(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
Thereâ€™s a lot of change in the air with the D.C. gay leather community. As Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend is in town for its annual festivities, we decided to ask around and see if the changes are just coincidental, natural evolution of a maturing scene or indicators of a larger cultural shift of some type.
The bottom-line answer, not surprisingly, is that it depends whom you ask.
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But first, the particulars.
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â€˘ The Leather Rack, still gay-owned but under new management, has a new name. Now known as Adam & Eve, itâ€™s still at 1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (location of the nearly 40-year-old business since 1991) but is a slightly different shop.
â€śWe felt the name attracts a broader audience, not just gay guys into leatherâ€ť current owner Russwin Francisco, who bought the business from James McGlade (whoâ€™d owned it since 1994), wrote in an e-mail. â€śWe do love gay leather guys and weâ€™ll support the leather community in any way we can. We simply want to ensure that other folks with other sexual fetishes feel as comfortable in our store regardless of gender, sexual orientation or identity. Consequently we are offering womenâ€™s fetish wear, toys and accessories along side our menâ€™s [items].â€ť
Francisco is gay, married to a man and has been in Washington for more than 30 years.
McGlade didnâ€™t respond to requests for comment but said in a press release issued when the change became official in November that he was â€śgrateful for our time here as the Leather Rackâ€ť and â€śwe wish to thank you for your patronage and endorsement over the years.â€ť
â€śJim is a good friend,â€ť Francisco says. â€śIt was a natural transition.â€ť
â€˘ As has been widely reported, the D.C. Eagleâ€™s days at its current location at 639 New York Ave., N.W. location are numbered. The most recent official comment was that owners would be there through the end of March via an agreement with the developer of a high-rise office complex that will displace the Eagle and other businesses in the area.
Eagle owners and management staff are being tight-lipped on their plans. Repeated phone calls, e-mails and Facebook messages to Ted Clements, Peter Lloyd and Carl Domer went unacknowledged this week.
Eddie Ortiz, president of the D.C. Boys of Leather, says he sees Clements regularly and though he canâ€™t offer anything official, he understands an announcement is imminent. The Boys have a monthly bar night at the Eagle, as do many of the local gay leather groups.
â€śI understand the owners do have a location identified, but they havenâ€™t given me a location yet,â€ť Ortiz says. â€śI think theyâ€™re going to announce it over MAL weekend. Ted is the one I talk to a lot.â€ť
David Merrill, whoâ€™s gay and DJs the monthly fetish/gear party CODE, says itâ€™s never wise to count the Eagle out.
â€śWeâ€™ve heard rumors of the Eagleâ€™s imminent demise multiple times in the past and, of course, those rumors turned out to be greatly exaggerated,â€ť Merrill says. â€śIâ€™m certain theyâ€™ll open in a new location.â€ť
â€˘ The Baltimore Eagle, however, hasnâ€™t been as lucky. It closed last month at its 2022 N. Charles Street location and its fate remains uncertain. The estate of former owner Richard Richardson, who died suddenly in 2007 (heâ€™d purchased it from Tom Kiple in 1995), had been running it in recent years. New owner Charles Parrish did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
In the meantime, many in the Baltimore gay leather community have moved over to Leonâ€™s Leather Lounge, known casually as â€śthe Triple Lâ€ť at 870 Park Ave.
Rodney Burger, president of the ShipMates Club, which had called the Eagle â€śhomeâ€ť since the bar opened in 1991, said the last night it was open was memorable.
â€śIt is my understanding that the new owner plans to turn it into office space,â€ť he wrote in an e-mail. â€śHow fitting that the last Saturday the bar was open was our ShipMatesâ€™ Daddy Christmas benefit. The bar was packed and we raised $3,000 for Moveable Feast. We closed the bar with a bang.â€ť
He also said Triple L owner Ron Singer made â€śa nice offerâ€ť and they plan to continue meeting there.
“I just hope we can get in there to clear out our trophy case and banners,” Burger said later in a phone interview. “There’s the entire history of the Baltimore leather scene in there including banners from some clubs that haven’t existed for 30 years or more. I’m actually having nightmares about losing this stuff â€” we need to make sure we can get in there and get all that safely out. I hope it’s OK and doesn’t end up in a dumpster somewhere.”
Those active in the Baltimore leather scene say theyâ€™re hearing the Eagle could reopen elsewhere, but nothing definite is known.
â€śIâ€™ve heard everything from three to five months, Iâ€™ve heard longer, the rumor mill is full of stuff,â€ť Rik Newton-Treadway, known as â€śHookerâ€ť in the leather community there, says.
