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‘Drag Race’ season 11 champ Yvie on her tour, sisters, adventures, love life and more

Oddly and arch rival Silky now close as ‘sister



Yvie Oddly, gay news, Washington Blade
Yvie Oddly says life has been insane — but in a good way — since winning ‘Drag Race’ this year. (Photo by Marco Orando)

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race: Werq the World Tour’

Sunday, Oct. 27

8 p.m.

The Anthem

901 Wharf St., S.W.


Yvie Oddly with RuPaul at the season finale where she was named America’s Next Drag Superstar. (Screen capture via VH1 broadcast)

Boasting three season winners (Aquaria, Violet Chachki and Yvie Oddly), the 2019 “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Werq the World Tour” features one of the stronger lineups the franchise has ever launched.

Hosted by Michelle Visage, a “Drag Race” legend in her own right at the judge’s table, the show features “mission leader” Asia O’Hara on a journey to save the universe with the help of Detox, Monet Exchange, Naomi Smalls, Plastique, Kameron Michaels and Vanessa “Vanjie” Mateo. The tour comes to Washington Sunday night.

Yvie (aka Jovan Bridges), the 26-year-old 2019/season 11 “Drag Race” champ, unleashed her throaty trademark cackle liberally during a phone interview last week from Williamsville, N.Y. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How’s the tour going so far?

YVIE ODDLY: It’s really fun. It’s definitely been a challenge just trying to adapt my drag to a whole other thing on a crazy, massive scale, but I feel like I finally got the swing of things and it’s just a stellar show. It’s so much fun to be a part of. I love the girls, I love the people we work with and they feed me well (laughs).

BLADE: Any queens from other seasons you didn’t know before you’ve bonded with?

YVIE: Well, basically the whole cast. Up to this point, I’d only had the pleasure of working with Vanjie and Plastique so it’s been really cool to get one-on-one tme and hang out with a lot of the girls. I’d say the people I’ve probably gotten to know the best so far would be, like Naomi is really cool. I never would have imagined being friends with a pair of legs (laughs). I’ve also gotten along really well with Detox so far. I’m enjoying this experience.

BLADE: You’re also touring with two past season winners. Is there any unspoken deference to you three from the other girls?

YVIE: I mean I’d like to think that I could probably get away with more shit if I wanted to (laughs). Uh, but no. It really does just feel like all of the girls, as much as the competition is the thing that elevated our careers to this point and in a way brought us all together, that’s all behind us know and we’re just working queens all in the same field, all trying to make a living.

BLADE: What’s the drama meter like on tour vs. on the show? I’m sure you’re gonna say you’re all getting along great but c’mon — it’s drag, there has to be some drama right?

YVIE: It literally has been like zero. Sorry to be the wet blanket. There’s something about being in a competition environment and not having anybody you can talk to at home, not having a phone and being put in isolation that really will just rattle up the most human emotions out of everybody. When you’re in that environment, it’s super volatile at points, but on tour, we’re all just working queens. There literally hasn’t been almost anything.

BLADE: There was some controversy earlier this year when Monet X Change was fired from the “Haters Roast: the Shady Tour” after she bailed one of the dates to accept an offer from Madonna. How has this tour promoter (Voss) been like to work with for you and what would you do if Madonna called you to be ditch the tour to be in one of her videos?

YVIE: I love working with Voss. They’ve been producing things for a very long time and have the capability to put on some of the craziest, biggest shows and spectacles and they just treat me nice, they treat me well, that’s why I’m here. The Madonna video, that depends, is she asking me?

BLADE: Sorry, this is just hypothetical.

YVIE: Well that’s why I love working with Voss. I would never have to leave a tour to work on a Madonna video. They want my career to be as beautiful and blossoming as possible so they’d figure out a way to make it work.

BLADE: Did anything jump out at you watching your season on TV vs. how it felt in the moment?

YVIE: No. I typically have a pretty good idea of what’s going on around me at all moments (laughs). So literally the only thing that was surprising was hearing the other girl’s confessionals. That’s the only thing I wasn’t in the room for.

