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‘Better’ than ever: an interview with Harvey Fierstein

Beloved actor on pandemic, Broadway history and new biography

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Harvey Fierstein recounts his long career on Broadway in a new biography. (Photo courtesy Knopf)

One of the best things about reading a memoir by someone with a distinctive voice – both spoken and written – is that you hear them as your read their book. Let’s face it, award-winning writer and actor Harvey Fierstein qualifies as someone who has a distinctive voice and while reading his revelatory memoir, “I Was Better Last Night” (Knopf, 2022), you’d swear he was in the room with you, dishing away. Harvey was gracious enough to make time for an interview shortly before the book’s March 2022 publication date.

BLADE: Harvey, why was now the time to write your memoir, “I Was Better Last Night,” and does having a milestone birthday (70) in 2022 have anything to do with it?

HARVEY FIERSTEIN: What’s really funny is that so many sources, if you look online, have my birthday as 1954, even though it’s actually 1952. The reason is that when I turned 22, my friend Eric Conklin, who directed the original production of “Torch Song,” said “You should tell everybody you’re turning 21.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because if you lie when you’re older, nobody believes it. But if you start at 21, who the fuck’s going to care!” That year, I moved my birthday to ‘53. The next year, we decided we’d do it again. But I never took it seriously. Things just get picked up by this one or that one. I think it was in New York magazine that they got the facts wrong and said my parents were Eastern European immigrants. They were actually third-generation Americans. But it got picked up by everyone and everywhere it said I was the son of Eastern European immigrants. My mother was born in Brooklyn and my father was born in the Catskills. So, I wrote the book, and there’s a fact checker, of course. Every time I mentioned my age he sent back a note, “Wikipedia says you were born in ‘54. This one says you were born in ’54,” I had to keep saying, “Why would I lie and make myself older? I’d only make myself younger!” It’s another one of those examples of why you should never lie. I am indeed as old as the mountains. So, did I write the memoir because of the birthday? No. Like everybody else in the fucking world, this pandemic hit. I was a very good boy. I sat down and did all the work on my desk. At that time, we were supposed to be doing a production of “Bye Bye Birdie” at the Kennedy Center. I finished the rewrites on that. I had rewritten “Funny Girl,” which was done in London and then went on tour in England, and we were bringing it to Broadway. I wanted to make some more changes to it, so I got all those changes done. “Kinky Boots” was sold to cruise ships, so I had to do an adaptation, a shortening of the show, as I had already done for “Hairspray” and other shows. That was off my desk and done. I’m working on a new musical with Alan Menken and Jeff Feldman, the guys I wrote “Newsies” with.

BLADE: Yes, I read about that in the book.

FIERSTEIN: So, I was all caught up with that. Basically, I was done. Then I sat down and, as I say in the book, I make quilts. I owed a couple of quilts as gifts. I went down to my little sewing room and I made seven quilts in a row [laughs]. Usually, I turn out one a year. Everybody got their birthday quilts, their wedding quilts, whatever it was that was owed. I had cleared my desk and we were still in the pandemic. Then my agent said to me, “Why don’t you write your memoir?” I said, “Because I don’t write sentences.”

BLADE: You wrote the children’s book. That has sentences.

FIERSTEIN: But that’s kid sentences. I’ve written op-eds, but for that you just have to get the voice of Edward R. Murrow in your head or something like that. That’s like writing dialogue, as well. All of a sudden, you’re Aaron Sorkin. I thought, “What the fuck? I’ve got a computer. Let me try.” I wrote four chapters, and I sent them to my agent. She said, “This is great!” She sent the chapters out to I think nine publishers, and eight of the nine made offers.

BLADE: There are numerous powerful moments throughout the book. Without giving away too much…

FIERSTEIN: Oh, go ahead, give it away! I already know what happens.

BLADE: But I don’t want to spoil it for the readers.

FIERSTEIN: That’s right. Goddammit.

BLADE: Chapter 57 contains one of the most emotional sequences involving your parents. Would it be fair to say that writing the book was a cathartic experience?

