The 19th annual Washington Blade Best Of awards arrive amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered so many of our perennial winners in this competition. Theater productions, cinemas, popular fundraising events remain shuttered; bars and restaurants operate at reduced capacity and struggle to remain afloat. COVID has upended our world in unprecedented ways. Just a year ago, the Blade was preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a gala party. Now such events are just a distant memory in the age of social distancing.
But amid the loss and heartbreak, there emerge stories of hope, heroism, and resilience. First responders, doctors, nurses and even grocery store clerks have stepped up and become heroes in 2020. Business owners got creative, moving to virtual operations, creating new products (face masks, hand sanitizer), and taking their business outside (restaurants, bars). Drag queens performed on Zoom and fitness instructors did the same. We adapted. The LGBTQ community has been through a pandemic before.
So here we celebrate the best of our LGBTQ community in Washington. We reduced our usual 100 categories to 40 given all the COVID closures and restrictions on nightlife and arts & entertainment events. About 4,000 nominations and 25,000 votes were cast in 40 categories for the 19th annual Best of awards. The Blade’s Stephen Rutgers coordinated the process. The photographers are credited throughout. This year’s contributing writers are Philip Van Slooten, Joey DiGuglielmo, and Kevin Naff. There will be no Best Of party this year, of course, but we will celebrate all the winners and nominees virtually in an online presentation at our website. We look forward to a raucous in-person celebration in 2021.
LOCAL HERO: RYAN MADDOCK
RUNNER UP: RUBY CORADO
In his first clinical role at Children’s National Hospital, Ryan Maddock worked with kids with chronic kidney disease. In his current role in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, he’s discussed organ donation with parents whose children are at death’s door.
So when Maddock saw his friend Paul Johnson, whom he met in 2011 through Stonewall Kickball, struggling with kidney disease, he wanted to help.
Johnson, whom Maddock says often looked “awful and sick,” initially didn’t think Maddock was serious, but Maddock persisted.
He says giving the “gift of life” was not a hard decision.
“I understood the process,” Maddock, a 39-year-old gay Eckington resident, says. “I believe in it with all my being and heart.”
Johnson doesn’t have Maddock’s kidney but his willingness to donate enabled Johnson to find a donor whom doctors thought would be a better match. A positive cross match between Maddock and Johnson meant Johnson’s body was more likely to reject Maddock’s kidney, so a pairing program was entered at Medstar Georgetown and transplant coordinators worked to find the best donor/recipient for each pair. Maddock doesn’t know who ended up with his kidney but he hopes to someday.
Without Maddock’s willingness do donate, it could have been years before Johnson would have been able to find a match, Maddock says.
“At first he thought I was crazy and not serious. After we were both through the evaluation process we understood each other and have a trust and love for each other,” Maddock says. “He tells me all the time how thankful he is, but I am truly grateful to be able to give him this life off of dialysis.”
The surgeries happened July 14 at Medstar Georgetown. Maddock has five laparoscopic scars and one longer scar (two-and-a-half inches) on his abdomen. He says it was not traumatic and he has no after effects. His only limitation because of the donation is he cannot take certain types of anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofin.
Although they don’t hang out as before because of the pandemic, Maddock says he and Johnson talk regularly and are both doing well. Maddock is back to work.
“I don’t have anyone else in my family with kidney disease and I knew that Paul’s life on dialysis was awful and he deserved a second chance at life off of dialysis,” Maddock says. JD
BEST DRAG QUEEN: DESIREE DIK
RUNNER UP: BOMBALICIOUS EKLAVER
Desire Dik says when the pandemic first hit she was “freaking out like every other drag performer” about the loss of performance and income opportunity.
“But after I shook it off, Red Bear still wanted to do virtual drag bingo and Extravaganza so we kept doing those — safely, of course,” Dik says.
With her “day job” in teaching on hold, Dik was inspired by seeing drag performers around the country take their art online so she did the same. For now, Desiree Dik’s Oddbalel and Slash Run are virtual. She got in touch with Oddball vets and have kept it going.
For her tenacity, Dik has been named this year’s Best of Gay D.C. Best Drag Queen, a title previously held by legends such as Ba’Naka, Bombalicious Eklaver and Destiny B. Childs.
She’s working now on a Halloween show. Extravaganza is on hiatus for now but in its place is “Drag-livery” where drag queens pack takeout food for delivery. They go to homes and put on mini-drag shows while patrons eat their takeout.
George Marius was born in Falls Church, Va., but sent to Peru at 6 months old to be raised by his sister. He lived there until age 10, went back to live with parents in Falls Church and was kicked out at age 16 for being gay.
He got into drag on his 17th birthday at Freddie’s Beach Bar and said it just “made sense because I was a gay theater kid.” He tried it again a year later at a Town competition and was hooked.
“It’s been very crazy but at the end of the day, drag is what I love to do and see in others,” Dik says. “It just brings me joy.” JD
BEST DRAG KING: MAJIC DYKE
RUNNER UP: JACKSON B NITE
Majic Dyke, a Nairobi native who came to the U.S. with their family at age 10, says a lifetime of confusion about their gender identity clicked into focus in 2017 when they started performing as a drag king and got “fully integrated” with the LGBT scene in Washington.
“This is when things truly fell into place in my life,” Majic wrote in a blog post on uniteuk1.com. “I finally had the vocabulary that affirmed what I had always felt, and I finally had people around me that loved and accepted me in all my forms.”
Majic identifies as non-binary and pansexual and says all pronouns are OK.
Other monikers they favor are “genderqueer,” “drag king,” “go-go dancer,” “your friendly neighborhood gay boi” and “#beardsandtitties.”
In a Facebook post during the nomination process, Majic campaigned openly for the award and said they were “happy as fuck to be nominated alongside my sibs.”
Look for Majic on social media to find out more about performances. JD
BEST TRANSGENDER PERFORMER: INDIA LARELLE HOUSTON
RUNNER UP: DYLAN DICKHERSON
India Larelle Houston has been performing since 2005, which is her full-time work.
“I got into the art form because I had a love for the performing arts and I found a way to express myself through drag,” Houston says.
She’s a cast member at Chanellie’s Drag Brunch on Saturdays and a cast member at Perry’s on Sundays. She also performs at Red Bear Brewing Company and other venues in Washington and beyond.
Like everyone, she’s been “greatly affected” by COVID-19 as both her drag brunches are on hiatus until Washington moves into phase three reopening. Several other venues have either closed or are not offering live entertainment. By now, her Sunday brunch is happening virtually. She had savings, which has helped stay afloat.
Houston did not campaign for this award but says, “It feels absolutely wonderful to be loved and appreciated for what I do.”
“It is a great honor to be chosen Best of Gay D.C.,” she says. “The gods must have had a plan for me.” JD
BEST VIRTUAL A&E EVENT: PRIDE IN THE CITY, CAPITAL PRIDE
EDITOR’S CHOICE: TIE: Shaw’s Tavern Virtual Drag Bingo! & Desiree Dik’s: Oddball Virus
Pride in the City is a new web series that will introduce online viewers to some of Capital Pride staff’s “favorite people and places” in Washington.
“From bars and restaurants to cultural treasures and small businesses to local heroes who make our community proud,” Ryan Bos, Capital Pride executive director, said in an e-mail. “Along the way we’ll offer insider perspectives and the opportunity for viewers to participate in a variety of ways.”
Two have been held so far: #stillweentertain on June 28 and #stillwelaugh on Aug. 9 and are available for viewing on YouTube. A third installment will be announced after the Out Brigade (a Pride motorcade through the District) on Oct. 10. One is planned before year’s end.
Find out more at capitalpride.org/pride-in-the-city. JD
BEST OUTDOOR DRINKING: TRADE
EDITORS’ CHOICE: DACHA BEER GARDEN
Trade (1410 14th St., N.W.) opened in 2015 and quickly established itself as one of the city’s most popular newer gay bars.
Like everyone else, the Trade team has had a long, slow haul back to some semblance of normalcy after moving to takeout only on March 15 (digital content was created by local performance artists), opening for limited outdoor service on May 29 and limited indoor service on June 22. Although some job descriptions “evolved” due to COVID, no staff was laid off, says Aaron Riggins, marketing and programming manager (he also bartends and manages shifts).
Because of capacity restrictions, business is not what it was pre-pandemic but its outdoor space has been in high demand. Reservations are recommended but walk-up tables are sometimes available.
Tito’s and Soda is the most popular drink. On tap, Bud Light and Stella are the most popular. Town is owned by John Guggenmos, Ed Bailey and Chachi Boyle, the team behind the now-closed Town Danceboutique.
In 2018, Trade won Best ABSOLUT Happy Hour and Best Neighborhood Bar in 2017.
Trade is popular, Riggins says, because it’s “all about family.”
“It’s humbling how supportive and loyal our patrons, staff and performance artists have been,” he says. “The health and well-being of our family is very important to us and we are taking the social distancing measures very seriously. We are also incredibly lucky to have an immensely talented creative family that has been helping us produce digital content while we can’t have onsite entertainment. Look out for more of the efforts as we get closer to Halloween.” JD
1410 14th St. N.W.