BLADE: You were quite abrasive at times. You said you were trying to be helpful but some were offended. Do you regret any of it?

YVIE: I don’t care whether or not I came across as abrasive. It’s something that many people value and many people don’t and that’s all on their plates. I just wanted to live authentically especially when I saw how inauthentic others were being and if it’s abrasive to tell the truth in a world that’s more comfortable telling lies outright then so be it, let me be that abrasive bitch.

BLADE: What was it like performing at Pride in Denver (your home town) fresh off your win in June?

YVIE: That was actually unimaginable. It felt like coming home from war. I know that’s a really intense comparison, but I had worked so hard to get on “Drag Race” to get my career to that point and I never thought, there’s one part of me that never really thought about what it would feel like to win or to lose or what any of it would feel like regardless. So after it all hit, so coming back home after making my city proud and being only the second person from Denver on the show I felt like what I imagine sports teams feel like when they win their championships (laughs).

BLADE: Are you still based in Denver?

YVIE: Yes I am.

BLADE: Do you plan to stay or are you considering moving to one of the coasts?

YVIE: I’m not moving to one of the coasts … at least as it stands right now, I really like the idea of being home when I’m home so if I’m only ever home for short amounts of time, then Denver is where I want to be.

BLADE: Overall what’s life been like since you won?

YVIE: It’s been like I’ve died and been reborn a thousands times. It really has. Not only am I trying so many different things that never thought I would try but I wake up literally in a different city every day, meet a whole bunch of new people every day and just have some of the most insane experiences, so I feel like since getting on “Drag Race” and definitely since airing and 100 percent since winning, I feel like every day is a crazy-ass rebirth (laughs).

BLADE: I’m trying to think how to ask this diplomatically: you have so much insane flexibility in your performances. Does that come in handy in your, um, romantic life or is it just for stage?

YVIE: (laughs) Unfortunately not. You know that whole adage about ladies in the street vs. in the sheets? I’m a freak on the streets and a blouse in the sheets.

BLADE: Your lip sync against Brooke Lynn Hytes in episode eight was so mind-bogglingly epic. What was it like in the moment? Did you realize she was really turning it out as well? And how did you feel when you found out you were both saved?

YVIE: I definitely was hyper focused on delivering the best performance I could, so while I didn’t necessarily see Brooke Lynn during any of our lip sync except for maybe one split second here or there, there’s something to be said about the energy of going and fighting for your chance to stay and fighting for your chance to continue being seen that just flips a switch on in you and Brooke Lynn up until that point was already the fiercest competitor around and the one person I really didn’t want to have to lip sync against, so when both of us were called for the bottom, I could just feel the energy going full throttle. I could feel Brooke Lynn fighting to stay too and I knew I had to put up a damn good fight if I wanted to be there beside her. That being said, I feel like the fans sometimes get into this mindset, like, “Oh it’s obviously going to be a double save” or, “These things are predictable,” to them but when we were there on that stage, I never even considered like the possibility of a double save. I just considered was I good enough to beat her, was I good enough to secure my place in this competition, and if not, am I ready to pack my bags? So getting called at the same time felt like some strange act of God, like some weird miracle, like, “Oh yeah, by the way, this doesn’t ever happen but merry Christmas.”

BLADE: How are you and Silky now? That was such a “Drag Race” rivalry for the ages.

YVIE: I mean Silky is probably one of the girls I’m closer to from the show just ‘cause we did go through so much shit with each other in the experience itself and then having to watch the fans relive that in a way, so even though I only ever get to see her occasionally, she’s my sister.

BLADE: You drew a lot of ire for your selfie policy. Sorry if I missed some of it, but was it more about you being exhausted after a show or did you not think it was fair to be taking a bunch of selfies after a show to the people who had paid for the meet and greet?