FIERSTEIN: Yes, the whole thing really is. When I started, I asked Shirley MacLaine because she’s written 300 books about her 700 different lives. She said, “Write what you remember because your brain has a way of editing, and it will give you what you need for this book. You’ll remember things for other books and other things, but write what you remember and just be true to what comes up.” I said, “Even about other people?” She said, “Yes. When you’re writing about other people, you’re really writing about yourself. Just trust that.” That’s what I did. There were hundreds of stories that I could have told. I just tried to sort of follow a line of thought and let it be.

BLADE: That’s interesting because the chapters in “I Was Better Last Night” are presented in chronological order, beginning in 1959 and concluding in 2022. Is that how they were written?

FIERSTEIN Yes, I wrote it exactly as it is. As you say, that particular chapter, I knew was coming because I knew what happened to bring that memory back. I’m trying to say it as you said, to not give it away. What happened between me and my brother, when he sat down to watch the last revival of “Torch Song.” My editor was incredibly gentle with me. Now and then he’d say, add more here or there. But the only real note that I got from him was he wanted to move that story into chronological order since the rest of the book is. I said, “No. That’s in emotional order.”

BLADE: It needed to be where it was.

FIERSTEIN: Exactly! Most celebrity autobiographies begin “I was a kid and I saw a show and I said, ‘I wanna be a star, too!’” Which is obviously not my story. I never wanted to be in show business. I didn’t want to be a writer. I didn’t want to be an actor or a drag performer. It was not my dream at all. That’s why it was so important to do it chronologically. I wanted to show how I lived my life being true to the moment I was in.

BLADE: In “I Was Better Last Night” you take readers on a journey through modern theater, from The Gallery Players and La Mama to off-Broadway and Broadway. With that in mind, would you agree that in addition to being a memoir, the book also functions as a theater history lesson?

FIERSTEIN: I guess it does. I have certainly been told that by a bunch of people who’ve read the book. When I was talking to Patti LuPone about it, she said, “Geez, I wish I had done what you did. She came through theater school and right into the legitimate, not through the experimental. As I say in the book, I came from an art school, so I always approached it as an art. Theater was part of an art movement, and I got involved because I wanted to meet Andy Warhol. Little did I know they would put me in drag. I guess there is a history there. Certainly, when I look around me, and I look at the people that I grew up with – Kathleen Chalfant and Obba Babatundé — and, of course, La Mama became something bigger. There were lots of others. Meeting Matthew (Broderick) at 18, or Estelle Getty who was a housewife from Bayside, Queens. She wouldn’t even admit she was from Bayside. She told everybody she was from Long Island [big laugh]. I said, “Estelle! Bayside is in Queens. Shut up!” What is history? After all, history is just day after day after day after day. I did start, as a baby, in this experimental theater. I wish that experimental theater still really existed. There were a few of us that I would say destroyed off-off-Broadway. I think greed is what destroyed off-off-Broadway. I think what happened was when people saw Tom O’Horgan make it, when “Hair” became a hit, that had a lot of people going, “Where’s my ‘Hair’?”

BLADE: But don’t you think that experimental theater might exist in cities where it’s a little more affordable to do that kind of thing? Say, Austin, Texas.

FIERSTEIN: There will always be experimental theater. It’s just, how is it looked at? Is the government funding there for it? I hear a lot of people saying, “Let’s not waste money on theater.” “Torch Song Trilogy” wouldn’t have been what it was if not for a government grant. I don’t know if you know this, but I just gave a grant to the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center to build a theater laboratory because rehearsal space is incredibly expensive in New York and almost impossible to find. David Rockwell is designing it and I’m hoping it’ll be open in two years. I tell a story in the book about how years ago we were rehearsing up at the YMCA, and the director just disappeared and left us with the bill for the rehearsal room. If I can leave a rehearsal room behind… Lin-Manuel (Miranda) developed “Hamilton” in the basement of the Drama Book Shop. For my shows, I used the basement of La Mama which was this small space, but big enough for us to rehearse and develop what we needed to do. I even did a couple of shows down there.

