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Tracks — gay nightlife staple of ‘80s/’90s — remembered fondly

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Tracks, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade
Tracks, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

Tracks (Washington Blade file photo)

The planning and organizing has taken on all the earnestness and care of a high school or college reunion.

But in a series of events scheduled for this weekend at three D.C. clubs, patrons and employees of a gay nightclub called Tracks — which entertained and some say mesmerized thousands during its run from 1984 to 1999 — will come together for a reunion that may have a far greater meaning for them than a school reunion, according to organizers.

“Tracks nightclub is widely revered as the legendary nightclub of Washington, D.C.,” says a statement on the event’s website, TracksDC.com.

“And although there have been many other nightclubs, parties, events and gathering places that may hold fond memories for many from Washington, Maryland, Virginia and the surrounding region, there is no denying that Tracks meant considerably more to considerably more people for considerably more years than any other nightclub in D.C. history,” the statement says.

Patrick Little, a Tracks bartender and manager and one of the lead organizers of the reunion, said 100 percent of the proceeds for the reunion will go to seven non-profit charitable groups, including Whitman-Walker Health, the House of Ruth shelter for homeless women, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) and the Mautner Project for lesbians with cancer and other serious illnesses.

Other recipients of the proceeds include the AIDS service group Us Helping Us, the D.C. Center and the Metropolis Fund, which raises money to support local and national AIDS causes.

Denver-based businessman Marty Chernoff, founder and owner of Tracks, has been credited with bringing to D.C. a gay nightclub that offered features that no other nightclub offered in the area, gay or straight, from the time it opened in 1984 through at least a decade or longer, Little and others working on the reunion say.

Tracks, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo)

Little and Ed Bailey, who worked as a Tracks DJ and later as its director of promotions, pointed to some of the features of Tracks that set it apart from other clubs. Located in a sprawling warehouse building at 1111 First St., S.E., the club’s main room or hall included the region’s largest dance floor at the time.

Chernoff, who had been operating a Tracks nightclub in Denver, installed in the D.C. club the same state-of-the-art theatrical lighting and sound system he had been using in the Denver club. Chernoff also built in the D.C. club a separate video room with its own dance floor and sound system.

According to Bailey, the video screens were among the largest of any of the existing clubs in the area at a time when video screens were just starting to be installed in clubs in big cities like New York and Los Angeles.

And unlike most other clubs at the time, Chernoff had a large outdoor space as part of the Tracks property in which he installed a volleyball court with beach sand. He also built an 18-inch-deep pool surrounded by a large deck with chairs and an outdoor bar and grill, where hot dogs and hamburgers, among other food items, were served.

The outdoor space also featured yet another dance floor and sound system that became popular in the warm months.

“I built what I thought would work well, including some things where people said, ‘Are you crazy? Who ever heard of a volleyball court in a nightclub?’” Chernoff says. “And I said, ‘Well I tried it in Denver and it worked pretty well. Let’s give it a try here.’”

Bailey and others familiar with Tracks say the volleyball court along with the numerous other amenities at the club worked well, as capacity crowds came to the club on most weekends.

“The video, sound system and lighting were way ahead of their time,” Bailey says. “The music was always cutting edge. And it was far more laid back than other nightclubs.”

Tracks featured nationally known live performers almost once a month for several years. Among them were Gloria Gaynor, Thelma Houston, Crystal Waters, The Village People, Robin Ess, Martha Washington and CeCe Peniston.

Unlike many other gay clubs at the time, Tracks attracted a diverse cross section of the LGBT community, including whites, blacks, men and women, Latinos and Asians, Bailey and Little say. As word got out about Tracks’ grand scale, straights began to come to the club at various times.

Before long, Little says, Friday nights became known as “straight night,” even though gays continued to come to the club on that night.

“It was the biggest, coolest club in the city so other people started going,” Bailey says. “The straight crowd knew it was a gay club but they couldn’t find anything like it anywhere else.”

Chernoff says he and his staff welcomed the diversity of the crowds that packed the club, which sometimes exceeded its occupancy limit of 1,300 people.

