Fans of the Christian pop group Avalon always wondered why founding member Michael Passons resigned abruptly in 2003 and then seemed to drop off the face of the earth.
There was talk of a solo album but none materialized. The official word was that he was “moving on to other things.”
The group had had a wildly successful run. Founded in the mid-’90s, Avalon released its self-titled debut album in 1996 on Sparrow and four more (“A Maze of Grace” in 1997, “In a Different Light” in 1999, “Joy: a Christmas Collection” in 2000 and “Oxygen” in 2001) as well as a hits collection with new material (“Testify to Love: the Very Best of Avalon”) in 2003 racking up 19 No. 1 singles on the Billboard gospel charts, two RIAA-certified gold albums, six Dove Awards, an American Music Award and three Grammy nominations.
Initially there was a blond male and female singer and a brunette male and female singer to round out the foursome in ways that were both visually and sonically appealing. There was regular turnover in one of the “female” slots but Passons, Janna (nee Potter) Long and Jody McBrayer formed the group’s backbone all through its early and most successful years.
After years of silence, in September, Passons came out as gay on Josh Skinner’s “Jonah and the Whale” podcast and said he was fired from the group for declining to continue with “reparative” therapy. The podcast generated significant media buzz and was aggregated in mainstream outlets like Billboard and People.
Though candid and forthcoming in the podcast, there was more to the story. Passons, a 54-year-old Yazoo City, Miss., native, was chatty and candid in a 45-minute phone interview from his Nashville home on working in the CCM (contemporary Christian music) bubble, hiding his sexuality for so many years, why he opted to come out now and about the Dove Award he nabbed from Whitney Houston at the 1998 ceremony. His comments have been slightly edited for length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: It was great to hear the podcast. It felt like you’d just kinda vanished.
MICHAEL PASSONS: I understand that people would see it that way because you’re just kind of out of the public eye when you’re not making music, not putting music out and doing interviews, and I had not done any of that pretty much in 17 years. And I didn’t really expect this podcast to get the attention that it did get. It was a bit of a surprise to me that there was so much of an interest in a 17-year-old story.
BLADE: Why did it feel like now was the right time? How did it come about?
PASSONS: It wasn’t some calculated move, I was approached by a friend who introduced me to Josh Skinner who has a podcast Jonah and the Whale and said would you like to be a guest? This particular podcast deals with an underwater moment in your life and I had previously had conversations with my family just a couple months earlier, just about my life and the truth of my life so I thought, “Well now is the perfect time,” so it really wasn’t planned out far in advance. An opportunity landed in my lap and I decided to tell the story.
BLADE: Had you been approached before?
PASSONS: Well, I’ve been pretty under the radar. I’ve been traveling the last 15 years with another Christian group, but only in the band. I play keys for Point of Grace. I wanted to keep my foot in the water … but I didn’t want to be the front guy … so I really hadn’t been approached by journalists at all until now.
BLADE: You tell in the podcast about how they came to your house for a meeting in 2003 and this all came to a head. How had they known you were gay in the first place? What led up to that meeting?
PASSONS: Well at that point I was 38 years old, I wasn’t married, I wasn’t dating, (so) rumors begin to swirl when you have that type of scenario and we had discussions about it several years before. So that’s when … they said to me I needed to go to therapy. It really was in 2002 that they wanted me to go to reparative therapy or at least go see a counselor or some guy who said his credentials were counseling gay people. So I did that to appease them but I knew it was a fruitless effort, and as I say in the podcast, that didn’t last very long. I told them I wasn’t going back to that. It had been a conversation for about a year or so before 2003.
BLADE: Did you have a pretty good relationship with them otherwise?
PASSONS: Well over the course of the eight years we were traveling together, I saw those people more than anyone else. Our schedule was so demanding and we toured almost nonstop. … So we did at the time have this family-type relationship but … groups often have a shorter shelf life than solo artists because there are multiple people with multiple goals and aspirations and so unless all four of us aligned, there were always going to be these times where one wants to do a solo deal or they think we should do this or go in this direction and so we kind of started growing apart in our vision. Jody and Janna wanted to do solo records and I thought that was something that was going to fracture the group and our brand and that did cause some tensions because the other two members really wanted to focus our efforts on the Avalon brand because that’s what was familiar to everyone. So over the years we became not as close and then of course you add something like this which kind of draws a line and you have to choose what side of the line you’re going to be on.
BLADE: Bear with me a sec, but I’m going to read you Jody’s quote to CCM Magazine in April, 2004 when he said: “We had a meeting at Michael’s house one day and he told us he was going to move on to other things. We sat and cried and felt like the rug had been pulled out from under us. Things had felt great with the new group and Michael seemed to get along and blend vocally with (then-new member) Melissa (Greene) really well. But Michael had been with us from the beginning and just felt it was time for him to do something else. It’s weird but since his departure, it seems everyone is looking for some scandalous thing to have happened there. It makes me just want to say, ‘Look, I’m sorry to disappoint you that we don’t have some juicy gossip or ‘Dynasty’ episode happening here.” Based on what you shared in the podcast, that was a gross mischaracterization of how it went down. Did you read that at the time? How did it make you feel?
PASSONS: At the time the record label and management held really right reins on us because they created the group, it was their idea. They wanted to find a group that was already in existence that was two guys, two girls. They couldn’t do it so they said, “Let’s just put one together,” so we never felt like we had ownership of much. … So when management and label say, “This is what you are to say,” it became kind of like a bullshit fest at that point. You just gotta stick with the story and that’s what Jody was doing, he was sticking with the story he was told to say. … That was just the way they chose to handle it at the time. … Interestingly enough, Jody reached out to me after the podcast aired and we had not really talked in 17 years other than bumping into each other in a restaurant and saying a quick hello. We met for about an hour we met at a park here in Nashville and just walked around and he apologized profusely and said his heart was broken when he was listening to that podcast. He was very sincere and I accepted what he had to say and I feel like our relationship has actually — there was some definite closure there as far as what I’d been feeling all of these years and so that was a good thing that came out of this and I’m glad he reached out to me.
The Blade invited McBrayer to comment. In response to the question, “Did you feel muzzled by the label?” he sent this response: “Absolutely muzzled. However I would have never ever said anything to hurt Michael’s reputation. We were asked for years about what happened and myself and my family refused to say anything that would put Michael in a bad light. We were given a statement and told to go with it. We did everything we were told at the time. … Michael knows I love him and hate how all of it went down and how he was treated by the industry. I’m so thankful he’s happy and grown beyond it all now. I will continue to protect him. He will always be family.”
BLADE: Was there any truth to what they were saying? Had you been considering a solo album?
PASSONS: No. I know my strengths and my strength was not as a solo artist. … I enjoyed the team mentality of a group. … I think fans and people outside the industry took the press release at face value but people inside the industry heard pretty quickly what had really happened. Gossip and rumors spread really quickly around Nashville so I just thought, “OK, I’m gonna just start life No. 3 here.” (chuckles)
BLADE: A few other big CCM artists eventually came out like Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz. Did you follow that or ever compare notes with them?
PASSONS: I don’t know either of those artists personally. I’ve never really interacted with them. I think we did a show once with Jennifer years and years ago but it was just mainly, “Hello, nice to meet you.” I applaud them for living their best life and telling their truth but I just never felt like mine was necessarily a story that needed to be told. I wasn’t a solo artist. I would get recognized occasionally. People would say, “Oh, you’re that guy who was in that group,” but I would say 80 percent of fans just knew me as the blond guy. So I didn’t feel like I had tons of name recognition or that my story mattered. But in the last few years, I wanted to be more truthful with my family so that’s really where all this came out of.
BLADE: Did anybody else from your CCM days reach out besides Jody?
PASSONS: I’ve received tons of texts and Instagram messages from friends from home, friends from college, fans, strangers. As far as the industry, some people that I haven’t seen in a while. It was very interesting. Amy Grant texted me and told me she listened and thought my story was beautiful in the way I told it and graceful and I appreciated that. Susan Ashton reached out and I haven’t seen her in years. She was very encouraging. She said, “You are seen and heard and loved.” Everything has been overwhelmingly positive.
BLADE: Did you get to know the other artists very well or have much interaction on the multi-artist tours you did like “Emmanuel” or “My Utmost”?
PASSONS: Yeah, we had a lot of time to just hang out, especially on the bus. You’re traveling late at night and everyone’s wired so you’re staying up and visiting. But we were really new artists at that time and we were thrown into a mix of all of these people that were our mentors, our heroes. We were fans of theirs and now we’re all of a sudden peers, just because of how Avalon came together. Our very first tour before we even sang a note on a record was “Young Messiah” in ’95. We had just come together weeks before and just had enough time to record one Christmas song so that we could sing that song on that tour and there we were next to 4 HIM and Point of Grace and Steven Curtis Chapman and Larnelle Harris and that was mind-blowing to be with all these great artists. But yes, everyone was very welcoming had lots of encouragement for us and advice and I actually really enjoyed those tours.
