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Todrick Hall on his ‘Oz’ show, RuPaul, ‘Kinky Boots’ and more

Busy performer returns to D.C. for two-night Howard Theatre engagement

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Todrick Hall, gay news, Washington Blade

Todrick Hall (Photo by Shawn Adeli)

Todrick Hall
 
‘Straight Outta Oz’
 
Tuesday, April 18
 
Wednesday, April 19
 
8 p.m.
 
Howard Theatre
 
620 T St., N.W.
 
$35-100

Dancer, singer and YouTuber Todrick Hall has become a dance staple with his more than two million subscribers and videos earning millions of views.

The Beyoncé stan became known as an internet sensation for his medley mashups of her songs (as well as Rihanna, Arianna Grande and Taylor Swift). His “End of Time” Target dance flash mob video, where Hall and a group of dancers bust out a choreographed dance routine on unsuspecting shoppers, even grabbed the attention of the Queen B herself. Beyoncé posted a thank you to Hall on her own YouTube page.

His credentials reach beyond YouTube with Hall competing on “American Idol” and being a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Hall eventually took his talent to Broadway starring as Lola in “Kinky Boots” from November until March of this year.

The 32-year-old choreographer released “Straight Outta Oz,” a semi-autobiographical visual album in a similar vein as his idol Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” in June with a rerelease of a deluxe edition in March. This time, the celebrities were singing Hall’s original work with appearances from RuPaul, Bob the Drag Queen, Amber Riley, Jordin Sparks, Raven Symoné, Tamar Braxton and more. “Straight Outta Oz” has now been adapted from the computer screen to stage with a live tour.

Hall took a break from rehearsing to speak with the Washington Blade on being out in the public eye, RuPaul’s life advice and just what happened to Lola’s boots.

WASHINGTON BLADE: What about “Wizard of Oz” did you feel such a personal connection to that you wanted to do your own version?

TODRICK HALL: I think subconsciously I’ve always felt that my life was parallel to Dorothy. I just didn’t realize that until last year. I grew up in a small town in Texas. I always knew there was something out there that was greater for me that I wanted to get out there and see. And that’s what Dorothy does. She knew that Oz was there. Even though she realizes in the end that there’s no place like home and that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, without those experiences she would have never realized those things. I feel like I have realized so many things and put my faith, trust and my career in other people’s hands when really I had the power all along to be able to control my destiny. I realized that and said this is a story that I have to write and tell. If I feel this way and so passionate about it, a lot of other people will feel this way and identify with this as well.

BLADE: The visual album was released in June but in March you released a deluxe edition. Did you think of the additions you made after the initial release?

HALL: No. The initial release was supposed to be much smaller, but I am a perfectionist and I always want to tell the story in full. For me, I said, “Well if you tell the story of Dorothy you have to have the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. If you have those four characters you have to have the Wizard and the Witch.” Eventually the visual album, which was supposed to be eight songs, turned into 16 songs. When we went on tour, my fans really loved the numbers that they were getting to watch that they knew and recognized. But they weren’t able to follow along to the songs that I wrote for the musical that were not a part of the tour. It got to a place where I was like, “I really want them to be able to hear the songs and the lyrics from the songs that we performed at the live concert last year that weren’t on the visual album.” So this year I rereleased it so that the songs that they didn’t know they could learn and be familiar with.

BLADE: The deluxe album has some big names like RuPaul and Raven-Symoné. Did you reach out to them to collaborate? 

HALL: I reached out to them and I reached out very last minute. I was so thankful that they all were able to jump on board with sometimes 24-hours notice before they had to shoot the video.

BLADE: You’ve worked with RuPaul on your album and also you were a judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for the last couple seasons. What’s the best piece of advice Ru gave you?

HALL: I don’t know if this is a piece of advice but the entire way that he looks at life. There was a moment of time when my MTV show was on television. It was airing and I was very nervous whether it would be successful. He said, “You need to live in the moment. You need to appreciate that the stars have aligned for you to have this moment and you can’t sit at home every day wondering whether or not it will be successful. It’s successful because it happened. If it doesn’t happen again, you’ll go on and have another opportunity.” My whole life I’ve always put so much pressure on each opportunity I’ve been given. We, as humans, do that often. We think that if this relationship doesn’t work, if this job isn’t the one that gets me to the top, if I don’t ace this test, then my life is over. It’s not the case. It’s a life experience. You will move on and you will be able to experience other things. That’s kind of what he taught me. So now when I’m doing a project, I give it 100 percent of my energy and then I leave that energy in that project and I say, “I hope that this does really well. But if it doesn’t, there’s a reason God gave me these gifts. So I can keep using them.” They’re not over, they’re not done, they’re not running out. I’ll go do something else. His whole insight about everything has really helped me be able to approach everything that I do with a much different lens.