He made it clear in no uncertain terms on a sign posted at the entrance that while everyone was welcome, Tracks was a gay club “and if that is a problem for you then you shouldn’t come in.”

“The one absolute we had is we were not going to discriminate,” Chernoff says.

Tracks, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo)

Little says the three nights of the reunion set for this weekend — Friday through Sunday — were put together to reflect the different types of music and crowds that came to Tracks on different nights.

Chernoff says he was especially proud of the lighting system and other features in the Tracks main hall. The enormous dance floor was surrounded by an elevated standing area where people could watch the action on the floor. He arranged for a small platform to be placed high above the main hall dance floor from which a giant mosaic mirrored disco ball was suspended that could be lowered and raised.

A heavy-duty cable was sometimes used to lower performers from the platform above the dance floor. During one of the club’s New Year’s Eve parties, a “heavy-set drag queen dressed only in a diaper” was lowered from the perch above the dance floor “to the hoots and hollers of the crowd below, which was taken by complete surprise.”

Celebrity encounters

Chernoff says one of the “horror stories” he recalls during the years he operated Tracks was when singer Grace Jones, who was booked for a live performance, refused to go on stage when the time for her act was scheduled to begin.

“She was just impossible to work with,” Chernoff says. “She said, ‘I’ll decide if I go on or not go on. I’ll see how I feel about it.’ I said, ‘You owe it your fans out there. Please go on stage.’ She said, ‘I’ll decide if I want to go on or not. Maybe I don’t feel like going on.’ So finally I said, ‘Enough is enough. Just get the hell out of my building. I don’t need to put up with this crap.’”

He says Tracks refunded the money for everyone who paid for admission to see Jones perform, writing off the episode as “one of our biggest disasters.”

Among the most pleasant encounters with a performer or group booked at Tracks was the appearance of the Village People, one of the most popular disco-era acts, especially for gay audiences, Chernoff says.

“It was such a great experience and such a great vibe,” he says. “So after they put the show on they didn’t leave. They stayed and partied with everybody until 5 or 6 in the morning. They said, ‘We don’t want to go home. We’re party people and this is the best party in town.’”

Changing times

Tracks, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo)

“It became a home for a lot of people,” says Reg Tyson, who was part of a group that partnered with D.C. businessman Paul Yates, who bought Tracks from Chernoff around 1990.

“I think it was the right place at the right time,” Tyson says. “It was a new place that allowed people to be free to be themselves, to express themselves.”

The club flourished under Yates’ ownership as Bailey, who had been working as a DJ, was moved by Yates to the post of director of promotions.

Chernoff says around 1996 Yates decided to withdraw from the business, and Chernoff resumed his position as Tracks owner until the time the club closed its doors in 1999. By that time Bailey had left Tracks to become involved with a new and even bigger nightclub located one block away called Nation, which started a Saturday night gay dance party called Velvet Nation.

“Like everything else, Tracks’ time had come,” Chernoff says. “You can’t hang on to the previous concept and expect it to move into the next decades and next generations. What made Tracks unique and phenomenal — it had run its course.”

Ongoing negotiations with a developer that had expressed interest in buying the Tracks property to build a new office building reached the stage where a deal was finalized, Chernoff says.

Bailey says he was honored to have worked for Chernoff and credits him with teaching him the ins and outs of operating a nightclub, skills that Bailey says helped him in his work at Nation.

“Tracks innovated the nightclub scene in a way that Nation benefited,” Bailey says.

Bailey says he was also honored that Chernoff and the Tracks staff invited him to work as DJ at Tracks during its closing night party in November 1999.

Kevin Brennan, a Tracks customer who was later hired as a lighting technician at the club, says he and his partner of 18 years, Don Oberholzer, have especially fond memories of Tracks.

“That’s where we met,” Brennan says. “I think he was dancing on one of the dance boxes in the big room and we just started talking.” They had their first date about a week later and have been a couple ever since. The two were married in D.C. last year.