BLADE: I saw you guys once with Twila Paris. What was she like?
PASSONS: That was our first tour (the “Where I Stand Tour” in 1997). We did Young Messiah that Christmas and then we did our record, then we toured with Twila. We were definitely getting our feet wet just seeing how this industry was going to work … how we were gonna mesh as a group because we were thrown on stage and we had to find our blend. Live, It’s one thing to be in the studio and be mixed and blended but to sing live, the Twila Paris tour was really just where we began to hone our craft as a group and so yeah, that was wonderful. I had many good experiences wth that tour. We did a spring tour and a fall tour with Twila and it was a long tour but we definitely leaned a lot.
BLADE: Is there anybody in CCM who struck you as markedly different from their public persona?
PASSONS: I feel like everyone would be a little different than what you perceive them to be because you only see a very structured view of them by the PR department of the record label. I really enjoyed getting to know Sandi Patty because when you listen to her music, you just don’t pick up on the edge that she has. She has this great sense of humor that’s a little edgy. I don’t know, my image of Sandi Patty was that she was always walking around in some state of meditation or sitting around in a prayer circle because when you’re growing up you just think of someone in such a reverent way because you respected their music so much and she was just she a cut up, she kidded around, she invited us to her home in Indiana at that point just to hang out with her family and I just I enjoyed seeing a whole different side of her. She’s a very strong personality, a strong woman and listening and singing along with her records, it was just good to see the other side of her.
BLADE: What have you been living on all these years?
PASSONS: I play for Point of Grace and also a friend of mine in town, an attorney and I actually work with her in her law practice and of course being friends with the boss, you can leave anytime and so I’m free to travel whenever I need to and want to so that allows me to hang out with Point of Grace and go where they go. 2020 has been interesting. Since March, we’ve only had two shows and they were very small, so it’s been really interesting year for sure.
BLADE: What denomination did you grow up in?
PASSONS: Southern Baptist. A little country church in Mississippi.
BLADE: Are there still elements of Baptist or evangelical theology you struggle with? Queer or otherwise?
PASSONS: I’m past struggling with it. Of course, it’s something I think about often but I don’t struggle with it any longer. … I’ve definitely got a different view of spiritualism. I don’t consider myself religious but I do believe in God and so I do have a spiritual life but it just doesn’t involve organized religion and that’s just where I’ve landed.
BLADE: But do you still believe the Christianity basics — Jesus died for our sins and rose on the third day and so on or is it a broader thing for you?
PASSONS: It’s a broader spiritual thing and like I said in my previous interview, I’m just in this place of my prayer to God is show me what is true. I’m not gonna close my mind to anything, I’m not going to say, “Oh this is what I was taught and I don’t believe that anymore,” I just want to step back and rebuild all those boxes, rebuild what my spirituality is, kind of like just implode it to ground level and let’s start again. I was taught by very well-intended people. All my Sunday School teachers in that little church, they didn’t have any malice, they were well-intended people teaching what they believed. We were spoon fed, so at some point in your life you have to just decide of all that information you took in, what do you really believe? I had to get to the point where I was OK disagreeing and not believing some of the things I was taught. it wasn’t disrespectful to those people, I just have to find my own way.
BLADE: Do you think the conservative, white evangelical world will ever become openly accepting of LGBT people? Is it a lost cause or could it be a whole different story in another generation?
PASSONS: I think there is hope. I’ve seen so much progress in Christian circles just in my lifetime that I never thought I would see. It’s pockets, it’s not widespread, but … I think there is hope. A lot of things used to be justified with scripture that they eventually came around on. (Author) Peter Gomes calls it “the last prejudice of the church.” … After I left, Avalon recorded a song called “Orphans of God,” which I thought was interesting that they were singing it because I was definitely an outcast to them. But now my friend (out country singer) Ty Herndon and Kristen Chenoweth are going to cover it for a Christmas release as a duet and they asked Melissa Greene and I to sing backing vocals on it so now it will take on a whole new meaning. It was a really nice, full circle moment.
BLADE: Did you keep up with what Avalon was doing much after you were kicked out?
PASSONS: No. It would have put me in a bad headspace.
BLADE: Have you had many boyfriends? Are you in a relationship now?
PASSONS: I am. I’m with a wonderful guy now and it’s going well.
BLADE: Not married though?
PASSONS: No, not married (laughs).
BLADE: How long was it before you were comfortable dating guys?
PASSONS: It took me a while, because when all that went down, I internalized a lot of things and I thought, “Well this is my fault,” type of thing. It really took many years for me to just work through all the junk and work through that cloud in my head and so it wasn’t like some big unleashing. It wasn’t like I left Avalon and just started living my best life, it definitely took awhile to repair the hurt that happened from those several years when Avalon was ending and all the things I went through at that point.
BLADE: Do you know of other LGBT people in CCM who are not out?
PASSONS: Yeah, I do. I feel for them because I know that panicky feeling I used to have, that someone might catch on. … But I think a lot of conservative Christians might be naive as to how many people are gay or bi in their church. You learn from a very early age to be a good actor.
BLADE: Who was your favorite Avalon producer to work with?
PASSONS: Brown Bannister produced most of the records when I was in the group. He’s, you know, such an icon in our industry and I have so much reverence for him and so much respect, so it was an honor to work with him. He actually brought out the best in me. There was something about just his people skills and he was just so kind and thoughtful in how he spoke with you and guided you through the recording process. He just took the time, even just to find the right microphone for me, because the mic in the studio can make a world of difference. I remember going through five or six mics before we found the right one. A lot of producers are just like, “OK let’s get this going, all right that’s great on to the next one.” He just took time to make it right and I appreciated that.
BLADE: How long did it take to make those albums on average?
PASSONS: When it came time to record, we would try to just block off weeks where we would just go in there and do vocals, vocals, vocals vocals and really mainly weekdays because we would go out on the weekends and do one-offs, you know, weekend dates here and there. So we wouldn’t obviously do a new record in the midst of a tour because we’d want to tour the new record but during our one-offs we would get in there and try to get in it done and probably over the course of a month and a half, two months, we would have everything done.
BLADE: How involved were you all with the vocal arrangements? I always loved that outro and all those layers on “We Are the Reason,” for instance. How did you come up with all those intricate lines?
PASSONS: We had a great vocal vocal producer named Michael Mellett and he had been a studio singer in Nashville a long time and had toured with Billy Joel as a background singer. He would come in and help arrange our parts and he was amazing at it. And I remember he did work on our Christmas record and I remember that outro those alternate melodies that he helped us come up with, I loved that too. I felt like that really updated the song. It’s interesting because when we did it it was 20 years old and now it’s been 20 years since we did it, so it needs to be done again now. But it was my favorite song growing up. I used to sing it with an accompaniment tape at my little country church when I was a kid.
BLADE: Yeah, I love it too. Did (songwriter) David Meece ever say anything after you guys cut it?
PASSONS: Indirectly. I think he might have said something to Brown but we heard that he liked it.
BLADE: Who’s a celebrity who would exemplify your type?
PASSONS: (laughs) My type, wow. I’m definitely attracted to someone who is confident but not cocky, someone who has sensitivity but is not overly sensitive, someone who’s just confident in themselves, that’s a big attraction to me. If I were to throw out a celebrity I see a lot of those qualities in, and maybe I’m wrong, but someone like Bradley Cooper.
BLADE: Did you guys in Avalon have any say in choosing singles?
PASSONS: We were included in conversations but I feel like ultimately the label got what they wanted. There’s one little battle that we won and in retrospect not just one, but I just remember this instance, where the label disagreed with us about what we should call our second record and had we listened to the label, we probably would have sold a lot more. They wanted us to call it “Testify to Love” and we had no idea when we were naming the record and about to release it that that would be the one song that Avalon would be known for or that it be our biggest song ever. We thought “A Maze of Grace” was such a clever title. They disagreed but they let us do what we wanted. But who knew “Testify to Love” would become such a huge song for us?
BLADE: Was (Sparrow president) Bill Hearn around much?
PASSONS: We would see him periodically and even his father Billy Ray, who started the company, they’re both deceased now, but they were very approachable. They weren’t always in our meetings because we were more with A&R and publicity and stylists but when they were around, they were very approachable, very hands on.
BLADE: When you win a Dove Award, did you each get one or just one for the group?
PASSONS: At the ceremony, just one is given but then they mail three more to you like a month later.
BLADE: Where do you keep yours?
