appraisal. With a mortgage an appraisal is required. If the appraisal comes in low, you will need to be ready to come to the table with the difference in appraised value – in cash. For example: Appraised value is $100,000 and you are under contract for $200,000 – that is a delta of $100,000, which you will need to come up with in cash in order to continue with the transaction, separate from any other monies you have already placed down.

OFFER $$$ OVER LOW APPRAISAL: Following up on the appraisal aspect here – you can write a contract with financing in place from the onset and provide an addendum that you will pay the difference in low appraisal (referencing the example above) or you can offer an alternative that would be to pay up to XX over a low appraisal. In this example of paying a dollar amount over a low appraisal, you write into the contract that you are going to offer $50,000 over the appraisal if it is a low appraisal. So if the contract price is $150,000 and you offer to pay $25,000 over a low appraisal value and the property is valued with appraisal at $125k then you would have to pay a total of $150k for the home and that $25k difference would, again, need to be in cash. This allows a bit of leverage with lower cash amounts on hand – but again similar to the example of acquiring financing above, the sellers must allow for the timing of a mortgage application process to occur.

GIFTS FROM FAMILY: What is family for if it isn’t for providing you large sums of cash!? In all seriousness – this is a fully accepted method of cash funds. You will want to speak to a financial planner/tax individual to fully understand tax implications for both parties (giftor and giftee) to fully understand what this means, but there is always the ability to be gifted funds from parents, aunts, uncles etc., to ensure that you are liquid and can purchase the property of your dreams.

OFFER “RENT BACK” TO SELLERS: Following the guise that the sellers must find a property to purchase or perhaps they are moving across the country and need a month or two in order to get their affairs in order. This allows you to provide a “rent back” to the sellers and basically become their landlord. In this scenario you would typically charge them rent, which would be equal to your carrying costs for your home expenses. For the purposes of being competitive in this market, you can offer a “rent FREE rent back” where you afford them the ability to sell the home to you and they still reside in the home for an established time post closing at no cost to them. This sounds silly — why would you let someone stay in your new home rent free for two months when that means that you are paying for your mortgage and other expenses in addition to rent for an apartment or maybe shacking up with mom and dad again? 

It’s important to remember that in order to get a property in this market there is the need to think creatively if you don’t have all the cash in the world — you can still be VERY competitive.

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s international Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243, [email protected] or

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Real Estate

Leather and lace in your home decor

From couches to countertops, add some flair



Leather isn’t just for couches anymore; you can find it in countertops and a wide range of décor.

When I was very young, I would visit my maternal grandmother and marvel at the hand-tatted and crocheted doilies that adorned the arms and backs of her sofa and chairs. They were also found on her dressers and side tables, and on the dining table as coasters and placemats, to prevent scratches on the furniture. Like snowflakes, the designs of the doilies were both intricate and individual.

I’m convinced that people had better posture in the early 20th century, because I never saw the remnants of men’s hair tonic, Macassar oil, or pomade on Nana’s doilies, even though they were there to keep the furniture from absorbing those hair products. Certainly, people weren’t the couch potatoes lounging on sofas then that we are today. Being able to Netflix and chill was a long way off.

I was impressed with the amount of work that had gone into such a little piece of fabric, so I later tried to learn to crochet. Sadly, all I was able to accomplish was string after string, never having been taught how to join those strings together to resemble a doily. At least with knitting, I was able to form squares large enough to be blankets for my Barbie.

In my mid-century childhood, doilies were put away and saved for grandchildren who, years later, would neither want them nor appreciate their historical value. The ‘50s saw polyvinyl chloride (PVC) go from a commercial substance used frequently in post-WWII construction to a residential fabric that we now refer to fondly as “pleather.” I can still remember the sound of my thighs peeling off the vinyl banquette at the diner when I would get up to leave a booth.

To be without a leather couch in the ‘60s was déclassé and, although styles have changed, such a couch remains a timeless piece. These days, if you are looking for a little more leather in your life and in your home, you can look beyond that couch and chair, where options range from the subdued to the highly decorative.

While vinyl is still the least expensive leather-look fabric, we now have “bonded” leather, made with scraps that are bonded together using polyurethane or latex. As you can tell from the prices of such furniture, the actual leather used in the process can vary from 10-90 percent.

Of course, top grain leather is the most expensive, and we have suede, die cut, embossed, patent, and a variety of other techniques used to change the look of a hide. In addition, there is now vegan leather.

For something unique for your kitchen or bar, check out the tooled leather countertop from Kosel Saddlery ( in Montana. They also make saddles and chaps.

Instead of the shiny granite counters that we all know, MSI Surfaces ( makes honed and leathered granite finishes for a more subtle appearance and has dealers throughout the DMV. 

For a do-it-yourself application, Amazon sells the Aspect brand eight-pack of leather glass, peel and stick subway tiles for backsplashes in five neutral colors for less than $20 each.

EcoDomo ( in Gaithersburg offers a variety of custom leather treatments, including countertops, door and cabinet panels, floor planks and tiles, and wall systems. Your color choices aren’t limited to black or brown either. They can manufacture pieces in blue, red, green, and even in custom colors to match other items in your décor.

Many online stores such as Wayfair and Overstock carry real and faux leather headboards, footstools, poufs and benches at affordable prices. 

There’s always something in leather at Pottery Barn, even for the conservative budget: pieced leather pillows, tufted stools, basket collections, and even a leather-bound coffee table book for cigar aficionados. 

If you’re looking for small accent pieces, try a leather coaster, placemat, napkin ring, or my personal favorite, a cutlery pouch for your tableware collection from Lucrin Geneva ( They also offer office accessories such as crocodile desk sets, wastebaskets and storage boxes.

And for the connoisseur of leather, vinyl, rubber, or even neoprene items of a more personal nature, head to the Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency this Friday through Sunday for Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend. With plenty of specialty items, high-impact fashion, toys and games for all ages and yes, even custom-made furniture among the vendor exhibitions, you’re sure to find something that will tickle your fancy.

Just remember that you (and your puppy) must both be vaccinated and masked to attend. We take COVID (and rabies) very seriously here in D.C.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate.  Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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