Geek culture fans usually flock to conventions in New York City or San Diego to see their favorite stars and connect with fellow nerd enthusiasts. However, as fan conventions have become a pop culture phenomenon, D.C. has slowly been gaining steam as a convention hotspot.
Awesome Con returns to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center (801 Mt Vernon Pl., N.W.) for its fifth consecutive year on Friday, March 30-Sunday, April 1. For three days, people can indulge in nerdy pleasures featuring hours of celebrity guests, exhibits, panels and connecting with fans of “Star Wars,” “Smallville,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and more.
Awesome Con founder Ben Penrod, a self-proclaimed “big nerd,” never expected his passion project to become the largest geek event in the D.C. area.
Penrod grew up in Annapolis, Md., with a love for comic books and superheroes that eventually grew into buying and selling comic books on eBay in the late ‘90s to make extra cash for more comic books. In 2009, Penrod went full-time selling comic books and began to travel to conventions across the country. He continued on to found Annapolis Comic-Con and Southern Maryland Comic-Con with Third Eye Comics founder Steve Anderson before Penrod decided to branch into Washington.
“People think of D.C. and they don’t immediately think of fans of comic books and pop culture,” Penrod says. “But the people that you would think of as a typical D.C. resident, like an attorney or a lobbyist or a federal employee or somebody in the military, I think that the representation of science fiction, superhero and comic book fans among those people is so high that Washington, D.C., is one of the best nerd communities in the entire country.”
The first Awesome Con kicked off in 2013 at the Convention Center with an attendance of 7,000 people. The event gained attention throughout the region and Awesome Con 2017 saw a spike in attendance with 70,000 guests.
Over the years, fans were invited to see their favorite celebrities in person for autographs, photo-ops and panels. In the past, the guest list has welcomed stars from hit shows such as “Doctor Who, “Star Trek” and “The Walking Dead.” This year, the lineup includes “Star Wars” breakout star John Boyega, Stephen Amell and out actor John Barrowman from CW series “Arrow” and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” cast including Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn.
Penrod says celebrity guests are chosen based on a combination of fan demand and TV shows and movies currently trending. The convention has roots in science fiction, but Penrod admits sometimes he purposely seeks out stars purely for nostalgia.
The cast of ‘90s sitcom “Boy Meets World,” Ben Savage, Rider Strong and Will Friedle, are on the guest list this year. While the show went off the air in 2000, it maintained a strong fan base through re-runs on the Disney Channel.
“It was meant to be this comic book convention with sci-fi, superhero celebrities. But what it’s turned into is this really broad celebration of pop culture and whether that means we’re doing the ‘90s nostalgia stuff with ‘Boy Meets World,’ that doesn’t really have a sci-fi, superhero realm of things, but it definitely fits. But you can’t pinpoint exactly why it fits,” Penrod says.
The convention also includes programming geared toward specific interests and groups.
Future Con, where science meets science fiction, will feature panels such as the “Science of ‘Black Panther,’” “Harry Potter and the Genetics of Wizarding,” “What’s Happening Now to Make the Sci-Fi Space Travel We See in Movies a Reality” and more. Programming is in partnership with the biggest names in science such as NASA, National Geographic and the Smithsonian.
“We didn’t just start Future Con because we thought it would be a good idea,” Penrod says. “We had so much involvement and so much outreach from all these governmental organizations, science-based organizations, whether it was NASA, the Smithsonian, the Science Channel. We had all of these people reaching out to us. We’re like, ‘This is special and nobody else could do this. Except D.C.’”
Awesome Con Jr. offers kids an experience crafted especially for them with character meet and greets with Paddington Bear, Buddy from the “Dinosaur Train,” Ranger Rick, “Dragon Ball Z” characters and the Easter Bunny. In between photo-ops, kids can attend panels such as “Intro Spells for Young Witches and Wizards,” participate in live art contests and play video games.
As for LGBT-specific content, Awesome Con has joined forces with Geeks Out, a non-profit organization based in New York City for the LGBT geek community. Together, they created Pride Alley, both a physical space and group of programming for LGBT patrons.
Pride Alley is part of Artist Alley, which highlights arts, crafts, comics and more from LGBT creators. There are also panels that focus specifically on queer identity and fandom.
“The Queer Gamer Meetup: with D.C. Gaymers” offers a place for LGBT people to meet and play video games on Friday, March 30 at 5:30 p.m. “GAAAYS IN SPAAACE,” is a panel on LGBT representation in “Star Trek” on Saturday, March 31 at 12:30 p.m. “Slash of Our Ancestors,” a panel on the history of same-sex fan fiction, takes place on Sunday, April 1 at 2:15 p.m. Geeks Out will be hosting Snikt: D.C., the official queer after party of Awesome Con, at the Dew Drop Inn D.C. (2801 8th St., N.E.) on Friday, March 30 at 9 p.m.
It also wouldn’t be a convention without cosplay. In addition to the con’s daily cosplay contests, Pride Alley offers the panel “Sexuality in Cosplay: Nuff Said” on Friday, March 30 at 8:45 p.m. featuring representatives from NYC nightlife, an LGBT therapist and cosplayers.
Geeks OUT President Nicole Gitau praises Awesome Con for giving the LGBT community a home at the con.
“The group at Awesome Con, they’re really great,” Gitau says. “They really wanted to increase the visible presence of diversity on the floor. I can only commend them for that. Conventions are known for not always having been the most welcoming of spaces. I think that’s changed a lot in the last few years. It’s nice to see that Awesome Con is really committed to that.”
Penrod says Awesome Con needed Pride Alley because LGBT fans were already engaged in the convention.
“It was important because we knew that community was very well represented in our fans, in our people who are already exhibiting and at the con, and the creators who are making comics, TV and movies,” he says. “We knew that in this world of nerd stuff and geek culture that the LGBT community is a very big part of things. I wanted to take the opportunity to make that a focus at Awesome Con.”
For Gitau, who identifies as queer, the LGBT geek community is a haven she hopes can make the general geek community have “positive associations in their life” of LGBT people and to “think differently about the social climate we’re in right now.”
“One of the fun things about this is to be amidst a group of people who understand not only my cultural references but also my cultural critiques,” Gitau says. “There’s sort of a safety. Geeks, we love things passionately. That is what makes us geeky about a thing. But when you love something you want it to be better. And that ability to have free conversation is what is really exciting for me.”
Best of LGBTQ DC 2022
Our 21st annual celebration of city life
It was a big year for local businesses as we finally put COVID restrictions behind us and returned to a new normal that included a fully restored Pride celebration. With events like theater and popular fundraisers back to in-person operations, it’s an exciting year to assemble Best Of.
More than 4,000 nominations and 30,000 votes were cast in more than 60 categories for the 21st annual Best Of awards. The Blade’s Stephen Rutgers coordinated the process. Michael Key served as photo editor for the project and shot the cover. This year’s contributing writers are Patrick Folliard, Tinashe Chingarande, Parker Purifoy, Lou Chibbaro Jr., Evan Caplan, Michael K. Lavers, and Kevin Naff. Congratulations to all of the nominees, finalists, and winners. Thank you to our sponsors ABSOLUT, PEPCO, Eaton DC, and The Washington Regional Transplant Community.
