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Best of Gay D.C. XIII: Dining

Winners from the Blade’s readers poll

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dining, gay news, Washington Blade

To see the winners of the Washington Blade’s Best of Gay D.C. readers poll in other categories, click here.

Best new restaurant

Barcelona

Runner-up: Rose’s Luxury

Barcelona, gay news, Washington Blade, dining

Barcelona (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In the heart of the booming 14th Street N.W. corridor near Logan Circle is Barcelona, an always-bustling spot that has one of the largest outdoor seating areas in the neighborhood and a classy-yet-low-key vibe on the block between Q and R streets. Part of a chain, the restaurant, under the direction of Executive Chef John Critchley, features mostly tapas but has a few entrees as well. Many are Spanish-inspired (e.g. spiced beef empanadas or potato tortilla) but not all. It opened October 2013. (JD)

Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant

1622 14th St., N.W.

202-588-5500

barcelonawinebar.com

Best Date Restaurant

Floriana

Runner-up: Le Diplomate

Floriana, gay news, Washington Blade

Floriana (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Best Wine Bar

Dito’s Bar at Floriana

Runner-up: Cork

Dito Sevilla, Dito's Bar, Floriana, gay news, Washington Blade

Dito’s Bar at Floriana (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The perfect date night is planned for you at Floriana. Authentic Italian food, like butternut squash ravioli and lasagna, can transport any date from D.C. to Italy. Stop by Dito’s Bar for a drink to complete the romantic evening. All you have to do is show up. (MC)

Floriana

1602 17th St., N.W.

202-667-5937

Best Dessert

Curvy Mama Pies

Runner-up: Cake Love

Curvy Mama Pies (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Curvy Mama Pies (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Never grab a grocery store pie for the party again. Curvy Mama Pies’ online ordering service can have your pies ready in 48 hours. Try old favorites like “The Best Apple Pie Ever” and pumpkin pie or step outside the pie box and try “Aztec Chocolate Chess” or “Sweet Potato Bourbon.” (MC)

Curvy Mama Pies

Bethesda, Md.

301-717-3010

Curvymamapies.com

Best Boozy Brunch

Level One

Level One, gay news, Washington Blade

Level One (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1639 R St., N.W.

202-745-0025

levelonedc.com

Runner-up: Freddie’s Beach Bar

Best Chef

Jamie Leeds (Hank’s Oyster Bar)

Runner-up: Jose Andres (Jaleo, Oyamel, etc.)

Jamie Leeds  (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Jamie Leeds (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Long-time out restaurateur Jamie Leeds adds another accolade to her long list. In Washington since 2002, she opened the first Hank’s Oyster Bar in 2005 and now has locations in Capitol Hill and Old Town Alexandria in addition to its Q Street location just off 17th Street, N.W. If you’re into oysters, competitor Pearl Dive Oyster Palace on 14th, is undeniably great, but Hank’s always has a bounty of nirvana-inducing selections from a bewilderingly far-flung group of locales that are always mind bogglingly fresh. D.C. oyster heaven doesn’t get any better than this. (JD)

Hank’s Oyster Bar

1624 Q St., N.W.

Washington

202-462-HANK

1026 King St.

Alexandria, Va.

703-739-HANK

633 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E.

Washington

202-733-9171

hanksoysterbar.com

Best Late Night Restaurant

Amsterdam Falafel

Runner-up: Annie’s Paramount Steak House

Amsterdam Falafel (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Amsterdam Falafel (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Don’t let your standards slip just because it’s after hours. Fresh falafels are made to order here with 21 sauces and toppings to choose from. Customize the fries as well with dressings and sauces like Dutch mayo or homemade peanut sauce. (MC)

Amsterdam Falafel

1830 14th St., N.W.

202-232-6200

Best Coffee Shop

Soho Tea and Coffee

Runner-up: The Coffee Bar

Ditch the Starbucks and try a specialty coffee at Soho Tea and Coffee. Drinks with fun names like Hello Gorgeous Macchiato and Betty Boop, white or dark chocolate mixed with coffee, make this not your typical coffee shop. (MC)

2150 P St., N.W.

202-463-7646

sohoteaandcoffee.com

Best Rehoboth Restaurant

Dos Locos

Runner-up: Purple Parrot

Dos Locos, Joe Zuber, Darryl Ciarlante, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, restaurant, gay news, Washington Blade

Drinks at Dos Locos (Photo courtesy Dos Locos)

Whether you’re looking to watch a game with friends at the bar while downing the renowned margaritas or in need of a family-friendly place for dinner, the gay-owned Dos Locos delivers. There are seasonal specials (don’t miss the pumpkin margarita), tequila tasting dinners, inventive entrees (we love the duck quesadilla) and unbeatable specials (like the $20 pitchers of sangria on Saturdays). (KN)