BLADE: Chapters 19 through 22 give readers insight into the inspiration for and the writing of “Torch Song Trilogy” and then much later you write about the recent revival with Michael Urie. What was it like to revisit the creation and the revision of “Torch Song Trilogy?”

FIERSTEIN: They’re your children, so they never really leave you. You may not think about them in the same way all the time, but they don’t leave you. You ask a mother about her son when he was six, and she can tell you a story about that time. It doesn’t mean you live with those stories every day. But they’re always there. Unfortunately, as you get older and people die on you, you remember them, or you go back to those stories time and again to remember how you all met and all that. With something like Torch Song, which is so much a part of my life, there was no real shock to going back and looking at that stuff again. Seeing Michael do it was not a shock either, because I cast all of my understudies. The show ran on Broadway for five years, but I didn’t play it all five years. There were other Arnolds and I saw all of them. There were matinee Arnolds, and then we had a bus and truck tour, and a regular tour. I saw all of those guys play it. I saw it in London with Tony Sher, who died a few weeks ago. He won the Olivier for “Torch Song.” Writing a memoir is not a time to blame other people [laughs]. When you’re writing plays, it is.

BLADE: I’m so glad you said that because one of the things that I think will strike readers about “I Was Better Last Night” is the brutal honesty with which you write about alcoholism and sobriety, as well as your suicide attempt. What do you hope readers will take away from that?

FIERSTEIN: There’s a certain point when you’re writing something like that…I don’t really care [laughs]. I needed to tell the truth and you hope that the truth will do good. When you’re writing fiction, you care more about how it’s read and what somebody gets out of the fiction. When you’re writing non-fiction, it’s like, “This is what happened, like it or not, Cookie.” The only hope is that I hope you know I’m telling it the best I can and being truthful. Because the truth does affect people, that I know. When you’re writing drama, you are manipulating an audience, and a story, and emotions. When I was writing the book, of course, there’s still an art to it, but I’m not turning away from something because it’s not comfortable. I’m going to say it. If somebody thinks I’m an asshole, let them think I’m an asshole. You read the book, and thank you very much for doing so.

BLADE: That’s my job!

FIERSTEIN: You see in the book that I don’t have an answer for my own gender. Had I been born in 1980, instead of 1952, would I be a woman now? I don’t know. I don’t have those answers. I don’t have the luxury of being born in a different society. The first (trans) person I knew was Christine Jorgensen, who died owing me money, that bitch [laughs]. When I was writing the book, I was going through photographs. There’s a picture in the book of me and Marsha P. Johnson and Jon Jon marching in a Gay Pride march. I put that picture up and somebody wrote to me telling me about Marsha, like you should know who this person was. I was like, “What are you talking about? This was a friend of mine!”

BLADE: Thank you for mentioning pictures. I live four blocks south of Wilton Manors in Fort Lauderdale. In the book you include a photo of the WiltonArt.com street sign that features a quote by you. What does it mean to you to be immortalized in this way?

FIERSTEIN: While it’s very flattering, another place I looked had it that Walt Whitman said it! With one hand, you’re flattered, and with the other, you’re slapped across the face.

BLADE: At least they got the attribution right in Wilton Manors.

FIERSTEIN: That’s lovely, it really is lovely. It’s a lovely thing to see something link that. I was watching some interview with Billy Porter and as if by accident, they walked down the block where there was a mural on the side of a building of his portrait. As if, “Oh, I didn’t know that was there!” You sort of laugh, like, yeah, right! You brought a film crew because you didn’t know your picture was there on the wall [laughs]. That sort of stuff of celebrity is always funny. Especially when you have friends who are famous and you try to just be human beings together, but then you go out in public, and you realize that they mean a whole other thing to the public than to you.

