By McKenzie Jones
Rumors mounted this week that Phase 1, one of the oldest lesbian bars in the nation, is permanently closing after staff was let go without notice. Metro Weekly, in a report published late yesterday, secured a statement from Phase 1 owner Allen Carroll that the bar has closed for renovations for its 45th anniversary. He did not, however, give an estimated length of the bar’s closing or reopening date.
Angela Lombardi, Phase 1 general manager (former general manager as of yesterday), has stated online that all staff were fired yesterday. Lombardi added that Carroll told her that he is planning to serve as both owner and manager while the bar is undergoing renovations and will then bring on new staff at a later date.
The sudden closure forced the Human Rights Campaign midweek to move their long-scheduled Second Annual Lez Sing Karaoke contest, scheduled for tonight, from Phase 1 to Nellies Sportsbar (Disclaimer: Brightest Young Things is a partner in the event along with Tagg Magazine). All other upcoming events at Phase 1 have been canceled as well.
As far as public notice, Phase 1 simply posted the following message on their Facebook page yesterday morning at 9:31am:
Phase 1 will be closed temporarily as we make some upgrades.
Will it really reopen, though? Too often, “temporary closings” have foreshadowed the permanent closing of nightclub establishments. Additionally, the abrupt nature of the announcement, and the firing of the staff question the outcome. It could be argued, if the bar is closing for an extended period, that the owner would not want to pay employees during that time. But why throw this news on them so abruptly? Why not extend an offer to rehire them after the renovation? The abrupt move, in addition to rumors, leave Phase 1 employees and patrons at a loss. Yet, on Thursday, Tagg Magazine reported that this is not the first time that Phase 1 has suddenly closed. It went through a similar, sudden shuttering of its Phase 1 Dupont location in October 2013.
There have been a series of lesbian bar closing across the nation in recent years, leaving many cities without a permanent, full-time lesbian bar. These closing have included the Egyptian Room in Portland (OR), The Palms in Los Angeles, and The Lexington in San Francisco – which was scheduled to close this week but which announced yesterday that it will remain open “at the very least another couple of months”. Despite these closings, many saw the Phase as a permanent fixture. Operating for more that 43 years, it is located in southeast Washington, D.C. It has been a place to meet ladies, dance, play pool, watch drag king shows, celebrate Pride and New Year’s, jam out to Phase Fest—in the safety and comfort of a queer lady-focused environment.
The public responses to its closure from D.C.’s queer women community have been vastly varied. Many have expressed sadness that Phase 1 has closed and might not reopen, stating that they are regular patrons or have been over the years and would miss it dearly. Some patrons are angry at members of the queer lady community for not attending or appreciating the bar. However, others are stating that they’re not surprised Phase 1 might be closed for good and blame various aspects of Phase, such as: its owner (many of whom note is a man), location, subculture, cover charge, bartenders, and more. The divide is stark, and many comments have been heated.
As LGBTQ people become more accepted and begin to gain all the rights that straight people have, they are increasingly seeking the same variety of events and bars that straight people have. But, with a much smaller population, it is difficult to have a queer women’s bar for every single queer lady subculture. Further, housing that variety under one roof seems highly difficult.
Phase 1 was slated to host the Human Rights Campaign’s Second Annual Lez Sing Karaoke Contest tonight to benefit the Her HRC party at Town next month. Due to Phase 1’s closure, the event will now take place at Nellie’s. The event is presented in conjunction with Brightest Young Things and Tagg Magazine. It starts at 7:00pm. We encourage everyone to come.
For more on DC’s queer nightlife scene, connect with the @BYGays on Twitter. McKenzie Jones is BYGays contributor and the founder of The V DC, a queer women’s event planning and promotion company which hosts the monthly glittHER dance party at Zeba Bar.