BEST CARRYOUT: DUPLEX DINER
EDITORS’ CHOICE: LE DIPLOMATE
Early on in the pandemic when dining inside was unheard of, Duplex Diner (2004 18th St., N.W.) got creative with takeout and curbside service.
Resident drag queen Goldie Grigio worked the window and customers paid online in advance.
The diner is known for its no-nonsense menu that features everything from broccolIni salad, meatloaf, reuben and chicken tenders to tasty cocktails like the Famous Lemon Squeeze.
Owners Mark Hunker and Jeff McCracken had been regulars there since the late ‘90s and took over the Adams Morgan favorite in 2015.
Manager Kelly Laczko, who’s been at the diner for eight years, keeps things running smoothly.
“Things have been surprisingly good,” Laczko said in a Blade interview earlier this year. “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.” JD
2004 18th St., N.W.
BEST COFFEESHOP: THREEFIFTY BAKERY AND COFFEE BAR
EDITORS’ CHOICE: COFFY CAFE
Business is almost back to pre-COVID levels at gay-owned ThreeFifty Bakery but owner Jimmy Hopper and his partner Michael Graham are concerned about the coming winter months.
“Things have been challenging during COVID,” Graham says. “However, we worked early to develop the safest possible customer experience by utilizing the patio space for single customer ordering. We have also been extremely fortunate to have the full support of the neighborhood. … We are concerned about the fall and winter months with indoor spacing limitations.”
Three Fifty, which opened in 2014, has 14 employees and says its customer base is about 30 percent LGBTQ. The most popular drink is a caramel latte and the most popular pastry is a tie between the quiche and apple zucchini bread.
“It feels really great to win this honor and we are so proud to be an LGBT-owned business and to have the continued support from the neighborhood, LGBT community and the District,” Graham says.
Three Fifty also won Best LGBT-owned Business in the Blade poll in 2017. This win is monumental — Three Fifty dethrones Compass Coffee, which had four consecutive wins in this category through 2019.
ThreeFifty Bakery and Coffee Bar
1926 17th St. N.W.
BEST COVID QUARANTINE PROMOTION OR EVENT: GAY MEN’S CHORUS OF WASHINGTON, DC “SUMMER SOIREE” WITH LESLIE JORDAN
EDITOR’S CHOICE: TAGG’S QUEERANTINECON
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington wasn’t able to have its annual Spring Affair this year because of COVID, so instead, organizers held a Summer Soiree Aug. 15, which went off without any glitches or technical issues, had 679 registered attendees and raised about $125,000 for the organization and now wins this Blade readers’ poll award. Not bad!
The Chorus performed virtually and performed bits; Leslie Jordan was the celebrity guest.
The Chorus’s next event is “Losing My Mind: a Celebration of Sondheim,” a virtual cabaret on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. This year’s holiday show is also online.
The Chorus and its ensembles are rehearsing entirely via Zoom. JD
BEST RESTAURANT: LOGAN TAVERN
EDITORS’ CHOICE: INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON
Perhaps in these uncertain times, we don’t want something fancy and boundary pushing. Logan Tavern’s win here and its unpretentious charm — upscale but never snooty — seems to suit our 2020 sensibilities.
Logan Tavern is owned and operated by EatWell DC and combines friendly prices with a hip, laid-back atmosphere. Logan is a great go-to place for delicious, un-fussy food. It’s a place where you recognize the ingredients, the flavors and the dishes you are being served. The drinks are affordable and the service is excellent with friendly and accommodating staff.
It’s mostly hearty American fare. Dinner entrees like boneless southern fried chicken, crispy skin-on rockfish, crab-stuffed chile relleno and lemon ricotta gnocchi are popular staples.
Logan won Best Bloody Mary in these awards in 2018 and Best Date Restaurant in 2012. (JD)
1423 P St., N.W.
BEST LOCAL WEBSITE/BLOG: BRIGHTEST YOUNG THINGS
EDITORS’ CHOICE: FEED THE MALIK
Brightest Young Things was hit “incredibly hard” by COVID-19, says co-founder Svetlana Legetic, a straight ally. It required “a complete re-do of how we do things and earn our living,” she says.
“There was absolutely no plan B such as relying on investors or fairy godparents,” she says.
BYT bills itself as an editorial and event platform for Washington, New York and Chicago. As the world has shifted to virtual events, at least for large gatherings, BYT has pivoted offering content such as “Tips for Sober October,” “Let Our Very Own Prya Konings Be Your World Vegetarian Day Sage,” “It’s OK You Are Not OK” and more at brightestyoungthings.com.
“Obviously there are no physical events or festivals, but we have seen our online engagement rise exponentially and the virtual projects we have worked on whether independently or with partners like Smithsonian … confirmed to us that the community needs that positive, quality content because it makes them feel connected to each other, even when apart, and we can’t underestimate the value of that,” Legetic says.
Pre-COVID there were 12 full-time staffers; there are now four and a team of freelance contributors. While not exclusively queer, BYT was conceived as being LGBT-inclusive from its inception. JD
BEST SALON/SPA: LOGAN 14
EDITORS’ CHOICE: VSL HAIR DESIGN
Temperatures are taken for anyone who comes in the building, payments are totally cashless, work stations have been spread out and sanitation continues at a high level. These are just some of the changes that have allowed Logan 14 Aveda Salon & Spa to stay open amid the pandemic.
“What hasn’t changed is what we do,” says Katie Rose, general manager, who has been at the salon, which has 41 staffers, for five years. “We service our guests and make people look and feel better about themselves.”
The salon was closed from March 16-June 10 and upon reopening offered free services to health care workers nominated by customers and staff.
Rose says business is not up to pre-pandemic levels and a few staff members were laid off but she says slowly things are getting busier. She says their customers, about 75 percent of whom are LGBT she guesses, have “been amazing.”
“It’s been heartwarming to see the outpouring of love from our guests and how glad they are to come back in,” Rose says.
This is Logan 14’s fifth consecutive win in this category, which Rose says “means the world to us.” JD
Logan 14 Aveda Salon & Spa
1314 14th St., N.W.
BEST LOCAL TV/RADIO PERSONALITY: CHUCK BELL & WENDY RIEGER, NBC 4 (TIE)
RUNNER-UP: LARRY MILLER, WUSA9
Good ole’ Chuck Bell, meteorologist at NBC4 since October 2004. He was runner-up last year (and also in 2015, 2016 and 2018). He also won this award in 2014 and 2012.
“It’s very flattering,” he said of a previous win. “I’m pleasantly surprised that people are taking note.”
He’s joined this year by his NBC4 colleague Wendy Rieger, the 2015 winner.
Rieger stumbled upon broadcast journalism when she was a college drop-out looking to make money as an actress. She found a job reading the news on camera in Norfolk, Va., and fell in love with the business.
Bell is gay; Rieger is an ally. JD
BEST ABSOLUT TO-GO COCKTAILS: NELLIE’S SPORTS BAR
EDITORS’ CHOICE: Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse
Nellie’s huge outdoor rooftop space has poised it well to survive COVID and this D.C. institution soldiers on.
“Things are good,” says owner Doug Schantz. “We’re missing the old normal like everybody else but things are better than expected.”
Nellie’s is following all the D.C. restrictions under phase 2 reopening and is following all the usual guidelines but has moved its “streetery” seating to its rooftop. A bus stop on U Street and limited space on 9th meant the rooftop was its best option. The two open areas and eight huge windows that allow ample air circulation have allowed the popular gay sports bar to stay busy and follow guidelines.
But it’s still a struggle. Schantz says 50 percent capacity figures were estimated by standing patrons so with seating, it’s more like 20 percent to remain compliant, but that, of course, is the new normal. There are currently 15 on staff, down from 40 pre-COVID.
To-go cocktails — illegal pre-COVID — have proven enormously popular. Pouches are decorated with two labels — one says, “Drink your juice, Shelby” and features flavors; the other is a parody of the Campbell’s soup can but says Nellie’s Soup instead. Other cocktails, wine or beer can be purchased in 14 oz. recyclable cups with lids. One food item (a cookie, tater tots, whatever) must be purchased with each to go alcoholic beverage. All the cups, lids and straws are recyclable.
Schantz says his clientele has stayed faithful and many come weekly. Weekend drag brunches are on hiatus. The huge site, which opened in 2007, has 37 TVs so it’s a great place to watch the debates, Schantz says.
Nellie’s is a perennial favorite in the Best of Gay D.C. Awards. It usually wins something every year. Last year it won Best Drag Show for its brunch, in 2018 it won Best Margarita and in 2016 it won Hottest Bar Staff. JD
Nellie’s Sports Bar
900 U St., N.W.
BEST OUTDOOR DINING: ANNIE’S PARAMOUNT STEAKHOUSE
EDITORS’ CHOICE: RED BEAR BREWING CO.
Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse, a Washington institution since 1948, is now open for both dine-in and carry out and thanks to its outdoor patio, it has won Best Outdoor Dining, a new category for this year’s Best of Gay D.C. Awards.
In early 2019, Annie’s received the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classic Award, which honors restaurants with “timeless appeal” and that serve “quality food that reflects the character of their communities.” Annie’s was only the third D.C. restaurant to earn that distinction.
