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Singer/songwriter Janis Ian keeps it real in advance of April 28 D.C.-area show

‘At Seventeen’ Grammy winner weighs in on lesbian fans, soldiering on through adversity and more

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Janis Ian, gay news, Washington Blade

Janis Ian tells budding songwriters to study the classics and test your material on audiences who ‘couldn’t care less’ about you. (Photo by Lloyd Baggs; courtesy Ian)

Janis Ian
 
Saturday, April 28
 
The Birchmere
 
3701 Mount Vernon Ave.
 
Alexandria, Va. 
 
7:30 p.m.
 
$45
 
birchmere.com
 
janisian.com

Janis Ian is having a rough weekend when we touch base April 13. The Grammy-winning singer/songwriter is soldiering on at CAMP Rehoboth Women’s Fest despite being dangerously close to having no singing voice.

She plays the Birchmere next weekend (April 28) and responded to these questions via e-mail, citing vocal preservation. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: You’re playing CAMP Rehoboth Women’s Fest this weekend. What are the crowds like at these lesbian events? Have you done many of them?

IAN: It’s a lesbian event? (grin) I made a firm decision decades ago not to do any sort of exclusionary event, so the only “gay” events I’ve done have been Pride marches, or events like CAMP Rehoboth or the old Bloomington Women’s Music Festival (I think it has a new name now), both of which welcome all genders. As to the audiences, I’d say any time you have a festival-style event the crowds are going to be super enthusiastic because they’re there for more than just a few hours. They’re more relaxed and it’s a different excitement.

BLADE: How do you like performing at the Birchmere? Have you played there many times?

IAN: Hah! So many, I can’t even count, at the old and the new Birch. One of the best clubs in the world and I’ve played pretty much all of them. Not a bad seat in the house. I’ve even got Birchmere “war stories,” which I won’t go into here. Tom Paxton and I premiered our world tour there. I’ve premiered albums there. I can’t imagine life without it. Once I made the decision to stop touring very much, the first place to approach me was the Birchmere, via Mike Jaworek. I told him I wasn’t touring. He kept bothering me and bothering me and bothering me. I kept giving him reasons I couldn’t do it. He kept bothering me. He wore me down. Once I agreed, I got really excited. It’s like coming home and at 67, I have a perfectly good home in Tennessee already, thank you very much.

BLADE: What are the acoustics like at Carnegie Hall? Of course they’re legendary, but are they that much better than other great halls?

IAN: Yes. There’s the prestige of playing Carnegie, but there’s also the acoustics. Someone warned me about a “bass trap” in the upper left balcony before my first solo gig, so we faced the bass amp that way, and we were told it was the best sound from a band they’d ever heard. Most of the great halls were designed for non-amplified music — vaudeville halls. All the older, great Broadway halls. European halls and Carnegie. I think they’ve had to tear Philharmonic Hall apart now what — three times? — to fix the acoustics. Instead of relying on experience and ears, architectural firms and “soundscape engineers” (seriously? “soundcape engineer?”) rely on machines. Just stupid.

BLADE: Do you have Joan Baez’s new album? Any thoughts?

IAN: I do not have it yet, but my thoughts are that Joan has always been one of the kindest people on earth to me. I wish I had a song on it, but she’s done two of mine before and they’re among my proudest covers.

BLADE: How do you decide what key a song you’re writing is going to be in?

IAN: It feels right on my voice. Sometimes there’s a conflict — it might sound better in the studio a little higher or lower. Sometimes I have to change the guitar part to suit the key.

BLADE: When other artists have recorded your songs, do they often change the key?

IAN: Honestly, I have no idea. It never occurred to me to check.

BLADE: Back in the ‘60s/‘70s heyday of the big labels, did they let you have input into what your singles would be? Was there ever an instance where you were hoping it would be one song but the label was insisting on another?

IAN: I almost always had a good team around me, producer and A&R person, so I usually had input. I mean, no one wanted to put out a song the artist would refuse to sing on stage or TV, right? So fortunately for me, that’s never been a big issue. They’d have liked it if I’d written more commercial songs, but that’s not my gift.