Local Hero: Kimberley Bush
In her eight years in leadership positions at the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, including her appointment in February of this year as its executive director, Kimberley Bush has witnessed first-hand the full diversity of D.C.’s LGBTQ community.
Before being named Interim Executive Director of the D.C. Center in October 2019, Bush served as the Center’s Director of Arts & Cultural Programs. The Center programs she headed in that position, which she continues to oversee in her executive director’s post, provide a vivid account of her involvement and interaction with the many LGBTQ people who got to know and admire her.
Among other duties, she has played a lead role in these D.C. Center programs: Reel Affirmation: DC’s International LGBTQ Film Festival and Monthly Film Series; the Center Arts Gallery; Arty Queers: DC’s LGBTQ Indoor Art Market; Outwrite: DC’s LGBTQ Literary Festival; and DC Queer Theater Theatre Festival.
“In her role as Director of Arts & Cultural Programs, Kimberley has demonstrated a sense of innovation and ambition in the projects she has taken on,” the D.C. Center’s Board of Directors said in a statement at the time it named Bush as Interim Executive Director.
“The Reel Affirmations program, which Kimberley had been involved with for more than 15 years, has been ranked in the top three LGBTQ film festivals in the country,” the statement says. “Though a New York native, Kimberley has lived in the D.C. area for thirty years and has become an accomplished leader in the community.”
Before switching careers to her leadership roles with Reel Affirmations and the D.C. Center, Bush says she worked for more than 12 years as a property management executive and Realtor as well as a ceramic artist.
In addition to the D.C. Center’s Arts & Culture Programs, Bush currently oversees programs related to health and wellness, social and peer support, and advocacy and community building. She also oversees the Center’s accommodation of numerous local LGBTQ groups ranging from political to social, LGBTQ seniors, families, and people with disabilities, which have used the D.C. Center’s offices at 2000 14th St., N.W. as their meeting place.
When the full force of the COVID pandemic hit the city in 2020 Bush played a lead role, along with the D.C. Center’s staff and board, in arranging for the programs and the community meetings it hosted to switch from in-person events to virtual events.
“I am extremely proud to be able to continue to guide our small yet mighty team at the DC Center for the LGBT Community through these extraordinarily challenging times into brighter chapters of our lives, as we provide safe and peaceful space as well as the much-needed support, kindness, outreach, care, celebration and affirmation to our LGBTQIA2S+ community,” Bush told the Blade.
Bush’s next challenge will involve overseeing the D.C. Center’s move to a new location. The city’s Reeves Center municipal building, where the Center rents its office space, is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a new city sponsored development project, requiring all its occupants to vacate the building at a yet undisclosed time.
“I, our team and board of directors firmly believe our new home is in a location that is accessible to our community,” she said. “I cannot state just yet where the new location will be nor when the move will occur but as soon as we can share that exciting news with the community, believe me, we will!”
EATING & DRINKING
Best LGBTQ Bar: Number Nine
1435 P St., N.W.
Runner-up: As You Are Bar
Nested in the heart of Logan Circle in Northwest D.C., this bar is a bi-level queer space that offers inventive cocktails. The second level also has a video bar outfitted with multiple TVs so guests can watch their favorite shows, teams, movies, special events, and music videos.
Best Bartender: Dusty Martinez, Trade
Editor’s Choice: Jo McDaniel, As You Are Bar
Dusty Martinez has proven that he’s a fan favorite in the city (winning this category for the second year in a row) when it comes to making mouth-watering drinks that keep guests coming back for more. In fact, he’s so good at what he does that he was nominated for this award four previous times and won in 2014 and 2017. As he’s said in the past, he always tries to have fun with Best of LGBTQ D.C.
“Anytime the bar is nominated for something, I try to make some funny videos and images to add to my feed,” he said when he won last year. “I really try to make light of it. It’s both an honor and delight to even be nominated.”
Best Neighborhood Bar: Red Bear Brewing
209 M St., N.E.
Editor’s Choice: Dirty Goose
Red Bear Brewing is no stranger to this list, returning as the winner of this category for the second year in a row. This gay-owned venue in the District hosts several types of events including drag shows, trivia, and stand-up performances. But at the heart of what it does is brewing in-house beers and serving classic bar food in the heart of NoMa. While guests chow down on a satisfyingly greasy burger, they can sip on one of the bar’s creatively named drinks— “Hefe Don’t Preach,” “OktoBEARfest,” or “Tall, Dark and Nutty,” to name a few.
Best LGBTQ-Owned Business: KNEAD Hospitality + Design
Editor’s Choice: Urban Adventures (Vida Fitness, Bang Salon, Penthouse Pool Club)
D.C.-based KNEAD Hospitality + Design founders and co-owners (and partners for more than 20 years) Jason Berry and Michael Reginbogin envisioned big plans for their rapidly expanding business. KNEAD owns, operates, and designed its own restaurants over a varying range of concepts and cuisines.
Berry and Reginbogin have pulled off more than 10 restaurant openings, from fine-dining to fast-casual, Mexican to French.
“It is such an honor to win,” Berry and Reginbogin said. “We are a born and bred Washington, D.C. company and have been working diligently to share excellent dining experiences throughout the area. This award recognizes the dedication we have to D.C.”
Some of their celebrated restaurants include Mi Vida, Succotash, and Gatsby.
“As an LGBTQ+ owned-and-operated restaurant group, it’s important that we actively raise awareness toward diversity and inclusion. We proudly support the LGBTQ+ community through sponsorships, donations and participating in events during Pride month each year that continue to create awareness. It is opportunities like this we’re we can use our platform to create awareness and make a difference in our own communities.”
Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace: EatWell DC
Editor’s Choice: Whitman-Walker Health
EatWell, a locally owned and operated restaurant group, has planted its flag firmly in the Logan Circle area for more than two decades. EatWell DC operates five restaurants: Grillfish in the West End; Logan Tavern, Commissary, and The Pig in Logan Circle, and The Charles in La Plata, Md.
According to its website, “We care about people, our staff, our guests, and our planet and truly believe business can coexist comfortably, safely and proactively.”
EatWell owns its own farm in La Plata, to bring local produce into its restaurants.
Logan Tavern won Best Restaurant in 2020 and 2021. Logan Tavern also won Best Bloody Mary in 2018 and Best Date Restaurant in 2012.
Best Coffee Shop: Compass Coffee
Editor’s Choice: Tatte Bakery & Café
Founded in 2014 by two Marines, Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, Compass Coffee has 15 brick and mortar cafés in the Washington area, plus one roasting facility in Ivy City. Compass Coffee can be found in many local restaurants and grocery stores across the mid-Atlantic. The company aims to source its coffee as ethically as possible.
“While the roaster is no stranger to this award—Compass had five consecutive wins in this category through 2022—the Compass Team is incredibly honored to win this year,” says Compass VP Max Deem.
Best Restaurant: Crazy Aunt Helen’s
713 8th St., S.E.
Editor’s Choice: Mi Vida
Owner Shane Mayson’s vibrant restaurant Crazy Aunt Helen’s debuted last July on Barracks Row, just a few days after Pride concluded.
“We are thrilled to have been nominated in the 3 categories! We’ve only been open for a little more than a year, and to be receiving this attention makes us feel like we are on the right path,” says Mayson.