BLADE: Your song “Water Guns” was a tribute to those who were lost to gun violence from the Pulse nightclub victims, to YouTuber Christina Grimmie and Trayvon Martin. All these people are parts of your identity: gay, YouTuber, black. How emotional was it for you to record?

HALL: It was very emotional for me to record. The inspiration for that song was a huge coincidence because I wrote it because I had a friend who got murdered. She was a police officer. Some people perceive that song to be a pro-Black Lives Matter song or an anti-police song. It’s not. My friend was actually an African-American police officer. She was shot and killed. I wrote the song because I’m very anti-guns and anti-violence in general. The night that I wrote the song Christina Grimmie got shot. The next night after we filmed the video the Pulse situation happened. So I went back and shot the scenes of me spray painting the names of these people because it couldn’t have been more relevant at the time that I wrote the song for my friend. That was a crazy coincidence and they both hit me really hard.

Pulse was one of my old stomping grounds. My first job out of high school was dancing at Walt Disney World. I knew a lot of people who worked at that club, I knew a lot of people who were there that night and some of the people who unfortunately didn’t make it out had pictures of me and them on their Instagram. These were people I didn’t know personally but I had met that were fans of mine and came to my concerts. It was just a very weird thing to think this was so close to home and that I could have been there that night. Every time I go to Orlando for my tours I go to Pulse afterward. It was a very scary thing for me and a really eye-opening thing to remind you how fragile life is and we should really live each day to the fullest.

BLADE: You were also on season nine of “American Idol.” You’ve mentioned before that you were concerned about being out while on the show. What made you decide to be out in your career?

HALL: When I was on the show I felt this pressure. They kept saying, “Appeal to middle America,” and what I translated that as was, “Don’t be so openly gay because that could offend people.” I don’t think they were saying it in a mean way. They just wanted me to be successful. After I was eliminated I realized that I got eliminated being someone I wasn’t. I would rather have been eliminated from the show for really showing people who I was. There was nothing I could have thought that was a worse feeling than getting eliminated when I didn’t even recognize the person that I was being on television. I vowed to myself after that, “I will be 100 percent myself and I will be out waving my flag and letting people know who I am.”

I felt it wasn’t important because it wasn’t any of their business. But it’s so important because it gives people that are coming out the confidence to say, “Well if Todrick did it, I can do it. If RuPaul did it, I can do it. If Joey Graceffa, Tyler Oakley, Kingsley and all these people who are such huge influencers online can do it than I can do it as well. There is a place for me in the entertainment industry and I don’t have to hide.” Like Colton Haynes has come out and is being celebrated and I hope and pray it doesn’t do anything negative for his career. He should not only be considered for gay roles, he should be able to play any role that he wants because that’s what actors do. It was very important for me to come and say who I truly am and I would rather maybe not reach the level of success I could have pretended to be straight. I’d rather reach the level of success that I can as the real me and be happy and free to be who I am.

BLADE: You just mentioned quite a few gay YouTubers. As a gay YouTuber yourself, what are your thoughts on the recent controversy of YouTube censoring LGBT content on its restricted mode?

HALL: I don’t know all the details. I don’t like to comment when I’m not educated on something. I was releasing my album during the time that this happened and flying from coast to coast. So I didn’t really get all the information about this. But I am positive that the gay community is so strong that if anything like that were to ever happen we would be able to get it banned and YouTube wouldn’t stand for it. YouTube has an entire department that is dedicated to the LGBTQ community. They do so much research and so much to help our community that I don’t believe this will stand.

BLADE: You have been busy. You just finished your run as Lola on Broadway in, “Kinky Boots.” Did they let you keep the boots?

HALL: Yes they did. My boots might be making a quick appearance in my upcoming tour as well.

BLADE: How do you go about translating the visual album to the stage?

HALL: It’s not a difficult transition for me because I love theater. As I was writing all the songs and shooting the videos I was already thinking of ways to bring it to life on stage. It’s not very complicated. The story kind of tells itself and the staging and a lot of the choreography is the same. We just have transitions that are not on the album still. There are three or four songs that you can only hear on the tour. I think it’s really fun to bring all those things to life on stage in front of everyone.