“It made an impression on me in the sense that nothing else has ever compared,” Brennan says of the club. “I never felt like there was another club that had everything that Tracks had.”

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Real Estate

Totally radical home buying

We should celebrate advancement of homeownership rights

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The phrase “totally radical” came of age in the 1980s and was defined as cool, wonderful, or awesome. Its synonym, wicked, can be found in nearly all Ben Affleck movies and a cry of “Excellent!” will bring back memories of an adventure had by Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) in 1989.

Although some people are not ready for cocooning yet, homeownership is still a cornerstone of financial strength and wealth building. For LGBTQ individuals, owning a home can provide a sense of economic security and a sanctuary where they can express their personalities freely and without fear of discrimination or harassment. 

Whether house, condominium, or cooperative apartment, owning a place to chill allows you to build a legacy and provide for future generations. It offers the stability needed to plan for the future, whether that involves raising a family, supporting aging parents, or ensuring a spouse’s or partner’s financial security.

Homeowners are also more likely to invest in their communities, fostering strong, inclusive, bitchin’ neighborhoods. For many LGBTQ people, a home is “In the District,” which prides itself on diversity. Homeownership allows individuals to create personal spaces that reflect their identities and values, contribute to the city’s rich cultural tapestry, support local businesses, and participate in community events and governance.

The journey toward homeownership for gay individuals has evolved over the years, reflecting broader societal changes and the struggle for LGBTQ rights. The stark contrast between the ’80s and now highlights the progress made, the challenges that still exist, and future uncertainties brought forth by the space cadets in our political system. 

In the 1980s, homeownership for gay people was bogus. The decade was marked by lame, pervasive discrimination and limited legal protections. The HIV/AIDS epidemic further stigmatized the gay community, intensifying societal prejudices. This climate of fear and hostility permeated various aspects of life, including the housing market.

Gay individuals faced overt discrimination from landlords, real estate agents, and mortgage lenders, even in the rental market. It was not uncommon for same-sex couples to be denied housing simply because of their sexual orientation. Even in the late ’90s I had clients looking for homes in Prince William County, Va., who had to hightail it out of an open house when told to take a hike. I kid you not!

Financial institutions were often unwilling to grant mortgages to same-sex couples or openly gay individuals. When they did, the terms were often less favorable than those offered to heterosexual couples. This made the dream of homeownership significantly harder to achieve, even though DINKs (dual income, no kids) tended to have more household income than so-called “traditional” families.

Additionally, the lack of legal recognition for same-sex relationships posed harsh challenges. Without the ability to marry, same-sex couples faced difficulties in co-owning property and ensuring that their partner had legal rights to the home. Estate planning was complicated, as inheritance laws did not recognize same-sex partners, potentially leading to the loss of a home upon a partner’s death.

The landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, was a fantabulous moment. This ruling provided same-sex couples with the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, including the ability to jointly own property and inherit without complication.

Anti-discrimination laws have also evolved. The definition of sex under the Federal Fair Housing Act has been expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity, as have protected classes in Maryland and Virginia. The District has taken that a step further; our protected classes also include gender expression and personal appearance. 

Organizations like the DC Center for the LGBT Community and the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) offer resources and advocacy for LGBTQ+ homebuyers. These organizations provide educational workshops, networking opportunities, and support to navigate the housing market.

The advancement of homeownership rights for gay people is a testament to the righteous resilience and determination of the LGBTQ+ community. As society continues to strive for equality, it is essential to address the remaining challenges to ensure that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can achieve the goal of homeownership.

In 2024, the only limitations on owning a home are finding one and being able to afford it. Pride weekend is a great time to go to open houses. You’ll probably be walking right by several. 

But if you’re not ready yet and just feel like getting your ’80s jams on, grab your disco balls and check out the Totally Tubular Festival at The Anthem at The Wharf on July 14.I’ll be Desperately Seeking Susan and will, as they used to say in the ’70s, catch you on the flip flop.

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Real Estate

Decorating tips for Pride in D.C.