“We have begun making donations to LGBTQIA organizations and have hosted happy hours for our community organizations. We hope as we grow, we are able to do even more.”
The food is solidly American, with Mayson’s creative twists. Appetizers include items like fried green tomatoes, and entrees include chicken fried steak smothered in chicken sausage gravy. Yet many of the dishes are also vegan and vegetarian, too.
“We serve American comfort food that we hope will make everyone feel like they’ve been given a big hug,” says Mayson. We have put together a vibrant showcase of mostly local entertainment with monthly “headliners” just to whet your whistle.” Events include shows, book readings, a ladies’ tea dance, play readings, bingo, and more.
Best Brunch: Duplex Diner
2004 18th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Perry’s Drag Brunch
Duplex Diner opened its doors in 1998, as a safe and fun space for the LGBTQ community, perhaps best known for its lemon squeezes.
The longstanding, much-loved neighborhood spot snatched up the highly competitive Best Brunch spot this year. Drag queens, fundraisers, and team events all help to bring a fun energy to Duplex brunch, which it serves on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Duplex Diner is so honored to be nominated in this category, especially as brunches are the staff’s favorite shifts,” says General Manager Kelly Laczko. “We have worked hard to develop brunch and feel it has a great vibe.”
Duplex serves brunch faves from chicken and waffles to Benedicts and omelets. Mimosas go for a mere $5, and espresso martinis have found their way onto the menu, too.
Laczko is one of the co-chairs of the SMYAL Brunch, and ensures that Duplex has a close relationship with SMYAL as well as other local LGBTQ organizations.
“The ‘Queer Cheers’ is a place to come by yourself or with a group of friends to grab a bite for brunch or dinner. We would be nowhere without the love and support of our regulars and are so happy to serve as a neighborhood space that is inclusive of all,” says Laczko.
Best Outdoor Dining: Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse
1609 17th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Shaw’s Tavern
Taking the prize for the third year in a row, a Washington pillar Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse offers a variety of hearty American dishes including burgers and salads for lunch, savory omelets and benedicts for brunch and classic steaks for dinner.
According to owner Paul Katinas in an earlier interview with the Blade, “Annie’s became home, and was there when there weren’t too many other opportunities or places to go. During a time when the LGBTQ community was struggling to find places where they were accepted, the restaurant was always a welcoming and loving environment.”
Katinas’s daughter Georgia added that, “Annie’s is honored to be nominated by the Blade and supported by the community. We absolutely love hearing that our space brings joy to people.”
As for the Streatery that they constructed during the pandemic, “Our Streatery has been wonderful for business, a great way to keep more people employed and we believe has brought tremendous value to 17th Street. We do our best to keep our space beautiful and exciting and truly believe in the Streatery program”
Annie’s will turn 75 in 2023, with a host of special events and offerings throughout the coming year.
Best Outdoor Drinking: Uproar
639 Florida Ave., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Pitchers
Nominated as Best Neighborhood Bar in 2021, Uproar won best outdoor drinking spot for its high-energy, third-floor rooftop. Perhaps best known for its Beer Bust every Sunday afternoon, it also hosts drag shows, karaoke, gaymers events, international nights, and much more.
Unlike many other D.C. LGBTQ bars, Uproar also serves an extensive menu of bar food, from mozzarella sticks to sliders to wings – and offers many of those snacks on the rooftop on Sundays.
Best LGBTQ-Friendly Bar: Dacha Beer Garden
79 Potomac Ave., S.E. (Navy Yard) and 1600 7th St., N.W. (Shaw)
Editor’s Choice: Wundergarten
Fresh off its win from last year, gay-owned Dacha has won this award yet again. Dacha has two locations (Shaw and Navy Yard) offering a variety of German, Belgian, and American craft beers, among its many offerings. Dacha previously won Best Outdoor Drinking in 2018 and 2019 and Best Straight Bar for five consecutive years until 2019. The outdoor beer garden is a favorite for its all-weather atmosphere, pet friendliness, and ginormous pretzels.
On Sept. 4, 2013, Dacha Beer Garden opened as a small beer truck with a makeshift bar, a few picnic tables, and port-a-potties in a small vacant lot on 7th Street N.W. The owners opened a café and loft in the adjacent building, on which they commissioned a now-Instagram-worthy three-story painting of Liz Taylor. The bar has expanded from a short list of German beers to include cocktails, alcohol-free drinks, sangria, and cider.
Best Burger: Slash Run
201 Upshur St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Duke’s Grocery
The divey Slash Run, located in Petworth, promotes three things: beer, burgers, and rock ‘n’ roll. Taking home the award for Best Burger, the bar opened in 2015. It already has some burger accolades, voted 2nd Best Burger in the city by Washington City Paper 2019. The bar allows diners to choose one of five protein options and nine styles, from the Otto’s Shrunken Head (Korean BBQ, pork rinds, avocado, pineapple relish) to the I’ll Have What She’s Having (sunny side up egg, shaved-fried Brussels sprouts finished with Siracha aioli and served on pretzel bun). The bar also has 15 draft beers, 100 whiskeys, and an impressive list of live shows, parties, and neighborhood events.
Best Ice Cream/Gelato: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
1925 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Ice Cream Jubilee
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is devoted to making better ice creams and bringing people together, according to its website. Packaged in Instagram-worthy colorful cups, Jeni’s ice creams have a “uniquely smooth texture and buttercream body” that allow one to savor the sweetness of flavors like birthday cake and fruit crumble.
Best Pizza: Andy’s Pizza
2016 9th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Timber Pizza
Andy’s Pizza serves up pizza straight from the long and storied New York tradition. Featuring stone deck ovens, long-fermented dough, Wisconsin mozzarella, California tomatoes, and a skilled pizzaiolo, this neighborhood pizzeria brings New York to D.C. while serving classic combinations. Andy’s now boasts six spots across the area, including one spot in Shaw across from 9:30 club and mere feet from popular bars Dirty Goose and Kiki.
The pizzeria serves pizza by the slice in favorite options like pepperoni and white sauce, but the whole pies come in a range of flavors with both classic and modern options, including a vegan pie with plant-based cheese.
“I am a local, born and bred in the DMV,” says Andy Brown, owner and head pizzaiolo. “The D.C. community is a melting pot of the global stage, and winning an award as a local always feels like a victory for our local community. We were thrilled to even be considered, and over the moon to win!”
As to why Andy’s Pizza makes a great winner, he concluded that, “There aren’t a lot of restaurants you would visit at 3am and for lunch!”
Best Local Winery: Montifalco Vineyard
1800 Fray Rd., Ruckersville, Va.
Editor’s Choice: City Winery
It’s official. DMV oenophiles love Montifalco Vineyard. The delightful family farm winery in Ruckersville, Va., a small town not far from Charlottesville in the beautiful Monticello American Viticultural Area of Virginia, has again come out on top as fan favorite among Blade readers.
Still owned and operated by sommelier and winemaker Justin Falco, Montifalco Vineyard derives inspiration from traditional family farm wineries of the French countryside. With its friendly, unpretentious atmosphere, Falco’s vineyard remains committed to high standards; Montifalco adheres to the fusion of Old World tradition and New World taste and flavor, creating small batch boutique wines with distinct personality. And yes, well-behaved, leashed pooches continue to be welcome.