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Melissa Etheridge shares Q&A in advance of April 26 Tysons tour stop

Rock pioneer finds inspiration in the past — from revisiting old demos to reconnecting with celeb pals like Ellen

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Melissa Etheridge brings her ‘One Way Out Tour’ to the D.C. region next week with a show at the new Capital One Hall in Tysons. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

Melissa Etheridge
‘One Way Out Tour’
Tuesday, April 26
Capital One Hall
7750 Capital One Tower Rd.
Tysons, VA
7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55
ticketmaster.com
capitalonehall.com
melissaetheridge.com

We caught up with rock legend Melissa Etheridge on April 8 by phone from Snoqualmie, Wash. — it’s about 26 miles east of Seattle —where she was playing the Snoqualmie Casino on her “One Way Out Tour,” which plays our region on Tuesday, April 26. 

It’s named after her latest album, released last fall, which found Etheridge, who’s been out since ’93, revisiting demos from early in her career.

Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: “One Way Out” sounds like such a cool project. Was it all re-recorded stuff of old songs or were some of those vintage takes on the record as well?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: The last two songs, the live songs, were from where? From 2002? OK, but the other songs were newly recorded. 

BLADE: And how many of them did you remember?

ETHERIDGE: You know, when I found them again, they all came back very clearly. And I was like, “Oh, this is — why did I throw that away? That’s weird.” And I really enjoyed, you know, hearing them, they were just old demos. I’d never done full-blown recordings. So I thought, “This is great, I want to do these songs.”

BLADE: We have a relatively new venue you’re going to be playing, Capital One Hall. I’ve only been there once. You excited?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s always fun. I love the D.C.-area crowd. It’s just really, really nice.

BLADE: And how do you decide where you’ll be? Or do you have any say in it? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, it’s not necessarily me. I do have a say in it, in what I want the whole tour to look like. But it is really up to William Morris, my agent, to find the right venue that understands what we need and the kind of atmosphere we’re looking for that and the amount of people and, you know, that sort of thing.

BLADE: Tell me about Etheridge TV. I just wonder, when we were in that acute phase of the pandemic, wasn’t it even remotely tempting to you to just take a break?

ETHERIDGE: No, because since I was 12 years old, I sang all the time for people, like five days a week and it’s just been what I do. And so when it was like, I was looking at a massive, cavernous amount of time that I was going to be home, I still needed a way to pay the bills, so we put our heads together — I’ve got one of the greatest television minds with me, you know, my wife (TV producer Linda Wallem), so I had the space and I had the equipment, and I was like, “Let’s do it.” And it was really fun to learn new things. It was fun to learn about computers and sound and streaming and lights and cameras and all these things that I didn’t know. … I feel a little smarter.

BLADE: When did you start back on the road?

ETHERIDGE: We went out last fall. We went out September, October, right around there. And you know, it was a little different, Now things are things are loosening up … but some places still require masks. But people are starting to get back out and it feels good. It’s not the overwhelming thing that it was a few months ago.

BLADE: And what was it like being on ‘Ellen’ again for her final season?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, I love her. She’s such an old friend. You know, I say that about myself, too. (chuckles) But, you know, she’s just a relationship in my life that I have treasured. We’ve watched each other grow and the changes we’ve made and the successes and what we’ve gone through and I love that she had me on and just it was just a really — she’s a dear friend. And she showed an old photo there, and we both said, “Oh, that was before we were so busy.”

BLADE: Do you talk to her often?

ETHERIDGE: I would say we see each other socially once or twice a year. It just seemed like once we started having children, all my friends from my 20s and 30s when we were not as busy — it just gets harder to stay in touch and life got crazy. 

BLADE: So when you were hanging out back in the day with Ellen and Rosie and everybody, how was it that Brad Pitt was in that group too? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, my girlfriend (Julie Cypher) had been married to Lou Diamond Phillips and we were all very good friends with Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener and Catherine Keener did a movie with Brad, like a movie nobody saw, like Johnny Dangerously or something (1991’s “Johnny Suede”), some really weird movie. So I met Brad before he was terribly famous. He was a part of that group. There was a whole group of all of us that just hung out, and we were all totally different. We were just like young, hungry Hollywood and we’d talk about, “Oh, I had this audition,” or “I went and did this,” and we were just all trying to make it in that town. So we’d get together and have fun. 