BLADE: Amy Grant had a No. 1 hit with your song “What About the Love” in 1989. What are your memories of writing that song and do you have any idea how it got floated to a gospel artist?

IAN: I wrote it with Kye Fleming as we were sitting around her living room in Nashville, on the floor, just before Christmas I think. I was playing around with the guitar part, trying to put the first beat on the second note of the guitar pattern and making myself crazy trying to work it into my fingers. Then I began singing, “I went to see my sister. She was living with a friend …” and we were off and running. The minute we finished it, Kye said it had to go to Amy. I think Kye’s publisher must have done it, but she also knew Amy, so she may have pitched it herself. And Amy’s always said she’s a big fan of my work — she owns a hand-written copy of “At Seventeen,” for instance, so that may have helped get it in the door. Regardless, she’s a lovely woman and she did a great job.

BLADE: Have you ever demo’d it or performed it yourself?

IAN: It’s on the album “Breaking Silence.” Morgan Creek gave the rights back to me last year, so we’re in release now. In fact, I’ll be selling it at the Birchmere show because so many people have asked about it. Nice to have your first album after 10 years away become a Grammy nominee (she said musingly). It really is nice. It’s a fantastic audiophile recording; we’ve released it through Acoustic Sounds on vinyl, tape and SACD.

BLADE: Are you still friendly with Kye Fleming? About how many songs would you say you wrote together?

IAN: Yes, of course I’m still friendly with her. We lived together two-and-a-half years! We wrote 64 songs and among them are several of the absolute best songs I’ve ever been involved with. It’s a pity no one’s pushing them, because some are still un-recorded, but we did pretty well — Diane Schuur, Amy, Bette Midler, Charlie Daniels, Maura O’Connell, Cynthia Clawson, Marti Jones. It was an incredibly fertile period and I will always, always be grateful for it, and for Kye. I learned a ton about songwriting from her. She’s brilliant.

BLADE: Did you two have a private chuckle over a lesbian couple having penned a No. 1 song on the gospel music charts?

IAN: Probably not.

BLADE: Where did the material come from on your Unreleased collections? Are those alternate studio takes or songs you hadn’t previously recorded or both?

IAN: Both. I’ve spent the past 10 years plus having everything I’ve written and recorded transferred, updated, transferred, put on line. There are a lot of alt versions, though very few alt studio takes. A lot of demos and work tapes that haven’t, or have, been released.

BLADE: How long did it take you to write your memoirs?

IAN: I gave myself a year, because I’d never written anything that long before. I also researched and I had several fans who helped with research — dates, places, times and the like. It was good, because for a year I never set foot on a plane. I did four professional things — hosted a tribute to Odetta, sang at a tribute to Pete Seeger, played bass for Marie Knight and something else I can’t remember. They were all fun things to do, and they convinced me that it was more fun to do less, but do the things that brought me pleasure, than to do too much. I had time at home — long periods of time. I hadn’t had that since around 1991, so it was quite marvelous.

BLADE: What was your experience like working with John Mellencamp? What’s he like in the studio?

IAN: John was great. Very honest, very hard working, very respectful. You have to remember that at the time he brought me into the studio, no one in the music business gave a crap about me. I couldn’t get a publisher, a manager, a booking agent, record company — nothing and no one. John was the only professional in my field to put his money where his mouth was. I mean, it’s lovely to hear, “Oh, you’re a great writer, great performer, great singer,” but it’s not so great when they can’t make space for you at the table.

BLADE: What kind of feedback did you get as an Advocate columnist? Did you enjoy the gig?

IAN: I loved working with Judy Wieder, my editor there. I’d been turning her down for a year or so, and she suckered me into lunch with her and my wife when we were in L.A. I made the mistake of going to the rest room and while I was gone, they made the deal. I learned a ton that stood me in good stead when I wrote my autobiography. Having to come up with 1,000 words every month really teaches you a lot. As does having to be funny most of the time. So yes, I enjoyed it very much. I left when Judy was promoted and I had a new editor who didn’t see things the same way. When I began, I was literally hired to be the “resident iconoclast.” When I left, they had a lot of those. So it was time to go.