PASSONS: I have a little study/office that I’m sitting in right now. I just have them on a shelf along with some pictures and mementos and things I like to keep out. The interesting story about one of our Dove Awards is our first Dove Award for new artist of the year and that was in 1998 I believe, and we got new artist of the year at the 29th Dove Awards and that was the year that Whitney Houston performed with Dottie Rambo … and we were backstage after we won doing a press junket so I missed her performance and I’m a huge Whitney Houston fan, like I would rival anyone else saying they’re a huge Whitney Houston fan. (laughs) She’s pretty much my all-time favorite artist. So after the show some press people wanted to take a photo of Whitney holding a Dove Award. She didn’t have one so Jody was standing close by with his and they said, “Can we have your Dove Award for a picture,” and so Whitney took our Dove Award and had her picture made with it and of course that was the only one we got that night and our manager said, “OK I’m gonna take that to the office and hold it ’til the others come in and you all can come by and pick them up,” and so before he could get to it, I got that particular one and took a Sharpie and made a mark on the bottom of it and the day that our manager said, “OK you can come by and pick up the Dove Awards they’re all in,” I was first one in there and I picked them all up and looked for the one I made the mark on because I wanted the one that Whitney had held. So I’m holding it right now, I’ve got that one in my hand and I always think of Whitney.
BLADE: Who were your favorite CCM acts growing up? Or did you listen to more pop?
PASSONS: I listened to a lot of pop and and country. My family is from a rural Mississippi town so country music was really most of what was on the radio and I love that old ’70s country. I still listen to it just because it has a lot of good memories. But I didn’t really know there was such a thing as CCM other than, you know, like Bill and Gloria Gaither-type stuff until I was in high school and someone handed me a tape of “Age to Age” by Amy Grant and that just lit a fire in me like I had no idea this type of thing existed, this is what I want to do. And of course I’ve just been — I was a fan of Amy Grant from that day on and she was definitely a huge influence in the way I would sing music, the way I would write music, I would listen to interviews of her and I would just — she was a great teacher in that respect of just knowing how to respond to questions, how to react to people, just her demeanor, how she handled herself, she was definitely a role model.
BLADE: So that must have been mind-blowing to work with her producer (Brown Bannister) all those years later.
PASSONS: Yeah, definitely. And then her text last week, yeah, that was a nice moment.
BLADE: Why didn’t the more progressive Christian denominations ever have their own version of CCM? There are a few fledgling queer gospel singers out there but nothing like the machine that CCM was. Maybe they didn’t care as much if their kids listened to Metallica or whatever?
PASSONS: I think your theory might hold some weight, just that the conservative Christians were looking for an alternative for them and their families to listen to. One thing I think there probably wouldn’t have been a market in the liberal circles to sustain the industry, they wouldn’t have purchased the CDs and the music. It was the conservatives who made this a business and the Christian music business is a business. You have to be making money to be in CCM, that’s the dichotomy that I’ve always wrestled with. CCM depended on Becky, and I’ll tell you who Becky is. Becky is the pseudonym for their target audience. So any meeting we were in, it was always asked, “What would Becky buy, would Becky like this song?” And Becky is a 20-, 30- or 40-something conservative Christian female and she was the target audience because she was the one buying the CDs and the tapes and downloading the music and so I think that’s maybe why the conservative church has kind of a market on CCM music.
BLADE: Is she related to Karen?
PASSONS: (laughs) That’s funny. If they’re not related, they’re probably best friends.
BLADE: When your bandmates came to your house that day, did it feel like it was coming from a place of love and concern or did it feel like a power play? Like they were trying to oust you?
PASSONS: It did feel like a power play. There were some very complicated personalities in the group and so it definitely — I did not feel much love that day.
BLADE: To me, it was like when Florence got kicked out of the Supremes. They could go on and do whatever they want, but without Florence, it wasn’t the Supremes. Without you, it wasn’t Avalon. The one female singer didn’t matter so much because she always changed. That was like the new season of “Charlie’s Angels,” you always knew she would change. But when you left, it was never the same.
PASSONS: I appreciate that, I’ve heard several say that and it’s always good to know that my contribution is something that was missed.
20th annual Best of LGBTQ D.C.
Your favorites in dining, entertainment, and more as city returns to normal
Welcome to the Washington Blade’s 20th annual Best Of LGBTQ D.C. issue. This is a fun project to put together each year, but made even sweeter this year as the city has slowly returned to a new sense of normal post-vaccines. This year’s awards are a bit smaller in scope as so many venues and events were closed or postponed last year — but this list represents growth from 2020 and we’re excited to reinstate our annual Best Of party.
In the following pages, we celebrate the best of the LGBTQ community in Washington. We reduced our usual 100 categories to 60 given all the COVID closures and restrictions on nightlife and arts & entertainment events. About 4,000 nominations and 30,000 votes were cast in 60 categories for the 20th 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, Patrick Folliard, Kaela Roeder, and Tinashe Chingarande. Congratulations to all of the nominees, finalists, and winners. Thank you to our sponsors ABSOLUT, PEPCO, DC Brau, Hook Hall and The Washington Regional Transplant Community.
Community advocate, event moderator and Queen of the Shameless Plug, D.C. icon Rayceen Pendarvis wears many crowns as host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” streaming the first Wednesday of each month through November.
For 10 years, Pendarvis has been host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” a live monthly variety program in D.C. In addition to live music and other performances, segments include panel discussions, interviews, competitions, comedy, and games.
The program made its debut in May 2012 at the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Burke Theatre and moved to the Human Rights Campaign Equality Center in 2017. For its 10th and final season, “The Ask Rayceen Show” went virtual.
In addition to Team Rayceen events, Pendarvis has hosted community Pride celebrations, Story District’s Out/Spoken, Reel Affirmations International LGBTQ Film Festival, and a series of programs for the DC Office on Aging.
Pendarvis is also an inspirational speaker and a tireless advocate for the community.
“God is so good,” Pendarvis told a cheering crowd in June 2020 before leading a prayer in Black Lives Matter Plaza. “I’m still marching. I marched with Dr. King. I marched on Washington for gay and civil rights for everyone, for marriage equality, for women to have an equal place at the table…and here I am, still marching.”
In June, the D.C. Council approved a resolution recognizing Pendarvis’s accomplishments and roles as a former commissioner, moderator and advocate, and in September Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a proclamation declaring Sept. 1 as a day to recognize the contributions of both Pendarvis and the long-running program to the District.
During a lengthy public career, Pendarvis has been recognized by Casa Ruby, the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral Church, Capital Pride and a variety of other community organizations.
Numerous awards Pendarvis has also received include the Triumph Award, Spirit of Light, Us Helping Us Lifetime Achievement Award, the Wilmore Cooke Award, the Gillard-Alston Award, and the Red-Era Ballroom Legendary Award for outstanding community service.
Pendarvis is currently active online via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and as a co-host on the Team Rayceen YouTube channel. (PVS)
Best Drag Queen: Bombalicious Eklaver
Bombalicious Eklaver, the drag alter ego of Ed Figueroa, is the resident drag queen at the Baltimore Eagle and hostess of “BLOWOUT!” every Saturday.
She’ll also be at “Drag Underground” at Dupont Underground on Oct. 22 and she has recurring brunches at Firefly and Mercy Me in D.C. The next is Oct. 31. Starting next month, she’ll be at “Drag Social” at TallBoy every other Monday. Her show “Superstar,” derailed by the pandemic, features up-and-coming drag talent and will be back at Songbyrd’s new location starting Nov. 19.
She says performing in the COVID era has been a game changer.
“It’s definitely not the same,” Eklaver says. “Performers and audiences are still taking heavy precautions while the virus and its variants are still there. Many venues still require masks and proof of vaccination. I work as an RN in my day job so I know this nightmare isn’t over yet for sure.”
Figueroa, a native of the Philippines, came to the Baltimore area more than a decade ago to work at Mercy Medical Center. He and husband Ivn Manahan live in Hanover, Md., with their Pomeranians Bogart and Bertha.
Follow Bombalicious at @bombalicious.eklaver on Instagram. (JD)
Best Drag King: Rico Pico
(Runner-up: Majic Dyke)
Rico Pico, the drag alter ego of Jenni Serrano, is a life-long D.C.-area native proud of his Salvadorean heritage. His style is punk rock, genderfuck and “a whole lot of Latin flavor,” he says.
Serrano has been doing drag since January 2020.
“I always loved drag and was inspired by local drag performers, but I didn’t see enough performers like me,” Serrano says. “King, alternative, Latinx, genderfluid, etc. I didn’t feel represented, so I chose to represent myself.”
Serrano says Rico “saved my life.”
“I’ve been through a lot of trauma as a queer person,” they says. “Rico allowed me to express that pain through art. It makes me so happy and alive.
Look for Serrano on Halloween at DIK Bar.