BLADE: I was so terribly sorry to hear about Beckett (Etheridge’s son, who died in 2020 at age 21 after struggling with opioid addiction). How are you and the rest of the family, especially (Beckett’s twin) Bailey, dealing with it now?

ETHERIDGE: There are many, many families like us that deal with a loss like that. It just blows a family sideways. But we have a deep love and connection, all of us. We all knew he had a problem and it’s a problem that starts way before he actually passes, so it was not a surprise. So now we’re just living with the missing aspect. You try not to think about what could have been and you try to think about him in a happier place and that he’s out of pain, so that helps us.

BLADE: Had he and Bailey been as close in recent years?

ETHERIDGE: They were very close, but in the last couple of years as he made worse and worse choices, we couldn’t support that, so they were less close, but of course in her heart, it was her brother, he was very dear to her. 

BLADE: Did you watch the Grammys?  Was there anybody you were particularly rooting for?

ETHERIDGE: I watched bits and pieces of it. I had a show that night, so I didn’t get to see the main thing, but I have seen pieces and I just love the crazy diversity and you know, the TikTok people winning stuff, it’s like, “Wow, this is so not the Grammys I remember from the ’80s,” but that was what, 30 years ago? So it’s all good.

BLADE: You were such a perennial favorite back in the day in the best rock female category. Were you pissed when they eliminated it? 

ETHERIDGE: It’s sad because I felt like the criteria they were using to judge what is female rock, they just really dropped the ball. I still think there are some amazing musicians that could be considered, you know, rock, but it feels like we’re having a hard time even defining what rock and roll is now anyway. There’s a whole bunch of strong women out there playing, rocking, you know, playing guitar, being excellent musicians and songwriters. If you can’t call it best rock female, OK, call it something else. 

BLADE: I remember so vividly when you were on the Grammys in 2005, in the midst of chemo, when you sang “Piece of My Heart.” I remember you saying you were wondering how people would react to seeing you bald. Having been through that, any thoughts on the Will/Jada Oscars situation since her baldness, too, was due to a medical condition? 

ETHERIDGE: You know, it’s funny, I did feel a little remembrance of (thinking), “I just hope people don’t make fun of me.” That was kind of the first thing because to go out there bald, that was so different for me as an artist whose hair had kind of defined her. I was thinking, “How am I gonna rock without my hair?” I thought people might make fun of me, but I got over that. I just thought, “Well, if somebody makes fun of me, that just makes them look bad.” So I just walked through it. And you know, it’s hard to draw the line between what’s funny and what’s painful and how to look at something. I feel for all parties involved. 

BLADE: When you go on these cruises, do fans give you some space or do they swarm around the minute you walk out? Is it even enjoyable for you? 

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it is. You know, we did our last one, now we’re doing Etheridge Island, we now have a destination in Mexico, outside of Cancun, it’s just this island that we’re going to that is really fantastic. But I do I make myself available, I don’t run away. When I have to be somewhere, I have a great company we work with called Sixthman that knows how to get me from point A to point B without being bogged down. But I do my make myself available. Everyone gets a picture with me. It’s my work, but I love it. I try to make myself available but also have some time just for myself too.

Melissa Etheridge says slowing down wasn’t an option for her when the pandemic hit. She’s glad to be back on the road now, she says. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

BLADE: You Tweeted a few nights ago about having a tight curfew of just 90 minutes at a casino but then it worked out and you got to do a full set. Why are the curfews so tight at casinos?  

ETHERIDGE: Why do you think? They want people at the tables. Like for tonight, we we settled on 100 minutes. They’re giving me 10 extra minutes. I don’t like it, but in some areas, the only really good venue is a casino, so if you want to reach your folks there, you kind of have to meet them half way. 

BLADE: Yeah, but it seems like in concert halls, the curfews can sometimes be really tight too. Even Madonna got her lights shut off a couple years ago. Of course, she’s notoriously late, but why are they so strict with these things nowadays? 