BLADE: What’s a songwriting trap you see beginning writers succumb to commonly?

IAN: Oh, gosh, there are so many. Settling. Being enthralled with yourself. Not knowing the basics. Is your second verse as strong as the first? Should your second verse be the first? Are you mixing metaphors? Are you saying that because it’s true, believable, what needs to be there, or are you saying it because it feels good on your voice? So, so many. I always tell people to play out and play out for people who don’t want to hear you. Don’t play for your friends and family — they’re obligated to like your work. Play for people who couldn’t care less. That’s part of how you learn. And remember the computer term GIGO — garbage in, garbage out. You listen to crap, you’ll write crap. Mostly, it’s the CD/technology issue. When you’re young, you don’t have much of a filter. You’re enthralled with your last song, because it’s astonishing and amazing and ennobling that you can even write a song. So, if you can make a CD for practically nothing, in practically no time, you end up putting all those songs on CDs. You make way too many CDs, too fast, and you think you’re growing, but you’re not. I had this discussion the other day with someone. When I started writing, none of us could afford songbooks. So we’d buy an album, listen to it, and write out the lyrics. Somehow, that connection from your hand to your brain teaches you. That’s what I’d tell young songwriters. Take a song you love by someone else. Listen to it and write out the lyrics. Once, twice, three times. Play it and sing it for a week. Get it into your body. Then move on to the next. Keep it different. Go from contemporary to Johnny Mercer. Don’t get tied down. And write them out.

BLADE: Did you have a noticeable lesbian fan base before you were outed or did that come later?

IAN: If you’re referring to the Village Voice piece by a writer who’s now dead, I can’t comment on that. I’d lived with a man, I then lived with a woman. I married a man, then married a woman. I identify as gay because that’s my tilt, but I wasn’t “known” as a gay woman until I chose to come out with it myself. I did it around the release of “Breaking Silence” because of a conversation I had with (longtime LGBT activist) Urvashi Vaid.

BLADE: You seem so at peace and pragmatic about life and the music business. Joni Mitchell has had almost a second career giving brutally candid interviews criticizing the music industry and calling it a cesspool. Do you applaud her candor or think she just sounds bitter and overly negative?

IAN: Joni also believes she was never paid enough and she has no musical equals. I don’t listen to it much.

BLADE: You’ve been through some scary times in the country with your father and the red scare. Are you fairly confident our national guardrails and checks and balances can withstand Trump? How closely are you following this?

IAN: We’re still an experiment; remains to be seen. I follow it as closely as everyone else and I wish people would listen to various news sources and go off line for a while.

BLADE: Will there be a new Janis Ian studio album of new material at some point?

IAN: Yes. It’s part of why I’m setting deadlines for my last touring days and my last album release. And a large part of why I’m touring so little.

BLADE: What would you guess is your ratio of released (you or other artists) vs. unreleased material of the songs you’ve written?

IAN: Not a clue.

BLADE: How regularly do you write these days?

IAN: Just depends on where I am and what I’m doing at the time.

BLADE: Was it ever hard to keep writing in leaner career periods?

IAN: Depending on the era, the assumption’s that if you’re not on TV, you’re dead. (Or your career is.) If you’re not on tour, you’re dead. (Or your career is.) If you’re not on Facebook, you’re dead. (Or your career is.) Artists don’t stop being artists. We don’t stop creating. Record companies stop wanting us. Promoters stop wanting us. Even audiences stop wanting us. But we don’t stop. That’s just not how it works.