Best ABSOLUT Happy Hour: Kiki
915 U St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Larry’s Lounge
Kiki, an LGBTQ bar located in Shaw, is fast approaching its one-year anniversary. This spot offers a safe space for LGBTQ individuals by hosting drag shows and availing its dance floor to anyone who wants to shimmy, do the splits, and completely lose themselves to music. Kiki offers four different bar areas — a beer garden, a sports-themed bar, lounge areas, and a dance floor.
Best Local Brewery: Red Bear Brewing Company
209 M St., N.E.
Editor’s Choice: DC Brau
One win isn’t enough for Red Bear, it had to return for more accolades. This fan favorite and LGBTQ-friendly bar also cares about the environment. Red Bear is currently working toward a “Pending B Corporation Status,” which will become fully “Certified” after one year of operations, according to its website. This certificate is awarded to a business that has met the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and legal accountability. Additionally, the bar creates its own furniture from reclaimed wood.
Best Local Distillery: Republic Restoratives Distillery
1369 New York Ave., N.E.
Editor’s Choice: Cotton & Reed
This women-owned, community-led and District-made distillery offers top notch spirits. The company “[celebrates] an outspoken and disruptive attitude towards the production of quality American spirits,” according to its website. Some of the spirits it offers include the Borough Bourbon, a five-year-old high-rye bourbon boldly finished in 50-year-old Armagnac casks. This year-round whiskey has hints of dried fruits, worn leather, and rich candied nuts.
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Best Drag Queen: Cake Pop!
This year’s most glittery award goes to this queen whose Instagram bio reads, “A party without cake is just a meeting.” Like other legendary drag queens whose performances have riveted audiences and inspired young children to be confident in their identity, Cake Pop! exists to celebrate Black queer bodies. Whether she’s wearing her hair in towering afro puffs or ginger-colored tightly-coiled curls, the Regent University, a Christian college, graduate proves to the world that “[the] conversion therapy didn’t work,” according to her Instagram.
Best Drag King: Molasses
Runner-up: Rico Pico
King Molasses is an avid impersonator of Canadian superstar Alannah Myles, who dominated the charts in the early 1990s. They are also a co-producer for “HalfnHalf,” D.C.’s newest bi-weekly drag king show, and chief hooligan at BANSHEES, an event series that attracts the city’s rock ‘n’ roll fans. For Molasses, drag is about having fun with masculine identities while providing astute political commentary about them. “[Drag performance] is that swag you get in the shower that nobody sees,” they said in a Vox interview in June.
Best Transgender Performer: Sophia Carrero
Runner-up: Whitney Gucci Goo
A 2016 picture of this Latin American bombshell shows her clad in a figure-hugging, beaded red cut-out dress, with a flower pinned to her blonde curly hair that cascades down her back. In essence, she’s all about gilded glamour and jaw-dropping beauty. Carrero captured the hearts of many when she won Miss Gay Maryland America in 1999, the preliminary competition to Miss Gay America. She was also crowned Miss Hippo in 1998.
Best Drag Show (tie): Desiree Dik’s: Oddball AND Freddie’s Follies
While some drag queens prance around the stage in sky-high stilettos while lip-syncing to popular ‘80s tunes by Diana Ross and Whitney Houston, Desiree Dik’s Oddball treated guests to blood, comedy, grossness, queer art, and in their own words “just plain odd fun!” This summer event, hosted by restaurant Slash Run, featured D.C.’s finest performers including Bratworst, Mix N Match and Dvita FauxFemme.
Freddie’s Follies also provided guests with weekly drag entertainment from D.C.’s top drag queens. After riveting shows of back-breaking dancing and comedy, guests are then welcomed to the center stage to showcase their karaoke-singing skills. For the ultimate drag fan, Freddie’s Follies is where one should be on a Saturday.
Best Museum: Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th and G Streets, N.W.
Editor’s Choice: National Gallery of Art
Housed in the old Patent Office Building since 1968, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) boasts a sprawling permanent collection of American works from the colonial period to today including photography, modern folk and self-taught art, African-American art, Latino art, and video games as well as a changing roster of featured exhibitions.
What’s more, SAAM shares the historic building with the equally wonderful National Portrait Gallery. Both museums have access to the Kogod Courtyard, a soaring, covered space where museumgoers can grab lunch from the Courtyard Café or simply work on their laptops. The quiet is occasionally interrupted by welcomed scheduled events and live entertainment.
Best Theater: GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Studio Theatre
Helmed by its dynamic co-founders, husband and wife team Hugo Medrano and Rebecca Reed Medrano, GALA Hispanic Theatre has been promoting and sharing Latino arts and cultures with a diverse audience since 1976. Located in the former balcony space of the historic Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights, GALA creates work that speaks to communities today drawing from both exciting new works and the classic Spanish canon.
The company also strives to serve the community by providing free education programs for multicultural youth, bringing bilingual theater to children, and making theater in Spanish accessible to thousands of youths from low-income families yearly.
Best Theater Production: “There’s Always the Hudson”
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: “Six,” National Theatre
In May and June, Woolly Mammoth Theatre presented a compelling production of “There’s Always the Hudson,” playwright/actor Paola Lázaro’s audacious and unapologetically healing new work in which actors didn’t cower and audiences were compelled to experience a little discomfort along with the entertainment.
Lázaro and out actor Justin Weaks played best friends Lola and T (short for Toussaint) who met in a sexual abuse survivors support group three years previously. At some point, the pair made a pact that if things failed to improve, they’d kill themselves. When Lola says today’s the day to die, they agree to first settle scores with some of those who’ve hurt them. The night is about them taking New York City by storm and confronting their wounds head-on.
In an interview with the Blade, Weaks wisely commented, “Healing can be messy.”
Best Live Music in DC: 9:30 Club
815 V St., N.W.
Runner-Up: The Anthem
Yes, D.C.’s legendary 9:30 club has been selected Best Live Music in D.C. once again.
No surprise there. In recent years it’s been named one of the best live music venues in America by Rolling Stone, and dubbed “Venue of the Decade” by the widely read VenuesNow.
Everyone in the area who sees live music has multiple memories of the place. Some of us remember seeing the Waitresses sing in the club’s old F Street, N.W. location. (That night what seemed a small invasion of rats scared audience members witless.)
Since opening in 1980, the club has hosted everyone from the Psychedelic Furs to the B52s to Tony Bennett. Originally billed as the “first non-disco niteclub to open in downtown D.C. in thirteen years,” a concept that’s worked at the club’s original location in a then-blighted part of town, and since 1996 at its bigger, arguably better and vermin-free space on V Street.
Best Live Music Outside-the-District: Wolf Trap
1645 Trap Road
Editor’s Choice: The Fillmore Silver Spring
Set on 117 verdant acres of national park land near Vienna, Va., Wolf Trap’s three performance venues offer something for everyone: the cavernous Filene Center hosts the summer music festival; the Barns at Wolf Trap, provide a more intimate year-round experience; and the Children’s Theatre in the Woods is ideal for kids in nicer weather.
Wolf Trap’s mission is to present and create excellent and innovative performing arts programs for the enrichment, education, and enjoyment of diverse audiences and participants. Wolf Trap reliably provides top-notch musical talent in a gracious setting.