ETHERIDGE: There are all different situations — concert halls often have union crews that will absolutely shut you down if you go one second over. There are also sound curfews, noise curfews, mostly with outdoor venues, but sometimes indoor as well. They have an agreement with the neighborhood. So you have people in the neighborhood standing by with their phones ready to pounce the minute it goes over one minute, they’re gonna call the police. As a performer, you just realize, “OK, it’s not just about me.” When I don’t have a curfew, I usually land at about two hours and some change. That seems comfortable to everyone. Any longer and I think I’m wearing my audience out. When I’m at a place with a shorter show, I just do my best. 

BLADE: I know you’re a big Chiefs fan. Did you watch that game back in January all the way to the end? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, at the end of it, I was on the floor. My wife was like, “Honey, honey, there’s still 13 seconds,” and I was moaning and sort of getting my feet on the floor and, you know, laying down and throwing a fit. And she’s like, “No, there’s still 13 seconds.” I dragged myself back to the television. And I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wait a minute. Did we just win?” You know, just really crazy, really crazy stuff. … When you’re a fan like that, it’s a ride you can’t fully explain.

BLADE: Are you in a cordial or good place with your exes? Does it get easier when the kids are starting to grow up?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you realize that it’s best for the kids if you can really get along and that any sort of conflict that can’t get resolved, that gets emotional, does no good for anyone. And absolutely, I have, I’ve gotten better at that as the years have gone by.

BLADE: Do you have the slightest inkling yet what the next studio album might be like?

ETHERIDGE: Well, I’ve got some interesting projects that I’m not ready to talk about just yet. But they have to do with my life story. There’s a lot of digging up of my past and really telling the story. So I imagine the next series of music you’ll get from me is going to be very focused on my journey. 

Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)
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New Cranes sommelier brings spirit to wine and sake program

Stewart-Woodruff curates eclectic list for Michelin-starred restaurant

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‘I bring my whole self to work,’ says Eric Stewart-Woodruff. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Outfitted in a blue damask dinner jacket with satin lapels and an energetic smile, Eric Stewart-Woodruff carves an impressive figure when chatting about his favorite vintages. Stewart-Woodruff, who’s gay, is the new sommelier at Michelin-starred Cranes in Penn Quarter.

Stewart-Woodruff curates an eclectic wine – and sake – program focusing on pairings with celebrated Chef Pepe Moncayo’s innovative, global flavors. Cranes, which explores intersections of Spanish and Japanese cuisine, opened just before the pandemic, and received a coveted Michelin star in 2021.

Stewart-Woodruff did not start off in the wine industry. In fact, he does not have any formal training in wine. Instead, after a career as a professional photographer, he pivoted to the restaurant industry, where he developed his love of wine. While working for a distributor, he connected with D.C.’s own District Winery. This opportunity allowed him to express his truest self, as a lead tour guide, wine ambassador and sommelier. He credits his identity and personality as his reason for thriving.

“I bring my whole self to work,” he says, “offering a level of humanity and approachability.” 

After the pandemic temporarily shuttered District Winery, Stewart-Woodruff found himself interviewing at Cranes, enamored with Moncayo’s “creative vision,” he says – and was sold. He began in late summer of 2021.

Through his work in hospitality, Stewart-Woodruff notes that the industry can be hetero-male dominated. He has been able to break through by not holding back on his identity.

“I tend to play with expectations of what a sommelier may look or act like,” he says. “I move away from what one may stereotypically look like, but still present like one.”

For him, that means talking about wine and wine education “as if it were gossip,” he says. “I like to view wine like we are at brunch. Wine has personality, it’s performative, and it has stereotypes.” He is seeking to break molds of specific likes and dislikes, exploring the depth that wine has to offer, in the context of the Spanish-Japanese Cranes menu. In fact, he says, Moncayo is supportive of his innovative, certification-less angle. “I become more relatable,” he says.