Perfect time to add a dash of creativity to your living space

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Hang your Pride flag and other LGBTQ-themed décor this Pride month. (Washington Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

As the vibrant LGBTQ community in Washington, D.C., gears up for the much-anticipated Pride celebrations on June 8 and June 9, it’s the perfect time to add a splash of color and a dash of creativity to your living space. Normally, I know you’re used to reading more educational and serious articles in this space. In the spirit of D.C. Pride this year, I thought a bit of levity would be welcomed.

Whether you’re in a cozy condo, a spacious home, or a rental apartment, here are some fabulous ways to zhuzh up your indoors and outdoors with Pride-themed décor. 

Indoors: Celebrate with Style

1. Colorful Accents Everywhere

Transform your living area into a festive space by incorporating the colors of the rainbow. Here’s how:

• Throw Pillows and Blankets: Swap out your regular throw pillows and blankets for those in bright, rainbow colors. This simple change can make your space instantly feel more festive.

• Pride Flags: Hang LGBTQ Pride flags on your walls or in your windows. The traditional rainbow flag is a staple, but also consider including other flags like the bisexual, transgender, or pansexual flags to celebrate the diversity of our community.

• Art and Posters: Display Pride-themed art or inspirational quotes from LGBTQ+ icons. Local artists often have prints and posters that reflect the spirit of Pride.

2. Light It Up. Lighting can set the mood for any celebration:

• Fairy Lights: Drape rainbow-colored fairy lights around your living room or bedroom for a magical touch.

• LED Candles: Use multi-colored LED candles to safely add a warm glow to your space.

3. Tabletop Décor. Celebrate at every meal with:

• Tablecloths and Runners: A vibrant rainbow tablecloth or runner can turn every dining experience into a celebration.

• Centerpieces: Create centerpieces with flowers in hues of the rainbow, or use colorful glass bottles as vases.

4. DIY Pride Crafts. Get creative with DIY decorations:

• Rainbow Paper Chains: Make paper chains in rainbow colors and hang them across your rooms.

• Pride Mason Jars: Paint mason jars in rainbow stripes and use them to hold utensils or flowers.

Outdoors: A Festive Façade

1. Balcony or Patio Pride. If you have outdoor space, make it a part of the celebration:

• Rainbow Banners and Streamers: Decorate your balcony or patio railings with rainbow banners and streamers.

• Outdoor Flags: Fly a large Pride flag from your balcony or in your garden.

2. Welcoming Door Décor. Your front door can be a bold statement of support:

• Pride Wreath: Create or buy a wreath featuring rainbow colors or themed around different LGBTQ+ flags.

• Welcome Mats: Greet visitors with Pride-themed welcome mats.

3. Garden and Window Dressings. Let your garden or exterior windows echo your Pride:

• Window Decals: Use removable rainbow decals to decorate windows facing the street.

• Garden Flags: Place small rainbow or other LGBTQ+ flags throughout your garden or in plant pots on your porch.

4. Lighting the Night. Make your outdoor space shine:

• Solar Rainbow Lights: Use solar-powered lights in Pride colors to illuminate pathways or garden borders.

• Projection Lights: Project rainbow patterns or Pride flags onto your home’s exterior.

Community Engagement

1. Share the Spirit. Decorate your shared spaces if you’re in an apartment building:

• Bulletin Boards: Put up colorful notices or flyers announcing local Pride events.

• Community Areas: If possible, decorate communal areas with small flags or posters.

2. Local Pride. Support local LGBTQ businesses by buying decorations or craft supplies from them. This not only helps the community but also promotes local artists and crafters.

Safety and Considerations

• Check with your landlord or HOA: Before hanging decorations outside or in shared areas, make sure to check if there are any restrictions.

• Be Mindful of Neighbors: While celebrating Pride, ensure your decorations are respectful and mindful of your neighbors.

By decorating your home for Pride in Washington, D.C., you’re not just brightening up your living space; you’re showing your support and solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Let your Pride shine brightly, and make this year’s celebrations unforgettable!