BLADE: How does it feel to bring “Straight Outta Oz” to D.C.?

HALL: D.C. is just one of my favorite cities to perform in. I love how much D.C. supports its fine arts. I love how much effort and energy they spend to make sure there are theaters there for people to perform in. I love specifically how the Howard Theatre is such a historical venue. It’s such a landmark for people who are African-American performers. I’m so honored to join the roster of legends of people who have performed there before me. There’s something about the energy in that building that just feels really epic. I’m so grateful to be able to get on that stage and share the story of a proud, gay black man. I think it’s very progressive and beautiful and I appreciate D.C. for supporting me the way they do.

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A life well lived: Peter Rosenstein publishes new memoir

Longtime Blade contributor on activism, politics, travel, and more

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Peter Rosenstein, a longtime D.C. activist and Washington Blade columnist, has published his first book, “Born This Gay: My Life of Activism, Politics, Travel, and Coming Out,” reflecting on a lifetime of fighting for LGBTQ equality and other experiences. He recounts meeting presidents and even a life-changing encounter with Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s a powerful read from the perspective of a gay elder who overcame persecution, survived the AIDS epidemic, and lived to see a remarkable transformation in how America treats its LGBTQ citizens.

The book is available at Barnes and Noble as well as on Amazon in various formats, including kindle, soft-cover, and hard-cover. 

Rosenstein will be interviewed about the book, and his life, by WTOP journalist Jimmy Alexander at Foundry United Methodist Church, 1500 16th St., N.W., on Thursday, June 6 between 6-8 p.m. It is an open event at an affirming church.

Rosenstein answered questions about the book for the Blade; his responses have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Why did you write this book and why now?

PETER ROSENSTEIN: There are a few reasons. As many know, I enjoy writing, and do much with my regular Blade columns, travel blogs, and theater reviews. I had thought about writing a memoir for a number of years, and began to plan some chapters while I was still working full time. As I put down random thoughts, and experiences, it became clear to me if I wrote a memoir it would have to include my coming out story. That made sense as I was fighting for LGBTQ+ rights. I always knew I was fighting for those rights for future generations, and it made sense to me that my story could be something young people could maybe see something in, to help them live better and more honest lives. I grew up without much money, and in the closet, and still made a good life for myself. In recent years, as we faced Trump and his cult, I realized my talking about how much working for civil rights, women’s rights, the rights of the disability community, and finally my own, enhanced my life. Maybe I could inspire others to do the same.  As to timing, when I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, I realized life wasn’t endless. When with luck, and good healthcare at NIH, I survived, it was time to get serious about writing this book. 

BLADE: Who’s your audience for the book?

ROSENSTEIN: My audience is, I hope, a lot of people, but I guess any author would say that. First, it is for my friends, who will actually learn things about me they may not know. Then it is for other first-generation Americans, whose parents are also immigrants, who may see themselves in some of how I lived my life. Then it is for young people, who may find something in my life to help them, as they move forward living theirs. It is for the LGBTQ+ community, to remind them, and teach young people, it wasn’t always the way it is today. And for those young people, who may be trying to figure out who they are, and for their parents, hopefully supporting their children, as they become their true selves. 

BLADE: How long did it take to write and what was your process?

ROSENSTEIN: It took me years to do this book. I never kept a journal, so I began the process by setting up the chapters, and then trying to remember the things that happened in the different stages of my life. That wasn’t all that easy; trying to remember accurately what happened 60 years ago, when sometimes you can’t remember what you had for breakfast yesterday. There were times I thought I remembered something, and then looked up a date, or place, and realized I remembered it wrong. I apologize if there are things in the book others remember differently. This is my life, as I remember it. It is why I don’t use a lot of names in the book. Those who find stories about them in the book, will know who they are. 

The actual writing took about three years. I never set a time aside each day to write. I interspersed writing of the book with my other writing. I actually got a lot done on the cruises I love to take. There I wouldn’t be distracted. Actually, I would get up early each morning, open the balcony door, have coffee, juice, and a bagel, delivered to my cabin, and then write for a few hours. 

BLADE: Given all the change you’ve lived through on LGBTQ rights, what surprised you most? And what keeps you up at night?