George Katinas and his family opened Paramount Steakhouse in 1948. Katinas hired his sister Anne “Annie” Katinas Kaylor, to work the bar. Her popularity led to the restaurant changing its name to Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse. She died in 2013.
In the early years of these awards, Anne’s was a perennial favorite winning Best Overall Restaurant (2001, 2002), Tried & True (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006), Best Late Night (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012), Best Brunch (2005) and Best Steakhouse (2007, 2008). Kaylor was named Local Hero Female in 2001.
The menu is hearty American food with an array of burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads available for lunch. House specials like “Bull in the Pan” (sirloin tips), basil-pine nut pesto pasta and pot roast are staples of the dinner menu. JD
Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse
1609 17th St., N.W.
BEST STRAIGHT ALLY: PAMALA STANLEY
RUNNER-UP: REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ
It was a busy year for singer Pamala Stanley, the ‘80s disco star who has enjoyed a long and wildly popular residency in Rehoboth Beach, Del. In January, she announced plans to move her show from the Blue Moon to The Pines. Then the pandemic hit. Immediately, Stanley pivoted, staging virtual shows from home. Then she took the show to The Pines stage with a virtual audience of hundreds watching from the safety of home while Stanley danced and sang her heart out, taking requests online. She used the shows as fundraisers for Beebe Medical Foundation. Owners of The Pines announced Stanley’s first concert on April 26 was so successful that she would perform a virtual tea dance to benefit Beebe every Saturday until The Pines was allowed to reopen.
At that first benefit, Stanley dedicated one of her biggest hits, “Coming Out of Hiding,” to all her fans who were getting restless after weeks in quarantine: “This is for everybody,” she said, “because we have been in hiding for way too long, don’t you agree?”
The four-week virtual fundraisers with Stanley, Mona Lotts, and Michael Solonski brought in $19,000 for Beebe Medical Foundation to help cover expenses incurred because of the pandemic.
Stanley has since resumed regular shows at The Pines, Thursday-Sunday nights while observing social distancing protocols in the large Pines venue. JD
BEST PRO ATHLETE: NATASHA CLOUD, WASHINGTON MYSTICS
RUNNER-UP: SEAN DOOLITTLE, WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Last year, Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud helped her team win its first WNBA championship. She’s also a vocal and public supporter for causes she believes in like ending gun violence and supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“Juneteenth is a day of celebration,” Cloud said during a Wizards and Mystics peaceful protest against racial injustice and police brutality. “It’s a day of liberation. It’s a day that we were finally freed from our bondage. We couldn’t think of a better day than today to come out here and come together, collectively and unified in solidarity with one another for a greater cause.”
Though Cloud announced in June that she would sit out the 2020 season due to her concerns about systemic racism and the ongoing pandemic, voters recognized her excellence both on and off the court with a “Best Pro Athlete” award. PVS
In 2014, Bishop Allyson Abrams resigned as pastor of a small Detroit church after announcing that she had married her wife in Iowa. One year later, a Supreme Court ruling would legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S., but at the time she may have felt like she was risking everything to be with the woman she loved. She set up her ministry in the D.C. area and has remained a symbol of strength and courage ever since.
“People say it’s amazing to hear a pastor say that God loves us the way we are,” Abrams told the Blade back in 2014. “I’m always going to make sure God knows them.”
This year Allyson’s community supported her with a “Best Clergy” award. PVS
BEST D.C. PUBLIC OFFICIAL: MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER
RUNNER-UP: U.S. REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D-D.C.)
In 2017, Mayor Bowser wore a bright yellow dress and a big smile while accepting her award for “Best D.C. Public Official” at the Blade’s Best of Gay D.C. awards. Times have changed, particularly this year, marking her fifth in office.
Bowser assumed office as mayor in 2015 after previously representing Ward 4 on the D.C. City Council since 2007. A native of the region, she is the District’s second female mayor.
This year, Bowser helmed the District through a deadly pandemic, its devastating economic fall out and desperate calls for racial justice. A long-time supporter of D.C.’s LGBTQ community, Bowser tweeted on June 15 in response to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling protecting LGBTQ employees against workplace discrimination, “There’s more work to be done, but today we celebrate equality. Happy pride & keep fighting.”
Today her smile represents the District’s resilience and her bright yellow paint sent a message of solidarity seen around the world. PVS
BEST NON-PROFIT: SMYAL
EDITORS’ CHOICE: CENTER FOR BLACK EQUITY
SMYAL has been working with LGBTQ youth for more than 35 years and its empowered leaders have been staffing tables and community organizing at events across the city.
This non-profit, now known for its after-school programs, youth counseling services, and educational and training programs for youth service providers working in schools, shelters, government agencies and hospitals, began in 1984 by local professionals and activists.
According to its website, SMYAL started with a conference organized to address urgent youth issues after an LGBTQ-identifying youth was hospitalized. Today SMYAL is a leader in providing support services and advocacy to youth in need of affirming care.
During an especially hard year for LGBTQ youth who often look to Pride as a means to connect with others and themselves, the community recognized SMYAL as the year’s “Best Non-profit” for its efforts to maintain a sense of connection for our youth. PVS
MOST COMMITTED ACTIVIST: SULTAN SHAKIR
RUNNER-UP: RAYCEEN PENDARVIS
Since taking the helm of SMYAL in 2014, Executive Director Sultan Shakir has been a tireless staple on social and traditional media outlets advocating for LGBTQ youth. However, during this summer of social unrest, Shakir used his platform to call for systemic change.
“SMYAL condemns the excessive use of force employed by the police towards peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C. and across the country, and we stand with the Black Lives Matter movement,” he wrote in a statement tweeted June 9 by SMYAL. “Our hope is that by doubling down on our mission to empower young people, we will help create a society where Black people don’t have to ask for solidarity just to stay alive, a society in which our lives matter.”
Shakir’s dedication was celebrated by the community this year with Gay D.C.’s “Most Committed Activist” recognition for 2020. PVS
BEST CLERGY: BISHOP ALLYSON ABRAMS
RUNNER-UP: REV. DWAYNE JOHNSON
BEST LGBTQ SOCIAL GROUP: IMPERIAL COURT OF WASHINGTON, D.C.
EDITORS’ CHOICE: IMPULSE DC
In June, “Queen of the Capital,” an independent documentary film about D.C. drag artist Daniel Hays’ quest as Muffy Blake Stephyns to be voted Empress of the Imperial Court of Washington in 2014, premiered at the Newseum and began the festival circuit.
Today the Imperial Court of Washington D.C., is one of many LGBTQ-affirming social groups across the country and in 2011 it joined the International Imperial Court System, which began in San Francisco in 1965.
This year, the community honored the Imperial Court of Washington D.C. with a “Best LGBTQ Social Group” award. PVS
Imperial Court of Washington D.C.
P.O. Box 2616
Washington, DC 20013
BEST LOCAL TV/RADIO STATION: HOT 99.5
EDITORS’ CHOICE: WTOP 103.5
This top D.C. radio station not only keeps the District current on the latest hits, its Facebook page covers the gamut from celebrity break ups, weddings and pregnancies to strangely interesting stories of Instagram influencers caught using fake private jets as sets for photo shoots.
During a time when everyone needed to just shut out the world and go 2015 again, Hot 99.5 earned another top spot from voters as the “Best Local TV/Radio Station.” PVS
BEST BUSINESSPERSON: BRYAN VAN DEN OEVER, RED BEAR BREWING
RUNNER-UP: EBONE BELL, TAGG MAGAZINE
Back in April, when pandemic lockdowns and unemployment levels were at their worst, Red Bear Brewing’s Bryan Van Den Oever told the Blade, “We’ll see what happens when the dust settles. We’ll fight like hell until then.”
Throughout the crisis, Red Bear and other popular local LGBTQ businesses like Pitchers, A League of Her Own, JR.’s, Green Lantern and others continued to fight to be a vital connection to their staff and the community, both virtually and now on a limited in-person basis.
This year the community showed its appreciation for a continued dedication to beer, music and drag with a “Best Businessperson” award to Van Den Oever and the rest of Red Bear’s feisty, tenacious team for not just surviving the pandemic, but innovating and thriving, inspiring the rest of the small business community in the process. PVS
Red Bear Brewing Company
209 M St., N.E.
BEST LGBTQ-OWNED BUSINESS: TRADE & NUMBER NINE
EDITORS’ CHOICE: BITE THE FRUIT
D.C.’s popular LGBTQ-friendly night spots are an important part of the community, so TRADE tweeted on Sept. 24, “Winter is coming…and we’ll be ready” followed by a promise to provide heaters and socially distanced comfort amid an ongoing pandemic crisis.
TRADE opened for business in 2015 and at the time co-owner John Guggenmos, also co-owner of Number Nine, planned for a new bar that included a dance floor and live DJs. Five years later TRADE, like other small businesses devastated by the pandemic, relies heavily on the community to keep its doors open.
Similarly, Number Nine updated its website to thank the community for its support during the pandemic. “We wouldn’t be able to get through this without the support of our amazing patrons and staff. So, thank you.” PVS
1410 14th St., N.W.