YVIE: My thinking on it is that I didn’t want people to be selfish for me. It was always about the fact that regardless of whether it’s for money or for my body or for whatever reason, if somebody says no, you just have to be respectful of that and I was getting so many people who started to get to a really creepy, unsettling level when I would tell them no. They would follow me back to my hotel room, they would like be berating me because they felt they deserved something for having watched me on TV (laughs). It’s just not how I feel. So when I made the initial tweets, it was out of frustration of people not listening to that. It was mostly because I’m tired, I’m fucking exhausted after a show, and people would rather believe it’s about money or it’s about me being some spoiled diva who wants all the fame fortune and none of the work that goes into it when really I never wanted fame and fortune, I wanted to be an artist and I feel like that’s who fans appreciate and respect. I’ve had plenty of people who love the hugs I’ve ben giving out (laughs) in place of bullshit selfies, which will just fade away into a timeline of, “Look at me and vaidate my life.”

BLADE: Bianca del Rio …. (cuts off; Bianca criticized Yvie’s policy)

YVIE: That grumpy old bitch. Whatever. That’s why I was shocked. I wasn’t shocked by fans being upset by what I said but I was shocked when she and a few other queens kind of jumped on the bandwagon because they chose to believe the most (inaudible) part about it and being a part of “Drag Race,” there’s always a deeper level that not everybody is going to read into or will even want to read into sympathetically and being like, “This life is hard.” She turns down photos with fans as well, instead of being, “Life is hard, sometime it’s OK to say no,” she was like this spoiled bitch who doesn’t want to take any photos but wants fame and fortune and she wants your money. So good on her, she can give as much terrible life advice as she wants.

BLADE: You said on the show because of your (genetic connective tissue disorder) condition you won’t be able to do drag forever. Any idea how long you might have for this? And what would you be doing if not drag?

YVIE: If I wasn’t doing drag, I’d still be creating. I was an artist before I found the medium of drag and I’ll be an artist afterwards. I have to create to survive, that’s just how I feel, the only way that I feel like I’m living my life authentically so I have had to think about that and remind myself that even if I can’t do things the way I’m doing them now, there is always a future, however I don’t have a timeline. … It’s just some days my body is there for me and some days it’s not and I know that if I keep doing drag the way I do it right now, there’s going to be a lot more of those not days.

BLADE: How long did it take to film season 11? 

YVIE: It’s like a regular filming schedule, Monday-Friday, all hours of the day. I honestly don’t remember how long I was there for the whole time. I know it takes a few days to film an episode.

BLADE: Did you feel pressed for time during the competition?

YVIE: No. Only during the time challenges when they make it quite apparent how little you have of anything.

BLADE: Have you been watching “Drag Race U.K.”?

YVIE: Yes I have.

BLADE: Any thoughts or favorites?

YVIE: Um, it’s too early for me to call favorites, especially since what their queens offer is such a different dynamic from what we’ve seen in the U.S. seasons. However I’m just in love with some of the camp and wit that goes into their drag. I love a stupid bitch.

BLADE: It was announced you were gonna have your own World of Wonder show. When can we look for that?

YVIE: It’s actually called “Yvie’s Odd School” and it’s already out on the World of Wonder plus app. I think we’re like four episodes deep. Go check it out.

BLADE: You’ve released several singles. Would you like to establish a long-running music career?

YVIE: I mean it’s something I’d never considered prior to “Drag Race” but I’ve really enjoyed exploring it so it’s definitely one of the routes I’d like to take artistically.

BLADE: Had you auditioned before you got on “Drag Race”?

YVIE: It was my third time. The old third time’s the charm thing.

BLADE: Who was your favorite celebrity guest judge?

YVIE: Either Elvira — because she’s like everything, or Troye Sivan, because he saw my penis.

BLADE: Was that on the show? I don’t remember that.

YVIE: I think he said it on “Untucked.”

BLADE: Hmmmm, how did that happen? You weren’t shy about parading it around.

YVIE: I mean, it wasn’t a parade necessarily. I only had a certain amount of time to get my whole body pink and I didn’t have time when you’re under those constraints, you just don’t have time for decency or shyness (laughs). I guess he was just watching through one of those mirrors or something.

One of Yvie’s memorable season 11 looks. (Screen capture via VH1 broadcast)

BLADE: Are you just naturally super thin or do you work out and watch your diet?