ROSENSTEIN: There are so many things that have surprised me. I lived in the closet for nearly half my life. I never believed how open we in the LGBTQ+ community could be today. I hid behind a tree at my first gay Pride in 1981 so as not to have my picture taken. Then was honored as a Pride Hero in 2016, riding in a convertible toward the front of the parade. I lived through the AIDS crisis, and lost so many friends but saw our community come together in such wonderful ways. I love seeing so many young men and women coming out early and living their lives to the fullest. I joined the fight to allow gays in the military, and have many friends who benefitted. I remember working for Rep. Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) when she introduced the first Equality Bill in 1974, while I was still deep in the closet, and know it still hasn’t passed today. That gives me pause. I was honored to help lead the fight for marriage equality in D.C., and excited when the Supreme Court made it the law of the land. But it gives me pause when I recognize in 37 states that we can be married on Sunday, and thrown out of our apartments, and fired from our jobs, on Monday. I am thrilled when I see young people being open and out, but then listen to Republican governors and Trump and his MAGA cult threaten our progress. We need only look to the reversal of Roe v. Wade, to know we have to be ever vigilant to protect the rights we have won for the LGBTQ+ community. 

BLADE: There are many queer memoirs out there. What’s unique about your story?

ROSENSTEIN: I am not claiming my story is totally unique, but I am proud my story involves not only working for LGBTQ+ rights, but working for civil rights, women’s rights, and the rights of the disability community. I have been given such great opportunities to do these things, living in exciting times. From meeting and talking to Martin Luther King Jr., as a 16-year-old high school senior, to teaching elementary school in Harlem, to working for the amazing Bella S. Abzug, and then in the Carter administration. 

I had the chance to volunteer for and meet the brilliant Hillary Rodham Clinton, and volunteer for and meet Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, among so many other amazing people. I had the chance to make a difference in D.C. by helping to write the platforms, and elect, a number of D.C. mayors. Then working for 35 years as CEO of healthcare, and education, non-profits. Add to this my travels beginning at age 13 to a Boy Scouts Jamboree in Colorado Springs, driving across country twice, getting body painted and wearing flowers in my hair to hear Janice Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, traveling the world from China to the Galapagos, from Ibiza to Mykonos, to going through the Panama Canal. It has been an amazing life, and it is fun to now share it with others.

Excerpt from the introduction to “Born This Gay” by Peter Rosenstein:

This is my story, that of a first-generation American whose life has often been one surprise after another. I never had a structured life plan, but instead, I’ve lived my life to the fullest in many ways. I could never have imagined at sixteen that I would, in the course of my life, meet six presidents and have a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I consider myself fortunate to have had all the spectacular experiences I’ve had and been given so many opportunities to work to make a positive difference in people’s lives. My story may resonate with other first-generation Americans because we have a shared history in which our parents came to the United States in search of better lives, whether they’d fled turmoil at home or had simply heard the streets of America were paved in gold for all who were willing to work hard. My parents, Dorrit and Heinz, escaped from Hitler and the Holocaust… 

It’s my hope that others, especially young people, can find something in the story of my experiences that will help them create opportunities to build their own future. Maybe reading about my work and the challenges I’ve faced can help someone make the most of their own potential. And not only might my journey as a first-generation American help in enlightening the reader, it’s also possible that the story of my journey through life might provide some comfort and direction for those in the LGBTQ+ community in trying to determine whom they were born to be. If it does, then they may be able to come out and live their truth at a much younger age than I was when I did so, leading them to live fuller and happier lives. Since my youth, significant progress has been achieved in fostering acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. I am proud to have helped drive some of the advancements that led to this progress. Hopefully, these advancements—as well as my journey, as I’ve detailed it in this book—will help questioning readers feel comfortable enough to become out and proud…

When I was a boy growing up in a lower-middle-class Jewish home in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in upper Manhattan, New York City, I understood how much my parents suffered just for being Jewish. That knowledge drew me to community activism and then politics. I saw these things as a way to make life better for others and help ensure that what my parents experienced in Europe wouldn’t occur here in the United States. I was convinced it couldn’t—until Donald Trump was elected president. Watching what he and his administration did during his presidency and what he and his cult continue to do today has been a wake-up call. Seeing him condone some of the worst of the far-right agenda makes me wonder if it could all happen here. Seeing eleven people slaughtered in a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a rabbi and his family attacked in their home in New York brought home to me the reality that it could. The rise in antisemitism is frightening. Those events, as well as the slaughter of nine Black people in a church in Charlotte and forty-nine people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, not to mention other atrocities, have only spurred me to work harder to ensure this is not what America will stand for. It’s not an America I want to leave to future generations…