Serrano performs in various spots in the region and is active in queer Latinx events. Serrano, who identifies as genderfluid and pan, works by day as a stylist at Bang Salon Metropole. Follow him @kingricopico on Instagram. (JD)
Best Drag Show: Freddie’s Follies
555 S. 23rd St.
(Editor’s Choice: Red Bear’s Drag Bingo)
The Freddie’s Follies Drag Show is every Saturday at 8 p.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar (555 23rd St., Arlington, Va.) and boasts “the best drag entertainment the DMV has to offer.”
Cast regulars are longtime D.C.-area drag legends Destiny B. Childs, Monet Dupree, Tatiyanna Voche and Ophelia Bottoms along with a rotating cast of guests.
Reservations, which are not required but encouraged if you want a table seat, can be made at freddiesbeachbar.com or 703-685-0555. (JD)
Best Absolut Happy Hour: Trade
1410 14th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Number Nine)
Throughout history, gay bars and clubs have been safe spaces where queer people can gather and be themselves without fear of judgement. Trade, located on 14th Street, N.W., is exactly that. All its events — especially happy hour — guarantee a great time to express yourself while enjoying others’ company over a drink. (TC)
Best Bartender: Dusty Martinez, Trade
(Runner-up: Carl Parker, Town Tavern)
Dusty Martinez, celebrating his fifth year at Trade as bartender/general manager, is glad to have “made it through last year.”
“I’m a strong advocate for the vaccine because I lost my mom to COVID at the beginning of the year,” he says. “The community really rallied behind me. I’m grateful for the bar and the community for being there for me. Trade has always been a safe and inviting place and I’m happy to be part of that.”
This award was not given last year, but Martinez (who formerly worked at Town) was runner up in 2018 and 2016 and won in 2017 and 2014. He says he always tries to have fun with Best of LGBTQ D.C.
“Anytime the bar is nominated for something, I try to make some funny videos and images to add to my feed,” he says. “I really try to make light of it. It’s both an honor and delight to even be nominated.” (JD)
Best Neighborhood Bar: Pitchers
2317 18th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Uproar)
Pitchers launched in 2018 and bills itself as “a sports bar/restaurant for the LGBTQIA+ community where all are welcome.”
Owner Dave Perruzza says things are slowly getting “somewhat back to normal.”
“We haven’t fully bounced back yet,” he says. “We still have to pay off loans and it’s hard to keep inventory because of the constant shortage of products.”
Recurring events include:
• Thirst Trap Thursdays feature a rotating cast of drag entertainers and is hosted by Venus Valhalla and Cake each week from 9-10 p.m.
• Black Friday, featuring drag performers of color, is the first Friday of each month at 10 p.m.
• Show tunes is all day every Sunday in the First Base area.
Pitchers is open Wednesdays through Sundays. Proof of vaccination required for entry. (JD)
Best LGBTQ-Friendly Bar: Dacha Beer Garden
79 Potomac Ave., S.E. (Navy Yard) and 1600 7th St., N.W. (Shaw)
(Editor’s Choice: DC9)
Whatever your taste, Dacha Beer Garden has you covered. Dacha offers a variety of German, Belgian, and American craft beers along with wines, ciders, and other refreshments. Dacha previously won Best Outdoor Drinking in 2018 and 2019 and Best Straight Bar for five consecutive years until 2019. (KR)
Best Bar Outside the District: Freddie’s Beach Bar
555 S. 23rd St.
(Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Eagle)
Extending its record — with this win and the Best Drag Show win, that makes 25 wins for this Best of Gay D.C. favorite. Freddie’s has won this award every year it has been given since 2002 in addition to several others. It’s a Best Of all-time record for a single category.
Freddie’s is Northern Virginia’s only “LGBTQ+, straight-friendly” restaurant and bar and is a queer D.C.-area institution. (JD)
Best Museum: National Museum of African American History and Culture
1400 Constitution Ave., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: National Gallery of Art)
Nothing included in the 100-years-in-the-making National Museum of African American History and Culture (officially established in 2003), which cost $540 million to build ($315 million came from private funds) and which broke ground in February 2012, was considered lightly.
Among artifacts included in the 400,000-square-foot building situated on five acres adjacent to the Washington Monument on the National Mall, are Harriet Tubman’s hymnal, a slave cabin dating to the early 1800s, a dress handmade by Rosa Parks, a fedora worn in concert by Michael Jackson, pieces of a slave ship, a plane from the Tuskegee Institute used to train African-American pilots during World War II, a bill of sale for a Black teen named Polly in 1835, glass shards from a Baptist church bombed in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 and, of course, much more.
Perhaps the most significant LGBTQ item that has been displayed there is an inscribed watch that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington at which King gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
The Museum was “editor’s choice” in this category in 2018 and won it in 2017. (JD)
Best Transgender Performer: Gigi Paris Couture
(Runner-up: India Larelle Houston)
Miss Gigi Paris Couture has won numerous titles and awards for her blend of sweet and sexy burlesque performances. Beginning with Miss Luchos Continental in 2001, Couture won Miss Continental preliminary titles of Miss New York, New York Continental in 2002 and Miss Tennessee Continental in 2003. Her other awards include Miss Diamond International in 2007 and Miss Freddie’s in 2015. Couture currently delights crowds at local favorite Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant (555 23rd St. S, Crystal City, Va.), just outside of Arlington, with her award-winning artistry. (PVS)
Best Entertainment Venue: 9:30 Club
815 V St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Wolf Trap)
D.C.’s legendary 9:30 Club is no stranger to accolades. In recent years it’s been named one of the best live music venues in America by Rolling Stone, and dubbed “Venue of the Decade” by the widely read VenuesNow.
Since its opening in 1980, the club has played host to thousands of bands and artists ranging from the Psychedelic Furs to Tony Bennett. Initially billed as the “first non-disco niteclub to open in downtown D.C. in thirteen years,” a welcome concept that’s worked impressively both at the club’s original location at 930 F St., N.W., a then-blighted part of town, and since 1996 at its larger space on V Street.
Currently, a version of the original F St. 9:30 Club, is in the planning stages. The new, intimate venue will be located behind the existing 9:30 Club in the old Satellite Room space.
Best A&E Event: D.C. Royals at Dupont Underground
19 Dupont Circle, N.W.
(Runner-up: Maryland Renaissance Festival)
D.C. Royals at Dupont Underground is an exhibition that celebrates drag and its roots in America. Through a collection of pictures gathered from the Washington Blade’s archives and video footage from interviews with Shi-Queeta-Lee & Pretty RikE, the exhibition honors the “power, pride and leadership that define the drag community,” according to Dupont’s website. The events, held earlier this year, were sponsored by the Blade and Dupont Underground. (TC)
Best LGBTQ-owned Business: Red Bear Brewing Co.
209 M St., N.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Miss Pixie’s)
A relatively new gay-owned venue in the District, Red Bear Brewing Co. offers made in-house beers and classic bar food in the heart of NoMa. Red Bear hosts several types of events including drag shows, trivia and stand-up performances. Red Bear Brewing’s Bryan Van Den Oever won Best Businessperson in 2020. (KR)
Most LGBTQ-Friendly Workplace: Whitman-Walker Health
(Editor’s Choice: Compass Realty)
Whitman-Walker Health, D.C.’s LGBTQ supportive health care provider, conducts research, hosts community events and advocates for policy change. Since 1973, the organization has been a driving force in advocacy for health equity. During the AIDS epidemic, Whitman-Walker became a safe haven when many hospitals and clinics turned gay people away.
At the patient care level, Whitman-Walker offers primary, gender-affirming, behavioral and dental care at three separate locations. Whitman-Walker is set to open a new facility at the redeveloping St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Campus in Southeast Washington in 2023. (KR)
Best Salon/Spa: Logan 14
1314 14th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Bang Salon)
The folks at Logan 14 Aveda Salon & Spa say “back to normal” isn’t quite the way to characterize their current modus operandi.
“We are forever changed and moving forward,” says Katie Rose, general manager. “The pandemic has given us the opportunity to be curious again about all aspects of our business and how we operate.”
She says it’s “been great” to have its capacity restriction lifted in May, the team back on site and to “feel that salon buzz” once again.
Business is not at pre-pandemic levels, but has improved since 2020.
About 75 percent of Aveda’s clientele is LGBTQ. This is Aveda’s sixth consecutive win in this category. (JD)
Best Hotel: The Line D.C.
1770 Euclid St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: The Viceroy)
Inspired by the District and housed inside a 110-year old historic church, The Line D.C. is the product of a community effort by local chefs, bartenders, artists and cultural contributors.
Located in the heart of Adams Morgan, the Line “delivers a uniquely rich way to experience the nation’s capital,” its marketing states.
The Line is pet friendly and has a restaurant and gym on site. A robust COVID policy is also in place.