1435 P. St., N.W.
BEST VIRTUAL FITNESS CLASSES: VIDA
EDITORS’ CHOICE: JASON LONG FITNESS
Vida is no stranger to winning this category, and staying afloat while innovating during the pandemic brought unforeseen challenges to this popular, perennial winner. They rose to that challenge, taking their award-winning fitness classes online and continuing to deliver results for clients. JD
Multiple D.C. locations
BEST MEDICAL PROVIDER: DR. ROBYN ZEIGER
EDITORS’ CHOICE: WHITMAN-WALKER HEALTH
Dr. Robyn Zeiger has won this award several times for her work as a licensed clinical professional counselor.
“You walk into a therapist’s office and you know they are also LGBT so you don’t have to explain anything,” she told the Blade upon winning this award in 2017. You don’t have to teach them. You can just be yourself and you don’t have to justify anything.”
In addition to counseling, Zeiger has worked as an adjunct senior lecturer at University of Maryland. JD
Dr. Robyn Zeiger
BEST VETERINARIAN: FRIENDSHIP HOSPITAL FOR ANIMALS
EDITORS’ CHOICE: DISTRICT VETERINARY HOSPITAL
Friendship Animal Hospital
4105 Brandywine St., N.W.
BEST REAL ESTATE AGENT: MICHAEL MOORE, COMPASS
RUNNER-UP: STACEY WILLIAMS-ZEIGER, ZEIGER REALTY
Michael Moore won this category last year. Moore credits his success to consistent customer service, telling the Blade last year: “My career began with first-time homebuyers. In time, first-time buyers become sellers and they buy another house and they tell their friends. Now my business is almost entirely referrals and repeats.
“I’m a huge proponent of staging and doing what it takes to project the property in its best light,” he says. “I try to create a situation that when a prospective buyer walks in the door, they love it, and think to themselves ‘won’t my friends be jealous when they see me living here.’” JD
1313 14th St., N.W.
BEST REAL ESTATE GROUP: JENN SMIRA TEAM, COMPASS
RUNNER-UP: MARIN HAGEN & SYLVIA BERGSTROM, COLDWELL BANKER
As one of the top five agent groups in all of D.C., The Jenn Smira Team brings more than 50 years of combined real estate experience to each transaction. Smira and her team have cultivated a loyal network of previous clients and referrals as they empower buyers and sellers to achieve their goals. A one-stop shop for all your real estate needs, Smira’s team offers an impressive range of in-house expertise — from marketing and PR, to staging and listing guidance. Smira is a previous board member of the District of Columbia Association of Realtors (DCAR), DCAR Public Policy Committee, and currently on the board of DC WISE. JD
Jenn Smira Team
1313 14th St., N.W.
BEST LAWYER: AVA BENACH
RUNNER-UP: AMY NELSON
Ava Benach works as an immigration lawyer and is the founder and coach of DC Girls Baseball. She has written op-eds for the Blade, including a piece on the need to overcome baseball’s sexist and homophobic traditions. She’s not just a skilled professional, but an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ equality. JD
Benach Collopy LLP
4530 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.
BEST REHOBOTH DRAG QUEEN: ROXY OVERBROOKE
RUNNER-UP: MONA LOTTS
It has been a triumphant year for Roxy Overbrooke (aka Charles Bounds). Bounds had a particularly nasty time with COVID-19, contracting the disease in March. He was sick for about a month and was hospitalized in the Rehoboth area for 15 days, an experience he calls “intense, scary and life changing.”
“With that said, though, everyone at Beebe Healthcare was amazing,” he told the Blade earlier this year. “I’m feeling much better now.” Bounds grew up going to Rehoboth with family and loved it for its beaches and moved there full time about 10 years ago.
Bounds entered a competition 12 years ago and “caught the bug,” for drag. Now it’s his full-time work. Bounds performs as Roxy Overbrooke at the Blue Moon (35 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.), hosting bingo, karaoke, a drag show and celebrity impersonation shows. (Check bluemoonrehoboth.com for updated event schedules.) Fully recovered from COVID, Bounds continued to wow socially distanced crowds all summer with his booming voice and, of course, glittering gowns. A beautiful person inside and out, Bounds is a fighter and Roxy is a star performer.
BEST REHOBOTH OUTDOOR DINING: PURPLE PARROT
EDITORS’ CHOICE: AQUA
The gay-owned Purple Parrot is a Rehoboth institution and when the pandemic hit, the bar/restaurant was well positioned for outdoor service with its popular Biergarten out back and sidewalk seating in front. It hasn’t been easy, but the indefatigable staff — especially Chandler and Jamie — maintained socially distant protocols all summer, keeping locals and tourists alike safe, fed, and happy.
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
BEST REHOBOTH BARTENDER: HOLLY LANE
RUNNER-UP: JAMIE ROMANO
This is Holly Lane’s third win as Best Rehoboth Bartender, taking the prize in 2014 and 2017. Normally behind the bar at Cafe Azafran with her trademark headset belting out tunes while making drinks, Lane went on hiatus for much of the year due to COVID closures. But Azafran — and Lane — are back, though not to full capacity, of course. Things are different, but Lane’s infectious kindness and bartending and singing skills keep her loyal customers coming back, no matter what.
BEST REHOBOTH LIVE SHOW: CLIMAX WITH MAGNOLIA APPLEBOTTOM AT BLUE MOON
EDITORS’ CHOICE: PAMALA STANLEY AT THE PINES
The multi-talented Magnolia Applebottom brings her sharp wit and singing skills to the Blue Moon stage for the popular Climax show. Last year’s Best Rehoboth Drag Queen winner, Magnolia wins this new category this year amid a town full of live entertainment competition.
BEST REHOBOTH COFFEESHOP: RISE UP
EDITORS’ CHOICE: COFFEE MILL
Rise Up in Rehoboth is the 10th location in this regional chain, which operates in Annapolis, Cambridge, and Edgewater, among others. The cafe is located at the roundabout just as you enter town. You can’t miss the black-and-white building. Rise Up offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s even a full bar, a gorgeous live edge wood bar sits to the right of the coffee station. The 502 Bar and Rise Up offer outdoor seating and are pet friendly, a perfect option in these socially distanced times.
BEST REHOBOTH RESTAURANT: BLUE MOON
EDITORS’ CHOICE: AZZURRO ITALIAN OVEN & BAR
The Blue Moon has won this award so many times that it’s hard to count. The iconic Moon persevered through COVID, offering its flawless, high-end menu for takeout during the spring and reopening this summer with socially distanced tables inside. A COVID silver lining this summer: You could order the full menu on the bar side while being entertained by talented NYC pianist Nate Buccieri.
BEST REHOBOTH REAL ESTATE AGENT: LEE ANN WILKINSON
RUNNER-UP: JASON ABELA
This is Lee Ann Wilkinson’s third consecutive win in this category. The Lee Ann Wilkinson Group has ranked #1 in real estate sales in Sussex County, Del., for more than 20 years and ranks #3 nationally for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices real estate network. In addition, she is a regular contributor to the Blade. Our readers know her through her informed articles on real estate trends at the Delaware beaches.
16698 Kings Hwy A.
BEST REHOBOTH BUSINESS: DIEGO’S
EDITORS’ CHOICE: BLUE MOON
It was a rough year for Joe Ciarlante-Zuber (right) and his husband and business partner Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber. Darryl contracted COVID-19 and spent 54 days in the hospital, 34 of those in the ICU. The two own the popular Diego’s, which has a large outdoor patio space. They converted it into a beach-themed bar, complete with truckloads of sand. Joe worked hard all season, ensuring customers stayed six feet apart and taking everyone’s temperature at the door. The dedication paid off, as Diego’s resumed as a busy fixture on the summer scene. Darryl’s recovery and Joe’s perseverance proved an inspiration to the entire community.
BEST REHOBOTH FITNESS INSTRUCTOR: ELI LYNN
RUNNER UP: TANNER HOLT
Eli Lynn is owner and head trainer at Elite Lifestyle Initiatives and trains clients in the comfort of their homes. Lynn, who’s straight, specializes in functioning training, strength and conditioning training and balance training.
As for his approach to new clients, he says, “First, I ask them what their goals are and if they have any previous injuries or surgeries. After one session you can tell what they need to work on and what needs to improve.”
Lynn says COVID has forced him to train some clients through FaceTime, but the pandemic has also helped his business grow, “because no one wants to work out at a gym so me coming to their house and training them in their own home, everyone feels safer to work out that way.”
As for his advice for those who have gained weight during COVID: “I tell them that everyone is in the same spot as them and what matters the most is you’re here and starting to work out. Everyone has different ways of dealing with COVID and you already took a huge step forward by hiring me and helping you get back in shape.”
Baltimore’s ‘Visionary’ curator prepares to step down
For 26 years, Hoffberger has created a loving haven and championed LGBTQ artists
The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore has highlighted hundreds of artists since it opened in 1995, and works by LGBTQ artists have featured prominently in both its permanent collection and changing exhibits.
From Andrew Logan’s Cosmic Galaxy Egg sculpture to Robert Benson’s blinged-out Universal Tree of Life to Judy Tallwing’s Prayer for Peace painting, LGBTQ artists have been responsible for some of most memorable creations that visitors will see, whether they know it or not.
This pattern of inclusion is part of the legacy of museum founder, director and primary curator Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, a longtime ally of the LGBTQ community. After 26 years running the museum, Hoffberger announced in July that she plans to retire in March of 2022, and AVAM’s board has launched a search for her replacement.