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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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What’s new at Rehoboth Beach for summer 2024

Higher parking fees, Pamala moves to Diego’s, and more

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Rehoboth favorites Magnolia Applebottom and Pamala Stanley are reunited this summer at Diego’s. (Blade file photo by John Bator)

Another Rehoboth Beach season is upon us. I have been going to the beach for more years than I can count, and always love it. Some now consider Rehoboth a year-round community, and in many ways they are right. But summer still brings out tens of thousands of tourists, from day-trippers, to those with second homes at the beach. Others book a weekend, or longer, at the many great hotels. They all come to the beach for the sun and sand, food, and drink. Some like to relax, others to party, and you can do both in Rehoboth. 

So here is some of the good (and a little of the bad) of what’s new this season. First the bad: Parking at a meter will now cost you $4 an hour. Meters are in effect May 15-Sept. 15. Parking permits for all the non-metered spaces in town are also fairly expensive. You can find information on both transferable and individual permits, online.

Now for the good — and there is lots of it. First, Aqua Bar & Grill has reopened for the season. During Women’s Fest they were packed, with many sitting around the outdoor heaters, and that included lots of good looking men. I recommend taking advantage of the Thursday Burger night. Then the Blue Moon just announced John Francis Flynn will be on the piano from May 26-June 26, Sunday to Thursday, 6-8:30 p.m. He will then be back again on the same schedule from July 30-Sept. 11. During July, Nate Buccieri returns to town for a month-long runs of shows.

My favorite place at the beach, The Coffee Mill, in the mews between Rehoboth and Baltimore Avenues, opens every morning at 7 a.m. Whenever I am at the beach I am there. Mel, who also owns Brashhh! on 1st Street, announced he is starting his own clothing line, called FEARLESS! 

The Purple Parrot, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year so be sure to spend some time there raising a glass. The Summer House last year opened the upscale Libation Room, with drinks like a Bacon Maple Old Fashioned. This year, they opened a nice garden looking out on Rehoboth Avenue, with a fountain. With the renewed interest in vinyl records you may want to stop in at Extended Play. Traveling a little beyond the town is the new 302 Local, located in Coastal Station behind Iron Hill Brewery. It is themed as a 1920s-era speakeasy. If you are in town on a Sunday for T-dance, you will have the chance to hear Pamala Stanley perform at Diego’s Bar and Nightclub. This is the perfect venue for Pamala’s talents in an indoor-outdoor setting that is already drawing packed crowds. Don’t miss it. Speaking of Diego’s, Pamala and Best Rehoboth Drag Queen winner Magnolia Applebottom are reunited there this summer. Don’t miss Magnolia’s Memorial Day Thursday party on May 23 from 8-10 p.m. featuring “naughtee bingo.”

If you are looking for culture Rehoboth has some of that as well. There’s Clear Space Theater on Baltimore Avenue. This year’s shows include The Bodyguard, The Roommates, Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages and The Prom. Tickets sell fast so I suggest you book early and they are available online. Then there is the Pride Film Festival, June 14-16. More information on that can be found at CAMP Rehoboth, the LGBTQ community center. CAMP plans the annual Sunfestival each Labor Day weekend, a not-to-miss event each year. On the CAMP website you can also find information on its speaker series, concerts, and other special events that will be going on during summer. This year Rehoboth Beach Pride takes place July 18-21. Sussex Pride is taking the lead on the festival, which will happen at the Convention Center July 20 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. If you visit CAMP, or are just walking up Baltimore Avenue, make sure you pick up a copy of the Blade in the box in front of the building.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the other restaurants and clubs in town. Just a reminder, during season you often need reservations. Come to the beach often enough, and you can try them all: The Pines (and their Monday steak night) and Top of the Pines are at the epicenter of the fun on Baltimore Avenue. Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant offers a busy summer of events and entertainment. Rigby’s remains a go-to spot for the LGBTQ community on Rehoboth Avenue. Bodhi Kitchen is back in its second year offering delicious modern Asian cuisine “with a twist.” These are only a few of the great places to eat and drink at the beach.

Remember to book your reservations for hotels and restaurants early. Rehoboth is a happening place and very busy. Here’s wishing you fun at the beach. 

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