Best LGBTQ Social Group: Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington
Editor’s Choice: Impulse Group DC
A veritable D.C. institution, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (GMCW) is beloved by its members and audiences alike. The chorus gives members an opportunity to gloriously express a love of music while honing their talents, as well as do good works for the LGBTQ community. It’s also a place where longtime friendships and romances are forged.
On Oct. 22, GMCW presents the much-anticipated “Judy,” a cabaret celebrating the music of – who else? – Judy Garland. Fourteen select soloists from the Chorus will share stories as they sing their favorite Judy tunes. Songs include “Over the Rainbow,” “The Trolley Song,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “The Man That Got Away,” and “Happy Days are Here Again.”
Best LGBTQ Event: Pride Run 5K
Editor’s Choice: Nationals Night Out
Looking for a healthful, fat-free way to kick off the Pride season? Why not try the DC Front Runners Pride Run 5K? Listed as an official event of Pride, the race takes place on Friday of Pride weekend, starting and ending at historic Congressional Cemetery not far from the grave of Air Force tech Sgt. Leonard Matlovich. He’s the LGBTQ hero who came out to his commanding officer in the 1970s, and when he was discharged, famously sued for reinstatement. Proceeds from the race help to raise money for worthy LGBTQ causes like SMYAL and the Blade Foundation.
The run is followed by a Finish Line Party, featuring beer for race participants, a live DJ, entertainment, and awards for the race’s top performers.
Best Regional Pride: Annapolis Pride
Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Pride
Save the date – the third Annapolis Pride Parade and Festival is slated for June 3, 2023.
With long established Pride events in Baltimore and D.C., you might not think Annapolis needed one of its own. But a small group of LGBTQ folks thought otherwise. They asked, why not bring Pride to Maryland’s historic capital so charmingly situated on the Chesapeake?
So, the group of spirited locals moved ahead and Annapolis Pride was founded in the spring of 2018. Initially unsure how their endeavor would be received, the all-volunteer group was thrilled to see the enthusiastic support from the LGBTQ and ally communities, resulting in a well-attended parade down West Street feeding into the People’s Park where attendees found camaraderie, vendors, entertainment, fun. And now it’s already become a tradition.
Most Committed Activist: Rayceen Pendarvis
Runner-up: Preston Mitchum
As a longtime event moderator, emcee, entertainer, and LGBTQ rights advocate, Rayceen Pendarvis became a well-known and admired figure in D.C.’s LGBTQ community as host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” a live monthly variety program that had a 10-year run from 2012 through 2121.
In addition to live music and other performances, segments of the show included panel discussions, interviews on LGBTQ related topics, comedy, and games.
Pendarvis has also served as an elected D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and hosted multiple fundraisers, Pride celebrations, arts festivals, talent showcases, fashion shows, and other events, including the Reel Affirmations International LGBTQ Film Festival in D.C.
In June of 2021, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution recognizing Pendarvis’ accomplishments as a community leader and advocate for causes that have made D.C. a better city. That same year, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an official mayoral proclamation declaring Sept. 1 as a day to recognize the contributions of Pendarvis and the long-running “The Ask Rayceen Show.”
Best D.C. Public Official: Mayor Muriel Bowser
Runner-up: D.C. Council member Robert White
Since serving as a member of the D.C. Council and since the time she won election as mayor in 2014, Muriel Bowser has emerged as one of the strongest supporters of the LGBTQ community among all the city’s previous mayors, according to many of her LGBTQ supporters.
With the city having adopted legislation safeguarding LGBTQ people from discrimination before she became mayor, activists have praised Bowser for making sure her administration enforces the anti-discrimination laws and policies to protect LGBTQ people and other minorities.
LGBTQ people have joined others in the city in praising Bowser for her role in leading the city through the COVID pandemic
During more pleasant times, Bowser has appeared at many LGBTQ events during her tenure as mayor, including Pride events. In a development that may have been a first for a D.C. mayor, Bowser arranged for her Office of LGBTQ Affairs to become the lead organizer of one of the city’s largest LGBTQ events, the 17th Street drag queen High Heel Race that takes place each year in October at Halloween time. The mayor has appeared in person on a stage to give the official signal to start the race, for which several thousand people turn out each year to watch.
Best Medical Provider: Whitman-Walker Health
1545 14th St., N.W.
Runner-up: Robert McKernan, Big Gay Smiles
Since its founding as the Gay Men’s VD Clinic in 1973, Whitman-Walker Health has been providing comprehensive healthcare services for the LGBTQ community in the D.C. area through numerous public health crises, including the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the current COVID-19 and monkeypox pandemics.
A statement on its website explains why members of the LGBTQ community consider Whitman-Walker a highly regarded institution in the community.
“Through multiple locations throughout D.C., we provide stigma-free care to anyone who walks through our doors,” the statement says. “We are proud and honored to be a place where the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer communities, as well as those living with or affected by HIV feel supported, welcomed and respected.”
In addition to medical services, Whitman-Walker provides dental and behavioral care as well as legal services at its three locations and at a soon to opened new facility at the redeveloping St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Campus in Southeast D.C.
Best House of Worship: Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.
474 Ridge St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Foundry United Methodist Church
The Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C., known as MCC-DC, was founded in 1970 and officially chartered the following year by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a national federation of LGBTQ supportive Christian churches founded by the Rev. Troy Perry of Los Angeles.
MCC-DC grew steadily in its first decade and continued to grow in the 1980s as it responded to the AIDS epidemic. It partnered with the then Whitman-Walker Clinic, the National Institutes of Health, MCC Baltimore, and Georgetown University Hospital to host one of the first AIDS forums in the nation in 1982.
The forum was held at the First Congregational Church in downtown D.C., where MCC-DC held its worship services for nine years before it purchased its first ministry center at 415 M St., N.W. and a short time later built its current church and ministry center at 474 Ridge St., N.W., which opened its doors in December 1992.
In addition to its many diverse ministries, Bible study classes, and its highly regarded church choir, MCC-DC has opened its new church to LGBTQ supportive events, including forums where candidates running for local public office have appeared before packed audiences.
Best Local Day Trip: Easton
Editor’s Choice: Annapolis
If you’ve driven past Easton 1,000 times on your way to Rehoboth or other spots on Delmarva and never stopped, then you’re missing out. Next time you need a convenient getaway close to D.C., plan a trip to Easton, Md., with its quaint B&Bs, shops, galleries, and a plethora of high-end restaurants. Stay at the gay-owned Hummingbird Inn (14 N. Aurora St.) with its sumptuous breakfast feast. Shop for unique, hard-to-find books at Vintage Books & Fine Art (4 N. Washington St., vintagebooksmd.com); artwork at Studio B Art Gallery (studiobartgallery.com); or clothing at Marc Randall boutique (3 E. Dover St., marc-randall.com). Dining options are plentiful; among the best are Scossa (8 N. Washington St.), owned by Chef Giancarlo Tondin who was born in Italy and began his career at Harry’s Bar in Venice; Out of the Fire (22 Goldsborough St.), a farm-to-table bistro; and The Wardroom (108 N. Washington St., thewardroom.com).
Best Hotel: Eaton DC
1201 K St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: The Line D.C.
Eaton DC is more than a place to sleep on K Street. The boutique hotel that fancies itself a cultural hub has proven to be just that.