Dos Locos

208 Rehoboth Ave.

302-227-3353

doslocos.com

Best Caterer

Chef Patrick

patrickvanasevents.com

Runner-up: R&R Catering

Patrick Vanas, recipes, recipe, food, cooking, Thanksgiving, gay news, Washington Blade

Chef Patrick (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Pizza

Matchbox

Locations vary

matchboxfoodgroup.com

Runner-up: &Pizza

Spicy Meatball Pizza at Matchbox (Photo courtesy Matchbox Food Group)

Spicy Meatball Pizza at Matchbox (Photo courtesy Matchbox Food Group)

Best Burger

Duke’s Grocery

Runner-up: Shake Shack

Duke's Grocery (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Duke’s Grocery (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Inspired by East London corner cafes, Duke’s Grocery provides a casual environment. The menu changes daily based on which ingredients, sourced from local purveyors, are fresh and seasonal. The burgers, like all other dishes, are made from scratch. (SMH)

Duke’s Grocery

1513 17th St., N.W.

202-733-5623

dukesgrocery.com

Best Baltimore Restaurant

Woodberry Kitchen

Runner-up: City Café

Woodberry Kitchen (Photo courtesy of Woodberry Kitchen)

Woodberry Kitchen (Photo courtesy of Woodberry Kitchen)

Woodberry Kitchen is celebrating seven years in business and it’s still impossible to get a table without a reservation. Woodberry was an early proponent of the now-ubiquitous trend of farm-to-table cuisine. Chef Spike Gjerde is a James Beard semi-finalist as is the bar program. Woodberry supports sustainable agriculture, using ingredients from the Chesapeake region in its New American dishes. The success helped spawn a hot new spot, Parts & Labor, a butcher shop and restaurant, but there’s nothing like the original. Just make a reservation. (KN)

Woodberry Kitchen

2010 Clipper Park Road, #126

410-464-8000

woodberrykitchen.com

Best Food Truck

D.C. Empanadas

Runner-up: Red Hook Lobster

D.C. Empanadas at the Human Rights Campaign's 'Chefs for Equality' event on Sept. 24, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Empanadas at the Human Rights Campaign’s ‘Chefs for Equality’ event on Sept. 24, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s only mobile gourmet empanada truck takes great care to provide hand-made delicacies using only local ingredients. A wide variety of beef, pork, chicken and vegetarian options rotate daily. Check Twitter @DCEmpanadas for the truck’s location. (SMH)

D.C. Empanadas

703-400-5363

dcempanadas.com

Best Cheap Eat

District Taco

Runner-up: Stoney’s

District Taco (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

District Taco (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What originated as a food truck in 2009 now serves the community in four locations in and around D.C. The Yucatan-style tacos are simple, healthful and made from quality ingredients and served in environmentally friendly packaging. (SMH)

District Taco

703-560-0369

districttaco.com

Best Farmer’s Market

Eastern Market

Eastern Market (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Eastern Market (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

225 7th St. S.E.

202-698-5253

easternmarket-dc.org

Runner-up: Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market

Best Steak

Ray’s The Steaks

Runner-up: Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Satisfy that steak craving at Ray’s The Steaks. A New York strip, filet mignon or one of their butcher cuts is guaranteed to hit the spot. Their beef is all aged in house and cuts butchered daily for the ultimate tasting experience. (MC)

Ray’s The Steaks

2300 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.

703-841-7297

raysthetsteaks.com

Best Donut

Winner: District Doughnut

Runner-up: Krispy Kreme

Caramel apple streusel, maple butter pecan, apple cider and the list goes on for the donut flavors you can try here. The flavor schedule changes daily so be sure to come back again and again to indulge in something new. (MC)

District Doughnut

749 8th St., S.E.

202-350-0799

districtdoughnut.com

 

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Movies

‘Framing Agnes’ unearths historic trans narratives for engaging doc

Pioneering figure beat the cis-hetero patriarchy at their own game

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Chase Joynt and Zackary Drucker in ‘Framing Agnes.’ (Image courtesy of Kino Lorber)

You might assume in 2022 that information about our cultural heroes from the past would be readily available. After all, we carry the entire repository of human knowledge, or at least the potential for accessing it, in the palm of our hands; if someone has made a significant impact in our history, even within the history of a specific community, it stands to reason that a factual chronicle of their life would exist.

What happens, though, when an important figure is part of a community that has been historically disregarded by the mainstream narrative? When the influence they’ve cast across the years has been buried deep in anonymity by a determined effort to marginalize or even erase the community they represent?