YVIE: I mean I live a super active lifestyle and always have. Way more active than honestly I probably should be. But I eat like crap (laughs) and my only exercise is drag

BLADE: Are you seeing anybody? What’s it like trying to date when you’re on the road so much?

YVIE: I actually have been dating the same guy since literally the week before our show started airing. I feel like I’ve been lucky because I’ve gotten to enter a relationship in the unique context of he didn’t know me before, so he doesn’t have any claims to my previous identity or what I was like before “Drag Race” and he didn’t come to know me through the medium or through the time when I was on TV, so he like never had any like fan girl moment or anything, he was there with me fright from the beginning, so it’s been magical to kind of get to know somebody authentically as myself and just ride this whole experience with him. To answer your second part, yes, it’s super hard.

BLADE: Does he live in Denver?

YVIE: That’s what makes it even harder. He moved to Boston to go to law school like right when I left for tour. I will be seeing him shortly.

BLADE: Is his name out there publicly?

YVIE: I mean, I’m not ashamed of him, but I don’t want to put him on blast like that.

BLADE: Thanks and good luck with the tour and your other endeavors, this was fun.

YVIE: Thank you darling. 

Yvie Oddly (Photo by Marco Orlando)

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Taste of Pride celebrates LGBTQ and allied restaurants

Weeklong event will feature local eateries and bars



Kareem Queeman, known as Mr. Bake, will headline the opening event for Taste of Pride.

Get ready to celebrate LGBTQ-owned, managed, and allied restaurants at Taste of Pride from Oct. 2-8. 

The weeklong event is a new initiative by Capital Pride Alliance. In 2021, the organization put on a single-day brunch event in June at LGBTQ and allied restaurants, but this is the first weeklong iteration. 

About 15 local restaurants and bars are set to participate, including As You Are, Shaw’s Tavern, Jane Jane, and Code Red. There’s also an opening party on Monday, Oct. 2 featuring food and drink vendors without a traditional brick-and-mortar space, like Suga Chef and Vegan Junk Food. 

Taste of Pride will raise funds for the Pride365 fund, which supports local LGBTQ organizations. There will be a three-course prix fixe menu at several of the participating locations, with lunch and brunch menus offered at $30, and dinner menus offered at $40 or $55. 

Kareem Queeman, known as Mr. Bake, will be headlining the opening event on the evening of Oct. 2 at Lost Generation Brewery. Queeman, the founder and owner of the renowned bakery Mr. Bake Sweets and a James Beard Award semi-finalist, said he’s excited to spotlight LGBTQ chefs and mixologists. 

Queeman said he’s proud to be a part of bringing queer culinary experts together to celebrate the work they’ve all done and discuss what changes need to come to the industry — there will be a panel discussion on Oct. 2 covering those topics. LGBTQ chefs have long gone unnoticed, he said, despite the innovative work they’ve done. 

“Queers have been in the industry doing the work for a very long time and we just haven’t really gotten that acknowledgment,” Queeman said. 

Providing this space for LGBTQ people in the restaurant industry is paramount to giving a sense of power and ownership in the work they do, Queeman said. He wishes there was this kind of space for him when he was coming up as a chef when he was younger. 

Taste of Pride is also a great opportunity for LGBTQ people looking to get into the industry to find safe spaces to work that are run by queer people, Queeman said. 

Rob Heim, the general manager at Shaw’s Tavern, said he’s looking forward to being a part of the event. And new fall menu items at Shaw’s Tavern will be available during Taste of Pride, which he’s thrilled to showcase. 

“I was really excited to help out and participate,” he said. “It’s a great idea.” 

The smaller number of participating restaurants in Taste of Pride is intentional, said Brandon Bayton, a volunteer executive producer organizing Taste of Pride. It’s so each restaurant can be well-represented during the week, and different restaurants will be highlighted on social media on separate days. Capital Pride Alliance is also partnering with influencers to get the word out. 

From left, food from 801 Restaurant and Bar and a drink from Code Red. (Code Red photo by Michael Emond; photos courtesy of Capital Pride Alliance)

Visibility — all year long 

It’s important to have events like Taste of Pride outside of June, Bayton said. 