Hopefully, those who read my story will take from it something to help them more readily accept who they are and understand that in each of us there is good. I also hope that readers will come away with the understanding that their wanting to live a great life should not interfere with their meeting the responsibility to better the lives of others; rather, it should compel one to work for the benefit of society in both large and small ways. We can only hope that what people remember about us is the good we did during our short time here on Earth. The brevity of that time allotted to each of us came home to me in the past few years as I faced cancer, which, luckily, I have survived. In this story, I will share some of my amazing experiences while traveling around the United States and the world. I’ll discuss my passion for activism, politics, policy, and people. This passion has allowed me to meet and work with so many who have influenced me and have played roles in how I live my life. You don’t need to be rich to live a rich and full life. Working to make life better for others will consequently make your own life better. So here begins the story of how so many people, along with small and large events, have helped to make me who I am and have allowed me to live a life full of fun, excitement, activism, politics, and policy. Here we go!

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The Washington Renegades: 25 years of kicking and camaraderie

Nation’s first LGBTQ rugby club heads to Rome for major tournament

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The Washington Renegades are celebrating 25 years.

In June of 2003, Ned Kieloch decided to go to an LGBTQ-inclusive men’s rugby practice on one Tuesday. He jokes that he never left. 

It was a long time coming — Kieloch had picked up a flyer for the team, the Washington Renegades, about three years earlier at Millennium March on Washington in 2000. He forgot about it until he moved to D.C. in 2003 when he got more information at Pride. Kieloch realized the practice was right down the street from where he lived at the time. 

Kieloch, who’s the current president of the Washington Renegades all these years later, has been actively involved since that first Tuesday practice. He took on his first officer position after just six months of joining the team.  

“I just fell in love with the game and with the guys, and I’ve never looked back,” Kieloch said. 

The Washington Renegades, founded in the fall of 1998 in D.C. as the first LGBTQ inclusive men’s rugby club in North America, is gearing up to commemorate its 25th anniversary. The group, made up of mainly men, is also traveling to Rome to play in an international gay rugby tournament this month. 

Kieloch played on the team for about a decade, then went on to support the team off the field. Since his time with the Washington Renegades, he’s seen the team through 100-point losses and winning seasons. 

Now, he’s heading to Rome with current players and team alumni to take part in the Bingham Cup, the biennial world championships of gay rugby. 

Washington Renegades (Photo courtesy of the Renegades)

Jetting to Rome 

This tournament first took place in 2002 in Mark Bingham’s memory, who was a gay rugby player among the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93. Along with a few others, he fought against hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001. This effort resulted in the crash of the plane in Pennsylvania, which prevented the hijackers from crashing it into a building in D.C. Bingham played for the gay rugby team the San Francisco Fog and helped to organize the Gotham Knights team in New York City. 

The Bingham Cup has been hosted in San Francisco, Nashville, London, and Amsterdam, among other cities around the world. 

About 60 people with the Washington Renegades will travel to Rome for the Bingham Cup, which runs from May 23-26. More than 100 teams will be participating, with about 5,000 players in total. 

Kai Walther, the team’s community engagement chair, said he’s looking forward to connecting with and learning from other queer people from other global teams. The LGBTQ rugby community is only so big in the United States, he said, and he’s excited to meet more people with his same passion. 

“There’s an understanding,” he said. “We all play this sport. We all are putting our bodies on the line for this.”

Nick DiNardo, who’s been a part of the Washington Renegades for two seasons, was looking for a place to play sports that was also connected to his identity. He got in contact with Kieloch, and like his own experience two decades ago, DiNardo was immediately all in. 

Growing up playing sports and hiding his identity, DiNardo said having queer-focused teams like the Washington Renegades is integral to building safe spaces where people can bond while doing something they love. 

“I’ve really developed a family,” DiNardo said. “We … support creating a space that’s open, inclusive, and safe for anyone who wants to come and learn and have a good time.”

Straight people are also a part of the team, which Kieloch says reflects the team’s values. 

“I think that’s one of the best things about our club,” Kieloch said. “I just love the camaraderie of it.”

Walther joined the Washington Renegades in the summer of 2023. He loves being on the team for several reasons — to meet new people and be able to be a part of a team where he feels he can be his entire queer self.