But unlike some museum directors who have called attention to their recent efforts to promote greater diversity in the range of artists they show, Hoffberger said she has never set out specifically to include a certain percentage of LGBTQ artists, just as she has never set a goal for featuring a certain number of minority or female artists.
She said she simply tries to find the best artists for each show, based on the perspectives they bring and the work they produce. In many cases, she said, she doesn’t necessarily know an artist’s sexual orientation, unless their work is homoerotic or intentionally refers in other ways to their identity.
Hoffberger said her resistance to quotas is not because she’s color-blind or gender-blind.
“I would say I’m color- and race-celebratory,” she said. “There’s a quote by [Canadian writer] Dorothy Maclean: ‘Humankind trend should be to unity, not uniformity.’ That pretty much sums it up. That’s how I feel. Labels like gay or straight or bi, what do they tell you about a person? Not very much. I’m not so interested in people’s sexuality. I’m interested in the person.”
Hoffberger likens curating a museum exhibit to planning a banquet: “If you’re looking to offer…as delicious a feast as possible, it comes naturally that you would have participation by extraordinary people of every stripe.”
Located at 800 Key Highway near the city’s Inner Harbor waterfront, the museum has been designated by Congress as a “national repository and educational center for visionary art,” which is defined as works “produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training,” which arise from “an innate personal vision that revels in the creative act itself.”
These creators, sometimes called outsider artists, often try to make sense of the world by making art with whatever materials they have at hand, whether it’s egg shells or toothpicks or more conventional artist supplies.
Hoffberger said she prefers the term visionary artists, or intuitive or self-taught, to ‘outsider.’ But she notes that it makes sense that many LGBTQ individuals turn out to be visionary artists because of the experiences they’ve had in life. She said many members of the LGBTQ community have lived outside the mainstream in one way or another, and that has both fueled their drive to make art and informed the art they make.
“How about you’re born into a family where all the girls are gorgeous and you’re the fat one? Or you have a deformity? There’s a myriad of ways that people feel out of step,” she said. “When the life experience is too big for words, it often will come out from non-artists as a creative expression for the first time because there are just no words for it.”
This doesn’t mean LGBTQ artists are inherently better than non-LGBTQ artists, she said.
“Better? No. But anyone who feels for any reason like an outsider, who has experience feeling like a stranger, always has a more in-depth take at reality because they are on some level on the outside…The point is that people who have that little bit of knowing what it is like to be outside the circle actually often will have a perspective that helps evolve and draw a circle.”
Something happens to people when they aren’t from the “established pack,” she said, that makes them look at the world differently and react differently and perhaps get more creative.
“When you’re not from the pack…when you’re forced out of conventional thinking because people are giving you pretty clear signals that you’re not like them in ways that they may even be hostile to, then you start to think more deeply because you can’t coast on being accepted in the same way. It’s not as easy.”
Hoffberger points to the work of gay filmmaker John Waters and his ability to capture what it’s like to live outside the mainstream.
“That’s what I think John Waters has done so unbelievably well,” she said. “He didn’t shock just to shock. He always had this softness for seeing value in people that other people would never have focused on. And in doing that, you sense that you are with someone who’s going to give you a break. That’s why he has yet another generation of fierce fans. This is a person who draws a big circle around the human family, and we’re living in a time when people are getting more and more narrow…So you want to be in the camp of championing more people, the beauty of more people, and the more diverse the better.”
As director and curator, Hoffberger said, she seeks out the best work she can find by visionary artists to incorporate in the museum’s exhibits. But rather than presenting works of visionary art as objects unto themselves, she curates exhibits that combine art, science, philosophy and humor, with an organizing theme for each show and an underlying focus on social justice and betterment.
In some cases, AVAM has explored themes that touch on gender, gender rights and human sexuality, including a 2005-2006 show entitled “Race, Class and Gender: 3 Things that Contribute ‘0’ to CHARACTER (Because being a Schmuck is an equal opportunity for everyone!) For exhibits such as that, Hoffberger said, works by LGBTQ artists can be particularly appropriate due to the artist’s point of view.
In other exhibits, she has focused on issues ranging from climate change to hunger to public health. AVAM’s next major exhibit, scheduled to open Oct. 9 and run until Sept. 4, 2022, is entitled “Healing & The Art of Compassion (and the Lack Thereof.)
Hoffberger said she doesn’t think sex or race are good ways to assess people.
“I don’t think your sexual orientation, I don’t think your color, I don’t think your religion, conveys any quality of character whatsoever,” she said. “That’s why I did that show, Race, Class and Gender. Three things that contribute zero to character but everybody is talking about all the time. I would think it would be more fair, since they’re approximately 50 percent of the population, if there were more women leaders. But do I think that because you are a woman leader you are going to be more spectacular just because of having a vagina? No, absolutely not. None of those things mean much to me, frankly.”
That goes for artists as well as elected leaders, Hoffberger said.
“I don’t even like it when I can look at a work of art and go, I know a woman did this. I really don’t like that,” she said. “I’d rather it just be kind of a soul, with different clothes on. I like magnificent souls, with whatever. And in that celebration, you have a great tenderness to be open to wherever that soul and beauty will manifest.”
AVAM has become a magnet for LGBTQ visitors, she said, because it’s a place where they feel comfortable with the art and the other patrons.
“What I love about the museum is that it is such a haven,” she said. “There are so many young teens that are transitioning, who come because, whether you’re wearing a burka or whatever, there’s a safety in being in our museum because there’s such a welcoming, loving vibe. You can see people who you can relate to not only walking through the museum but also in the art.”
Following are some of the LGBTQ artists whose work is or has been featured at the American Visionary Art Museum:
Andrew Logan, (1945- ) His works at AVAM: A 10-foot-tall sculpture of Divine, a tribute to the drag performer who starred in “Pink Flamingos,” “Multiple Maniacs,” “Hairspray” and other movies by filmmaker John Waters; Black Icarus, a figure suspended above the museum’s main staircase, and the Cosmic Galaxy Egg, an eight-foot-high sculpture on a plaza outside the museum’s Jim Rouse Visionary Center, inspired by the deep space images revealed by Hubble Telescope transmissions. Hoffberger is hoping to add a fourth work by Logan, a sculpture of the mythical creature Pegasus.
Logan was born in 1945, the third of five brothers in a family with one younger sister. In 1967 Logan graduated from the Oxford School of Architecture and spent one year in the United States working for the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. At the age of 27, Logan gained notoriety as the co-founder, along with Baltimore’s Divine, of the Alternative Miss World contest, an inclusive beauty contest open to transvestites, the old and the young, men and women. His contest emphasized imagination and the radiance of beauty from within. In 1979, Andrew’s Alternative Miss World contest fought off legal action from another event with the help of a budding young defense barrister – future British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Logan is a tap dance and yoga aficionado and a prolific self-taught artist whose sculptures, mirrored jewelry, costumes, stage sets, and performance pieces have garnered a wide audience. He creates his art by using materials that are at hand, often incorporating mirror fragments and fabric remnants, and adding realistically sculpted heads and bodies. In the 1980’s Logan founded his own museum in Berriew, Wales, to house and display a portion of his work.
“The mirror of the universe has been my life for almost forty years,” the museum’s website quotes Logan as saying. “It has an energy like no other material. I have played with mirrors to create monuments, portraits, wall pieces and sculptural jewelry…My life is an artistic adventure.”
Judy Tallwing, (1945- ). Her work at AVAM: A painting entitled Prayer for Peace is part of the museum’s permanent collection. It was a gift of the artist in memory of Sashie Helene Hyatt.
Tallwing is an Apache elder, leatherwoman and multi-media artist who won the first International Ms. Leather contest in 1987. Born in Glendale, Ariz., Tallwing has childhood memories of living in the desert with her parents and seven half brothers and sisters, helping to hunt rattlesnakes, and selling rocks by the roadside. Like many Native American children, Tallwing attended both a Catholic girls’ school and Indian School. She has six children, 23 grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren.
Tallwing started making art as far back as she can remember. “We didn’t call it art, we called it making things to sell along the road to help the family survive. I used to watch my grandmother, grandfather, and my mother all doing various forms of what I now know is art, to sell, and I wanted to help.” The first thing of hers that sold was a bee sitting on a flower, painted on a rock. It sold for 25 cents.
In her youth, Tallwing did a little bit of everything, from running her own construction and leather production companies to being the executive director of a domestic violence victims’ program and running an animal rescue operation for 13 years. “I think an ‘aha moment’ for me was realizing I could go to college, even without much other schooling.”
Starting college at age 32 changed her life; she now holds both an associates’ and bachelor’s degree. She travels to what she calls “power places” and brings back tiny fragments from those places to put in every painting or sculpture that calls for them, including copper, silver, turquoise, garnet, prayer ashes, and minute crystal prayer beads.
“I love trying to bring the stories I’ve heard to life and to add the spiritual aspects of the stories through the medicine of different elements of nature,” she has said. “Each thing that lives on the earth has its own energy and I try to put those energies together to create a healing.”
Ingo Swann, (1933–2013). His work at AVAM: The Light Bringer, a painting in the museum’s permanent collection.