“We exist 365 days,” Bayton said. “So we need to make sure that we continue the celebration and invite others to celebrate with us and just be authentically ourselves. We enjoy and do a lot of things other people do. There’s no reason why we should just be constrained to one month.”

Queeman agrees. His identity as a queer Black man doesn’t stop or start at any given month. 

“I’m not just a queer or gay man in June or I’m not just a Black man in February,” he said. 

And food is a major intersection that all people of all identities enjoy, Bayton said. It’s a simple way to bring people together. 

“We do the exact same things that everyone else does,” Bayton said. “We all eat. We all love to eat.” 

Taste of Pride will run from Oct. 2-8. For more information and to make reservations, visit

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Hip-Hop’s complicated history with queer representation

At 50, experts say the genre still doesn’t fully welcome LGBTQ inclusion



Rapper Lil Nas X faced backlash for his music video ‘Montero,’ but it debuted atop the Billboard 100.

I didn’t really start listening to rap until my college years. Like many queer Black children who grow up in the closet, shielded by puritanical Christianity from the beauty of a diverse world, I longed to be myself. But the affirming references I could pull from — in moments of solitude away from the wrath and disdain of family and friends — were in theater and pop music.

The soundtrack to my teenage years was an endless playlist of pop divas like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, whose lyrics encouraged me to sashay my hips anytime I strutted through a long stretch of corridor.

I was also obsessed with the consuming presence of powerful singers like Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, and the hypnosis that was Chaka Khan. My childhood, an extrapolation of Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays spent in church groups, choir practices, and worship services, necessitated that I be a fan of throaty, from-the-stomach singing. But something about the way these artists presented themselves warmed my queer little heart. LaBelle wore avant garde geometric hairdos paired with heavily shoulder-padded blazers. Houston loved an elegant slender gown. And Khan? It was the voluminous red mane that gently caressed her lower back for me. 

Listening to rap music in college was a political experience. My sociology classes politicized me and so it was only natural that I listened to rap music that expressed trauma, joy, and hope in the Black experience. However, I felt disconnected from the music because of a dearth of queer representation in the genre. 

Nevertheless, groups like Outkast felt nostalgic. While delivering hedonistic lyrics at lightning speed, André 3000 — one half of the rap duo — mesmerized with his sleek, shoulder-length silk pressed hair and colorful, flowing shirts and trousers — a style that could be translated as “gender-bending.” Despite the patriarchal presentation rampant in rap and Hip-Hop, Andr​​é 30000 represented to me, a kind of rebellious self-expression that I so badly wanted to emulate but couldn’t because of the psychological confines of my conservative upbringing. 

My discovery of Outkast was also sobering because it was a stark reminder of how queerness is also often used as an aesthetic in Hip-Hop while actual queer people are shunned, rebuked, and mocked. Queer people in Hip-Hop are like backstage wingmen, crucial to the development of the show but never important enough to make a curtain call. 

As Hip-Hop celebrates 50 years since its inception in New York City, I am filled with joy because it’s been half a century of Black people owning their narratives and driving the culture. But it’s fair to ask: At whose expense? 

A viral 2020 video shows rapper Boosie BadAzz, famed for hits like “Set It Off” and “Wipe Me Down,” rebuking NBA star Dwayne Wade and award-winning actress Gabrielle Union-Wade for publicly supporting their then-12-year-old daughter after she came out as transgender. 

“Don’t cut his dick off, bro,” said BadAzz with furrowed eyebrows and a gaze that kept turning away from the camera, revealing his tarnished diamond studs. “Don’t dress him as a woman dawg, he’s 12 years. He’s not up there yet.” 

The responses from both Wade and Union-Wade were a mixture of swift, sarcastically light-hearted, and hopeful.

“Sorry Boosie,” Union-Wade said to an audience during a live podcast appearance at Live Talks Los Angeles. “He’s so preoccupied, it’s almost like, ‘thou doth protest too much, Little Boos.’ You’ve got a lot of dick on your mind.”