Because of the nature of the sport, trust is necessary, he said. This comes easier when everyone on the team has the same inclusive and accepting frame of mind. 

“There’s so much happening on the field. Like hitting other people, we have to get really close to each other, and support each other on tackles against other teams,” he said. “And so when we’re all on the same page, it makes us a lot stronger.”

Washington Renegades (Photo courtesy of the Renegades)
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My Rehoboth Beach culinary tour

Myriad answers to the age-old question: ‘What’s the best restaurant in town?’

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(Photo by Ethan Bean)

I’ve had the privilege of indulging in Rehoboth’s evolving culinary scene for decades — from dining on Chez La Mer’s rooftop to sipping cocktails at the Blue Moon bar before the roof was installed.

The last 30 years have brought almost unthinkable change to the once seasonal small town getaway. New town homes that overlook Route 1 are going for more than $1 million. There’s not much off-season at all these days with food festivals and other events that draw tourists year round. Indeed, hotel occupancy rates for October’s Sea Witch Festival exceed those for July Fourth weekend. 

The upside to all this growth and change? Rehoboth’s culinary scene has exploded with high-quality restaurants and bars proliferating in town and thriving up and down Route 1 from Lewes to Fenwick Island and even Ocean City. In fact, the chef at Fenwick’s One Coastal was just nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award. Matthew Kern will be the first-ever Delaware chef in James Beard Awards’ history to be named a finalist in any culinary category, according to the Delaware News Journal. He will be among five chefs competing for the title of best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region. The awards are announced June 10.

As a part-time Rehoboth resident, I frequently field questions from visitors wondering: “What’s the best restaurant in town?” That usually leads to a prolonged text exchange with me offering endless choices in various categories. In an effort to answer that age-old question in a more organized fashion, I offer this roundup of my favorite haunts in the Rehoboth area in a range of styles and budgets. (And please note: These are just my opinions based on lots of experience. Inclusions/omissions are not intended to slight anyone. These things are subjective so it’s OK if you don’t like my picks.)

HIGH-END DINING

Rehoboth offers a handful of options for a truly high-end experience. For a traditional steakhouse, there’s Houston White Co. (315 Rehoboth Ave.), where an eight-ounce filet runs about $45 and a USDA Prime Porterhouse is $85. Side dishes are priced separately and shared, ranging from a $6 baked potato to $11 onion rings. The setting is probably the most formal in town. A small bar in front is always busy and staffed by friendly, knowledgeable mixologists. 

Eden (23 Baltimore Ave.) has a beach chic vibe and the menu is probably the most reliable in town. The ahi tuna — my go to — is perfectly seared and delicious rare. There’s an extensive wine list and the bar is always lively with entertaining staff. The upstairs dining room is ideal for a large party or special event. 

By far the best new restaurant to open in recent years is Drift (42 1/2 Baltimore Ave.). If you’re looking for an upscale, special occasion seafood indulgence, this is the spot. The lobster French toast gets all the press, but the entire seafood menu is as good as any in D.C., from local oysters to the crispy Atlantic swordfish schnitzel. The coveted bar seats go fast and there are only a handful of them at the unique bar that opens to the outside so go early. And this isn’t the place for a large party; the kitchen is small so take a date here if you really want to impress. The outdoor patio is lovely in good weather but the interior is beautifully decorated so that’s the better bet.

Since 1981, the Blue Moon (35 Baltimore Ave.) has been at the forefront of Rehoboth’s restaurant and bar scene, constantly evolving and working to feed and entertain us all. The restaurant is consistently rated among the best in town. It’s intimate and charming and some of the wait staff have been here for many years making it feel like a homecoming when you arrive. The Sunday brunch remains among the best in town, complete with white tablecloths and welcome scones. In the off-season, you can’t beat Tasting Tuesdays, a three-course dinner with wine pairings for $49. Many of us miss the old days of the Moon as a sometimes-raucous bar and dance club, but happy hour is back with half-price cocktails and appetizers, Monday-Friday, 4-6 p.m. So go for a drink and stay for dinner and enjoy crab cakes, lobster risotto, duck breast, and more.

