The recent closing of Remington’s was another reminder of how many LGBT institutions have disappeared since I first arrived in DC 17 years ago. Whether bars, stores, organizations or events, they all once played a big role in the DC community and their loss is still felt by many of us.
Let’s take a walk down Gay Memory Lane and remember some lost pieces of our community.
Remington’s. Let’s start with the most recent loss. Remington’s closed for good on April 14, bringing to an end nearly 30 years of entertaining Capitol Hill. In the days when Remington’s was exclusively a country/western bar, it was a fun change of pace when 17th Street got tiresome. The guys were friendlier, the atmosphere was looser, and, if you played your cards right, you’d end up two-stepping with a hot guy in a cowboy hat, boots and tight jeans. You could also see the DC Cowboys (more on them next!) perform there once a month. Although, back in the day, you were always a bit nervous to use the Eastern Market Metro stop. That neighborhood was still a little sketchy until the last six years or so.
The DC Cowboys. Who didn’t love the Cowboys? For 17 years, they brought the fun and sexy wherever they went. They were always one of the highlights of Pride, AIDS Walk, or any other event where they performed. And who can forget their long run on America’s Got Talent? Sorely missed.
AIDS Walk. Now, this one is a bit of a technicality. AIDS Walk is still held every year, but it just isn’t the same. I went to my first DC AIDS Walk in 1997, when nearly 30,000 people showed up on the Ellipse, walked all over downtown DC, and raised more than a million dollars for Whitman-Walker. Now, you’re lucky to get 10,000 to show up and even luckier to hit a million dollars. Even though the HIV epidemic continues to rage in our city, the AIDS Walk as “a place to be” for the community no longer exists.
Whitman-Walker’s Spring Gala. As long as we’re on the subject of Whitman-Walker fundraisers, does anyone remember the big black tie spring gala they used to do? With guys in tuxes, women in formal outfits, and entertainers like Patti LaBelle, Jennifer Holliday, Bernadette Peters and Bea Arthur? Economic reality led to the gala being downsized to a (still fun!) reception, but the old spring gala used to be a major event in the community every spring.
Badlands/Apex. Badlands was the first dance bar I went to in DC. And it was awesome! The big dance floor when you came in, the video bar in the back, the lounge upstairs – whatever atmosphere you wanted, you could find in one place. Even when it changed its name to Apex, it was still a fun place to go. It was turned into a second location of the Phase, the lesbian bar on Capitol Hill, but I’m not even sure it’s open at all any more.
Chaos. Talk about a fun bar! Chaos, located below street level at 17th and Q, had a great Saturday night drag show and classic disco dance night. It ultimately closed due to a liquor license issue if I remember correctly.
Tracks. Ah, the legendary Tracks! The huge dance floor. The outdoor grill and sand volleyball court in the back. Taking your life into your own hands getting there as it was in what was then a VERY rough part of town (I had a friend who went there once on the Metro back when Metro closed at midnight. He didn’t realize Metro closed so early and walked into a closed station at 3:00 am. He called the police WHO CAME AND GOT HIM TO TAKE HIM HOME because he was in such a dangerous area). Tracks was a blast but you had to stick close to your friends; if you lost them you would NEVER find them again that night!
Reel Affirmations Film Festival. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if Reel Affirmations is still held every year or not. I checked their website and saw no recent activity, but they could just be idle at the moment. Reel Affirmations was another event that was a “must” on the LGBT social calendar every year. I saw so many great films there like “The Broken Hearts Club,” “Sordid Lives,” “Latter Days,” “More Tales of the City” and the British “Queer As Folk.” A great event largely killed by home video.
Parts of the Washington Blade. Yes, the Blade is still going strong and doing great work. But there are some elements that have been lost over the years. The “Encounters” adult section. The “Missed Connections” personal ads (which were often hilarious! One of my favorites was someone who published a car model, make and license plate number that he had seen on 66!). The syndicated comic strips like “The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Greene” and “Dykes to Watch Out For” (both of which also long gone, making the world a poorer place).
Lambda Rising. This is the loss I probably still feel the most, even though it’s been more than four years since it closed. Lambda Rising felt like a real community home with its huge stock of LGBT books, videos, cards and paraphernalia. It was the first gay bookstore I ever set foot in and gave me such a feeling of empowerment. It was also where I always went for the latest gay books or DVDs. I really miss it.
As with any community, change comes to the LGBT community too. Many of the institutions we cherish today will be gone one day too. But accepting change doesn’t mean we have to forget those places and things that once were a big part of our lives. I, for one, plan to remember all of these people, places and events for as long as I live. And I plan to share their memory with folks who weren’t fortunate enough to experience them.