MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll wrap up today's show with our monthly series, D.C. Dives.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1
What is a dive bar?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1
It's a glorious dump.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2
It's got to have an interesting staff, and an interesting crowd.
It's got to be dark, it's got to be old. Typically, it's got to be cheap.
Today we're heading to a bar that sits behind an unassuming façade, in the heart of Capitol Hill's Barracks Row district. And while Phase 1's windowless storefront may not look like much from the outside, as Jerad Walker tells us, inside, you'll find one of D.C.'s oldest dives.
MR. JERAD WALKER
Phase 1 is the oldest lesbian drinking establishment in Washington. In fact, bar manager Angela Lombardi says this dive bar may be the oldest of its kind in the country.
MS. ANGELA LOMBARDI
It opened in 1970 in this exact location, actually same owners. One of the owners did pass away around 5 years ago, but the original two gentlemen that owned it have been a part of it the entire time.
Who comes here?
The beauty of this bar is since we have been open since 1970, is we're kind of all over the place. On any given night, our clientele ranges from a packed house full of 22, 21-year-olds. Or you know, occasionally when we open, we'll get a group of 25 60- or 70-year-olds that roll in here. Like one woman actually had an oxygen tank. That's the versatility and the beauty of this bar. You never know what you're going to get.
Bartender Krista Strong says despite that age gap, Phase 1's patrons have unifying tastes and attitudes.
MS. KRISTA STRONG
Drink are cheap, people are friendly, it's not too fancy. You're not going to get a nice Cosmo with a twist here. You know, I mean, you will if you order it, but it's just not that place. You come and you get a PBR and a shot of Jameson, and you're good to go.
As the bar begins to fill, I run into Jean Homza, bar manager at the 9:30 Club.
MS. JEAN HOMZA
This is actually where I got my start in the industry. So it's home for me. I started at that door, working the door in 1984 or 5, somewhere in there, and now have what a lot of people would consider to be one of the premier jobs in my field.
Back then, Homza says Phase 1 was an important gathering place for a largely isolated lesbian community in D.C.
This place survived times when not only was it impossibly uncool to be gay, but women were targets on top of it. Still are, I'm not denying that.
One constant reminder of that era is the front door of the bar. When you enter Phase 1, you don't really enter Phase 1. You have to pass through a sort of makeshift anteroom that acts as a barrier between the street and the bar itself.
One of the reasons there's that partition there is because people would fling that door open and throw things inside. Milkshakes came in and things more intense than that, bullet holes in the window when you come in the next day.
And while many of the patrons and staff haven't forgotten the past, bar manager Angela Lombardi says it's undeniable that attitudes towards the lesbian community have changed for the better.
We're at this beautiful point in 2013 where I, as a lesbian, can go anywhere, certainly anywhere in D.C. with my girlfriend and not feel awkward.
Is it difficult to stay relevant in an ever opening society?
I would say yes, but it's a feat for any business to be open for 43 years now, let alone a lesbian bar, I mean, so we're not only competing with lesbian bars or gay bars, I mean, we're competing with straight bars.
In this newly competitive market, Lombardi has gotten creative to keep her patrons coming back.
We're always on a train to do whatever is new and weird, I mean, you're here for Jell-O wrestling tonight, and we've actually been doing that for probably around 8 years now.
Yes, she said Jell-O wrestling. I make my way back to the bar's cooler, and meet up with DJ Jay Von Tease, who has been spinning dance songs all night long, but tonight, she's pulling double-duty as the designated Jell-O maker, and she graciously allows me to sit in on the process.
DJ JAY VON TEASE
And it's like sand, pretty much it looks like, and once you add, like, you have to add like hot and cold water, but once you do, it turns into little tiny little jelly balls that you can eat if you want to, there's no flavor to them. They don't taste good, but they won't kill you.
And how much Jell-O are we talking about here?
This one bag is like 25 gallons.
And they use two of them. But 50 gallons of Jell-O still won't break a fall.
The worst thing about Jell-O wrestling, because I've done it myself, and it's the next day, because the next day it feels like you've wrestled like a polar bear.
So you've done this.
Did you win?
But it's not all Jell-O at Phase 1. Angela Lombardi says the most important thing about the bar is its continuing commitment to providing the lesbian community of D.C. with a safe and friendly watering hole it can call its own.
It's not about just making money, it's being proud of how you made the money. We will never sell out. We're not trying to imitate or replicate. We're our own thing.
And after 43 years, it can safely be said, this dive bar is anything but a phase. I'm Jerad Walker.
Do you have a favorite dive bar you'd like to suggest for our series? Email us at Metro@wamu.org or send us a tweet, our handle is @wamumetro.
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza, Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman, Jonathan Wilson and Jerad Walker, with special help from Naomi Gingold and Kara Nichols. WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Our guest producer this week is Rebecca Blatt. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Robbie Feinberg. Lauren Landau, Robbie Feinberg and John Hines produce Door To Door. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.
Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts" and our Door To Door theme, "No Girl," are from the album, Title Tracks by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. All the music we use is listed on our website, that's metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org you can read free transcripts of stories. And if you missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing online anytime. You can also find us on iTunes, Stitcher and the NPR news app.
We hope you can join us next week when we'll rewind a bit and revisit some of our favorite "Metro Connection" stories from the past few months. We'll climb aboard the skipjack Kathryn, historic boat that once sailed the Chesapeake and community members hope will hit those waters again soon. We'll visit a Howard University professor who's using green chemistry to improve medicine for people in developing countries, and we'll rock out with a band for whom D.C. isn't just home, it's inspiration.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2
Remember that space was something else before the Target was an idea we were trying to play with in the lyrics of "D.C. USA."
I’m Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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