Ah, the Back Porch (59 Rehoboth Ave.) — a true pioneer in establishing Rehoboth as a culinary destination. So many naive tourists walk past the Back Porch because it’s set back from the street, down an alleyway. But those who make the stroll are rewarded with French-inspired food and a convivial bar that’s vaguely reminiscent of Key West. It’s not fancy and fussy; it’s worn and welcoming with an elevated menu and a spacious two-story outdoor dining room. Rehoboth is inexplicably lacking in outdoor dining spots; there aren’t nearly enough al fresco options for a beach town. If you’re on a budget, give it a try for lunch or brunch. The menu doesn’t seem to change, but that’s OK when the food is this good. A true locals place, there’s always a friendly face at the bar and everyone misses bartender Bee Neild who retired last year after nearly 50 years. The Back Porch is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year; let’s raise a glass to the next 50.  

La Fable (26 Baltimore Ave.) is owned by Megan Kee, a beloved restaurateur in town with an impressive track record (she also owns Houston White and Bramble & Brine in Lewes; more on that later). Kee’s unmistakable style — pairing antique furniture and tableware with modern flourishes — can be seen everywhere from the piano-turned-bar to the mismatched vintage china. She pulled off a remarkable feat, turning the rather unappealing basement setting at La Fable into an authentic and charming French bistro. You’ll find all the French favorites here, from escargot to boeuf bourguignon to steak frites. The space is small so make a reservation. 

I offer these high-end options with two caveats/pet peeves. When paying in excess of $45 for an entree, I do not expect to sit on a plastic chair. Also, I do not appreciate overly familiar service just because the waiter is “gay too!” At those prices, a comfortable chair and formal service should be the norm.

MID-PRICED DINING

The high-end scene may be small but there are a plethora of quality mid-priced restaurants that beckon. 

My favorite in this category is the always-reliable Henlopen Oyster House (50 Wilmington Ave.) with its wide selection of fresh raw oysters and equally impressive draft beer list. Henlopen does the high-low thing so well, for example pairing an indulgent dozen Wellfleet oysters with a pint of cask beer. There are lobster rolls, salads, the best steamed shrimp in town, and much more on the menu. It’s a popular place, usually with a line forming before it opens. So go early and be patient — it’s always worth the wait (they don’t take reservations). No matter how packed the bar gets, the two Amys always offer the best service with a welcoming smile. This is my go-to when asked for seafood recommendations in Rehoboth.

As I mentioned, there are too few places for quality outdoor dining/drinks in Rehoboth Beach. You’ll find a handful of touristy hotel restaurants on the boardwalk along with the requisite fast food and Grotto’s pizza joints but there just aren’t enough places for an elevated bite. Above the Dunes (101 S. Boardwalk, 2nd floor) has the best view in town; sit at the bar and try one of their grain bowls. One of the best outdoor spots is the rooftop at JAM (210 2nd St.). The space has seen multiple concepts come and go in recent years, including the aforementioned classic Chez La Mer, Papa Grande’s, the disappointing Unwined, and before that the much-missed Azzurro. But JAM took over the space last year after relocating from Baltimore Avenue and offers the same quality food (burger specials and the salmon salad are highlights) but with a view. Grab a seat on the second floor outdoor deck and enjoy the breeze.

JAM’s rooftop is one of the few places to enjoy a great meal al fresco in Rehoboth Beach. (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Across the street from JAM is the charming and underappreciated Aroma Mediterranean Cuisine (208 2nd St.). If you like hummus with homemade pita, falafel, kebobs, koftes, and more from the Med, then this is your spot. Try the hummus flight with three samples, including sundried tomato. Delicious.

A Rehoboth stalwart, Café Azafran (18 Baltimore Ave.) never disappoints with its small plates, dinner specials, and, of course, bustling bar featuring Washington Blade three-time Best Rehoboth Bartender winner Holly Lane, who sings (sometimes in French) while pouring drinks. Take a group of friends and order an array of small dishes to share, like the shrimp a la plancha, stuffed arancini, and ratatouille Provencal. There’s no better way to embrace family style dining. 

One of the biggest and happiest surprises in Rehoboth’s dining scene came the night I reluctantly walked into Michy’s (19287 Miller Rd. on Route 1). Reluctantly because the restaurant sits unassuming in a strip mall off Route 1 surrounded by supermarkets and nail salons. You couldn’t find a more unexpected location for one of the area’s best restaurants. But don’t let the location deter you; inside, the décor is warm and eclectic with a small bar and lively dining room. There’s a top-notch menu, including short ribs, sea scallops, and a spicy horseradish crusted salmon, but the daily specials are the stars here so be sure to order whatever special the chef is offering. There’s always a local fish option with a creative preparation. 