Scott Bloom is owner and senior property manager, Columbia Property Management. For more information and resources, visit ColumbiaPM.com.

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Real Estate

Looking for vacation homes during Memorial Day weekend

A busy, strategic time in the housing market

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As summer arrives, more tourists begin thinking of buying in resort towns like Rehoboth Beach, Del. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Memorial Day weekend, a time to honor the sacrifices of the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, also marks the unofficial start of summer. Beyond its significance as a day of remembrance, it has become a prime period for the real estate market. The long weekend provides a unique opportunity for home buyers and sellers, making it one of the busiest and most strategic times in the housing market.

Memorial Day weekend is often a time when people head to the beach, the country, or the mountains for relaxation and to join in the local festivities. This long weekend offers a break from routine, a chance to honor those who have served, and an opportunity to enjoy the beginning of warmer weather. 

For real estate agents, however, Memorial Day weekend can be a blend of work and leisure, especially in resort communities where the real estate market is particularly active during this time. 

The influx of visitors to these destinations often includes prospective buyers who are considering purchasing vacation homes or investment properties. As a result, real estate agents in these areas might find themselves balancing work commitments with personal downtime.

We are keenly aware that the long weekend brings a surge in potential clients. Agents joke among themselves about business being slow until they make plans to go out of town. Open houses and community home tours are often scheduled to coincide with the holiday, taking advantage of the increased foot traffic.

Due to constantly improving technology, real estate agents can effectively manage their time and resources even during busy holiday weekends. Virtual tours, online listings, and digital marketing campaigns enable agents to reach a broad audience without always being physically present. Technology also allows agents to stay connected with clients and respond to inquiries promptly, ensuring that the clients do not miss out on potential sales opportunities. 

Often, agents licensed in the DMV are expanding their territories by becoming licensed in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Writing offers while on vacation has become the norm. Social media accounts can highlight special listings and open house events, and agents can also post pictures and descriptions of amenities in the towns they are visiting, attracting interested buyers who are in the area for the weekend.

The vibrant atmosphere of vacation getaway towns during Memorial Day weekend also provides a unique opportunity for networking and relationship-building. Agents can meet potential clients in a casual setting, forging connections that might lead to new business opportunities. They can also form relationships with other agents and create partnerships to help current and future clients find leisure homes.

The appeal of owning a place by the water, for example, is often strongest during the summer months, when the weather is inviting and the potential for rental income is high. Real estate agents who serve beach towns such as Ocean City, Md., Virginia Beach, Va., or Rehoboth Beach, Del., often mix business with pleasure as they seek out new clients.

Alternatively, if the relaxed life in the country is more to your liking, places such as The Amish area of Lancaster County, Pa. may be for you. Charles Town, W.Va., and Ashland, Va. have a robust military history and may be what you’re looking to enjoy. If mountains and lakes are more your style, the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, the Appalachians of West Virginia, or Deep Creek Lake, Md., may fit the bill, so let’s look at a few properties on the market today.

In Ocean City, you can find an oceanfront, one-bedroom condominium with beach and sunset views in a short-term rental building for $439,900. As you can imagine, it already has four weeks booked for the summer.

The historic district of Charles Town, W.Va., offers a 3,000-square-foot Victorian home built in 1890. It has five bedrooms, two bathrooms, 10’ high ceilings, original pocket doors, inlaid floors, and central air conditioning for $159,900. What’s the catch? It requires a complete renovation, but what a wonderful project it could be for weekend warriors.

Stretch your budget a bit more and you can own a 4,000-square-foot chalet with mountain views on both sides in Front Royal, Va. For less than $700,000, you will get four bedrooms and three baths, nearly two acres of land, and low-maintenance siding.

While many people flock to nearby vacation spots purely for relaxation, real estate agents often find themselves working diligently to learn about different areas and capitalize on the increased interest in local properties. By doing so, they can help clients find their dream homes, whether for retirement, short getaways, or investment potential.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed associate broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate / @properties. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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