That’s the question explored in “Framing Agnes,” a new film from transmasculine Canadian director Chase Joynt (“No Ordinary Man”) that blends documentary, narrative, and speculative analysis as it goes on a deep dive into the buried case files of an infamous gender health study headed by psychiatrist Robert Stoller at UCLA in the 1950s and 1960s. The “Agnes” of the title refers to the pseudonymous “Agnes Torres,” who was one of dozens of individuals interviewed as part of the research about transgender identity.

Agnes, portrayed in Joynt’s movie by Zackary Drucker (“Transparent”), has become legendary within the trans community for successfully navigating an institutional system to access the gender-affirming care it would otherwise have denied her. At a time when surgery was only granted to intersex individuals, she lied about having taken estrogen to feminize her body from an early age, claiming instead to have been born with physiological characteristics of both genders; she was given access the procedure, which was performed in 1959, and continued to participate in the study. Years later, she confessed her ruse to Stoller, who was then forced to retract and rethink the findings which had formed part of the basis for his influential writings around transgender identity — writings, it should be said, that approached the subject as a “pathology” and considered it a psychological condition to be corrected or prevented.

It’s easy to see why Agnes would be a heroic figure to today’s trans community. After all, she not only beat the cis-hetero patriarchy at their own game, she also managed to single-handedly sabotage the credibility of theories that were being used to legitimize anti-trans bias. Though her real identity may be forever hidden to us, her audacity alone is more than enough to elevate her to the status of trans icon.

She was, however, not the only one. The interviews – which were conducted by sociologist Harold Garfinkel, Stoller’s collaborator on the study – also document the lived experiences of many other anonymous participants, and Joynt’s film positions Agnes as only the best-known among what was, in fact, a much wider and more diverse sampling of individuals, all with relatable stories about living a trans life in mid-century America. These include trans women of color as well as trans men, who were far outside the boundaries of what most Americans were willing to accept in an era when Christine Jorgensen – pretty, blonde, and “respectably” cultured – was the only face of “transsexuality” in the public eye.

In “Framing Agnes,” Joynt elevates a handful of these unsung trans pioneers alongside Agnes, collaborating with several notable trans performers – besides Drucker, Angelica Ross (“Pose”), Jen Richards (“Mrs. Fletcher”), Max Wolf Valerio, Silas Howard, and Stephen Ira are among the cast – to re-enact their interviews with Garfinkel on camera. Eschewing a straightforward approach in favor of a more artful conceit, these segments are presented not in their clinical setting, but in the style of a Mike-Wallace-style TV interview of the era, with Joynt himself taking on the role of Garfinkel opposite each of his subjects. Even further, he intersperses the re-enactments themselves with footage and interviews documenting the creation of the segments – something akin to a “making of” special feature built right into the movie itself – and commentary focused on putting these historical snapshots of trans life into the context of what we now understand about transgender identity.

While it all might sound a trifle art-y, the filmmaker maintains a loose, accessible, even playful tone to the style – while still respecting the subject matter, and the subjects – that no doubt contributed to the movie’s win of both the Audience Award and the “NEXT” Innovator Prize at this year’s Sundance Festival. Rather than interrupting the flow, this stylistic format illuminates the material as we go, giving us a chance to share the insights of the artists as they work to bring these nuggets of history to life, and offering an opportunity to reflect on how these long-hidden tales of queer existence connect to our own in the here and now.

Yet there are times in “Framing Agnes” – particularly in its latter half – when one can’t help but feel frustrated by a sense of distance. We are ultimately given only snippets of these compelling narratives and left only with conjectured facts that can be extrapolated from contextual circumstance or by reading between the lines; the onscreen discussion around them – helped immeasurably by the availability of language around the subject matter that didn’t exist at the time they were recorded – serves to enlighten, to amplify, and to humanize, but we are never allowed to get deeply enough inside them to really know the people at their center.

That, of course, is the answer to the question we posed in the beginning. When the record of our heroes has been suppressed, all we have left are icons. We can surmise, project, interpret, and guess as much as we want, but we can never know much, if anything, about them beyond whatever words they may have left us. In the case of Agnes and her fellow interviewees, those words reveal much about what it was like to be trans in their time, and verify many of our assumptions about it while contradicting others. 

They tell us things about their feelings, their relationships, their self-esteem, their survival tactics, and many of the other universal touchstones of experience that can evoke solidarity between generations an era apart; beyond these things, they tell us nothing, and we can only rely, like the artists who came together to create “Framing Agnes,” on our imaginations.

It helps that each of the performers seems deeply invested in their character – further proof, if any were needed, of the value of lived experience over outsider assumption when it comes to acting in such roles – and that the vintage segments are executed with meticulous skill and attention to detail. And if we are denied, perhaps, the opportunity to fully access the lives of the people Joynt’s movie profiles, we are welcomed into the conversation about them – indeed, into the whole creative process – by the artists who brought them to us.