MAL appears to continue thriving and local gay leather enthusiasts say itâ€™s a major highlight of their year and remains popular with both locals and those who come from out of town.
â€śThereâ€™s always a huge percentage of local people at MAL,â€ť Merrill says. Heâ€™ll be spinning his â€śdeep houseâ€ť and â€śprogressive tribalâ€ť music at two special CODE parties at the Crucible this weekend. â€śI think most local guys into some part of the leather scene make it to at least one of the MAL events. There are so many things to do over the weekend â€” dance events, play events, times to socialize, the cocktails the Centaurs do â€” thereâ€™s a little something for everybody. Thatâ€™s one of the great things about the leather community â€” itâ€™s so diverse.â€ť
Ortiz, whose Boys group is having its own free party/dance tonight at 10 in the Congressional Room at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill (the sold-out host hotel), says he â€ścanâ€™t wait to get going and start dancing.â€ť Though married to his partner of 14 years whoâ€™s not into the leather scene, Ortiz is in a slave/master relationship with a leather lover in Michigan whom he sees about once a month and who will be here this weekend for MAL.
â€śItâ€™s such a fun time,â€ť he says. â€śItâ€™s great to see people you havenâ€™t seen since last year and it gives us a chance to really hang out in our leather, do play scenes in a safe environment, be who we are, make new friends and also see some of the local people who donâ€™t come out as much unless itâ€™s for MAL.â€ť
Ortiz, by the way, says the Boys club, which even has a couple female members, is about having a boy mindset.
â€śItâ€™s how you identify in your heart,â€ť he says. â€śItâ€™s who you are on the inside. Thereâ€™s no certain way it has to be, but it does tend to be more service oriented. You donâ€™t have to be a complete bottom. Boys can top, but itâ€™s about taking care of a dom or having someone be in charge of you and dominating the play scene.â€ť
With trust and communication in his marriage, he says his other relationship is â€śworking out great for us.â€ť
As for the D.C. scene overall, some say itâ€™s just natural evolution.
Woody says it runs much deeper than simply who owns a leather bar at any given time or where it might be located.
â€śThe smartphone has brought with it a lot of degrading factors,â€ť he says. â€śThere are all these mobile apps now â€” Scruff, Growlr, Grindr â€” all these things we didnâ€™t have before. Now I can find a trick a half a mile from me with my GPS-embedded tracker and there are people coming up with different websites all the time. â€¦ You can order up anything you want, so there are not as many people interested in romance anymore. Yes, there are still softies with good hearts who want relationships and certainly gay men have always had their hook-up side, but I think thereâ€™s a higher turnover ratio when everythingâ€™s online.â€ť
Newton-Treadway, who says lots of guys from Baltimore come to D.C. for Leather Weekend (â€śAre you kidding? Itâ€™s practically in our backyard â€” itâ€™s like a giant cheesecake for everybody whoâ€™s supposed to be on a diet.â€ť), says the changing leather scene is much deeper and more complex than it may initially seem.
â€śI think there are aspects of the lifestyle that in a way are becoming more underground, less in your face,â€ť he says. â€śI think the economy hasnâ€™t helped. The Internet hasnâ€™t helped. Itâ€™s many, many, many different things. I would say long gone are the days when a leather bar could count on the gay leather community to keep it open. With everything out there online, you donâ€™t need to go out. Not long ago, there wasnâ€™t any AOL, hell, we didnâ€™t even have cell phones. You had to go out for dick. It didnâ€™t come to you unless you were in the middle of the gay ghetto and sitting on your front porch. So thereâ€™s a lot of change occurring and a lot of contributing factors. And even when you do go out to the bars, everybodyâ€™s got their nose in their phone. They might even be texting to someone whoâ€™s right there in the bar, but they wonâ€™t go over and talk to them.â€ť
But the bar scene in the leather world is far from dead. Jacob Pring, who organizes CODE and the XXX parties at Green Lantern and the Crucible, says he sees lots of younger guys coming to his events and gets anywhere from 100 to 150 guys to an average event.
â€śThereâ€™s always new people coming in,â€ť Pring says. â€śPeople bring their friends. Itâ€™s fun. No attitude, no drama.â€ť
Ortiz says heâ€™s not so sure itâ€™s changing as much as everybody says.
â€śI still go out,â€ť he says. â€śI donâ€™t just sit at home online all the time. I know lots of people who go out and support the clubs.â€ť
Merrill says it is changing but itâ€™s futile to pine for the past.
â€śEvery community changes over time,â€ť he says. â€śItâ€™s not gonna be 1975 forever. I donâ€™t know what things will look like in another 10 years, but Iâ€™m looking forward to finding out.â€ť