Wade also appeared on an episode of podcast, “I AM ATHLETE,” and looked directly into the camera.

“Boosie, all the people who got something to say, J-Boogie who just came out with [something] recently, all the people who got something to say about my kids,” he said. “I thank you because you’re allowing the conversation to keep going forward because you know what? You might not have the answers today, I might not have the answers, but we’re growing from all these conversations.” 

This exchange between the Wades and BadAzz highlights the complicated relationship between Black LGBTQ individuals and allies and the greater Hip-Hop and rap genres and communities. While Black queer aesthetics have long informed self-expression in Hip-Hop, rappers have disparaged queerness through song lyrics and in interviews, or online rants like BadAzz, outside the recording studio. 

And despite LGBTQ rappers like Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Lil Nas X, and Saucy Santana achieving mainstream success, much work lies ahead to heal the trauma that persists from Hip-Hop’s history of  patriarchy and homophobia. 

“‘Progression’ will always be relative and subjective based on one’s positionality,” said Dr. Melvin Williams said in an email. Williams is an associate professor of communication and media studies at Pace University. “Hip-hop has traditionally been in conversation with queer and non-normative sexualities and included LGBTQ+ people in the shaping of its cultural signifiers behind the scenes as choreographers, songwriters, make-up artists, set designers, and other roles stereotypically attributed to queer culture.”

“Although Hip-Hop incorporates queerness in their ethos, ideas, and trends, it does not privilege the prospect of an out LGBTQ+ rapper. Such reservations position LGBTQ+ people as mere labor in Hip-Hop’s behind-the-scenes cultivation, but not as rap performers in its mainstream distribution,” he added. 

This is especially true for Queen Latifah and DaBrat who existed in the genre for decades but didn’t publicly come out until 2021. Still, both faced backlash from the Black community for daring to challenge gender roles and expectations. 

Queen Latifah dodged questions about her sexuality for years before acknowledging her partner and their son in 2021. (Photo by DFree via Bigstock)

Lil Nas X also faced backlash for his music video “Montero” with satanic references, including one in which he slides down a pole and gives a character representing the devil a lap dance. Conservatives such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem accused him of trying to scandalize children. 

“You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am,” Nas X said in a note that accompanied “Montero.” The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”

Regardless, “Montero” debuted atop the Billboard 100. 

In an article published in “Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society,” scholar C. Riley Snorton posited that celebrating queer visibility in mainstream media could be a problem as this kind of praise relies on artists presenting in acceptable forms of gender and sexuality expression and encourages representation that is “read alongside…perceptions of Hip-Hop as a site of Black misogyny and homophobia.” 

In the case of Frank Ocean, who came out in 2012 prior to the release of his album “Channel Orange,” his reception was warmer than most queer Hip-Hop artists because his style of music is singing, as opposed to rapping. Because of this, his music was viewed more as R’n’B or pop. 

“Frank Ocean ain’t no rapper. He’s a singer. It’s acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine,” rapper Snoop Dogg told the Guardian in 2013. “It’s like a football team. You can’t be in a locker room full of motherfucking tough-ass dudes, then all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, man, I like you.’ You know, that’s going to be tough.”

So what’s the solution for queer people in Hip-Hop? Digital media.

Williams, the Pace University professor, says that being divorced from record labels allows queer artists to be independent and distribute their music globally on their own terms. 

“We witnessed this fact with artists such as Azealia Banks, Cakes Da Killa, Fly Young Red, Kevin Abstract, iLoveMakonnen, Lil Nas X, Mykki Blanco, and Saucy Santana, as well as legacy LGBTQ Hip-Hop acts like Big Freeda, DeepDickCollective, and Le1f,” he said. “The music industry has experienced an increasingly mobilized market due to the rise of digital media, social networking platforms, and streaming services.”

“More importantly, Black queer Hip-Hop artists are historicizing LGBTQ+ contributions and perspectives in documentaries, films, news specials, public forums, and podcasts. Ultimately, queer people engaging in Hip-Hop is a revolutionary act, and it remains vital for LGBTQ+ Hip-Hoppers to highlight their cultural contributions and share their histories,” he added. 

