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Former Madonna dancer Slam recalls ‘Blond Ambition Tour,’ ‘Truth or Dare’

Salim Gauwloos revisits landmark film on its 25th anniversary



Salim Gauwloos, gay news, Washington Blade

Salim Gauwloos today at work teaching dance in New York. (Photo courtesy Gauwloos)

“Truth or Dare”

Monday, Sept. 12


9 p.m.


AFI Silver




8633 Colesville Rd.


Silver Spring, Md.


“Madonna: Truth or Dare,” the landmark 1991 documentary (aka “In Bed With Madonna”) is widely remembered not only as an eye-popping memento of the singer’s legendary “Blond Ambition Tour,” but also as a gay cultural touchstone.

In some ways, it’s the gay equivalent of classic rockumentaries like “Gimme Shelter” or “The Last Waltz” but it’s more than that, too. Not only because it captures Our Lady at the peak of the zeitgeist, but also because its depiction of Madonna’s back-up dancers (of the seven, only Oliver Crumes was straight) being so matter-of-factly out that it felt almost otherworldly to the gay boys who lapped it up in Peoria and everywhere else.

In honor of its anniversary — it screens twice in the coming days at the AFI Silver — we caught up with Salim “Slam” Gauwloos, one of the “Blond Ambition” dancers whose onscreen kiss with the late Gabriel Trupin is one of the film’s most memorable moments. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

Salim Gauwloos, gay news, Washington Blade

Madonna’s ‘Blond Ambition Tour’ dancers, made famous in the film ‘Truth or Dare,’ reunited for ‘Strike a Pose.’ Clockwise from left are Luis Camacho, Oliver Crumes, Carlton Wilborn, Kevin Stea, Jose Gutierez and Salim Gauwloos. (Photo by Robin De Puy)

WASHINGTON BLADE: Before we get to “Truth or Dare,” tell us a little about “Strike a Pose,” the reunion documentary you’re in with the other “Blond Ambition Tour” dancers. When will we get to see it in Washington?

GAUWLOOS: It’s a great movie, you’ll enjoy it. They’re working on a U.S. theatrical release early next year. Before everybody downloads it. You’ll see it soon. It’s a beautiful movie. They did a great job.

BLADE: But it has already been on the festival circuit, right?

GAUWLOOS: Yes. We mostly go out in twos, only in Berlin and Amsterdam they flew everybody over, but mostly just two of us to wherever. I went to Colombia, to Tel Aviv. It takes a lot of time always, but it’s fun. Almost like being on tour again.

BLADE: How did they pitch you on “Strike a Pose”?

GAUWLOOS: They approached me in 2013. I was doing a job, this big dance festival in Vienna and they contacted me. I said, “OK, I’ll meet with Reijer Zwaan,” one of the directors. He came to meet me in Vienna and we must have talked for about eight hours. It just felt right, I don’t know. I think the directors, Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan, these directors from Holland, they’re amazing storytellers. I did kind of think, “Do I really want to throw myself out there again to be judged really in some kind of way, I want to be careful about that,” but I had a really good feeling about it.

BLADE: Did you talk to the other dancers before agreeing to it?

GAUWLOOS: No. I think the last one to jump on board was Jose (Gutierez). I felt it really should be all the dancers. Of course Gabriel (Trupin), he passed away a long time ago, but his mother represents him in the movie and that’s really beautiful. It wouldn’t have been the same without all the dancers so in the end, we all agreed and started shooting in 2014.

BLADE: Had you seen the other five any since the “Truth or Dare” premiere or kept in touch with them at all?

GAUWLOOS: No. For example, Carlton (Wilborn), Oliver (Crumes) and Kevin (Stea), I hadn’t seen for probably close to 25 years. Maybe 24 years. And Luis (Camacho) I’d seen a little bit here and there but that was probably like 12 years. Jose (Gutierez) and I both live in New York so I saw him a little bit here and there but with most of them, I’d had literally no contact at all. It was so amazing to see them all again after 25 years.

BLADE: What was different about this project?

GAUWLOOS: We’ve been approached so many times but in the end, it’s just mostly about Madonna but these guys really wanted to know what happened with us during the tour and what was happening with us right now, 25 years later, what we were up to, so that was really nice.

BLADE: You said recently that Reijer Zwaan was almost like your psychiatrist. How so?

