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Used to be that if you were a lesbian living in D.C., Liquid Ladies was the place to party on Saturday nights. The weekly event at Dupont Circle’s Apex was “lively” and “vibrant,” says clubgoer Jax Neilson, with a “packed, sweaty crowd.”
But, says Neilson, the nightlife scene for D.C. lesbians has become increasingly barren in recent years. “A ‘dearth,’ I think, is an understatement,” she laughs.
Lesbian hangout Hung Jury closed several years ago. The Edge/Wet, which hosted a Wednesday event geared toward women, shut its doors in September. And in October, Apex abandoned Liquid Ladies and replaced it with a drag show.
“I’m glad that there’s something that’s gay that’s there,” Neilson says. “But I’m sorry it’s not something for women. It’s a huge loss to the community.”
In an Oct. 27 article in the Washington Blade, Apex manager Joey Oldaker explained the club’s decision to stop Liquid Ladies. “Our numbers were terrible on Saturdays,” he said. “In the summertime, our business tends to go down, and then it picks back up in the fall, and that never happened. It just went down, down, down.”
So, what gives? Are the city’s lesbians settling down? Maybe D.C.’s Sapphic sisters are ready for a little R&R.
Not quite, says Sgt. Brett Parson of the D.C. police’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit. The decision to liquidate Liquid Ladies followed a series of efforts designed to deal with violence in or around the club on Saturday nights, he says.
“One of the things we did was work with Apex on a budding problem: violence that would start inside the club and move outside of the club—basically antisocial behavior,” Parson says.
For example, an Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration case report written by investigator Charles Woolridge says that, on Oct. 1, two Apex patrons “became involved in a verbal altercation which led to a physical altercation.” The fight began inside the club, or just outside of it, and continued a block away. Two women were arrested.
Following the incident, the report says, Woolridge spoke with Parson and Oldaker. Both men said they were worried about a migration of patrons from the Edge/Wet in Southeast to Liquid Ladies. Meanwhile, Oldaker began making some changes to the club’s format, the report says. He “changed the selection of music that the DJs play” and “indicated that he is enforcing a dress code to enter the establishment.” He also “doubled the security,” it says.
ABRA spokesperson Jeff Coudriet says it’s quite possible that fallout from the Edge/Wet had something to do with the end of Liquid Ladies. “The Wednesday lesbian night at Edge/Wet definitely had problems, so if it moved over to Apex, I could see how they might have problems too,” he says.
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Still, Liquid Ladies’ abrupt exit from the scene was perplexing for some District lesbians. At “A Different Kind of Ladies Night” at Fab Lounge on Dec. 8, several women stopped to speculate. “It was very sudden. Something must have happened. It was always packed,” one says. “What I’ve heard is the men…pushed women out, because they tip more,” says another, referring to the men who used to frequent Nation, a club that closed to make room for the new baseball stadium.
Former Liquid Ladies patron Beth Drumment says a lot of former Liquid Ladies regulars have moved on to Phase 1 near Capitol Hill. “Our crowd has picked up a lot” since Liquid Ladies closed, says Phase 1 manager Sarah Brasher, who adds that her new clients haven’t brought any of the fights with them. “We don’t have any violence at all,” she says.
Asked in a phone interview to elaborate on the end of Liquid Ladies, Oldaker said it was a “business” decision.
In many cultures, holding a door open is considered thoughtful and polite. For D.C. establishments pumping up the volume, however, that door better be closed tight: Propping a door open while music is playing can constitute a violation of D.C. Code and lead to fines upward of $250.
And that’s as it should be, says Lauren Balawejder, an Adams Morgan resident who lives at the corner of Columbia Road and Biltmore Street NW. Balawejder typically rises at 5 a.m. on weekdays, only a few hours after the 18th Street revelers call it a night.
She says she can handle the “general congestion” in her neighborhood on Friday and Saturday nights, but the “pounding heavy metal” from local bars on Sunday nights pushes her over the edge. “Even with my windows and doors closed, my television on, I can hear them,” she says.
This summer, as music from Ghana Cafe’s live band leaked out of the Adams Morgan restaurant, Balawejder blew the whistle, prompting ABRA to dispatch its investigators. They found that the establishment’s doors were indeed propped open and charged the restaurant with violating its voluntary agreement and D.C. Code.
On June 18, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs also sent an inspector to check out the noise. Inspector Mandoza Lowery appeared at the scene, armed with one of the department’s noise meters. “Ambient and Source readings were taken with the noise meter,” Lowery wrote in an e-mail, and were found to be “extremely loud.”
On Dec. 6, Ghana Cafe was slapped with a $1,000 penalty and a seven-day suspension, with one day served, for propping its doors open, in addition to other violations. Ghana Cafe’s owner Anthony Opare declined to comment, but his lawyer, Richard Bianco, says Opare regrets his infractions—and also regrets that the board didn’t contact him sooner about them. “It’s really a case of justice delayed being justice denied,” Bianco says. “These violations happened in June, but he didn’t even find out about them until October. How can he comply if he doesn’t even find out about it until four months later?”
Still, Bianco notes, among all of the live-music-hosting restaurants and bars in the neighborhood, “It’s got to be something of an enforcement problem to find out which establishments are causing which noise.”
Ishmael Hassan, bass player for Ghana Cafe’s band, says the restaurant is unfairly singled out amid the neighborhood’s din. “It’s one pretty girl,” he says. “It shines among everything.”
ABRA spokesperson Coudriet says looks have nothing to do with it. “Honestly, we don’t know whether a establishment is pretty or not. That doesn’t really matter to us,” he says.—Jessica Gould
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