The Line D.C. was named “editor’s choice” in this category in 2018 and won in 2019. (JD)
Best Fitness or Workout Spot: VIDA Fitness
Multiple D.C. locations
(Editor’s Choice: Cut Seven)
VIDA once again displays its dominance. This is its third consecutive win in this category and 10th win in this category overall.
VIDA has six locations — U Street (1612 U St., N.W.), Logan Circle (1517 15th St., N.W.), The Yards (1212 4th St. S.E. #170), Ballston (4040 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.), Gallery Place (601 F St., N.W.) and City Vista (445 K St., N.W.). The VIDA chain is gay-owned by David Von Storch. Membership packages run between $119-179 per month and include access to all locations, virtual classes, indoor and outdoor classes, discounts at Aura Spa and Bang Salon and more.
Readers praised the gym for surviving COVID. Last year it won “Best Virtual Fitness Classes.” (JD)
Best Real Estate Agent: TIE! Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty and Michael Moore, Compass
Best Real Estate Agent: TIE Michael Moore, Compass & Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty
In a Best Of rarity, we have a tie this year for Best Real Estate Agent.
Over the course of a real estate career spanning 30 years, Michael Moore has received numerous industry recognitions and honors. A client testimonial also celebrates him as “very professional” with a “great personality,” and interestingly Compass not only heralds his skills as a market expert and a negotiator but as “a bit of comedic relief.” It is this blend of skill and personality that has made him a community favorite.
Stacey Williams-Zeiger opened her own auto dealership in her native Maryland. Later she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and she is now the president and principal broker of Zeiger Realty, Inc., which she calls an equality-based business.
“Even if you work with an agent who is equality minded, their brokerage may use money generated from your home sale to fight against you,” she told the Blade a few years ago. “Zeiger Realty Inc. is your company and everyone with whom you come into contact will be on your side.”
She works in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. (PVS)
Best Real Estate Group: Jenn Smira Team, Compass
(Runner-up: Marin Hagen & Sylvia Bergstrom, Coldwell Banker)
“Stacked townhouse, condo, or apartment?” The Jenn Smira Team at Compass posted Oct. 3 to its Facebook page, breaking down the differences and the advantages of each. The Wall Street Journal reported the Smira Team is among the top 30 large real estate teams in America, and this team stands out for educating potential homebuyers in the midst of a housing crisis. Jenn Smira is also on the board of D.C. W.I.S.E. (Women in Solidarity for Empowerment), a non-profit raising money for local organizations that serve women and children, and the team supports a number of other D.C.-area charitable causes. (PVS)
Best Medical Provider: Whitman-Walker Health
1525 14th St., N.W.
(Runner-up: Dr. Robyn Zeiger)
Since its beginnings as the Gay Men’s VD Clinic in 1973, Whitman-Walker Health has been serving the LGBTQ community in the D.C.-area through numerous health crises, including the AIDS/HIV epidemic and the current global COVID-19 pandemic. For more than 40 years Whitman-Walker Health has been a sanctuary for the District’s underserved populations, providing a lifeline and advocacy as well as an affirming space. (PVS)
Best Lawyer: Jordan Foster
(Runner-up: Whit Washington)
“He showed up to every court date and was always there on time,” reads one testimonial for D.C. lawyer Jordan Foster. “Never left me hanging last minute worrying if he’d be there.” When people are in a tough situation and need help, Foster has shown he’s a criminal defense attorney they can count on. Even his peers have posted he “always proves to be prepared and is a strong advocate for his clients.” But this staunch advocate finds himself in a tough position when choosing which of his alma maters to root for when college basketball season takes to a different court. (PVS)
Best Private School: Barrie School
13500 Layhill Rd., Silver Spring, Md.
(Editor’s Choice: Burgundy Farm Country Day School)
Located in Silver Spring, Barrie School is a progressive independent school serving students with Montessori (12 months to Grade 5) and Project-Based Learning (Grade 6 to Grade 12) curricula. The student body is drawn from neighborhoods throughout the greater D.C. area, reflecting the cultural and economic diversity of the region.
Originally named Peter Pan Kindergarten, Barrie School was founded in 1932 by Frances Littman Seldin. Over the years, the school tried on various names and D.C. spaces before settling as Barrie School at its leafy Maryland campus in 1960.
Barrie’s website stresses inclusion and features a link to Rainbow Families (rainbowfamilies.org), a terrific organization dedicated to educating, connecting, and supporting LGBTQ+ families and parents-to-be. (PF)
Best Car Dealership: BMW of Fairfax
8427 Lee Highway, Fairfax, Va.
(Editor’s Choice: DarCars)
BMW of Fairfax prides itself on customer service and selection. In addition to its extensive new car inventory, they carry an excellent range of pre-owned vehicles.
When Blade reader Vicki Richardson returned to D.C. after teaching abroad, she needed a car but also wanted to minimize her carbon footprint. She looked around before buying a BMW i3 electric with range extender at BMW of Fairfax. “They were terrific,” says Richardson. “It was my first time purchasing an electric vehicle. They patiently explained how the car works. And what’s more, when they found out I was a teacher, they gave me a discount.
“Yes, I’d go back again,” she says. (PF)
Best Adult Store: Bite the Fruit
1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (second floor)
(Editor’s Choice: G Books)
Bite the Fruit aims to please. And apparently, it’s doing just that.
Housed in the former Leather Rack location in Dupont Circle, the second-floor shop has been voted Best Adult Store by Blade readers multiple times (its walls are festooned with the framed awards from past years). In business since 2012, the “gay-owned, straight-friendly and kink forward” store boasts a large inventory of sex toys, revealing and fetish attire, books, films, and erotica of all kinds. As a satisfied reviewer wrote, “If it’s not there, it probably doesn’t exist.”
Items are available both in the physical store and online. (PF)
Best Local Winery: Montifalco Vineyard
1800 Fray Rd., Ruckersville, Va.
(Editor’s Choice: City Winery)
Based on the traditional family farm wineries of the French countryside, Montifalco Vineyard offers an intimate experience at the winemaker’s charming family farm winery in Ruckersville, Va., a small town not far from Charlottesville in the beautiful Monticello American Viticultural Area of Virginia.
Montifalco Vineyard is owned and operated by sommelier and winemaker Justin Falco who expresses a commitment to high standards, caring for his vineyards, and creating small batch boutique wines with distinct personality. He describes wines produced at Montifalco as an exciting fusion of Old World tradition and New World taste and flavor.
Well-behaved dogs are welcome on a leash. (PF)
Best Tattoo Parlor: Tattoo Paradise
2444 18th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Fatty’s Tattoos)
Located in the heart of Adams Morgan, Tattoo Paradise has been supplying the city with tattoos and body piercings since 2003. Along with its celebrated in-house tattoo artists, the parlor hosts a constantly revolving cast of international and national guest tattooists. Also on offer are microblading (permanent makeup), and merchandise like T-shirts, jackets, sweatshirts, and hats.
With additional locations in Wheaton and Rockville, Tattoo Paradise strives to serve the needs of both area and visiting ink enthusiasts. For instance, during the Women’s March on Washington, Tattoo Paradise satisfied scores of marchers from near and far with much-in-demand feminist and Women’s March-related tattoos.
Customer requests are varied. The artists are versatile and creative. (PF)
Best Pet Business or Vet: Friendship Hospital for Animals
4105 Brandywine St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: City Paws Animal Hospital)
Friendship Hospital for Animals understands the unique bond between humans and animals, according to its website. Therefore, this hospital provides state of the art pet health care to ensure that animals are as safe and healthy as possible. Friendship Hospital for Animals provides primary care, emergency care, and specialized care from doctors who specialize in a variety of fields like orthopedic and specialty surgery, medical oncology and neurology. (TC)
Most Committed Activist: Preston Mitchum
(Runner-up: Sultan Shakir)
“I can’t take it anymore,” tweeted Black queer attorney, advocate, and Georgetown Law Professor Preston Mitchum following a second Netflix special in which comedian Dave Chappelle doubled down on anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. “Currently (writing) a piece on why Chappelle’s special — and any others like it — is problematic and will undoubtedly fuel flames against LGBTQ people.” Mitchum currently brings his passion, his insight and his legal expertise to his role as director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. He has also served as Georgetown’s director of policy at URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity. (PVS)
Best D.C. Public Official: Eleanor Holmes Norton
Main District Office
1300 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
(Runner-up: Christina Henderson)
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has proudly represented D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1991. Prior to serving in Congress, Holmes was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter to serve as the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Since then she has been named one of the 100 most important American women and one of the most powerful women in Washington. She continues to push for D.C. statehood and for full congressional voting representation and for full democracy for District residents. (PVS)
Best Clergy: Bishop Allyson Abrams
Empowerment Liberation Cathedral
4900 10th St., N.E.