He also presents original events. He paired with local guest sommelier Andrew Stover (also a gay man) on Tuesday, March 29 for a springtime showcase of specialty rosé wines paired with Moncayo’s dishes. The duo poured tastes of specialty, small-batch wines from Brazil, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Maryland.

Leaning into the innovative spirit, the wine-by-glass list is not split by color. Instead, it is divided into evocative categories. For example, both a chardonnay and a pinot noir fall into the “Elegant, round, and mellow” category.

As a Spanish-Japanese restaurant, Cranes not only possesses an extensive wine cellar, but has consistently expanded its sake program. Sakes by the glass are split into the same exact categories. The very same “Elegant, round, and mellow” list includes Ginjo Nama Genshu and junmai daiginjo.

Stewart-Woodruff explains that wine and sake should be attended to similarly. “Sake is something you can think about like a beer in terms of production but treat like a wine,” he says. Sake is a fermented polished-rice beverage, dating back more than two millennia in Japan.

“Sake has aromatics, texture, body, and finish.” He takes pride in discussing customers’ palate preferences, and turning them onto a specific sake, for their qualities of earthiness, acidity, or others.

“Many people don’t experience sake outside of college or bars. Now, I can be a sommelier for sake, and for the marriage of Eastern and Western cuisine and beverage.” He expresses excitement at being innovative in his sake beverage pairings, occupying a niche space. When discussing both wine and sake, he aims to bring an artistic flair and tour-guide enthusiasm to the table.

Woodruff credits his identity and background for his success. He aims to bring a level of humanity and approachability to what has been a formal, stuffy area. He has high ambitions to portray sake as sophisticated as wine in the customer’s mind, “but it pairs well with Moncayo’s conceptually ambitious menu,” he says.

“Wine and sake are as eclectic as humanity. I want people to accept experiencing wine like the world has accepted me.”

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Legalization trend continues as Nat’l Cannabis Festival kicks off

D.C.’s 420 Week runs April 16-24

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National Cannabis Festival (Photo by Doug Van Sant; courtesy NCF)

The sixth annual National Cannabis Festival kicks off in D.C. on April 16 as the nation continues to see advances in legalizing cannabis, particularly for medical uses. 

Just this week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed HB 933 and SB 671, to provide numerous operational improvements to the state’s medical cannabis program, including eliminating the requirement that patients register with the Board of Pharmacy after receiving their written certification from a registered practitioner. 

“These legislative improvements will bring great relief to the thousands of Virginians waiting to access the medical cannabis program,” said JM Pedini, NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML. “We hear from dozens of Virginians each week who are struggling with the registration process and frustrated by the 60-day wait to receive their approval from the Board of Pharmacy,” Pedini added.

There are more than 47,000 program registrants, with an estimated 8,000 applicants still awaiting approval. 

The new laws will take effect July 1. Until that time, patients will still be required to register with the Board of Pharmacy in order to shop at one of the state’s ten operational dispensaries. After July 1, patients who would like to receive a physical card will still have the option to request one by registering with the Board of Pharmacy.

The changes in Virginia law reflect growing support nationwide for reforming marijuana laws. Most Americans favor the enactment of a broad array of legal reforms specific to marijuana policy, according to new nationwide polling data provided by YouGov.com.

Specifically, six-in-10 Americans say that “marijuana should be made legal in the United States.” Majorities of Democrats (72 percent) and independents (60 percent) back legalization, while most Republicans (46 percent) do not.

Last week, members of the United States House of Representatives voted 220 to 204 in favor of The MORE Act, which removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act thereby allowing states to legalize cannabis markets free from federal interference. Most Democrats (217) voted for the bill while all but three Republicans voted against it.

A majority of Americans also support amending federal law so that banks and other financial institutions can explicitly partner with state-licensed marijuana businesses. Support for the policy change is strongest among Democrats (66 percent) and weakest among Republicans (38 percent).

Under existing federal law, financial institutions are discouraged from partnering with state-licensed cannabis businesses. According to the most recent financial information provided by the US Treasury Department, only about ten percent of all banks and only about four percent of all credit unions provide services to licensed cannabis-related businesses.

