I’m here to report back. Last month I started out my three-part series on dating in D.C. The first part of the series focused on the apps. And while I went out on a few honest-to-god dates, the whole venture wasn’t all that successful. What I really discovered was that with all the various apps — Chappy, Tinder, Hinge, whatever — it was more or less the same guys. It all depends on the app, too. On one, a guy opens with his love of opera, on another I noticed the same guy looking to get ‘bred.’
People are complex, I guess. Plus, I had a sneaking suspicion that as someone who is over 40, I may have aged out of some people’s search criteria. Oh well, on to the next. And that next was going out on the town on my own to three gay bars I normally don’t visit.
Going out solo seems to be something people just don’t do anymore. What with the advent of gay liberation, the aforementioned apps, and all sorts of other ways to meet guys, it seems people, unless they are just traveling through, aren’t willing to put themselves out there in a way that makes them conspicuous or vulnerable.
Starting off, I got picked up outside of Trade on 14th Street on Saturday around 9 p.m. or so. The Uber driver immediately saw me and asked if I was “calling it a night.” So I guess I wasn’t exactly exuding excitement and confidence. And maybe I picked the wrong night for it. Hearing all about parties at Trade that were happening later on and a bit past my bedtime — CTRL, Peach Pit, something called “Bush Meat” — I was nevertheless undeterred.
Orchid: First off was Orchid on Barracks Row. I never really get over to this side of town. And even though the area once had a thriving gay scene, it’s not often thought of now as a gay going out destination. Orchid itself was a pretty classy spot — great music, a fantastic interior with a long, marble bar. I had a martini because it just looked like a drink you should have while sitting at a marble bar. Unfortunately, it was quiet. There was a woman un-ironically wearing a ‘Navy Mom’ sweatshirt. I finished my martini and left.
The Fireplace: Getting picked up in Eastern Market, the driver asked my destination and asked if I was going to “the Firetrap.” “No, the FirePLACE,” thinking he had just misread it. “Well, that’s we called it back in the day,” he said back to me. It turns out my Uber driver, also from a small town in Arkansas, had lived in D.C. as a gay man since the 70s. And in our shared car ride, Nick gave me the history of gay life in D.C. — bars and people long since gone. When we arrived at the Fireplace, Nick turned off his app and came in to have a drink with me.
We sat for a while and chatted. If you know the Fireplace at all, you know that it caters to a largely African-American crowd. I was enamored with it. Nick and I talked about how it is perhaps the most authentic queer space in the city. No pretense, stiff drinks, good music — the whole place had a real signature to it. But like the previous bar, no one I know really thinks about it. It also finds itself in a part of town that used to have a larger queer bar scene. Although the place was packed, both the first and second floors, I asked the bartender why the Fireplace wasn’t more popular. “I’m not sure we want everyone here,” he said. The bar was more about community than marketing. And who could blame them. A roving band of Sunday kickballers or even, god forbid, a swarm of bachelorette parties can drastically alter a bar’s edge and vibe. It was no wonder they wanted to protect their corner.
Larry’s: My last stop of the night was Larry’s on 18th. Larry’s put me closer to home and, like the Fireplace, the bar was full.
I was home around midnight. And though I did strike out on the romantic front, I had fun. More so if I had gone out with friends? Well, maybe. It was a different kind of fun. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have gotten to know Nick, or even been able to convince a group to try Barrack’s Row or even the Fireplace. And striking out alone, and purposefully keeping my phone in my pocket, I was more open to meeting new faces and exploring new spaces.
Next up in this series — volunteering. What will face-to-face interactions outside of the bars and away from alcohol produce? Stay tuned.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.