(Runner-up: Rev. Dwayne Johnson)
Bishop Allyson Abrams, founder and pastor of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, has come a long way since resigning from her church in Detroit in 2013 after announcing she had married Bishop Diana Williams. Abrams similarly tweeted in 2014 for followers to “shake off” what’s been holding them back and not let anyone keep them from their destiny. Since 2015, this proud wife, mother, feminist, and author has been named Best Clergy, and her church Best House of Worship, numerous times by Washington Blade readers. (PVS)
Best House of Worship: Metropolitan Community Church of D.C.
474 Ridge St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Foundry United Methodist Church)
For LGBT folks of faith, finding an accepting house of worship doesn’t always come easily. But the Metropolitan Community church of Washington (MCC-DC) is a Christian Church with a special ministry to the LGBTQ community where the welcome is warm.
Founded in 1970, MCC-DC’s congregation grew consistently through its first decade. In the ‘80s, the church unflinchingly responded to the AIDS epidemic, partnering with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the NIH, MCC Baltimore, and Georgetown University Hospital to host one of the first AIDS forums in the nation (the event was held at the church). Also, MCC-DC was among the first houses of worship in D.C. to hold a same-sex wedding.
At MCC-DC there’s something for everyone. Its many ministries are broad and far-reaching. They include, to name a few, choir, drama, Bible study, and Pride outreach. (PF)
Best Regional Pride: Baltimore Pride
(Editor’s Choice: Virginia Pride, Richmond)
Baltimore Pride got its start as a smallish rally in Charles Plaza in 1975. And from those comparatively small beginnings, it’s grown into a major annual celebration each June with the first day of Pride weekend involving the Baltimore Pride parade in vibrant Charles Village and the Baltimore Pride Block Party in Station North. The second day involves the Baltimore Pride Festival held at verdant Druid Hill Park.
Though its centerpiece parade was cancelled in 2021due to COVID-19, the spirit and energy of Baltimore Pride was undimmed. From festive Zoom happy hours to open discussions about how racism impacts the LGBTQ community, there were socially distant safe ways to celebrate Pride last June.
Charm City’s flavor is inimitable. We look forward to Baltimore Pride’s full force return in June 2022. (PF)
Best LGBTQ Event: D.C. Black Pride
(Editor’s Choice: Miss Adams Morgan Pageant)
First celebrated at Banneker Field in 1991, D.C. Black Pride is the world’s oldest Black LGBT Pride event. Now attracting 40,000 participants, the festival takes place annually in late May over Memorial Day weekend.
Conceived by local Black activists as a fundraiser for AIDS groups, D.C. Black Pride turned a holiday weekend already popular with the community, into an official annual event with workshops, films, plays, poetry slams, dance parties, awards, and barbeques.
Today’s D.C. Black Pride (pre-pandemic) boasts a week of day and night programming that includes deep diving professional and personal workshops, premier entertainment, and leading nightclub venues. Additionally, the Center for Black Equity hosts awards to recognize exemplary members and allies of the Black LGBTQ+ community and presents monthly virtual (and hybrid as feasible) engagement experiences.
Whatever the changes, D.C. Black Pride remains an unbeatable destination for Black Queer liberation, community fellowship, and lots of celebration. (PF)
Best Local Professional Sports Team: Washington Mystics
(Editor’s Choice: DC United)
The Washington Mystics is a women’s basketball team located in D.C. and it competes in the Women’s National Basketball Association as a member club of the league’s eastern conference. Led by general manager and head coach Mike Thibault, assistant general manager Maria Giovannetti and associate coach Eric Thibault, this team shows that D.C.’s women basketball teams are strong national contenders within the sport. (TC)
Best LGBTQ Social Group: Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington D.C.
1140 3rd St., N.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Stonewall Sports)
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. sings to inspire equality and inclusion through musical performances, according to its website. Formed in 1981, the group now has more than 250 members and five select ensembles that have performed nationally and internationally and hundreds of donors who ensure that GMCW can continue to promote justice through song. (TC)
Best Non-Profit Powered by Pepco: SMYAL
410 7th St., S.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Center for Black Equity)
Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders trains LGBTQ youth to become future leaders. Through service and advocacy, this non-profit organization teaches queer youth to build self-confidence, develop critical life skills, and engage their peers and community, according to SMYAL’s website. (TC)
Best Website/Blog: DCist
Covering everything from D.C. Council legislation to nightlife, this site for Washingtonians dynamically covers city events. Launched by volunteers in 2004, it was bought by DNAinfo in early 2017 only to be shut down by the organization’s owner. However, DCist was able to re-launch in 2018 with support from Washington’s NPR affiliate WAMU and readers. This fan favorite continues to engage audiences with its exciting online presence and design. (PVS)
Best Brunch: Perry’s Drag Brunch
1811 Columbia Rd., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Class Act Drag Brunch at Sign of the Whale)
Perry’s Drag Brunch is D.C.’s longest-running and “most fabulous drag brunch,” according to its website. Hosted on Sundays, this event treats guests to food catered by Perry’s Restaurant and performances from icons in D.C.’s drag community like Whitney Gucci Goo and India Larelle Houston. (TC)
Best Burger: Duke’s Grocery
1513 17th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Lucky Buns)
With locations in Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, and Foggy Bottom, this restaurant serves guests with hearty portions of classic American food and their award-winning burgers. Added to that is friendly service for which the East London-style restaurant is famous. (TC)
Best Ice Cream/Gelato: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
1925 14th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Dolci Gelati)
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is devoted to making better ice creams and bringing people together, according to its website. Packaged in Instagram-worthy colorful cups, Jeni’s ice creams have a “uniquely smooth texture and buttercream body” that allow one to savor the sweetness of flavors like birthday cake and fruit crumble. (TC)
Best Pizza: Andy’s Pizza
2016 9th St., N.W.
Andy’s Pizza makes pizza that transports patrons to New York — a strong contender for the American city with the best pizza. Featuring stone deck ovens, long-fermented dough, Wisconsin mozzarella, California tomatoes, and a skilled pizzaiolo, this neighborhood pizzeria brings New York to D.C. while serving classic combinations. (TC)
Best Outdoor Dining: Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse
1609 17th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Le Diplomate)
Taking the prize for the second year in a row, a Washington pillar Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse offers a variety of hearty American dishes including burgers and salads for lunch, savory omelets and benedicts for brunch and classic steaks for dinner.
Annie’s has operated for 73 years, and the restaurant received the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classic Award in 2019, 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.
Annie’s has been a favorite for years 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. (KR)
Best Outdoor Drinking: Dirty Goose
913 U St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Dacha Beer Garden)
Located in the heart of U Street, The Dirty Goose Bar has been crafting specialty martinis and cocktails since its opening in 2016. Signature drinks include the drunken java martini and a classic cosmopolitan. Throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, The Dirty Goose doubled the size of the rooftop patio and tripled its self-proclaimed obsession with pop star Britney Spears. (KR)
Best Carryout/Delivery: Beau Thai
3162 Mount Pleasant St., N.W. (Mt. Pleasant) and 1550 7th St., N.W. Unit A (Shaw)
(Editor’s Choice: Ben’s Chili Bowl)
Beau Thai has been serving the D.C. area authentic, made-from-scratch Thai food since 2010. Offering a variety of dishes like shrimp cakes, pineapple fried rice and chicken satay, there’s no shortage of dynamic options to try. (KR)
Best Coffee Shop: Compass Coffee
(Editor’s Choice: La Colombe)
Founded in 2010 by two Marines, Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, Compass Coffee has 12 brick and mortar locations in the Washington area and one roasting facility in Shaw. Compass Coffee can be found in many local restaurants and grocery stores across the mid-Atlantic.
The roaster is no stranger to this award — Compass had four consecutive wins in this category through 2019. (KR)
Best Restaurant: Logan Tavern
1423 P St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Shaw’s Tavern)
Known for its buzzy scene and delicious dishes, Logan Tavern is taking the prize yet again after winning Best Restaurant in 2020. Logan’s dishes call to a casual American style, with classic burgers, southern fried chicken and crispy skin-on rockfish being staples on the menu.
In addition to a reliable dinner menu, Logan offers sweet and savory brunch dishes and affordable drinks.
Logan also won Best Bloody Mary in these awards in 2018 and Best Date Restaurant in 2012. (KR)
Best Local Brewery: DC Brau
3178 Bladensburg Rd., N.E. Suite B
(Editor’s Choice: Red Bear Brewing Company)
For decades, the District had no local brewery whose products were available in local stores and on tap outside the site of production. DC Brau founders Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock decided to change that in 2011 when the duo tapped their first keg of beer entirely brewed, packaged, and sold in the District.