GAUWLOOS: You probably know I was diagnosed in 1987 as being HIV-positive and I wanted to be out with that for a long time. It just felt silly to not be. So then along came Reijer and we talked for eight hours and it just all came out you know, crying and it was really the first time I sat with somebody I didn’t really know and told them, “Yes, I’ve been HIV for 29 years,” 27 at the time. I was like, “Oh my God, I feel like I’ve just been to a psychiatrist.” I’ve never been to a real one. Maybe I should (laughs).

BLADE: Madonna made a surprise appearance at a “Truth or Dare” anniversary screening a couple weeks ago in New York. What did it feel like when she walked in the room unannounced?

GAUWLOOS: It was surreal. We were just sitting there and we’re thinking, “OK, why isn’t the movie playing?” and boom, she walks in. It was like the whole room just gasped for air. You couldn’t believe it was real. She just sat down, watched the movie and left. But it was amazing.

BLADE: Had you seen her at all in the last 25 years?

GAUWLOOS: I hadn’t seen her in a long, long, long time. People on social media were like, “Oh my God, did she talk to you guys?” but we were in the front row and she was more in the back. Jose and I should have gone up to her but it wasn’t really the right moment. When she walked in it was just like, “Whoah, I’ve never felt that kind of energy in one room.” It was interesting watching the movie with her. It’s a good film. Very funny.

BLADE: How does it strike you seeing it now?

GAUWLOOS: I watched it a few years ago before we did “Strike a Pose.” When I see it I’m like, “Oh my God, my hair.” Me and my hair, it’s the only thing I can look at. I can’t stop flipping it, you know. It’s like I was so busy with my hair always. I’m just happy to have been part of such a big, iconic moment. If you look at the concert footage, it doesn’t look dated. The whole thing is just amazing. The least annoying thing for me is the kiss, the most important gay kiss in history. That I don’t have a problem watching but some of it I’m like, “Oh my God, no I did not just say that.” It’s like going back in time. It was a good experience.

BLADE: Wasn’t your hair sort of annoying at that length always falling in your face?

GAUWLOOS: Well when you dance, your hair flies around so it has more of an effect. I liked having longer hair and swinging it around.

BLADE: Speaking of hair, why did Madonna change her hair halfway through the tour? That ponytail look was so iconic for her but then she did the curls, which became kind of a trademark look too. It feels odd to me watching “Truth or Dare” because she’s always backstage and it’s supposed to make you feel like she’s walking out into the concert footage but it doesn’t match because she has the different hair.

GAUWLOOS: It was just like one day she had the ponytail and then she just went to the Shirley Temple curls. I don’t think there was any specific reason for it. With the ponytail sometimes it would fly around in your face so I think the curls were easier. Personally I liked the curls more.

BLADE: I’m sure you got wacked in the face with that ponytail a few times.

GAUWLOOS: Yeah and as a girl dancing with a ponytail, it’s like a delayed slap and it must have been difficult for her too.

BLADE: But it wasn’t that her hair was falling out from too much bleaching or pulling up or anything?

GAUWLOOS: No. She had strong hair.

BLADE: Do you feel she’s a bit aloof with you guys or do you think that’s just the way any major star would pretty much be?

GAUWLOOS: I don’t know. After 25 years, you know, it’s a long time. People go on with their life and deal with things in different ways. I mean I just knew sitting there she wasn’t going to run up to us and be like, “Oh my God,” you know? I knew that was not going to happen. It’s not really in her character to be like that. But who am I to judge? You know how you don’t see other people for many years and people react all different ways, so I don’t really judge that.

BLADE: Is it true (“Truth or Dare” director) Alek Keshishian said all the hundreds of hours of outtakes got accidentally deleted?

GAUWLOOS: Not deleted, but nobody knows where it is.

BLADE: I thought it was lame when the Blu-ray release came out a few years ago they didn’t put like 20 minutes or a half-hour of outtakes on it as bonus material. That would have been fun to see.

GAUWLOOS: Supposedly all these people claim not to know where it is. It’s lost.

BLADE: I’m sure it will surface maybe for the 50th anniversary or something.

GAUWLOOS: I know, right? Of course it will. It always does.

BLADE: Was there any dance move or routine that was especially tricky to learn for the tour?

GAUWLOOS: Well I had to learn to vogue, but it wasn’t particularly difficult. The only people who knew what that even was before were Luis, Jose and Madonna, who hired them. Being a classically trained dancer, it wasn’t really a challenge but it was one thing I had to learn. I think it came pretty naturally for everybody. The rest was just hard work. A lot of rehearsals. That’s how we got a really tight show together like that.

BLADE: Is it true you did like two weeks of twice-a-day run throughs before it premiered?