“Framing Agnes” is currently in a limited theatrical run before expanding to select cities nationwide. If it doesn’t make it to a screen near you, don’t worry – it’s slated for a streaming debut early next year.

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Music & Concerts

Trans soprano leads glorious 18th century ‘Christmas Oratorio’

Misgivings about fitting into music world prove unwarranted

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Soprano Elijah McCormack 

Washington Bach Consort presents
Bach’s Christmas Oratorio
Saturday Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.
Music Center at Strathmore
5301 Tuckerman Lane
North Bethesda, Md.
$25 – $89
Strathmore.org

When it comes to opera, Elijah McCormack, 28, is typically cast as children. The talented trans male soprano looks young and sings high, so outside of an educational setting where he’s played adult parts, playing extreme youths has become a sort of musical niche. 

“It would be really cool to do a baroque opera and actually sing the primary male lead,” he opines good naturedly before avowing a passion for both opera and his other work – singing sacred music as a grownup at far-flung concerts and festivals.

On Saturday, McCormack joins the Washington Bach Consort at Strathmore as the soprano soloist in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, a glorious 18th century Baroque telling of the Nativity, sometimes billed as Germany’s “seasonal equivalent to the English-speaking world’s “Messiah.”

 “The oratorio is lovely. There are two soprano arias: one is bouncy and exciting and the other meditative. I like them both,” he says. 

While this is his first time performing at Strathmore, he’s sung with the Washington Bach Consort before. The consort’s artistic director Dana Marsh met McCormack at Indiana University’s Historical Performance Institute (where Marsh is a professor and McCormack graduated in 2019 with a master’s of music) In recent years, Marsh has invited him to sing with the consort as both soloist and ensemble member. McCormack cites Marsh as a formative influence and great help. 

McCormack grew up in Connecticut (where he’s currently based) surrounded by classical music. In addition to a lawyer father passionate about the Romantics (Mahler, Strauss, Wagner), there were many choir practices and performances at the local Episcopalian church, and some pre-transition musical theater parts in high school including Grandma Tzeitel in “Fiddler on the Roof.” 

“I liked musical theater; it didn’t like me,” he says wryly.  

During his undergrad years at Skidmore, a liberal arts college in upstate New York, McCormack was a studio art major with a concentration in painting who did loads of singing too. Still, as a trans male soprano, he wasn’t sure there would be a place for him in the professional musical performance world. 

In 2016, near the end of his senior year, something rare and wonderful happened. Skidmore uncharacteristically staged a fully produced Baroque opera, “Serse” by Handel, and McCormack was cast as the secondary male lead, a role originally written for a castrato: “That experience of singing was really affirming for me. I suddenly knew there were roles for me and music that suited my voice.” 

He had realized he was trans at 17 and transitioned socially at Skidmore. “For me personally, it was a fairly uncomfortable way for me to spend my first years in college. At one point, I’d thought about hormone therapy and figured that “Serse” would be the last hurrah of my soprano voice. But because I loved singing soprano so much, I didn’t do it.”

Other changes were made without regret, however. He credits top surgery in 2014 with improving both his general quality of life as well as his singing abilities. No longer having to bind his chest, like many trans men and trans masculine people do, his singing markedly improved.

Also, misgivings about fitting into the music world have proved unwarranted. 

“Always, walking into an audition room is the hardest part. I tend to think they know I’m queer but maybe they’re unsure exactly what flavor of the rainbow I am,” says the prize-winning singer. “So far, being visibly gender nonconforming, especially in a traditional space like you typically find with classical music, hasn’t elicited negative reactions. People don’t understand everything, but I’d say the world is catching up in terms of how to talk to and about people of various gender experiences.”

At over two hours is Bach’s Christmas Oratorio too heavy for the casual listener? 

“Depends on attention span,” he says. “But as things go, it’s accessible — fun, joyful, and a good time. And it’s not one of the usual holiday things you’re likely to have already seen a million times.”

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Out & About

Eckington Hall plans ‘Holidaze’ market

Jewelry, art, ceramics, vintage clothing, food, beer and more at event

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The holidays are here, bringing markets and bazaars to the area.

Eckington Hall and DC Bouldering Project will join forces for “Eckington Place Holidaze,” a holiday market, on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m along the Woonerf on Quincy Lane. 

The event will feature vendors selling a variety of goods such as jewelry, art, ceramics, vintage clothing, candles, books, collectibles, food and beer. Some of the vendors include Denise Lee Art, Love Soultry, Laura Bryant Art, Simple Pleasures and Capital Vintage, among others. 

For more information, visit Eckington Hall’s website.

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