AFFORDABLE DINING

Let’s face it: When you’re at the beach, you don’t always want inventive and elevated. Sometimes you just want to wander into a place in your bathing suit and still find a good meal at a fair price. 

For that moment, there’s nothing better than the Starboard (2009 Rt. 1), just down the highway from Rehoboth in Dewey Beach. The Bloody Mary bar is legendary and now comes with a dedicated “sommelier” to assist in choosing from dozens of mixes, hot sauces, pickled vegetables, and more. But the real standout here is the crush — orange, grapefruit, watermelon, lemon, and more — cranked out by the busiest and best bartenders in the area (especially Doug and Shelley). The food is consistent and satisfying, if heavy on the portion size. The crab cakes, burgers, and salads are a good bet. If you’re nursing a hangover, the breakfast skillets will ease your pain. You can design your own omelet or choose from many of their egg creations. Pro tip: Share an entrée as the portions are huge. This used to be dominated by college kids enjoying summer break, but a more mature crowd, including the gays, have discovered Starboard’s many charms, which include a DJ and live bands all weekend.

Back in Rehoboth, the gay-owned Goolee’s Grille (11 S. 1st St.) offers some of the best breakfast dishes in town, including chipped beef, waffles, sandwiches, and more with a mimosa or Bloody to wash it down. There are occasional drag brunches and watch for the popular Greek night dinner specials. If the lines are too long in town for breakfast, venture across the highway to the new Eggcellent (19730 Coastal Highway), a locally owned restaurant that is open seven days 7 a.m.-3 p.m., meaning no dinner. So the focus is breakfast all the time with omelets, avocado toast, pancakes, and more. Don’t let the strip mall vibe fool you; the interior is gorgeous. 

Need a break from pizza and crab cakes? Grab a table on the second floor deck at Mariachi Restaurant (14 Wilmington Ave.) and enjoy some of the best Mexican and Spanish fare in town. You’ll likely be met at the door by Yolanda, the tireless owner who greets locals with a gregarious hug before bringing pitchers of irresistible margaritas to your table. The vast menu offers traditional pollo asado and carne asada along with paellas and assorted seafood dishes. The chips are plentiful and the salsas perfectly spiced. Mariachi opened in 2006 and won over locals by staying open during the off-season so the crowd is always a spirited mix of tourists and residents. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

For the ideal rustic beach bar, complete with sand, the ever-popular Purple Parrot Biergarten (134 Rehoboth Ave.) beckons. The food is standard bar fare but go for the vibe — beers and cocktails outside served from a bar with a flower-covered roof and bartenders in bathing suits. Aqua Bar & Grill (57 Baltimore Ave.) offers outdoor dining and drinks as well and is always packed with gay revelers all summer long.    

Looking for something new? Check out the Libation Room in the back of Summer House (228 Rehoboth Ave.), a restaurant with a dark, speakeasy vibe or the brand new outdoor garden arranged around a gurgling fountain.

If you’re not counting carbs and are looking for a satisfying lunch to take to the beach, pick up a hulking sandwich at Frank & Louie’s (58 Baltimore Ave.) or the iconic chicken salad at Lori’s Café (39 Baltimore Ave.).

OUTTA TOWN

If you’re an old pro and have already exhausted Rehoboth’s many dining options, venture up or down Route 1 for something different. Ocean City isn’t known as a fine dining destination, but things are changing. Check out Liquid Assets (9301 Coastal Highway) and don’t be deterred by the entrance in a strip mall through the liquor store. The restaurant’s high-end menu includes Maryland crab, blackened rockfish, steamed local oysters, along with steaks and even vegan options. Browse the extensive wine list or, better yet, wander around the shop and pick a bottle from the shelves. Not far away is Ocean View/Millville with its own growing roster of appealing restaurants. One of the best is Melissa’s (35507 Atlantic Ave.), with a small menu featuring a fish of the day, seafood pasta, and shrimp or lobster fried rice. Back north in Lewes is a gem of a new discovery. Located behind Bramble & Brine (102 2nd St., Lewes, the former Buttery) is the Pink Pony, a bar and restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner that pays homage to one of Rehoboth’s first gay bars of the same name. Owner Megan Kee can often be found on her laptop at the bar and seems to know everyone who walks through the door. It’s welcoming, friendly, and the décor a real throwback. Check it out.

Our independent restaurateurs and their dedicated staff need support, so skip the chains and enjoy the diverse array of Rehoboth-area restaurants this summer.

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