GAUWLOOS: Oh definitely. We were in the studio like 10-12 hours then at the end there were tech rehearsals at night too. It was a crazy, crazy schedule but you know, we were so young, talented and hungry so we didn’t care. We were all in it 100 percent.

BLADE: By the end, were you drenched in sweat and exhausted or were you in such great shape that you weren’t?

GAUWLOOS: People always think the numbers I was featured in like “Express Yourself” or the Dick Tracy part would be the most exhausting but those were the ones you could enjoy more. The most exhausting number to do was “Like a Prayer” because we had this whole big number while she’s changing for the next number. That you were like, “OK, now I can’t breathe.” (laughs)

BLADE: Do you have any mementos from the tour? Any costumes or anything?

GAUWLOOS: I did but I lost all of them, just having moved so many times. When we started shooting “Strike a Pose,” they were like, “Show us some pictures” and I was like, “I don’t have anything.” It’s kind of sad. Only in my head.

BLADE: So you don’t have the rosary Madonna gave you?

GAUWLOOS: No, I definitely don’t have it. I should just buy one and say it’s the one she gave me. (laughs)

BLADE: Some of the choreography was so gay but you were kind of the straight hunk too in some passages. Did that strike you as ironic?

GAUWLOOS: No, it’s like being an actor. Some passages I was acting as a straight dance partner for Madonna so I was acting straight. Not every dancer could do it. But it mostly came natural and from just doing it over and over.

BLADE: Did you bulk up for the tour or were you always kind of built like that?

GAUWLOOS: Starting out in Antwerp, Belgium as a dancer I was really skinny. Then I came to America, I got a little bit bigger. For the tour we were supposed to go to the gym but of course we never went. It was just the cruel rehearsal schedule that kind of got everybody in shape. It’s like 10 hours of dancing, how can you not be in shape from that? That’s how I got bigger and more muscular. I definitely didn’t look like that when we started, definitely not.

BLADE: Did you see “I’m Going to Tell You a Secret,” the “Truth or Dare” sequel?

GAUWLOOS: I saw a little part of it, not the whole thing. I heard the dancers did not get as much of a part. No kissing, in other words. Not X-rated. (laughs)

BLADE: Did you grow up Catholic?

GAUWLOOS: No, not really. My mom would say she was Catholic but we never went to church. It was just kind of like, “Well, we walk by the church.” But definitely not. My father was Muslim. I’m half Moroccan. He was from Morocco but he passed away and was only in my life a couple years and then he disappeared. I’m a little bit of everything but I don’t go to church or practice.

BLADE: So did all the religious imagery in the show resonate with you at all?

GAUWLOOS: No, it was more of a theatrical thing for me with the crosses and the lights. I never felt like, “Oh my God, this is sacrilegious” or anything. I just saw it as a show. I was probably the least knowledgeable about how controversial and taboo it was for the time.

BLADE: The “Vogue” VMA performance with the Marie Antoinette costumes, was that after the tour?

GAUWLOOS: Yes. That was nice because we were all sad when the tour ended but we knew we’d be going back in a few weeks to do that and we’d get to see each other and dance together again. We worked like a week and a half or two weeks getting ready for that just with the costumes and the girls had the fans and everything and just to make sure it was really tight. I think it was like a month or two months after the tour finished.

BLADE: Carlton was on “The Girlie Show,” Madonna’s next tour. What were you doing by ’93 and was there any discussion or possibility of any of the rest of you touring with Madonna again?

GAUWLOOS: No. The ride was over after everything was done with Madonna and I realized I had my own reality to deal with being HIV. I was just going through life really. I really partied so I didn’t have to deal with being HIV and it was like a really dark period for me for like six-seven years.

BLADE: How did you get through it?

GAUWLOOS: When I really got my shit together was in 2000. I met my husband and fell in love, that was it. That changed my whole life around. But before that, I’d been diagnosed in 1987 and then I ended up in the hospital in 1997 with a really bad pneumonia. I didn’t do any treatment for 10 years, I just couldn’t deal with it. So I ended up in the hospital and that was really a reality check and a wakeup call. I don’t know, this is awfully personal, but I also had some issues with my working papers too. I was HIV-positive so I didn’t want to go to the hospital and get deported. That’s one of the reasons I never went. That’s also why coming out with my story, I’m sure there are a lot of people in my situation. They’re HIV and illegal aliens and afraid to get help. I ended up in the hospital almost dead before I realized there are so many organizations out there that can help you get free medication and they don’t deport you and all that stuff.

BLADE: Tell me about your husband.

