After 10 years at the doors of thumping gay discotheques, impresario Mark Lee has gone lounge. And where Mark Lee goes, D.C.’s muscle boys are sure to follow.

For queer D.C., lounge

is a subcultural earthquake: It’s taken gay guys longer than the rest of the world to catch up to the phenomenon of slouching in public, in part because most of them think “relaxing” on Friday night involves four hours of nonstop gyrating to perfectly awful variations on the Miami Sound Machine. But they’ve noticeably mellowed in recent years. They’re not as driven to go out as they once were. It used to be, in the late ’80s, that gay boys and girls couldn’t decide what to do on a Sunday or a Wednesday after dark. Now, you mostly find critical mass in the clubs only on Fridays and Saturdays—unless Monday is a holiday. People work harder; they stay home; they’ve moved to the suburbs. The party scene is not kaput by any means, but things are, let’s say, chastened a bit. People are doing less coke and more K—a horse tranquilizer—to help themselves chill.

“Bars don’t play the same roles they used to,” observes Lee, especially since D.C’s gay population started moving beyond the Dupont Circle ghetto in the ’90s. “It’s not over,” he says. “It’s just different.”

Lee, the wizard behind the local party brand name ATLAS, is a pretty reliable index of the changes of local mood. He’s been moving his up-market bacchanal of shirtless, buff dudes around town forever, it seems—though it all started in 1987 with his first parties at Dakota on Columbia Road NW. Remember Dakota? On school nights, the line would stretch up the block to the Safeway; most people emerged, wringing wet with sweat, after all the taxi drivers had gone home. Then Lee took his tribe downtown—to Fifth Column, then to its successor, the Bank, then to Club Zei, where he’d throw big holiday dance parties and AIDS benefits.

Now, abreast of disco burnout, Lee has gone retro cool. Two weeks ago, he moved ATLAS to Eleventh Hour on 14th Street NW with a Sunday night gig called Lizard Lounge. It wants to be in Chelsea—or Puerto Vallarta. The interior, for which credit goes to Eleventh Hour proprietors Masoud A. and Howard Kitrosser and the design firm division one, has swanky, sculptural walls painted in warm red and yellow, and the martini glasses have bent stems. The sofas are low and made of leather. The angular legs of the custom-made bar stools are machined to look like some sort of steel weapons. The music, spun by DJ Kostas, is groovy and ambient—not agitating. “People are just looking for a way to relax,” Lee insists.

And then there’s Lee at the door, as ever, smiling and planting hostly kisses, wearing a dark coat and trousers with striped outseams. He’s always been a bit further downtown than his clientele, who wear a lot of faded sportswear and fleece separates and go to bed early. The midnight-to-6 a.m. crowd has either grown up or gone away. Lee closes up at 2.—Bradford McKee

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