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Necessity mothers invention for D.C. queer businesses in pandemic era

Online drag bingo, free home delivery among tactics employed by resourceful locals

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covid-19 lockdown, gay D.C., gay news, Washington Blade
Goldie Grigio serves a customer at Duplex Diner. (Blade photo by Michael Lavers)

With no end in sight of the COVID-19 lockdown, spotty testing and epidemiologists saying a vaccine is likely a year off, Washington’s LGBTQ entertainers and entrepreneurs are getting creative about how to forge ahead in the pandemic’s wake.

Like many restaurants, Duplex Diner (2004 18th St., N.W./duplexdiner.com) is soldiering on with a closed dining room and curbside service. Resident drag queen Goldie Grigio (aka Andrew Bair) works two Friday nights per month from 6-7:30 at the pick-up window (Venmo: @goldiegrigio) keeping, of course, at least six feet away. Customers pay online in advance.

“She’s kind of our resident drag queen and she does lots of different things so we thought this was a fun way to tie in with the viewing party for ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’” says Duplex manager Kelly Laczko, a lesbian who’s worked there for eight years, including five as manager.

Most of the Diner’s 27 employees (about 60 percent of whom are LGBT, Laczko says) have been laid off. Laczko and five others are rotating to fill current shifts. Duplex is open Monday-Saturday for dinner and Saturday and Sunday all day for brunch (no dinner on Sunday nights).

Prior to the pandemic, the diner didn’t have a large carryout component but had added Uber Eats and GrubHub within the last year. Most of the menu, save about 12 items that are not conducive to takeout, are available. Drinks and alcohol are also available.

“Things have been surprisingly good,” Laczko says. “We’ve had so much love from the community and people have been amazing. We’ve gotten a lot of support so far. We are very lucky.”

As for coronavirus concerns, Laczko says it’s something she’s hyper aware of. With 2,927 confirmed cases in the District and 105 COVID-19 deaths as of this week, she’s aware of the potential danger.

“Obviously it’s stressful,” she says. “I try not to be in my head too much about it. All of the staff, we’re taking all the precautions — wearing masks and gloves, washing our hands constantly, just trying to be as safe as possible. Nobody comes into the building except those of us who work here.”

Goldie Grigio (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Drag bingo moves online

Long-time D.C.-area drag performer Regina Jozet Adams (aka Richard Armstrong) has moved her weekly drag bingo events for Freddie’s Beach Bar and The Brass Tap (locations in Annapolis and Baltimore) totally online with the bar owners’ blessings. She has an intact day job in manufacturing but knows many area drag queens who performed full-time who are hurting.

“As a show director, I’m concerned about my girls not being able to work,” she says. “It’s hard for me to sit back when I see my girls not able to make any money.”

The Brass Tap bingo nights, which feature mostly straight crowds under normal circumstances, had just started in October and were still gaining steam but the Freddie’s one — which, perhaps surprisingly, drew about a 60 percent straight crowd — was popular, Adams says.

She hostesses the shows with Jalah Nicole at the Brass Tap and Ophelia Bottoms at Freddie’s and her drag daughter, Ashlee Jozet Adams at both locations.

There were logistical hurdles in getting the operation set up online — a wi-fi boost, two laptops, her TV and phone in addition to performance space in her living room. She gets the bingo cards online that allow her to see the cards of those playing. She and her girls intersperse games of bingo with lip sync performances. She says internet delay can be “pretty intense” at times and slows down the proceedings.

Adams concedes some of the magic of live performance is lost by going virtual but bar owners and patrons spoke up and said they wanted to continue during lockdown. So far the Freddie’s virtual bingo attracts about 10 players weekly. The Brass Tap averages just a few. It’s $5 to play.
Adams says doing the games online is fine, but she worries it may erode patronage when things get back to normal.

“I’ve been in the business since 1988 so I’ve seen it change quite dramatically,” she says. “Of course initially people will be excited to come back to the clubs once the lockdown lifts, but once the novelty of that wears off, I could see us losing another 5-10 percent of people who just want to sit at home and watch drag on their computer the same way we lost about 20 percent when ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ took off and people could just sit at home and get their drag fix. We’ve already had people say, ‘You’re gonna keep doing this, right?’”