Eaton DC, Eaton Workshop’s flagship hotel in downtown D.C., offers onsite wellness treatments like yoga and meditation gatherings, as well as a multi-instrumental sound bath experience every Thursday night. The hotel is also currently hosting “The Gender Within,” an exploration of gender identity and orientation featuring works by 20+ local LGBTQ+ artists and co-curated by the Blade and Dupont Underground.
With its black brick edifice with a mid-century inspired interior, Eaton DC offers a cool look to accompany its innovative concept, which it describes as providing a place “for kindred spirits, locals, and travelers alike, to convene, collaborate, and create. Hospitality is a means for community, creativity, and culture.”
Best Local Businessperson: Bryan Van Den Oever
Red Bear Brewing Co.
209 M St., N.E.
Runner-up: Ed Bailey, Trade & Number Nine
In February, Bryan Van Den Oever told the Blade that the pandemic hit the service industry hard but that “the brewery is my dream.” A Seattle native, Van Den Oever opened Red Bear in 2019 with two friends, Simon Bee and Cameron Raspet. The trio told the Blade at the time that they wanted to turn D.C.’s LGBTQ community onto beer, offering creative flavors and a playful environment.
“The gays are not exclusively about spirits,” Van Den Oever says. “In fact, I think they aren’t exclusive to anything.”
Red Bear and its owners are host to dozens of events each month, including trivia, comedy, and drag events. The show offerings include the wildly popular “Slay Them Drag Competition” hosted once a month from August to January with a grand prize of $500.
Throughout the pandemic, Van Den Oever said the brewery continued to host virtual events to support the city’s queer performers.
“We’re so grateful for the love and solidarity,” he said of the community support during the pandemic.
Best Clergy (tie): Fr. Thomas Wieczorek and Rev. Ashley Goff
Father Thomas Wieczorek moved to D.C. from Ionia, Mich., in 2005 and has since held positions including newspaper reporter, police officer, fire chief, director of public safety, and city manager. He is now an owner and partner of a consulting firm that assists cities and counties with public safety issues. In addition to serving as a clergymember at St. Mary’s National Catholic Church, Wieczorek has also been a vice chairperson of Capital Pride and established the Barry Smythers Fund in memory of his partner who died in 2016. The fund targets suicide prevention and mental health issues.
Reverend Ashley Goff is the pastor at the Arlington Presbyterian Church. According to her website, she graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York City where she developed her passion for liturgy. Goff is also a liturgy writer, penning multiple pieces to direct religious services.
“I write to hear myself. I write to build my own resiliency and witness to the Ways of God. I write to keep my voice from being reluctant to social change,” Goff wrote on her website.
Best Local Professional Sports Team: Washington Mystics
1100 Oak Drive, S.E.
Editor’s Choice: Washington Nationals
The Washington Mystics is D.C.’s women’s basketball team and it competes in the Women’s National Basketball Association as a member club of the league’s eastern conference. Led by general manager and head coach Mike Thibault, assistant general manager Maria Giovannetti and associate coach Eric Thibault, this team shows that D.C.’s women’s basketball teams are strong national contenders within the sport. The team is currently third in the conference with 22 wins and 14 losses.
The team recently announced a string of LGBTQ history month events and partnerships with The Rainbow History Project and As You Are Bar.
Best Amateur Sports League: DC Gay Flag Football
Editor’s Choice: Stonewall Kickball
The DC Gay Flag Football League began in the mid-90s and then grew over the years to its current lineup of 20 teams with approximately 270 players from around the region. The league hosts a summer tournament each year in Rehoboth Beach and also funds five travel teams to compete in tournaments around the country. Earlier this year, the league sent teams to the national Pride Bowl in Chicago where one team—the DC Commanders—went on to win their championship game against the Austin Capitals.
Nikki Kasparek founded the league’s first women’s travel team, the DC Senators, in 2014 and told the Blade she is very excited about the growth of the league.
“I am incredibly competitive and the DCGFFL leagues and travel tournaments allow me to scratch that itch,” Kasparek says. “I am going to enjoy all of it – the friendships, the seasons, the tournaments, the moments – until I can’t flex that muscle anymore.”
Best Real Estate Agent: Justin Noble
1515 14th St., N.W.
Runner-up: Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty
Justin Noble is a real estate agent with TTR Sotheby’s and has nearly a decade of experience in the field. According to the company’s website, Noble was born into a real estate centric family and spent much of his childhood reading architecture and design magazines. Noble has also been a contributor to the Blade for the past year, writing real estate columns such as “Alternative ways to deal with high interest rates” and “Tips for preparing your home for fall.”
“If you have read my previous columns (I hope you have) then you will know I am a huge fan of sass and more importantly, controlling your controllables!” Noble wrote in one column.
Best Real Estate Group: Jenn Smira Team, Compass
1313 14th St., N.W.
Runner-up: Asgari Moore Group, Compass
The Jenn Smira team is a Compass real estate team offering a full suite of services, including marketing, staging, negotiations, and listings management. The team is composed of 17 Realtors and three supporting staff members. Jenn Smira—founder of the team—was previously on the board of DC Women In Solidarity for Empowerment, a nonprofit that raises money for local organizations serving women and children.
The group also gives back to the D.C. community through direct contributions to local elementary schools and nonprofit organizations focused on assisting homeless individuals. In 2021, one of the group’s Realtors Elvin Merlo raised more than $70,000 for cancer research through Haymakers for Hope.
Best Lawyer: Lawrence Jacobs
Runner-Up: Amy Nelson
Lawrence Jacobs is with McMillan Metro, P.C. and practices in multiple areas, including estate planning for same-sex couples.
“I’ve been the trusted adviser to more than 800 same-sex couples looking to protect their partners or spouses and their families with documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, partnership agreements and pre-nuptial agreements,” he says in a statement on his site.
Best Fitness or Workout Spot: VIDA Fitness
1517 15th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Barry’s Bootcamp
This is VIDA’s fourth consecutive win in this category and 11th win in the category overall. The company has six locations U Street (1612 U St., N.W.), Logan Circle (1517 15th St., N.W.), The Yards (1212 4th St. S.E. #170), Ballston (4040 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.), Gallery Place (601 F St., N.W.) and City Vista (445 K St., N.W.). The chain is gay-owned by David Von Storch and the locations frequently hold LGBTQ-centered events, such as the Pride Pool Party.
Membership packages run between $119-179 per month and include access to all locations, virtual classes, indoor and outdoor classes, discounts at Aura Spa and Bang Salon and more.
Best Alternative Transportation: Alto
Runner-Up: Capital Bikeshare
Billed as the world’s first employee driver rideshare, Alto offers an elevated experience with luxury vehicles, professional drivers, and music controlled by the passenger.
Best Pet Business or Veterinarian: District Dogs
2323 Sherman Ave., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: City Dogs
District Dogs started as a dog walking business in 2014 by owner Jacob Hensley and has since grown into one of the best pet care businesses in the district with four full-care facilities and one training facility. Another facility at National Landing in Virginia will open in 2023 in Amazon’s HQ2 development. District Dogs offers daycare, overnight boarding, grooming, and training classes.
The company also hosts a number of community events such as bootcamps, pride parties and happy hours.
