July 20 is a big day for Duplex Diner (2004 18th St., N.W.) as the beloved D.C. gay institution celebrates its 20th anniversary.
DJ Chord, one of the original DJs, will return with surprise guests, a drag performance, drink specials and more. An ’80s party is planned for Saturday, July 21 with DJs Khelan and Adam. Or stop by anytime on Sunday, July 22 for a 20th anniversary brunch celebration going on all day. Full details at duplexdiner.com.
Mark Hunker splits his working life as co-owner of JAM Holdings (which includes Duplex Diner, Red White & Basil and two Delaware restaurants) and Victor42, an IT defense contracting firm. He went to Duplex on its second day of operation and quickly became a regular. Though not the original owners, he and co-owner Jeff McCracken were Thursday regulars and watched it evolve over time. They bought the business in 2014.
“It’s where I grew up, met lifelong friends and dated,” Hunker says. He and husband Jeff Shields Hunker were married there in 2010.
Hunker and McCracken plan the menus, drinks lists, designs and social media of their four restaurants. Kelly Lascko oversees the day-to-day operations. There are 27 on staff including Jesse Tyler and Nico Mendez, who’ve been there the whole 20 years. Just shy of them at 19 years are Nicole Parisi, Kate Gibbs and Salvador Blanco.
“It was the right place at the right time,” the 52-year-old Bronx native says. “You went there to be yourself and to let your hair down without fear. It was a judgment-free zone where you enjoyed a burger, pickles and fries and learned to love vodka.”
Hunker came to Washington almost 30 years ago with family and to attend the University of Maryland. His family, including 12-year-old daughter Samantha, split their time between Adams Morgan and Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Hunker enjoys sports, cooking, reading and the beach in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I have been out a very long time, mostly since going to culinary school and to a few close friends and my mom as I left high school. My dad, who was a cop in New York, was the hardest to tell, but it wound up being a lot of worrying for nothing.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Harvey Milk has always been a hero for me. I was old enough to know why he was murdered and grew up to learn that his words and actions opened the doors for a future career in politics for me.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
The Duplex Diner on a Thursday night. And if I had a time machine, Tracks still holds a special place in my heart.
Describe your dream wedding.
I had a dream wedding in Rehoboth. About 130 family and friends from all over the country came to watch us get married at JAM Bistro under a chuppah by a local rabbi and then we had a loud party across the street at Eden Restaurant. Our daughter was our flower girl, we had a first dance, dances with parents, we were lifted on chairs and cut the cake. An amazing sign of how things have really changed — my husband who was raised Catholic had all five of his siblings and all 10 nieces and nephews attend.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Gun violence, especial in schools. As a parent you worry every day when you drop her off at school.
What historical outcome would you change?
Besides the Holocaust, Trump’s election in 2016. I have worked in democratic politics for many years and was an appointee for all eight years in the Clinton administration. I know what solid leadership looks like and I know policies and law can be written that benefit the many, and I know the consequences to the country when they are written for the few.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I have two: The March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in Washington on April 25, 1993. The Inaugural Display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall in on October 11, 1987.
On what do you insist?
Paramount for me are loyalty and respect. Giving and getting. But a nice car, designer sunglasses and good shoes don’t hurt.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
@realDonaldTrump hey loser, those crowds in London were way, way bigger than your inauguration!! So much bigger!
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Can You Believe This Is My Life?”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Nothing. I am who I was meant to be.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe there is something out there after we are done here. I don’t have a name for it nor can I visualize it. As I get older I give more credence to the thought or hope of more than the physical.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Stay awake and don’t panic! Do what got us here. Talk to people’s humanity and focus locally. Start at the local level of politics and policy and build it solidly from there.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My daughter. Full stop.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That we don’t like sports. Those who foster this stereotype should come to the Duplex on a Saturday or Sunday and see how many fans and followers of the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and the NCAA we have.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
Tie: “My Own Private Idaho” and “Beautiful Thing”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Seniority. A lot of really good ideas and strong leaders are missed along the way waiting for them to climb through the ranks.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
A Michelin star.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That the life I currently have was possible. That acceptance in the workplace and community would happen, best friends would be made and kept, becoming a father would be an option and being married to someone would be old hat.
I came here to do what I needed to do, finish college and work in politics. I stay because it’s home. I’m a New Yorker and you know how we can be about our city, but Washington is my city now. It’s where my friends are, my passions are and most of all it’s where the people I love are.