GAUWLOOS: He got my heart, you know? His name is Facundo Gabba. He’s from Argentina. He just came into my life and blew me away. When I was diagnosed it was still the ‘80s and people were dropping like flies. You can’t imagine what it was like to have some guy come in and telling you this with your mother sitting there. They said, “You have the HIV virus and you’ve probably got about five years.” So the first thing was like, “Oh my God, I’m 18, what did I do wrong?” It was a really dark, dark, dark thing. Thank God the whole Madonna experience happened because I needed something to hold onto. … You think, “Who’s going to love me?,” but you can be HIV and find love. That was the biggest thing for me to learn.

BLADE: What do you do now?

GAUWLOOS: I teach at Broadway Dance Center, a very nice school here in New York City, on a regular basis. I also do fashion shoots. When they approached me for “Strike a Pose” in 2013, I had just finished working on Longchamp. I did that for two seasons so mostly teaching but also doing a lot of fashion productions.

BLADE: Did you go to Gabriel’s funeral?

GAUWLOOS: No. I didn’t know right away that he’d died. But since “Strike a Pose,” I’ve been in contact with his mother, Sue, who is really nice. It’s almost like being in touch with Gabriel. She’s such a sweet woman. We talk and it’s been a great experience going to her house in San Francisco. I get to find out more about Gabriel. It’s really beautiful.

BLADE: Have you followed Madonna’s career? Did you ever go see her other tours?

GAUWLOOS: I never went to her shows, but I’d watch her on YouTube here and there if she had new stuff. I liked “The Girlie Show” and I thought “The Confessions Tour” where she came out of the disco ball and had all the Steven Klein stuff with the horses and everything was beautiful.

BLADE: You have to get tired of being asked about Madonna, no?

GAUWLOOS: Yeah, it gets a little tiring here and there but at the same time, it’s OK. Especially with this new movie, they do ask Madonna questions but there are also questions related to us, so it’s really nice. I’m happy it happened. Especially now, we’re all in the spotlight again so it’s OK. I’ll take that with it. I don’t mind.

BLADE: You said once you were also really into Janet Jackson back in the early ‘90s too, right?

GAUWLOOS: I was really into Janet Jackson and also Paula Abdul a lot, too. I know a lot of people didn’t really like Paula Abdul, but I liked her because here was another singer giving a lot of dancers work and it was real dance. You had to be a real dancer. So I think that’s where that comes from. Did I like their music more than Madonna’s? No, I don’t think so, but I liked the whole moving thing, the whole “Rhythm Nation” thing, I was into that too.

BLADE: One thing that came up when Oliver, Kevin and Gabriel sued Madonna over “Truth or Dare” was a claim that they didn’t know it was going to be made into this big thing and so on. But you guys saw Alek and his team around constantly. Wasn’t that claim somewhat naive?

GAUWLOOS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t know what all they sued for. They all sued for different things. What wasn’t clear was that we were not going to make any money from “Truth or Dare” and we didn’t. At the end of the day, that’s what it came down to. To this day, we’ve never made a penny from “Truth or Dare.” I’m not saying that to be shady or mean, it’s just a fact. Did I sue? No, no. If it’s that important to somebody, I don’t know. I’m just not a suing person I think, especially for something like that.

BLADE: Did they ask you if you wanted to be part of it?

GAUWLOOS: No, no, no. That last time I saw them was in L.A. I saw them on some talk shows talking about the lawsuit but we all knew they were taping. I just think we didn’t know we weren’t going to make any money, which would have been nice. A lot of us could have used the money.

BLADE: Niki (Haris) and Donna (DeLory) toured with Madonna a lot in subsequent years but with a few exceptions, she mostly gets all new dancers for each tour. Why do you think that is?

GAUWLOOS: Probably just so she always had a new look, a fresh look, you know? I think with backup singers, Niki and Donna were the perfect backup singers for Madonna. They could move, they could sing, they looked nice, they had all the qualities. It’s probably a lot harder to find all that, so they were like a perfect match. With the dancers, I just think it’s her thing. Aside from Carlton and maybe a few others, it’s just like her schtick to hire new dancers each tour.

BLADE: Have you ever met any of her other dancers? Any of them ever come up and say hi?

GAUWLOOS: No. I won’t speak to dancers of other tours. No, I’m joking. (laughs)

BLADE: Aside from your work with Madonna, what are you most proud of?

GAUWLOOS: Ugh, that’s a tough question. I don’t know. I think the most proud thing would be being a dancer and still to this day, always having a voice and not really changing my belief system of dancing and everything. As an artist, I’ve always believed in myself. I may ask other people for advice, but at the end of the day, I’ve always listened to myself first.