Best Salon/Spa: Logan 14
1314 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: The Burrow
This is Aveda’s seventh consecutive win in this category and according to the company, about 75 percent of their clientele are LGBTQ.
The salon offers cuts, coloring, extensions, hair styling, and an array of spa options including massages, botox, and laser hair removal.
General Manager Katie Rose told the Blade last year that the salon has almost fully bounced back from the pandemic but that COVID-19 has forever changed the business.
“We service our guests and make people look and feel better about themselves,” she said.
Best Adult Store: Bite the Fruit
1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (second floor)
Runner-Up: Lotus Blooms
Best Car Dealership: BMW of Fairfax
8427 Lee Highway
Best Local Website/Blog: District Fray Magazine
Editor’s Choice: DCist
District Fray is a monthly print and digital magazine that describes itself as “a vibrant source of lifestyle and entertainment news to Washingtonians.”
“The magazine has translated media, social sports, and events to make DC Fray’s ‘Make Fun Possible’ mantra into a tangible ethos that locals can rely on to stay in the know about what to do in and around the city through the lens of inclusive, eclectic and objective content,” District Fray says on its website. ‘District Fray Magazine’s’ elevated editorial allows readers to experience the city through the voices of its talented writers and local interviewees.”
“Our goal is to highlight the voices in the District who are keeping their fingers on the pulse and champion the diverse communities who make our city vibrant and unique,” said District Fray Editor-in-Chief Monica Alford. “We are proud to support D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community through the lens of inclusive, eclectic and objective content.”
District Media is on social media at @districtfray.
Best Local TV/Radio Personality: Evan Koslof, WUSA9
Runner-up: Chuck Bell, NBC4
Evan Koslof has been a reporter with WUSA 9 since 2016.
His bio notes an interview with a 10-year-old nonbinary child from Bowie, Md., and the Nationals 2019 World Series victory are among the many stories he has covered. Koslof, who has won six Emmy Awards, also notes he met his husband, Realtor Justin Noble, at the beach in Delaware in 2015.
“Being a reporter in the nation’s capital is a dream come true,” Koslof said. “As a reporter, I’ve covered elections, inaugurations and even insurrections. I’ve gone live from dozens of protests and rallies. I’ve traveled to hurricanes and mass shootings, and I’ve met people at their lowest and their highest.”
“And the older I get, the more I’ve come to learn that the ‘best’ reporters are those who share their authentic selves,” added Koslof. “I’m a proud gay man, who’s been married to my best friend since 2019 (Justin Noble — Best Realtor.) I hope that my openness can inspire future generations to be their true selves as well.”
Best Tattoo Parlor: Dapper Dog Tattoo
75 Maryland Ave.
Editor’s Choice: Tattoo Paradise
Best Non-Profit powered by PEPCO: Capital Pride
Editor’s Choice: SMYAL
The Capital Pride Alliance offers a variety of programs and events that celebrate the LGBTQ community in the DMV throughout the year. The ‘reUNITED’ Capital Pride Parade brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of D.C. for the first time in two years.
“We thank the community for its long-term support, especially over the last few years as we had to navigate the constraints imposed by the pandemic,” said the Capital Pride Alliance. “Being unable to hold large gatherings for two years was a challenge that required us to create new and unique ways to provide platforms to highlight the community’s visibility until we were able to bring back a full-scale Pride celebration this past June. We appreciate everyone’s willingness to reUnite to show that we still have Pride.”
Best Home Furnishings: Miss Pixie’s
1626 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Hamilton’s Sofa Gallery
This 14th Street institution once again makes this year’s list.
Best Private School: Barrie School
13500 Layhill Rd.
Silver Spring, Md.
Editor’s Choice: Maret School
Best Rehoboth Drag Queen: Magnolia Applebottom
Runner-Up: Kristina Kelly
Magnolia Applebottom is a repeat winner in this category and it’s easy to understand why: She’s simply everywhere, from Rehoboth to Milton to Salisbury performing for packed crowds at happy hours, Pride events, and charity functions. In addition to her towering stature, entertaining standup, and fabulous fashion sense, Magnolia sings live. No visit to Rehoboth is complete without a stop at her show at Diego’s.
Best Rehoboth Outdoor Dining: Purple Parrot
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s Choice: Aqua
Rehoboth suffers from a relative dearth of outdoor dining spots, something the locals have complained about for years. One bright spot remains the Purple Parrot Biergarten on Wilmington Avenue (you can also access it from the main entrance to the Parrot on Rehoboth Avenue). The food is consistently good with regular specials like prime rib nights and German-themed dinners. But the best part of eating here is arguably the festive atmosphere complete with upbeat music, the friendliest bartenders in town, and a lush, green roof over the bar. Say hi to Chandler, who has been voted Best Rehoboth Bartender multiple times, and to the current titleholder, first-time winner Georgiy Yanchenko.
Best Rehoboth Bartender: Georgiy Yanchenko, Purple Parrot
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Runner-Up: Evelyn Orta “Fluffy,” Freddie’s
Everyone in town knows Georgiy, the friendly, outgoing face behind the bar at the Purple Parrot Biergarten. He’s a first-time nominee and winner in this category. No matter how crazy busy the bar gets on a summer holiday weekend, Georgiy handles it all with a smile and skilled service. This is one of the most competitive categories, so hats off to Georgiy as this is not an easy award to win.
Best Rehoboth-Area Live Show: Drag Brunch at the Pines
56 Baltimore Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s Choice: Magnolia Applebottom at Diego’s
Local legends Mona Lotts and Kristina Kelly headline the uproarious drag brunch at the Pines on Sundays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. As the website warns: “Mature comedy not for the faint at heart.” Bear that in mind as things get rather racy early in the day. Tickets are $15 and there’s a delicious brunch buffet offered at $25.
Best Rehoboth Coffeeshop: The Coffee Mill
127 Rehoboth Ave B
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s Choice: Rise Up
The gay-owned Coffee Mill is a go-to spot for many Rehoboth locals, offering a staggering array of freshly ground coffees along with pastries and other breakfast treats. The outdoor patio becomes quite the scene in summer and don’t forget to check out owner Mel’s photography on display inside.
Best Rehoboth Restaurant: Blue Moon
35 Baltimore Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s Choice: The Pines
The venerable Blue Moon may not be the crowded bar of old, but it lives on with a top-notch fine dining restaurant on one side of the building and a cabaret/event space on the other that features rotating performers. The restaurant has won this award so many times that we’ve lost count. It’s a cozy spot, perfect for a romantic dinner, fun night out with friends, or Sunday brunch. The beloved Tasting Tuesday offers a prix fixe menu featuring three courses each with wine for just $45.
Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent: Lee Ann Wilkinson
16698 Kings Hwy A.
Runner-Up: Chris Beagle
This is Lee Ann Wilkinson’s fifth consecutive win in this category. The Lee Ann Wilkinson Group has ranked #1 in real estate sales in Sussex County, Del., for more than 20 years. She even finds time to contribute insights on the local market to the Blade.
Best Rehoboth Business: Diego’s Bar & Nightclub
37298 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s Choice: Freddie’s Beach Bar
Joe Ciarlante-Zuber and his husband and business partner Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber continue to draw crowds for their exuberant happy hour specials, drag entertainment, and late night dance parties. The venue has a long history of hosting Rehoboth’s only real dance parties and it’s gratifying to see the tradition continue post-pandemic. This is Diego’s second consecutive win in this category.