Swann is best known as a pioneer in the field of remote viewing, the practice of seeking impressions about a distant or unseen target, also described as “sensing” with the mind. Swann’s high rate of success in this field led him to co-create, along with Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ, the Stanford Research Institute of Remote Viewing and the CIA Stargate Project, launched to investigate psychic phenomena in military and domestic intelligence applications.
Swann was born high in the Rocky Mountains in Telluride, Colo., on Sept. 14, 1933. His father was a truck driver and he had two sisters. He often spoke of the beauty of his surroundings as a child, particularly the crystal-clear skies where he could see the Milky Way each night.
Swann wrote that he first experienced leaving his body at the age of three, during an operation to remove his tonsils. At that time he also became aware of seeing “butterfly lights” around people, plants, and some animals, which he later learned were auras. By nine, he wrote that he’d remotely traveled to the Milky Way. He famously claimed to have sent his consciousness to Jupiter prior to the arrival of NASA’s Voyager satellite probe and accurately described many of the planet’s features, including Jupiter’s then-unknown rings.
Swann’s paintings express his passion for exploring the mysteries of the universe and recapture his visions from leaving his body, remote viewing, and seeing auras. Swann was also a musician and a writer of several books, including his autobiography, “Penetration: The Question of Extraterrestrial and Human Telepathy” (1998). He died on Jan. 31, 2013 in New York City.
Bobby Adams (1946 – ). His work at AVAM: His photographs, scrapbooks and shrines have been featured in three exhibits.
Adams is a multimedia artist and a member of filmmaker John Waters’ group known as the Dreamlanders. He was born Robert Reid Adams on Feb. 15, 1946 in Dallas, and grew up in Baltimore. His father, a former boxer and strict disciplinarian, operated a floor sanding business in Dundalk. His “beloved and gentle” mother taught school and would eventually die by suicide in 1976.
Adams graduated in 1964 from Sparrows Point Senior High School and was able to avoid being sent to Vietnam because of a hearing problem. He became a pirate radio DJ in the late 1960s, playing at gatherings around Baltimore and spinning records for a station he dubbed W.E.E.D. He assembled elaborate scrapbooks stuffed with psychedelic collages and philosophical, often humorous, musings to illustrate his DJ patter and circulate among listeners at gigs.
In 1970, he began working with John Waters, who filmed “Pink Flamingos” at the Baltimore County farm where Adams was living. Ever since, Adams has been the filmmaker’s unofficial documentarian, taking photographs on film sets and chronicling the exploits of Waters’ band of renegades, the Dreamlanders. “I never learned how to do the camera,” notes Adams. “I just point and shoot. My approach is simple: I start with love, and the camera sees it.”
A self-professed Christmas addict, Adams makes hundreds of personalized, handmade, labor-of-love holiday cards for friends and family each year. Inspired in part by Waters’ own art making and an Edward Kienholz exhibition he chanced upon, Adams began making art in 1996, after the loss of his toy poodle, Odie. He created 50 multimedia tribute pieces to Odie and installed them throughout his waterfront cottage. Before it was displayed at AVAM, Adams’s art had never been exhibited publicly. When asked if he ever had an unrealistic hope fulfilled, he said, “Yes, being included in this show.”
Robert E. Benson, (1930 – ). His work at AVAM: The shiny Universal Tree of Life visible near the museum’s main entrance on Key Highway; the fart machine in the museum’s Flatulence exhibit; the ocean beneath Andrew Logan’s Black Icarus sculpture and the sky above it, and other creations.
Benson is a popular classical music radio host who became a prolific visual artist late in life. Born in Chicago, he served in the Army from 1951-1953 as enlisted secretary to General Mark Clark, commander-in-chief of the Far East Command. From 1953-1955 he worked for the B&O Railroad as secretary to the Manager of Industrial Development, and for two years was Assistant Manager of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Benson’s radio career began in 1958 when he was program director of WFDS-FM, which two years later became WBAL-FM. He was program director and chief announcer there until 1974, when he became Director of Audience Development for the Baltimore Symphony.
In 1975, Benson became coordinator of the Maryland State Arts Council’s Community Arts Development program working to organize county arts councils in all 23 counties of Maryland. He also was in charge of grants to music organizations and individuals, and retired from his state job in 1995. In 1979 he became morning announcer for WBJC-FM, where he remained until 1986. For 10 years beginning in 1987, Benson did programming and announcing for WJHU (now WYPR). He has collected recordings for many years, with particular interest in historic performances. He has written reviews for numerous publications, including Forecast FM, Hi Fi Stereo Buyers Guide, High Fidelity and Stereophile.
Benson lives in Glen Burnie, Md., where he grows orchids in his “underground” greenhouse, a hobby of three decades, and listens to music on his elaborate surround sound system. Since 2004 he has been working with mirrors and stained glass, creating varied art and decorative pieces.
Andrey Bartenev, (1969 –). His work at AVAM: In 2007, Bartenev won first prize in the museum’s “Bra Ball,” for his black and white rubber costume and performance.
Bartenev is a Russian performer, sculptor and experimentalist who won the Alternate Miss World pansexual beauty pageant in 2018 as Miss UFO. He was born on Oct. 9, 1969 in the northernmost Arctic Circle city of Norilsk in Siberia, an industrial town famous for its reserves and production of aluminum.
Bartenev recalls “three months of total darkness, one month of really hot summer, and 15 days each for spring and autumn.” His only sibling, a sister, was 12 years older. Bartenev’s father was a coal mining engineer and his mother was an industrial safety engineer. Both worked long hours, giving Bartenev free reign to decide how he spent his time alone.
At three, Bartenev loved scissors and began to cut images and patterns from books. “We made all our toys out of snow.” At an early age, Bartenev would organize parties for his friends who were also left alone, getting them to bring over all their pets. He used plastic to sculpt little “castles” for his mice and hamsters, and made costumes for his cats and dogs.
At 16, Bartenev moved with his family to Sochi in the south of Russia — “like Miami with mountains.” In college he studied theater and directing, graduating with high honors. His first job was directing a children’s theater near Chechnya. He also danced and performed in a local cabaret.
Moving to Moscow in 1990, Bartenev supported himself doing collages and graphics and competed in the Big Arts Festival at the Baltic Sea in 1992, where he met one of the judges, Andrew Logan, co-founder of the Alternative Miss World contest. Bartenev made a Snow Queen costume out of papier-mâché that won the top prize. Logan invited him to compete in the Alternative Miss World contest in 1995, 1998, and 2002 in London. There, Bartenev also created programs for the popular BBC children’s TV show, “Blue Peter” and re-staged his original performance show, “Botanic Ballet.” In 2007, he brought his talents to Baltimore and won first prize in AVAM’s “Bra Ball.” He has said his idea of perfect beauty is his childhood vision of “black sky and white snow.”
James Franklin Snodgrass (1922–2000). His work at AVAM: An untitled painting in the permanent collection, the gift of Robert Civello.
Snodgrass was born in Harford County, Md. in 1922. The son of a schoolteacher, he painted mannequins and traveled throughout the United States after graduating from college. During World War II, he declared himself a conscientious objector and worked as an ambulance driver for a Quaker society.
Appearing on television game shows became a peculiar “hobby” for Snodgrass, who won prize money on several occasions. In the late 1950s, he became the focus of public attention after he exposed fraudulent practices on the popular quiz show, Twenty-One. His story inspired Robert Redford’s 1994 film, “Quiz Show.”
Afterwards, Snodgrass grew increasingly reclusive and focused on his art. He was evasive, even secretive, about the untitled painting in AVAM’s collection, which took many years to complete. He died from cancer in early 2000.
Located at 800 Key Highway, the American Visionary Art Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Advance online purchase of a timed ticket is required to visit the museum. Visiting just the museum store, Sideshow, is free and does not require purchase of a ticket.
Paradise lost: Remembering the popular Rehoboth men’s guest house
Beach town’s pioneering B&B welcomed gay clientele before arrival of AIDS
“What hath night to do with sleep?” John Milton, A Journey to Paradise
In February 1987, 30-something Bill Courville was at his Mt. Pleasant neighborhood home. He opened the new edition of the Washington Blade. As usual, he read it from beginning to end. With a Ph.D. in psychology, Bill enjoyed the classifieds. It lifted his spirits after reading obituaries of gay men and news of meager AIDS funding from the Reagan administration. Sandwiched between personals and escorts were real estate sales listings, including a one-inch ad about a B&B in downtown Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Bill thought about his youthful days living in New Orleans and working at the Maison De Ville, a small dusty red stucco painted guest house overlooking Toulouse Street. There Tennessee Williams had once lived while penning “A Street Car Named Desire” — when not sipping Sazarac cocktails in the garden courtyard.
He circled the ad and placed it on the kitchen counter for his lover, Bob, to read. The couple had met two years earlier crossing the P Street Bridge and had gradually merged their lives. After Bob looked at the ad, Bill suggested: “Let’s go look at this! We will have a business and an income — and a place to live!” Born in Minnesota, Bob Jerome, the more cautious of the pair, had grown up in California, attending college in Claremont and later working as a Senate staffer. Like Bill, he had a doctorate and traveled throughout the world before their P Street encounter. Unlike Bob, however, Bill never had been to Rehoboth. Nevertheless, Bill insisted this could be their next adventure or at least an excuse to visit the shore off-season.