House members have voted on six separate occasions to pass federal legislation (The SAFE Banking Act) to reform this policy, but Senators have never taken any action to advance it in the Upper Chamber. Most recently, House members voted in February to include SAFE Banking provisions in HR 4521: the America COMPETES Act. Senators failed to include similar language in their version of the bill. (Courtesy NORML)

420 Week arrives in D.C.

D.C. is gearing up for a blazing 420 Week, featuring several days of exciting panels, art and community-building events and parties culminating in the National Cannabis Festival on April 23, featuring Wiz Khalifa, Lettuce, Ghostface Killah, Backyard Band, DuPont Brass, Shamans of Sound, Cramer, and more. 

This year, the sixth annual National Cannabis Festival, which celebrates progress on cannabis legalization, is expanding to a full weekend of epic cannabis-related events, including the National Cannabis Policy Summit April 22 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and the National Cannabis Championship, presented by Gentleman Toker and slated for April 24 at Echostage with Slick Rick. The weekend is the capstone of 420 Week, hosted by the National Cannabis Festival organizers in partnership with the Eaton Hotel and DC Brau. The week kicks off on Saturday, April 16, with movie screenings, evening parties, a beer launch and more. Read on for the week’s highlights, courtesy of Festival organizers:
 

420 Week

Saturday, April 16 – Sunday, April 24 

Eaton Hotel + DC Brau

From the Hemp and Hops Panel and launch of NCF Legalize It! Lager at DC Brau (3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE) on April 16 to the 4/20 Kickback Party featuring Khalifa Kush and panel with artists discussing cannabis’s role in their practice at the Eaton Hotel (1201 K St, NW), 420 Week promises something for everyone with an interest in cannabis culture. Take a tour with Luckie Chucky tours, participate in a “Plantwave Soundbath” and more. Nearly all events are free; RSVP required. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com for details. 
 

National Cannabis Policy Summit

Friday, April 22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Join a who’s who of activists, industry pioneers, government leaders, journalists and more for an electric and illuminating day looking at the era’s most pressing cannabis policy challenges and opportunities. U.S. Senate candidate and Civil Rights activist Gary Chambers; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Portland Cannabis Program Manager Dasheeda Dawson; Aamra Ahmad, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and many others will be on hand to discuss environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation, banking legislation, decriminalization and more. Afterward, stay for a reception sponsored by Weedmaps. All events are free; registration is strongly recommended. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/ncf-policy-summit for details. 
      

National Cannabis Festival

Saturday, April 23, 12 p.m. 

RFK Festival Grounds

2400 East Capitol St., NE, Lot 8

 The highlight of 420 Week events is the East Coast’s largest ticketed cannabis gathering, which returns to Washington’s RFK Campus with performances from Wiz Khalifa Lettuce, Ghostface Killah and many others. Also on tap: a wide range of exhibitors, five pavilions on topics from wellness to agriculture to education, and a brand-new culinary pavilion featuring top chefs from Maydan, Maketto, Moon Rabbit, as well as the Munchies Zone, with 75 of the region’s most popular food trucks including Peruvian Brothers, Jerk at Nite, Reba’s Funnel Cakes and more. (Note: No THC infused foods are permitted to be sold or sampled at NCF; festival-goers must be 21 and up.) Tickets range from $75-$375 for one or two-day admission to the festival and National Cannabis Championship. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets
 

National Cannabis Championship Presented by Gentleman Toker

Sunday, April 24, 12 p.m.

2135 Queens Chapel Rd., NE

Slick Rick and DJ Footwerk are giving festival-goers a sendoff to remember on the final day of 420 Week and the festival weekend, at the National Cannabis Championship at Echostage, new this year. Presented by Gentleman Toker, this awards show and bash celebrates the incredible cannabis cultivation taking place in the Washington area and across the Mid-Atlantic. Expect exhibitors, comedy, munchies, drinks and a chance to chill with some of the biggest names and brands in cannabis cultivation. Tickets are $55. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets.

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