Op-Ed: Washington D.C.’s Town May Be Gone, But LGBT Nightlife Isn’t Dead
In the days following the Pulse Nightclub tragedy in the summer of 2016, I recall reading somewhere, “If you have never looked at a nightclub as a place of refuge, you most likely have never had to hide who you were.” Those words are both ominously haunting and beyond true. The nightclubs in our community are our church, our gathering spot, our dance halls and the places where many of our deepest friendships and romantic relationships have been forged. When Town in Washington D.C. decided to bring their curtain down several months ago, it was extremely personal to this community.
Officially, Town closed because the landlord sold the building. The new owners terminated the lease so the location could become apartments. But whatever the reason, the D.C. community was shocked and struck with a deep loss that another one of the premiere LGBTQ spaces was being taken away.
So much so, that D.C. resident Ben Carver collaborated with dancers Matthew Cumbie and Sam Horning of Dance Exchange on the short film Last Dance at Town. In his own words, Carver “wanted to replicate the experience of going to the club, meeting a cute guy and doing the dance of desire that, inevitably, ends with leaving the club.”
The video starts in a completely empty Town, to the strains of “To The Love” by Dan Shake, giving a first-hand look at the glory of Town’s massive space. Suddenly, Robyn’s new hit “Missing U” and the lyrics, while gorgeously sentimental as always, are suddenly chill inducing paired with the sight of bars without cocktails and banquettes bare. The song’s words take on a completely new meaning as these two men take on the Town dancefloor one last time.
Town was what D.C. needed at that time. With the days of Nation behind them, Town entered the D.C. marketplace at the right time. Whether it was RuPaul’s Drag Race stars like Alyssa Edwards or Tatiana scorching the stage or DJ Drew G taking the children late into the night, Town was always the spot to be on a Saturday night. (And who could forget the woof-tastic Bear Happy Hour?)
Yes, Town is now part of the ever-growing landscape of big-room nightclubs that are no longer part of our community. And yes, we will inevitably see the articles start to emerge about how this is, once again, the “end of gay nightlife“. But we need to remember, for every Town, there’s a Paradise in Asbury Park (celebrating twenty years), Blue Moon In Rehoboth Beach (over thirty years) or Roscoe’s Tavern in Chicago (over twenty years) that continue to thrive.
Spaces like Tabu in Philadelphia are expanding and will soon see some of their biggest crowds yet. Parties like Distrkt C are constantly moving throughout the country, and with our nation’s current political climate, I have keenly seen a new kind of relationship being forged in the community. I have personally seen mimi-mentorships happening and people actively taking an interest in the generation behind us.
The era that Town created is also behind us. The memories and moments remain. We now need to make more memories at the existing LGBT spaces we have and patronize these establishments now more than ever. Our visibility is beyond crucial. Buy your cocktails, pay your cover charges, tip your bartenders and, above all, tip the drag queens.
Did you visit Town during its heyday?
Featured image by Oliver Conteras