“It’s a great seasonal resort,” Bob responded positively. “Everybody goes there. There’s gay life!”
The next weekend, they crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and drove to Paradise. Rehoboth was mostly shuttered. But the Renegade bar was open at the fringe of town as was the Blue Moon along the gaying Baltimore Avenue. Driving one street over, they arrived at 40 Maryland Ave.
John, the Realtor, whose lover “Dolly” performed at the Moon, met the couple at the 19th-century house. “It was pretty awful,” remembers Bill. The fatigued Paradise Guest House sign was washed-out and the wide front porch with its handcrafted trellis lusted for paint. The pipes were drained. There was no heat or electricity. There were slivers of mirrors glued on living room walls, a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, 1930s over-stuffed maroon chairs, and yard sale grade furniture facing an old TV. The scent of stale cigarette smoke lingered in the ceilings and walls.
As they wandered through the 28 rooms — most barely wide enough for a floor mattress with a thin plastic sheet and an occasional odd-fitting dresser — they eyed stacks of men’s magazines (Honcho, Mandate, Bound & Gagged), iconic videos like “Boys in the Sand,” “Stryker Force,” and “Pacific Coast Highway,” along with chests of dildos in every imaginable size. Off the living room, a narrow passageway at a left angle to the main corridor led to the first-floor bedrooms. At the end was a trap door. They didn’t venture down. “Seasonal resorts like the Paradise were kind of like bars,” Bill explains. “They look great at night but don’t look at them during the day.”
On their drive back, the couple chatted about the venture. “I told Bill that if we were going to invest, he needed to run it so we could learn the business.” Bob knew his income would cover their personal expenses as long as Bill was willing to do the day-to-day management. “We were youngish. I don’t think we thought about what a massive undertaking it was…. But it seemed right.”
After purchasing the property, they along with some friends had just a few months before the 10-week season began on Memorial Day weekend. “We’d drag them down there and make them work, saying, ‘Oh, you can go to the beach.’ But, of course they never did go as it was always cold and rainy.” Bill wondered, “Does the sun ever shine here?”
Those next weeks were frantic: discarding discolored mattresses and sex toys; tearing out faux bedroom walls to restore the original 14 rooms; buying new white wicker furniture; upgrading the bathrooms, deck, and kitchen. Everything was thoroughly cleaned. Fresh white paint glistened on the walls and gray-painted floors replaced piles of tattered, sandy rugs. A local lesbian contractor built sturdy outside showers replacing a rickety wooden stall connected by a water hose and lined with reflective aluminum foil — designed more for strutting than showering.
“It was a huge undertaking,” admits Bill. “Everything we had was sunk into it. It had to be open!” He remembers one man calling a few days before asking if he could change check-in to Wednesday. “No, you can’t,” Bill said flatly. “You can come Friday at 2 o’clock, but not one minute sooner!”
With little time to advertise in this pre-Internet era, they did their best to explain the changes to former guests, beginning with its new name: The Rehoboth Guest House. More importantly, it now was open to lesbians as well as straights and there was no smoking. “We had a mix of friends,” says Bill. “So it would be gay-owned and operated but pretty much open to whoever wanted to come…. We had been discriminated against for most of our lives. If you don’t want to come you don’t have to.”
Reactions from Paradise veterans varied when Bill and Bob discarded the blue, white, and yellow “Paradise Guest House” sign and, more importantly, its ethos of male eros. One of the new owners’ early supporters was Charlie Allen, who worked in the Baltimore schools but summered in Rehoboth. “He was writing a book,” Bill reveals, “called ‘Summer Sisters’… they were sisters for the summer.” Bob interjects, “The other part of the title was ‘Some Are Not.’ So, it was ‘Summer Sisters [pronounced Some Are Sisters]: Some Are Not.’Charlie died before publishing his book—which has never been found.
Unlike Charlie, “some hardcore folks were upset,” Bob recalls. “This used to be a gay male oasis” where men could “be themselves: wearing dresses; walking around naked; having piercings everywhere. They could get out of their suits and live the lives they wanted with people like them.” In an understanding tone, Bob adds: “That’s hard to take away.” The Paradise was a safe spot not only for Philadelphia accountants, D.C. staffers, and Baltimore teachers, but college kids enjoying summer break, career embarking twinks, and closeted locals seeking safe harbor.
Charlie was best friends with the German-accented Paradise owner Herbert Koerber and his boyfriend, Alvarado Ortiz-Benavides, whom everyone called “Mami”— colloquial Spanish for sweetheart. A gregarious man with fading hair and a reddish beard, Charlie often helped Mami with housekeeping and other chores. Mostly, though, he just enjoyed the sexual freedom of Paradise and the camaraderie among male guests. Some returned each year for a week, others visited more frequently for long weekends, and a few stayed the entire summer. Most guests were younger than Charlie’s 40 odd years, but everyone seemed to get along.
Most of Koerber’s clientele came from word-of-mouth advertising, although there was a classified ad in summer issues of the Washington Blade: “friendly guesthouse, close to beaches and bars.” One of the very first media stories about gay Rehoboth appeared in the May 1980 issue of this iconic paper. It described Paradise as “utterly comfortable” and quoted 38-year-old Herbert: “Tell people I can put them up — maybe even give them a discount during the week — but on weekends, after the bars close, my lobby will be packed.”
Before Herbert opened Paradise, in 1979, there were no openly gay-owned or gay-friendly advertised guest houses in Rehoboth. The Sandcastle, a decrepit speakeasy-like rooming house owned briefly by several gay men, had burnt to the ground four years earlier. The grand Pleasant Inn Lodge, hosted by the reclusive, debonair bachelor Peck Pleasanton and his octogenarian mother, Bessie, welcomed an occasional well-behaved “single” gentleman.
During eight seasons, Paradise evolved as did Herbert and Mami. The two were an odd pair. Herbert, a “fussy queen” who swore like a sailor, was tall and thin with longish hair and a handlebar mustache. He was always tanned even though his forehead would get beet red given his German complexion. The much shorter Mami, whose family was from South America, was soft-spoken and very sweet. Compared to the larger-than-life Herbert, he was less memorable to guests. Bob describes Herbert as “the German businessman. Mami was the onetime boy-toy.” They wintered in Key West, operating a gift shop and hawking kitsch souvenirs like black velvet paintings and seashell coasters.
Herbert monetized every aspect of Paradise, creating a sexual Disneyland. With 28 “teensy rooms the size of bathhouse cubicles,” there could be upwards of 50 men checked-in along with their friends and friends of their friends, wandering in during the night. However, the number of bathrooms — two full baths and two halves — did not expand. “It was shabby and crowded, but we were young and didn’t care,” one Paradise regular muses. “It had a reputation. It was our party house.”
The second floor became clothing optional with men often walking around with towels during midnight hours. Plywood partitions were set between rooms with guests on one side having a window and the other windowless. Herbert’s “summer curtains” served instead of doors, which allowed air (and guests) to circulate. Those with bedroom windows overlooking the sundeck could easily extend an invitation to a coconut-lotioned twink or a weightlifting hunk. “Everything went on at the deck and in the windows and rooms behind it,” recalls a frequent guest. There were late Saturday afternoon happy hours and skit contests. Staging was festive, if not overly decorative, with a jerry-rigged backstage area for costume changing. A raucous backyard crowd cheered contestants.
Originally, there was a huge gabled attic bedroom that required ascending a steep stairway. Herbert slashed it into a tiny single air-conditioned room with the remaining space transformed into an after dark playground full of mattresses with an aroma of poppers and pot. “Herbert turned every square inch of that attic into a bed sleeping sex area. It was masterful,” Bob says in a praiseworthy tone. “Every inch was geared toward pleasure” And, as he and Bill later discovered, There was a leather sling in the “dungeon,” a 10 x 12 cinder block walled room accessed only from the first floor trap door.
Room rates were low and backyard camping was just $5 for those bringing tents. Campers, though, had to be late night partiers. Before dawn, visitors often entered from the alley along a little path leading to the unlocked side gate. Nocturnal grunts, gasps, and groans harmonized to sounds of crashing waves. Back then, as one Paradise regular stresses, “Sex wasn’t a taboo thing. It was like going to lunch! It was as common as going for a cocktail.”
During the day, Herbert was often found in his flip-flops, T-shirt, and khaki shorts, puttering in the garden or tending to his beloved lacecap hydrangeas gracing the front yard. Herbert was estranged from his German-speaking family so Paradise regulars became his family. Friendly, he knew everyone by their first name but don’t ask to reserve a specific room. One returning guest remembers phoning Herbert for a reservation and requesting a first-floor room with a door: “Oh, honey!” Herbert laughed. “It’s just first come, first served.”
Herbert did repairs only when absolutely necessary. But he’d always be painting, using just one color: white. The exception was the wrap-around front porch, lined with rocking chairs, which had a gray floor and ceiling along with knob and tube wiring. Throughout the house, guests used it to hang clothes since there were no closets.