Salim Gauwloos, right, with Madonna on the Blond Ambition Tour. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Salim Gauwloos, right, with Madonna on the Blond Ambition Tour. (Screen capture via YouTube)

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Baltimore DJ on using music as a bridge to combat discrimination

Deezy brings high-energy show to the Admiral on Jan. 28



DJ Deezy has hosted multiple events in D.C. and Baltimore. (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)

A Baltimore DJ will conclude a month of performances in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. clubs this Friday, Jan. 28, according to the artist’s management. DJ Deezy is set to perform at the Admiral in D.C. at 9 p.m. 

Since the year began, Deezy has hosted electric events at clubs such as Hawthorne DC, DuPont and the Baltimore Eagle Bar & Nightclub. 

The Washington Blade sat down with the DJ to discuss the course of her career. 

The beginning of DJ Deezy’s infatuation with music dates back to her childhood spent between her mother’s house in Baltimore City and her father’s house in the suburbs. 

In Baltimore, Deezy was exposed to the local rap and raw hip-hop scene that inspired her to embark on a rap career in high school. 

Concurrently, she was entrenched in Motown and classic rock by virtue of her singer, songwriter, and guitarist father Ron Daughton’s involvement in a classic rock band. He is a member of “The Dalton Gang” and was inducted into the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Before I embarked on my DJ journey, my father let me record ‘a little 16’ on his tape recorder,” said Deezy. “Eventually, he bought me a wireless microphone that I carried around with me to performances.”

Between her experience as a rapper and watching her father maneuver the classic rock music scene, Deezy acquired varying tastes in music that have influenced how she curates her sets today. 

She “specializes in open format vibes with spins from multiple genres including hip-hop, rap, circuit, and top 40s hits,” according to a summer 2021 press release from her management.

Deezy is also a proud member of the LGBTQ community — she identifies as a lesbian — and this also informs her approach to her work.

“I’m easily able to transition and rock the crowd because I can relate to many different backgrounds,” said Deezy. “I can DJ in places that are predominantly white, Black, or gay [and still do my job effortlessly].”

Centering community

Deezy values representation. Not only because she exists in a field dominated by men, but also because DJs who inhabit other identities aside from being men are less common in the industry. 

The scarcity of Black and lesbian DJs has prompted her to use her career as evidence that people who are different can attract audiences and succeed.

“I want to put us out there especially for Baltimore,” said Deezy. “I know that there’s Black lesbians out there doing the same thing as me, but why aren’t we getting [recognized]?”

In 2018, Deezy rented out a “Lez” lot at the Baltimore Pride block party where she set up a tent and played a set for the crowds tailgating around her. While entertaining them, she distributed her business cards — an act she believes yielded her the contact who eventually got her booked for a residency at the Baltimore Eagle.

While this was a step forward in her career, Deezy acknowledges that it wasn’t without challenges. She likened entering the Baltimore Eagle — traditionally a leather bar frequented predominantly by men —to navigating foreign territory. 

“When I first got there, I got funny looks,” she said. “There’s a lot of these guys who are like, ‘Why are you bringing a lesbian DJ to a gay bar?’”

But Deezy powered through her performance, lifted the crowd from its seats and “rocked the house [so that] no one will ever ask any questions again.” 

She admits that she’s an acquired taste but believes in her ability to play music infectious enough to draw anyone to the dance floor.  

“Feel how you want to feel about a Black lesbian DJ being in the gay bar,” said Deezy. “But music is a bridge that [will] connect us all, and you’ll forget about your original discrimination when you [experience] me.”

While Deezy has mostly performed in the DMV, she has also made appearances in Arizona where she hosted a family event and also in clubs in Atlanta and New York City. 

Her work has also attracted international attention and she was the cover star of  French publication Gmaro Magazine’s October 2021 issue

Looking to the future, Deezy’s goal is to be a tour DJ and play her sets around the world.

“I had a dream that Tamar Braxton approached me backstage at one of her concerts and asked me to be her tour DJ,” she said. “So, I’m manifesting this for myself.” 

In the meantime, Deezy will continue to liven up audiences in bars and clubs around the country while playing sets for musicians like Crystal Waters and RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrity drag queens like Alyssa Edwards, Plastique Tiara, La La Ri, Joey Jay and Eureka O’Hara — all of whom she has entertained alongside in the past. 

Outside the club, Deezy’s music can be heard in Shoe City where she created an eight-hour music mix split evenly between deep house and hip-hop and R&B. 

DJ Deezy (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility



Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022



As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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