Offering beers and hard seltzers, DC Brau crafts drinks for everyone’s tastes. DC Brau and the Blade are currently holding the fourth annual PRIDE PILS fundraiser to benefit SMYAL and the Blade Foundation. A small batch of the PRIDE PILS launched on Oct. 1 in local stores, restaurants, and bars. (KR)
Best Local Distillery: Republic Restoratives Distillery
1369 New York Ave., N.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Green Hat Distillery)
Women-owned, community-led and made in the District — Republic Restoratives Distillery offers an array of high-quality spirits. Republic’s queer-owned vodka, Civic Pride, was created out of frustration with popular brands co-opting the rainbow flag while also supporting organizations or efforts that directly harm LGBTQ people.
Republic also offers drink kits, like sangria and mint juleps, to make at-home cocktails a breeze. Locally, pick-up or home delivery is available seven days a week. Republic took the prize in 2019 for Best Local Distillery, as well. (KR)
Best Rehoboth Outdoor Dining: Purple Parrot
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(Runner-up: Aqua Grill)
The Purple Parrot pivoted quickly during the pandemic to keep its doors open and its customers happy and fed. The tireless staff, led by owner Hugh Phelps and mainstays Chris Chandler and Jamie Romano, worked overtime to keep patrons safe, separating tables and enforcing strict masking policies. The Parrot and its popular Biergarten remain Rehoboth mainstays. The place was packed throughout summer 2021 and it’s easy to see why: competent service, some of the best cocktails in town, consistently good bar food, plenty of specials and entertainment all in a festive, beachy atmosphere. No visit to Rehoboth is complete without a stop at the Parrot.
Best Rehoboth Drag Queen: Kristina Kelly
(Runner-up: Magnolia Applebottom)
Rehoboth Beach has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to drag entertainment as more and more venues embrace the art of drag. Even nearby Milton and Dewey Beach have seen drag brunches and other events debut in the past year or two. This year’s top honor goes to the tireless Kristina Kelly, much beloved in D.C. after years of performing here. Kelly can now be found holding court at The Pines, hosting Sunday brunch along with Mona Lotts, as well as other events. Kelly recently hosted the Blade’s annual Rehoboth Beach party, handling everything from checking guests’ vaccine status at the door to ensuring the buffet remained stocked. With ongoing labor shortages at the beach, Kelly has been forced to wear multiple hats all while keeping The Pines entertainment calendar filled.
Best Rehoboth Bartender: Todd Nolan Meredith, Lupo Italian Kitchen
(Runner-up: Chris Chandler, Purple Parrot)
Todd Meredith is a newcomer to this category, which has long been dominated by the trio of Holly Lane-Chris Chandler-Jamie Romano. Meredith tends bar at Rehoboth’s always bustling Lupo Italian Kitchen on Rehoboth Avenue. Lupo’s bar is small and Meredith makes sure to introduce his customers to one another, facilitating friendly conversation in the cozy setting. And if you go once, chances are Meredith will remember your drink of choice on your next visit, even if it’s months later. His memory is remarkable and his positive vibe and top-notch bartending skills keep the regulars and tourists alike coming back.
Best Rehoboth-Area Live Show: Pamala Stanley
(Runner-up: Climax with Magnolia Applebottom)
There’s no keeping Pamala Stanley down. This perennial winner moved to virtual shows during last year’s pandemic to keep her many fans entertained. She even staged a series of fundraisers during quarantine, donating thousands to Beebe Healthcare in Sussex County, Del. Stanley returned to the stage at The Pines, which hosts her ever-popular Sunday night dance party, as soon as COVID restrictions were lifted. She has since launched a popular Wednesday night virtual show, reaching fans far and wide. Just last month, Stanley was inducted into the Legends of Vinyl Artists Hall of Fame, honoring her long, successful recording career. Unfortunately, Stanley was sidelined with COVID several weeks ago, which she has publicly addressed on social media. The good news is she’s doing better and preparing to return to the stage. Stay tuned for details on the resumption of her Wednesday night show online and her Sunday night party at The Pines.
Best Rehoboth Coffee Shop: Rise Up
502 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(Runner-up: The Coffee Mill)
You can’t miss Rise Up as you enter downtown Rehoboth Beach, with its bold black-and-white building, often festooned with holiday-themed décor on the roof. Rise Up offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s a full bar, which 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
35 Baltimore Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Perhaps we should retire this category, as the Blue Moon seems to win each year, including last year. The food remains among the very best in town, consistently impressing diners for decades. This year saw a pivot to cabaret-style seating and entertainment with the talented pianist Nate Buccieri holding court five nights a week all summer. (Buccieri is expected to make several return visits this fall.) Don’t miss the Blue Moon’s Tasting Tuesday, a three-course dinner with wine pairings for just $45. And if you want an even better bargain, try Sunday night’s $25 steak special. No matter when you go, you can’t go wrong with dinner or Sunday brunch at the Moon.
Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent: Lee Ann Wilkinson
16698 Kings Hwy A.
(Runner-up: Jason Abela)
This is Lee Ann Wilkinson’s fourth 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. She is a regular contributor to the Blade. Her informed articles on real estate trends at the Delaware beaches and her insights on the market proved beneficial throughout the pandemic. There are many smart, capable Realtors in the Sussex County market, several of whom have been honored here in the last decade, and Wilkinson is among the very best.
Best Rehoboth Business: Diego’s Bar & Nightclub
37298 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(Runner-up: Aqua Grill)
Joe Ciarlante-Zuber and his husband and business partner Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber bounced back from a difficult 2020 and not only kept Rehoboth visitors entertained at Diego’s but found the time to open a new restaurant that became an instant hit this summer, Square One, offering an impressive dinner menu and arguably the best martinis in town. Diego’s offers a regular and growing schedule of entertainment, dance parties, and happy hours and the beach-themed outdoor bar is always busy and a safe option for those still practicing social distancing. The duo are an unstoppable force in Rehoboth and we look forward to what they do in 2022.
Camp classic ‘Mommie Dearest’ turns 40
Digital re-issue offers fans new insights, John Waters commentary
In a 2016 People magazine interview, Oscar-winning actress Faye Dunaway admitted to regretting her over-the-top portrayal of Joan Crawford in the 1981 movie “Mommie Dearest” (Paramount), newly reissued on Blu-ray and digital as part of the Paramount Presents series. Of the movie, based on the equally OTT memoir by Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina, Dunaway said, “I should have known better, but sometimes you’re vulnerable and you don’t realize what you’re getting into. It’s unfortunate they felt they had to make that kind of movie. But you can’t be ashamed of the work you’ve done.”
“That kind of movie” pretty much tanked Dunaway’s career after that. However, it also titillated and delighted countless fans upon its release and in the 40 years since. A multitude of lines have become iconic in the LGBTQ vernacular and classic scenes have become sources of endless entertainment. So, how good or bad is it?
From the minute the gloved hand of actress Joan Crawford (Dunaway) turns off her alarm at 4 a.m. and saunters into the bathroom to begin her morning routine, we know we’re in for something out of the ordinary. Dressed to kill, she heads to the studio, reading scripts and autographing photos in the back of a limo, Crawford was nothing if not devoted to her craft and fans.
She was also devoted to cleanliness, an obsession that would become one of the contributing factors in her descent. In one iconic scene, she berates a housekeeper, “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt.”
A first-rate performer in all aspects, Crawford’s annual Christmas gift-giving extravaganza at an orphanage stirs up her desire for motherhood. Unable to conceive, the twice-divorced actress discovers she is not a candidate for adoption, despite believing she can be a mother and a father, providing both a “wonderful and advantaged life.” Her lawyer boyfriend Greg (Steve Forrest) pulls some strings and Crawford becomes mother to baby Christina.
It doesn’t take long (OK, a few years) before the cracks start to show, beginning with a birthday party for Christina (Mara Hobel, in a thankless role), complete with a carousel, an organ grinder and monkey, and a new baby brother named Christopher. Signs of tension are present in Joan’s interactions with Christina, including her bristling at her daughter’s tone of voice. When Joan catches Christina mimicking her while seated at her mother’s vanity, she flips out, butchering her hair.
Christina isn’t the only object of Joan’s aggression. Greg walks out on Joan after a disagreement, and she deals with it by cutting him out of every photo they took together. Studio head Mayer (Howard Da Silva) sends her packing, utilizing the creative differences excuse. This leads to the famous rose garden freak out (of “Tina, bring me the ax” fame). Shortly after winning the Oscar for “Mildred Pierce,” Joan discovers a wire hanger in Christina’s closet leading to the notorious “No wire hangers, ever!” beating scene.
Not even teenage Christina (Diana Scarwid), away at boarding school is safe from Joan’s wrath. After Christina is caught getting intimate with a boy, Joan removes her from the school. Back at home, where a journalist is busy writing a story about Joan, Christina and her mother have a heated argument, resulting in the classic slap sequence and the delivery of the “I’m not one of your fans” lines.
