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Lina Nicolai bemoans the fact that lesbian bars FAB Lounge and Phase 1 closed, leaving the District devoid of distinct gathering places for queer women. Taking stock of the gay nightlife scene in D.C. reveals a landscape dominated by bars for men that occasionally host events like “Women Crush Wednesdays.”
“No one has really picked up the baton,” Nicolai says. She co-owns Al Crostino with her mother Juliana Nicolai. “There’s no dedicated space for women to go.”
Instead of waiting for something more permanent to come along, Nicolai took charge and asked her mother if she could convert the second floor of their Italian restaurant into what they call XX+ presented by Al Crostino. It’s part cocktail lounge, part pool hall and everyone is welcome. “We’re a very inclusive bar,” Lina says. “It’s being run and operated by women for women and the rest of the community.”
The X’s represent that the bar is operated with women in mind and the plus sign is a bat signal for the LBGTQ+ community.
Lina tapped “K.B.” Baxter to draw up a menu of finger foods like pepperoni pizza bites, shrimp and pineapple brochettes served with mango chutney, vegetable arancini, beet hummus, apple pie tacos, and cookie shots filled with chocolate mousse and ice cream. Baxter’s resume includes stops at Marcel’s, Kyirisan, and Lyon Hall. She currently cooks at Gravitas.
A rotating list of craft cocktails will include an Arnold Palmer that uses limoncello instead of lemonade; a white rum cocktail with mango nectar and muddled pineapple; and a “Gin Weasley” that nods at the name of a Harry Potter character and features gin and grapefruit. There will also be a selection of bottled beer, wine, and shots. Lina says XX+ plans to invite queer women bartenders to do bar takeovers periodically.
Entertainment ranges from DJs, live music, and karaoke nights to movie nights and private events. The something-for-everybody space also has a pool table offering free billiards. Finally, most of the art you’ll find on the wall is for sale. Artists will rotate through, but first up is Lisa Marie Thalhammer. Look for the QR codes on the wall that will tell you what you need to know about the pieces on display. View photos of the space below.
The bar’s social director, Tasha, emigrated from Nigeria three years ago where coming out has legal and social consequences. “You could be jailed for 14 years,” she explains. “Coming to America, I realized I could be myself and open, but there was still so much hate. Where do I go? Where can I meet people? Having a safe space hits very close to home. Anyone, whoever you are, this is your space.”
XX+ isn’t the only lesbian bar in the works. Pitchers in Adams Morgan will soon debut A League of Her Own also known as “The League” in its basement. Lina says that the economics of lesbian bars are sometimes trying, but she hopes both bars are met with success.
The grand opening for XX+ is set for July 22. Tickets ($20) are available on Eventbrite. The bar’s hours are tentatively set at Wednesdays-Thursdays from 5 p.m. to midnight; Fridays-Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.; and Sundays from 5 p.m. to midnight. They’ll open one Monday a month for a bar and restaurant industry night. Happy hour will be Wednesdays-Fridays from 5-8 p.m.
XX+ presented by Al Crostino,1926 9th St. NW (second floor); facebook.com/xxcrostino