In the early to mid 1980s, Paradise thrived as a money making machine — a bathhouse on the beach. As the number of gay-owned restaurants and bars multiplied along with accompanying media attention, more gay men vacationed at Rehoboth and visited Paradise. “There was a routine,” one recounts. “You’d get up late. Get yourself down to the gay beach. Do a day at the ocean, getting too much sun. Then there was happy hour at the Moon. You had to be there and have a nice look. Then you’d go back, take a nap, and then go to dinner. Then, onto the Renegade!”
Herbert provided a weekend shuttle to the Renegade. About 10 o’clock, he’d drive up in his light colored blue and white ’60s VW van, hop out and, as a regular recollects, “Scream down the hallways: ’Get your asses down here!’” He shuttled guests back-and-forth, with the last pick-up at 1. ”I remember Herbert telling people in his heavy accent, ‘If you miss the last bus, you have to walk the fuck home!” But his gruffness masked protectiveness. ”He’d warn them he was going and he would even count!” Another frequent visitor remembers Herbert “as the kind of guy you’d call at 3 o’clock in the morning to say, ‘I’m in jail.’ And he’d be there.”
In 1980, reports surfaced about clusters of young gay men contacting Pneumocystis pneumonia. Granted the majority of infections and deaths from this “gay cancer” were in New York City and San Francisco, but the Washington Blade published a landmark front-page story, “Rare, Fatal Pneumonia Hits Gay Men,” inJuly 1981.
Herbert began to worry. One guest, living in New York City and volunteering as an AIDS buddy, remembers porch conversations with Herbert. ”He was talking about buying a second one. Then he said, ’I’m concerned since so many people are getting AIDS, I’m not sure whether or not I’ll have a clientele.’”
For many gays, Paradise was a rare time to be themselves and to enjoy the camaraderie and support from other men at a beach resort. Sadly, for some, it was also a death sentence. Sexual desire and psychological denial coupled with governmental inaction and public apathy fueled the AIDS pandemic.
After the 1986 summer season, Herbert and Mami sojourned, as usual, to Key West; Herbert never returned. ”I can remember being surprised to hear that he was ill,” laments a longtime patron. ”He went quickly; we had no indications he was ill.”
Herbert died a week before Bill and Bob opened on Memorial Day weekend. Mami was with him until the end. Like Paradise, he disappeared into history and, along with Herbert and many of his guests, would be remembered by few.
James Sears’ latest book, “Behind the Boardwalk: Queering the History of Rehoboth Beach” will be published next year. Tom Kelch, manger of the Rehoboth Beach Guest House, contributed research to this article.
Lesbian Bar Project to the rescue
Founders complete second year fundraising campaign to save businesses
The Lesbian Bar Project, a New York-based group founded by lesbian filmmakers Erica Rose and Elina Street, raised $117,000 last year to help the nation’s lesbian bars stay in business during the height of the COVID pandemic.
Among the bars receiving financial assistance from the project was D.C.’s A League of Her Own, the Adams Morgan lesbian bar. Owner Dave Perruzza said he and his staff were grateful to receive a $7,000 check from the Lesbian Bar Project early this year when the bar was closed under the city’s COVID shutdown order.
The two women say their 2021 fundraising campaign for the project will raise well over $100,000 as part of their continuing effort to support the nation’s remaining 21 lesbian bars, including A League of Her Own.
“Like a lot of things during COVID, we took a lot for granted,” Street told the Blade in describing how she and Rose reacted when their city’s three remaining lesbian bars – two in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn – shut down like most other bars and restaurants during the peak of the COVID public health restrictions in 2020.
“Erica and I felt very connected to the bars there,” Street said. “And we started these discussions of, we miss our cherished spaces. And now they’re closed. Where do we go?”
With their filmmaking skills as a backdrop, and with the knowledge that the already diminishing number of lesbian bars across the country were struggling to survive under COVID, the two started a fundraising campaign for those bars called the Lesbian Bar Project. Among other things, they produced a video Public Service Announcement with archival scenes of lesbian bars and the women who patronized them.
With financial support from the Jagermeister liquor company’s Save the Night campaign, which was launched to provide financial support for nightlife businesses such as bars and restaurants, Rose and Street arranged for the production of a separate 20-minute documentary film about the role lesbian bars play in the lives of those who patronize them. Rose and Street are listed as the film’s directors.
Among those serving as executive producer and appearing in the documentary is Lea DeLaria, the lesbian comedian, actress and internationally acclaimed star of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.”
Also appearing in the documentary is Jo McDaniel, longtime D.C. lesbian activist and bartender and manager at several D.C. gay bars who helped Perruzza open A League of Her Own as the city’s first full-time lesbian bar since the closing of the famed D.C. lesbian bar Phase One nearly a decade ago.
McDaniel says she left her job as A League of Her Own’s manager last year to undertake, along with her life partner Rachel Pike, the start of a new D.C. LGBTQ welcoming bar called As You Are, which began operating online. McDaniel says she and Pike are actively looking for a storefront building in which to open As You Are as an in-person café and bar with a dance floor that will be welcoming to lesbians and the LGBTQ community in general.
The documentary, which helped generate support for the project’s fundraising efforts, can be viewed on the group’s website free of charge at lesbianbarproject.com.
Earlier this month, the national dating app called Hinge announced it was entering into a partnership with the Lesbian Bar Project and would make an initial donation in August of $50,000 to help the project support lesbian bars in need of financial aid.
The announcement said Hinge would educate all its U.S. users about the “importance of LGBTQIA+ establishments” and encourage its LGBTQ members to visit one of the bars for a date.
“The bars that comprise the Lesbian Bar Project are not only a safe space but an essential part of LGBTQIA+ culture,” said Justin McLeod, founder and CEO of Hinge. “Our hope is that this support will help these sacred spaces to stay open through this summer and beyond,” he said in the company’s statement.
The Lesbian Bar Project website provides a list of the 21 lesbian bars that the project has supported. In a notice on the website, Rose and Street note that their initial fundraising campaign for 2021 has been completed, and a financial statement with information on how much has been raised will be released around the time of Labor Day weekend.
Rose told the Blade that until she and Street decide the project’s next plan of action, they are calling on people to donate directly to one or more of the 21 lesbian bars listed on the website.
However, a notice on the website says three of the bars – Cubbyhole of New York City; Sue Ellen’s of Dallas; and Wildside West of San Francisco, “have graciously decided to opt out” of the 2021 pool of funds raised to allow for more contributions to the other bars in greater need.
“In the late 1980s, there were an estimated 200 Lesbian Bars across the country,” a statement posted on the Lesbian Bar Project website says. “These bars are disappearing at a staggering rate, and we cannot afford to lose more of these vital establishments to the fallout of COVID-19,” the statement says.
Rose and Street said the decline in the number of lesbian bars, which began long before the onset of the COVID pandemic, is due to a number of factors, including the overall success of the LGBTQ rights movement. The two said nondiscrimination protections in state and local laws and the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, opened the way for lesbians and LGBTQ people in general to feel comfortable patronizing bars that were not specifically catering to lesbians.
They said that like its impact on gay bars in general, the rise of the Internet and online meet-up sites has also had the effect of enabling lesbians to meet each other outside of bars and other “brick and mortar” establishments.
“So, it’s like all of these factors combined with the pandemic are why many of these places are disappearing,” Rose said. “And that’s why Elina and I jumped into action. Our goal is always to raise awareness. The money raised is definitely a bonus,” she said. “We wanted to raise awareness and tell the stories of these bars. That’s going to make sure we remain indelible in our culture and ensuring our survival.”
Rose was referring to one of the themes of her and Street’s 20-minute documentary – that the in-person interaction offered by lesbian bars and LGBTQ bars in general provides, among other things, an important part of LGBTQ culture and the diversity of LGBTQ people that online and virtual venues cannot provide.
“We believe what makes a bar uniquely Lesbian is its prioritization of creating space for people of marginalized genders; including women, non-binary folks, and trans men,” according to the statement posted on the Lesbian Bar Project website. “As these spaces aim to be inclusive of all individuals across the diverse LGBTQIA+ community, the label Lesbian belongs to all people who feel that it empowers them,” the statement says.
“Without space, we lose power, validity, communal safety and access to intergenerational dialogue,” the statement adds. “With the support of our community, we can make sure these bars receive not only the financial assistance they need but the reference they deserve. When our history isn’t protected, we must protect it ourselves.”
Following is a list of the 21 remaining lesbian bars in the United States released by the Lesbian Bar Project:
A League of Her Own — Washington, D.C.
Alibi’s — Oklahoma City, Okla.
Babes of Carytown — Richmond, Va.
Blush & Blu — Denver
Boycott Bar — Phoenix
Cubbyhole — New York City
Frankie’s — Oklahoma City, Okla.
Ginger’s — Brooklyn, N.Y.
Gossip Grill — San Diego, Calif.
Henrietta Hudson — New York City
Herz — Mobile, Ala.
My Sister’s Room MSR — Atlanta
Pearl Bar — Houston
Slammers — Columbus, Ohio
Sue Ellen’s — Dallas
The Backdoor — Bloomington, Ind.
The Lipstick Lounge — Nashville, Tenn.
Walker’s Pint — Milwaukee, Wisc.
Wildrose — Seattle
Wildside West — San Francisco
Yellow Brick Road Pub — Tulsa, Okla.
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