(Hip-Hop pioneers Public Enemy and Ice-T will headline The National Celebration of Hip-Hop, free concerts at the West Potomac Park on the National Mall in D.C. on Oct. 6 and 7.)

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Cuisine and culture come together at The Square

D.C.’s newest food hall highlights Spanish flavors



(Photo by Scott Suchman)

Downtown got a bit tastier when “the next generation of food halls” opened its doors on Tuesday near the Farragut West Metro stop. Dubbed The Square, its half-dozen debut stalls are a Spanish-flecked mix of D.C. favorites, new concepts, and vendor-collaborative spirit.

After two years of planning – and teasing some big-name chefs – the market is, according to the owners, “where cuisine, culture, and community are woven together.”

Behind this ambitious project with lofty aims are Richie Brandenburg, who had a hand in creating Union Market and Rubén García, a creative director of the José Andrés Group who also was part of the team of Mercado Little Spain, the fairly new Spanish-themed Andres food hall in Hudson Yards.

Food halls have come a long way since the new Union Market awakened the concept a decade ago. Instead of simply rows of vendors in parallel lines, The Square has a new business model and perspective. This food hall shares revenue between the owners and its chef partners. Vendors are encouraged to collaborate, using one software system, and purchasing raw materials and liquor at scale together.

“Our goal was two-fold: to create a best-in-class hospitality offering with delicious foods for our guests; and behind the scenes, create the strong, complex infrastructure needed to nurture both young chefs and seasoned professionals, startups, and innovation within our industry,” says Brandenburg.

The Square has embraced a more chef-forward methodology, given that the founders/owners themselves are chefs. They’re bringing together a diverse mix of new talent and longtime favorites to connect, offer guidance to each other, and make the market into a destination. 

(Photos by Scott Suchman)

The first phase of The Square premiered this week. This phase encapsulates a selection of original concepts from well-known local chefs and business owners, and includes:

• Cashion’s Rendezvous – Oysters, crab cakes, and cocktails, from the owners of D.C. institutions and now-closed Cashion’s Eat Place and Johnny’s Half-Shell (Ann Cashion and John Fulchino).

• Jamón Jamón – Flamenco-forward food with hand-cut jamón Iberico, queso, and croquetas, sourced by García himself.

• Brasa – Grilled sausages and veggies are the stars here. Chef García oversees this Spanish street-food stall as well.

 Taqueria Xochi – Birria, guisado, and other street tacos, plus margs. Named after the ruins of Xochitecatl in Central Mexico, and from a Jose Andres alum.

• Yaocho – Fried chicken, juices, sweets, and libations.

• Junge’s – Churros and soft serve ice cream. Brandenburg and García both have a hand in this stall.

• Atrium Bar – The central watering hole for drinks. Atrium Bar serves cocktails, wine, and beer curated by The Square’s Beverage Director Owen Thompson.

“Having been part of Jose Andres’s restaurant group and getting to know Ruben and Richie, it’s amazing to see how their values align with ours at Taqueria Xochi. Seeing all these incredible chefs heading into Square feels like a full-circle moment,” said Geraldine Mendoza of Taqueria Xochi.

Slated for fall 2023, the next round of openings includes Flora Pizzeria, Cebicheria Chalaca, KIYOMI Sushi by Uchi, Shoals Market (a retail hub), and more. Additionally, chef Rubén García’s Spanish restaurant, Casa Teresa, will soon open next door to The Square.

The Square is just one of a handful of new food halls blossoming in and around D.C. Up in Brentwood, Md., miXt Food Hall is an art-adjacent space with tacos, a year-round fresh market, coffee, and beer. Across from Union Market is La Cosecha, a Latin marketplace with everything from street food to a Michelin starred restaurant and a festive vibe. Closer to The Square is Western Market by GW University, which opened in late 2021 with a buzzy, relaxed style.

For now, the Square is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Square plans to open on weekends and extend hours to offer dinner service in the coming months. A few alfresco seats will accompany the hall.

(Photo by Scott Suchman)
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