Freddie Lutz, long-time owner of Freddie’s, has been posting comical fashion videos on his social media. He’s closed at both Freddie’s and Federico Ristorante Italiano just down the street in Crystal City, Va., but remains hopeful.

“One loan just came through today,” he said by phone last week. “We’re gonna try to get people back in some aspect or another soon.”

Miss Pixie soldiers on

Merchandise at Miss Pixie’s in early March, just before the lockdown. (Blade file photo)

Miss Pixie (i.e. Pixie Windsor) of Miss Pixie’s Furnishings and Whatnot (1626 14th St., N.W./misspixies.com) is also keeping busy and says things are, “Good, good, good.”

Though she had to furlough her staff of 10 and says her sales overall are down 88 percent, she has been keeping busy working in the shop between five-seven hours daily, selling things on social media (her Instagram, especially, has been popular) and through her display window. She’s offering free deliveries throughout the region (“I just drove a 10-inch brass bowl out to Centreville, Va.,” she says) and just does her best to practice safe social distancing.

“I’m surprised, the first couple of days of this, I was pulling everything out of closets thinking I’ll finally have a month or two to go through everything, then we got busy, so it’s not a bad problem. … It’s a different kind of way to work.”

She hasn’t been able to go to auctions — her usual source of inventory — but had plenty on hand and in storage to keep things going. She also has vendors who are eager to supply her with items should the pickings get slim.

“Another guy who’s a picker for me, he just called me today and said, ‘I got a whole warehouse full, you just tell me,’ but I’m gonna wait ’til it thins out a little here first,” Pixie, who’s bi, says.

She’s on unemployment but says she can maintain her rent if she sells $1,000 per day. Her landlord balked at her suggestion of a free month. A normal Saturday pre-pandemic, she’d sell between $10,000-20,000 worth of merchandise. She sells antiques, second-hand furniture, household tchotchkes, collectibles, dishware and more. She’s applied for small business aid but received nothing thus far. But no city interference so far either.

“I’ve been kind of waiting for it but I haven’t had anything yet,” she says. “I’ve been doing a lot of deliveries but I’m not out in the big pink van. I have thought, ‘Oh my God, what am I gonna say I’m doing if I get pulled over.’ But all my deliveries are contact free. I call them up, they come out to the curb. I’m kind of walking the line. I may hear something but so far so good.”

Shhhh, no talking!

Also moving to 100 percent virtual is today’s National Day of Silence, an annual GLSEN event celebrating its 25th anniversary that is a student-led protest of the “silencing and erasure of LGBTQ people.” Last year, nearly 8,000 gay/straight alliance clubs (GSAs) participated. This year, organizers predict the day of protest will be the largest-ever online gathering of LGBTQ youth.

Ordinarily students participating take a vow of silence for the day. But with school closed, Day of Silence this year will consist of social media campaigns, virtual meetings, artwork, videos and resource guides to “connect and empower LGBTQ youth.”

Christ Staley is a 17-year-old high school senior, lesbian and president of Spectrum, the GSA at her school, Monroe Woodbury High School, a school of 2,312 students in Central Valley, N.Y. Though she hasn’t seen a lot of anti-queer bullying in her school (she’s been out since seventh grade), she says it’s still important for the 10-15 Spectrum students to have a presence. She was pleasantly surprised last year to see so much solidarity from teachers. So many requested ally stickers they ran out.

She says the April 24 event to her will feel successful if she and her fellow members are “just able to get the message out there that LGBTQ discrimination is prevalent and we should stand together to help end this.”

Find out more at glsen.org.

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Baltimore DJ on using music as a bridge to combat discrimination

Deezy brings high-energy show to the Admiral on Jan. 28

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DJ Deezy has hosted multiple events in D.C. and Baltimore. (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)

A Baltimore DJ will conclude a month of performances in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. clubs this Friday, Jan. 28, according to the artist’s management. DJ Deezy is set to perform at the Admiral in D.C. at 9 p.m. 