Having almost killed Christina, Joan sends her off to convent school. After graduating, Christina returns home to discover that not only has her mother remarried – to soft drink king Al Steele (Harry Goz) – but she has put her home up for sale with plans to relocate to New York. Needless to say, the mother/daughter relationship never improves, which explains Christina’s barbed-wire memoir.
Perhaps Dunaway, who worked with uneven director Frank Perry (“The Swimmer,” “Diary of Mad Housewife,” and “Play It As It Lays,” and the bombs “Hello Again” and “Monsignor”) in the past, should have known better. Regardless, “Mommie Dearest” went from shocking biopic to camp classic at light speed, and for that, we are forever grateful. Plus, with Halloween just around the corner, “Mommie Dearest” is a fab reminder of what a great (and terrifying) costume Joan Crawford can be.
In a 2015 interview with the Blade, actress Rutanya Alda, who played long-suffering maid Carol Ann in the film, talked about her surprise at first seeing the film.
“When the audience laughed, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ I was kind of taken aback because I knew (producer) Frank Yablans and (director) Frank Perry’s intention was to make this really serious drama and of course it turned into this kind of camp happening right from the get go,” Alda said. “Even Paramount was caught off guard and they didn’t know how to promote it because it became such an audience experience right away. … I was actually quite pleased because the audience really got into it. It was just amazing to me.”
Alda added that Dunaway should have embraced the campy results of the final film.
“The audience of ‘Mommie Dearest’ is a great audience and I think they are disappointed that Faye has never embraced the film,” Alda said. “If I were Faye Dunaway, I would have said, ‘Look, I was great in the part, I did great things. OK, maybe I had an over-the-top performance, but it worked, didn’t it?’ … She’s really deprived herself of a great audience of people who love the movie and it’s a detriment to her. Look at all the joy she missed.”
Blu-ray special features include commentary by drag legend Hedda Lettuce and filmmaker John Waters, “Filmmaker Focus” with Frank Perry biographer Justin Bozung, short features including “The Revival of Joan,” “Life With Joan,” and “Joan Lives On,” as well as a photo gallery and the original theatrical trailer. Rating: B-
Stupid things not to do when you get old
Steven Petrow’s new book on aging is funny yet poignant
Diane Sawyer, the former ABC News anchor, gave award-winning journalist Steven Petrow some advice on what he could do to look younger. “Anchors don’t get older, they just get blonder,” she told him.
For many years, Petrow, who is gay, took Sawyer’s wisdom to heart. He had his salt and pepper hair colored. This went well, until a new colorist offered to use a new “natural” coloring process that would remove a third of his gray hair. Petrow came away “a honey brash blonde” whose hair “screamed dye job.”
This is one of the many funny, yet poignant, stories that Petrow with Roseann Foley Henry tells in “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old: A Highly Judgmental, Unapologetically Honest Accounting of All the Things Our Elders Are Doing Wrong.”
Written by Petrow with Henry, “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old” is part memoir and part manifesto.
Few things are more fraught with fear, anxiety and ageism than knowing that, if we live long enough, we’ll get old. Whether hetero or LGBTQ, no matter how much we love our parents, we don’t want to become like our folks when we’re elders.
Shortly after he turned 50, Petrow, who writes about aging, health, manners and civility, began to confront his ageist beliefs and vowed not to let aging limit or diminish his life.
As he reached the half-century mark and his parents “entered their sunset years,” Petrow began to make a list of what he called “the stupid things I won’t do when I get old.”
The list, which kept growing longer and longer, “proved to be a highly judgmental, not-quite-mean-spirited-but-close accounting of everything I thought my parents were doing wrong,” Petrow, now 64, writes in the book’s introduction.
Petrow first wrote about his list in a popular New York Times essay “Things I’ll Do Differently When I Get Old.” “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old” grew out of the essay.
Petrow’s list is, by turns, laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly moving.
He vows not to, as his Mom did, “forgo a walker because it wrecked my outfit.”
In one chapter, he promises that, “I Won’t Become a Miserable Malcontent, a Cranky Curmudgeon, or a Surly Sourpuss.”
Yet, in other more serious chapters, Petrow says that “I Won’t Lie to My Doctor Anymore (Because These Lies Can Kill),” “I Won’t Burden My Family with Taking Care of Me” and “I Won’t Forget to Plan My Own Funeral.”
Petrow, a columnist for the Washington Post and USA Today as well as a regular New York Times contributor, talked with the Blade by phone and email.
Petrow, whose previous books include “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” “The Lost Hamptons” and “When Someone You Know has AIDS” (3rd edition), grew up in New York City.
In 1978, Petrow graduated from Duke University with a bachelor’s degree in history. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a master’s in history in 1982.
A former president of NLGJA (the Association of LGBTQ Journalists), Petrow lives in Hillsborough, N.C. His 2019 Ted Talk, “3 Ways to Practice Civility” has been viewed nearly two million times.
Petrow was born with journalism in his DNA. His father, journalist Richard Petrow, taught journalism for decades at New York University.
“My Dad was a great teacher,” Petrow said, “He traveled – got to meet people. I wanted to do what he did.”
In 1984, Petrow was diagnosed with testicular cancer. This experience is one reason why Petrow became a health care journalist. “I wanted to focus on health and medicine to teach people how to negotiate the health care system,” he said.
Negative buzz about aging is everywhere in the culture from magazine ads to birthday cards. “We start to become invisible when we’re in our 50s,” Petrow said, “this may be even more true – ageism may come earlier for gay men, and separately, more true, for women.”
“Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” Petrow added, quoting Bette Davis.
Research shows that the damage inflicted by ageism is real, Petrow said.
When we associate getting older with negative stereotypes about aging, our lives are shortened. “This ageism is as bad as smoking,” he said, “it takes seven years off our lives.”
It can be hard for people to find support and friends when they get old. But finding support is often more difficult for many in the queer community. There is more isolation among queer people as they age, Petrow said. “Many in their 60s lost their circle of friends during the height of the AIDS epidemic.”
Petrow seeks out multigenerational friendships. “I’m open to different perspectives,” he said, “I’ve learned so much from younger people.”
Petrow thinks outside the box of generational labels (boomers, millennials, etc.). He identifies as a “perennial.”
“Perennials are curious, engaged, passionate, and compassionate,” he said, “Millennials can be perennials. Boomers can be perennials. Anyone can choose to be a perennial.”
Petrow, who is often referred to as “Mr. Manners,” became interested in manners on a blind date in the 1990s. He and his date ended up as good friends. Through this connection, a book editor asked Petrow to do a book on gay manners.
“I’ve always been a bit like the weird person who’s fascinated with collecting and reading about arcane rules,” Petrow said. Wisdom can be found in etiquette books from decades ago, Petrow said. One of his favorite finds was in the first edition of a 1922 etiquette book by Emily Post. Just as we should think before we tweet, “It cautions people,” Petrow said, “not to write love letters that could end up on the front page of the newspaper.”
Generally, manners are the same for LGBTQ and hetero people. But there are some etiquette issues that apply specifically to queer people.
For example, what is the etiquette around revealing that someone you know – a family member, friend or co-worker is LGBTQ? “This is for an individual to do for themselves,” Petrow said, “not for any of us to do for another.”
Civility and manners are important to all of us in the COVID era, he reminds us.
“Throughout the pandemic I’ve been talking about, ‘we, not me,’ which is about thinking about others before self,” Petrow said, “And that’s really the only way we will get out of this.”
McAuliffe: Youngkin ‘most homophobic’ candidate in Va. history
Un hogar para jóvenes LGBTQ en abandono ya funciona en El Salvador
New music documentary is ‘Velvet’ perfection
PHOTOS: Best Of LGBTQ DC party
Whitman-Walker’s 35th annual Walk & 5K to End HIV held virtually
20th annual Best of LGBTQ D.C.
Youngkin reiterates opposition to marriage equality
McAuliffe YES, Trump NO, for governor of Va.
Putin describes transgender rights as ‘crime against humanity’
Report details anti-LGBTQ discrimination, violence in Kenya refugee camp
Sign Up for Blade eBlasts
a&e features4 days ago
20th annual Best of LGBTQ D.C.
World7 days ago
Jamaica man attacked after using gay dating app
Local5 days ago
Gay man attacked, beaten by neighbors in Northeast D.C.
National6 days ago
Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’
Local3 days ago
Youngkin reiterates opposition to marriage equality
Opinions4 days ago
McAuliffe YES, Trump NO, for governor of Va.
World3 days ago
Putin describes transgender rights as ‘crime against humanity’
World5 days ago
Report details anti-LGBTQ discrimination, violence in Kenya refugee camp