I remember my first gay bar. I was 20, newly single, and frustrated. I knew only a handful of gay people at the University of Maryland, where I was a senior, but one night a guy in my campus a cappella group invited me out to Apex, a club near Dupont Circle. Standing at the threshold of the bar, watching the cute boys dance under the strobe lights, I was terrified. But for the first time, I also felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself.
Now Apex is gone. Developers gutted the building last fall and are turning it into office or retail space. Many bars I spent time in are also shuttered, such as Phase 1 (which was briefly in the same space as Apex). Soon another destination will disappear: Shaw’s Town Danceboutique, the vast club where I finally let go of my fear of dancing. Since 2014, at least four significant LGBTQ venues have closed in and around DC’s traditionally gay areas of Dupont Circle and Shaw.
Sad as that is, it points to an even bigger issue: Whither the gayborhood? As a cosmopolitan, international city, Washington has a long history as a hub for the LGBTQ community. Gay people here have always had low-key spots where they went to meet one another. (Apparently, Lafayette Square was a top cruising spot until the 1950s.) But in the 1960s and ’70s, something new emerged—a specific neighborhood where gay people lived and socialized openly, forging a community that proclaimed its budding self-confidence through shared public space. The area’s gay-identified cafes, bookstores, and nightclubs were political as much as functional. It wasn’t just about convenience—it was about pride.
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