Since the year began, Deezy has hosted electric events at clubs such as Hawthorne DC, DuPont and the Baltimore Eagle Bar & Nightclub. 

The Washington Blade sat down with the DJ to discuss the course of her career. 

The beginning of DJ Deezy’s infatuation with music dates back to her childhood spent between her mother’s house in Baltimore City and her father’s house in the suburbs. 

In Baltimore, Deezy was exposed to the local rap and raw hip-hop scene that inspired her to embark on a rap career in high school. 

Concurrently, she was entrenched in Motown and classic rock by virtue of her singer, songwriter, and guitarist father Ron Daughton’s involvement in a classic rock band. He is a member of “The Dalton Gang” and was inducted into the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Before I embarked on my DJ journey, my father let me record ‘a little 16’ on his tape recorder,” said Deezy. “Eventually, he bought me a wireless microphone that I carried around with me to performances.”

Between her experience as a rapper and watching her father maneuver the classic rock music scene, Deezy acquired varying tastes in music that have influenced how she curates her sets today. 

She “specializes in open format vibes with spins from multiple genres including hip-hop, rap, circuit, and top 40s hits,” according to a summer 2021 press release from her management.

Deezy is also a proud member of the LGBTQ community — she identifies as a lesbian — and this also informs her approach to her work.

“I’m easily able to transition and rock the crowd because I can relate to many different backgrounds,” said Deezy. “I can DJ in places that are predominantly white, Black, or gay [and still do my job effortlessly].”

Centering community

Deezy values representation. Not only because she exists in a field dominated by men, but also because DJs who inhabit other identities aside from being men are less common in the industry. 

The scarcity of Black and lesbian DJs has prompted her to use her career as evidence that people who are different can attract audiences and succeed.

“I want to put us out there especially for Baltimore,” said Deezy. “I know that there’s Black lesbians out there doing the same thing as me, but why aren’t we getting [recognized]?”

In 2018, Deezy rented out a “Lez” lot at the Baltimore Pride block party where she set up a tent and played a set for the crowds tailgating around her. While entertaining them, she distributed her business cards — an act she believes yielded her the contact who eventually got her booked for a residency at the Baltimore Eagle.

While this was a step forward in her career, Deezy acknowledges that it wasn’t without challenges. She likened entering the Baltimore Eagle — traditionally a leather bar frequented predominantly by men —to navigating foreign territory. 

“When I first got there, I got funny looks,” she said. “There’s a lot of these guys who are like, ‘Why are you bringing a lesbian DJ to a gay bar?’”

But Deezy powered through her performance, lifted the crowd from its seats and “rocked the house [so that] no one will ever ask any questions again.” 

She admits that she’s an acquired taste but believes in her ability to play music infectious enough to draw anyone to the dance floor.  

“Feel how you want to feel about a Black lesbian DJ being in the gay bar,” said Deezy. “But music is a bridge that [will] connect us all, and you’ll forget about your original discrimination when you [experience] me.”

While Deezy has mostly performed in the DMV, she has also made appearances in Arizona where she hosted a family event and also in clubs in Atlanta and New York City. 

Her work has also attracted international attention and she was the cover star of  French publication Gmaro Magazine’s October 2021 issue

Looking to the future, Deezy’s goal is to be a tour DJ and play her sets around the world.

“I had a dream that Tamar Braxton approached me backstage at one of her concerts and asked me to be her tour DJ,” she said. “So, I’m manifesting this for myself.” 

In the meantime, Deezy will continue to liven up audiences in bars and clubs around the country while playing sets for musicians like Crystal Waters and RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrity drag queens like Alyssa Edwards, Plastique Tiara, La La Ri, Joey Jay and Eureka O’Hara — all of whom she has entertained alongside in the past. 

Outside the club, Deezy’s music can be heard in Shoe City where she created an eight-hour music mix split evenly between deep house and hip-hop and R&B. 

DJ Deezy (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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