Netflix resurrects Dahmer, triggering criticism
Milwaukee gay activist says series re-traumatizes victims’ families
A 10-episode series on gay serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer released by Netflix on Sept. 21 captures in chilling detail Dahmer’s 13-year murder spree that took place mostly in Milwaukee between 1978 and 1991 in which 17 young mostly gay men, 11 of whom were Black, lost their lives.
The dramatized series, with actor Evan Peters playing the lead role of Dahmer, shows how Dahmer met many of his victims in Milwaukee gay bars, lured them to his apartment by promising to pay them to pose for nude photographs, and drugged and strangled them to death before mutilating and sometimes cannibalizing their bodies.
The series, called “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” has set a record for being the most watched first week release of any Netflix streaming series, according to media reports.
But one viewer who said he stopped watching the series after the first two episodes is longtime Milwaukee gay activist Scott Gunkel, who worked as a bartender at one of the gay bars where Dahmer met at least two of the young men he murdered.
Gunkel, 62, told the Blade he and others of his generation who lived through the trauma of the Dahmer murder spree view the Netflix series as yet another movie rehashing a troubling and painful occurrence.
“It really won’t, I don’t think, aid anybody,” he said. “I don’t think the victims’ families and friends will want to watch and hear this. So, this is just re-victimizing the people that went through this personally.”
Added Gunkel, “I knew a couple of the people he killed – patrons of the bar. They weren’t close friends. I just happened to know that they came to my bar, and I served them drinks.”
“There has been a big effort to have people boycott Netflix over this,” Gunkel said. “And I’m like, OK, it is a macabre story. I don’t know if you need to go quite that far with a boycott. Just don’t watch it,” he said.
Netflix has said the series is respectful to the victims and their families and its aim is to tell the story of how and why Dahmer became one of America’s most notorious serial murderers “as authentically as we could,” according to a statement by Peters in a promotional video posted on Twitter.
Gunkel and others familiar with the Dahmer case point out that few if anyone in Milwaukee or elsewhere knew a serial killer was on the loose in their community until the time of Dahmer’s arrest on July 22, 1991, after his 18th potential victim escaped and contacted police.
Police and prosecutors at that time revealed the discovery of body parts and other evidence found in Dahmer’s apartment, including multiple photos that Dahmer had taken of the corpses and body parts of his victims. Dahmer a short time later confessed to having committed 17 murders, the first in Ohio and the others in Wisconsin, with most taking place in Milwaukee where he lived. He provided prosecutors with the full gruesome details of how he carried out those murders.
Media reports show Dahmer pleaded guilty to 15 of the 17 murders on grounds of insanity, which resulted in a two-week trial to determine whether he was legally sane when he committed the murders. In February 1992, the jury found him sane in each of the murders. A judge then sentenced him to 15 consecutive sentences to life in prison.
Two years later, at the age of 34, Dahmer was beaten to death at Wisconsin’s Columbia Correctional Institution by an inmate who told authorities that God told him to kill Dahmer.
Gunkel said some in the Milwaukee gay community and the African-American community reached out to each other when the list of Dahmer’s victims released by police shortly after his arrest showed most were Black gay men.
Gunkel said he remembers the news reports of several Black women who lived near the apartment building in the mostly Black neighborhood saying they tried to alert police to what they suspected was criminal activity by Dahmer.
One of the reports that triggered widespread criticism of how the police allegedly mishandled the Dahmer case involved a Black woman who called police when she saw someone she described as an Asian boy standing outside the apartment building where Dahmer lived naked and bleeding with just a towel wrapped around him.
It later became known that the person the woman saw was Konerak Sinthasomphone, a 14-year-old Laotian immigrant, who Dahmer met on the street, lured to his apartment, and drugged. Reports show the youth escaped from the apartment after Dahmer left to go to a store to replenish his own supply of liquor.
When Dahmer returned, he saw police talking to Konerak and the woman outside the apartment building and quickly told one of the officers that the youth was 19 years old and was in a gay relationship with him and the two had a lover’s quarrel.
To the amazement of members of the LGBTQ and African-American communities, who later learned of this development, the police allowed Dahmer to take the youth back to his apartment. One of the officers reportedly made a homophobic remark about his interaction with Dahmer and the youth in a recorded comment to a police dispatcher. Dahmer later killed Konerak, police reports show.
Community activists, including Gunkel, who at the time was president of the Milwaukee gay rights group Lambda Rights Network, said the police disregard for the concern raised by the Black woman, who believed Konerak was in danger, was an example of how racial bias on the part of at least some in the Milwaukee police department may have enabled Dahmer to continue his killing spree.
In the weeks following sometimes sensational media reports and statements by police about Dahmer’s role as a confessed gay mass murderer, LGBTQ activists in Milwaukee reported a sharp rise in anti-gay harassment and threats, including harassment targeting gay bar patrons.
“Although gay people were among Dahmer’s victims, biased statements on the part of the police and some media have linked his murderous behavior to all gay and lesbian people,” the then National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said in a statement.
An August 1991 story in the Washington Blade reports that Gunkel expressed strong concern that a police investigator used the term “homosexual overkill” to describe Dahmer’s action. Gunkel and other activists also pointed to police statements that Dahmer confessed to having engaged in sex with some of his victims and most of the victims were Black. But the police and media reports at the time did not also report that nearly all the victims were also gay.
Rather than being seen as victims, Gunkel said, gays were being portrayed as predators through a “prism” of longtime stereotypes. “We look at this as a hate crime,” said Gunkel in his 1991 comment reported in the Blade. “His patronizing of gay bars shows he was stalking gays. The bars were his feeding grounds.”
Gunkel told the Blade in a phone interview last week, 31 years after Dahmer’s arrest and the revelations of the scope of his murder spree, gay bar patrons at the time the killings were taking place did not equate the disappearance of bar patrons with anything particularly unusual.
He noted that at the time, the AIDS epidemic was still going strong and he and others at the bars sometimes thought a regular customer who suddenly stopped coming to the bar may have gotten sick.
“So, a lot of people stopped going out when they started getting sick,” he said, “And other people would get into relationships and stop going out,” Gunkel told the Blade. “And when they didn’t show up people just kind of blew it off as somebody who’s not around anymore.”
According to Gunkel, the sensational revelations of Dahmer’s killing spree and the fact that he met many of his victims in Milwaukee gay bars prompted many in the LGBTQ community to stop going to bars and gay meeting places. But he said that didn’t last very long.
Gunkel said that like others who lived through what he calls the macabre time that Dahmer’s actions became known, the Netflix series brought back his own memories of interacting with Dahmer at Club 219, the Milwaukee gay bar where he worked as a bartender.
“The few times that I saw him at the bar I refused to serve him because he was drunk,” Gunkel said. “And I thought, you know, I’m not going to serve this person. He’s already pretty smashed.”
Tagg turns 10
D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women
In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012.
“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”
As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.
Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.
“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”
Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals.
“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”
Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments.
“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”
Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said.
“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”
Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
Battling the pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception.
“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”
However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community.
The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe.
There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication.
“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.”
While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets.
“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”
Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs.
Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis.
For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.
“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.
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