Freddie Lutz has a lot of stories.
One of his favorites was a time when several men came into his bar, Freddie’s Beach Bar (555 23rd Street S.), and started stirring up trouble. As they started causing trouble and making crude remarks, all Lutz had to do was pick up the phone and a few seconds later a few burly, “football player” friends showed up from a nearby sports bar and gently escorted the troublemakers away.
For Lutz, it’s a story that marks the kind of support he’s had in Arlington County since the start. This year marks the 20th anniversary Freddie’s Beach Bar, which he proudly calls “Northern Virginia’s only LGBTQ+, straight friendly restaurant and bar.” While many gay bars across the country had to fight for their place from the beginning, Lutz said he’s been lucky with mostly positive experiences in Crystal City.
The bar got started 2001, but Lutz said his history with the neighborhood goes back further.
“Prior to losing my mind and opening Freddie’s, I was a maître d’ and manager at an Italian restaurant nearby called Cafe Italia for 25 years,” Lutz said. “I grew up in the neighborhood and was pretty well known. Folks knew me and knew I was gay. We did drag shows at Halloween. That part of my life was no secret, even back then.”
Lutz said opening Freddie’s was partially a matter of finding the right timing.
“The timing was good, because that was when the police department was doing diversity training and people were trying to be more accepting,” Lutz said. “It’s not like we were opening some sleazy bathhouse, we were a respectable bar. I think once we did open, everybody realized we had a very class, respectable clientele.”
Lutz said there’s been “very little trouble” over the years, apart from the earlier crowd escorted out and one time early on when Lutz said the bar had a brick thrown through the window. The bar has expanded a few times over the years, and Lutz is in the process of opening a new “Freddie’s” in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware sometime in the next few months.
“It’s gotten bigger and better,” Lutz said. “We’ve gotten better with age.”
Over those years, Lutz said he’s also seen increasing gay representation at non-gay-specific bars; with pride flags decorating venues throughout the region. While a boon for the gay community, it also has also created questions of identity for venues that made their mark as isolated islands of acceptance — but Lutz said he isn’t concerned.
“A lot of gay bars seem to be fading out because gay people and straight people go to the same bars, but I think it’s nice to have specifically a gay bar, particularly with our history,” Lutz said. “Like with gay folks from the Pentagon who early on considered Freddie’s to be a safe place for them to hang out, even before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I advertised as straight-friendly, which gave them cover even before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Lutz said Freddie’s, like other gay bars, also stands out as a safe place and overall haven for the still under-threat transgender community.
Gay bars nationwide have also faced some scrutiny, however, for catering predominately to white clientele. D.C. gay bar Nellie’s Sports Bar faced public outcry after a bouncer at the bar dragged a Black woman down a flight of stars. Lutz said it’s an important discussion that gay bars throughout the country should engage with, and one he’s seen come up on the National Landing Business Improvement District’s Equity Committee.
“I’m an old white guy, so to have the opportunity to have open, honest discussions about race: I welcome that and I think more people should take this opportunity to get educated and learn more,” Lutz said. He noted that a recent discussion hosted by D.C.-based Tagg Magazine helped to spotlight the issue of making queer spaces safer for Black patrons.
In general, Lutz said he has a positive outlook for the future of Freddie’s. Lutz is a board member for the National Landing BID and said he’s been largely enthusiastic about the arrival of Amazon — which placed a sizable takeout order from Freddie’s last year. Now, Lutz said his bar is starting to do in-person events with the company.
“We did an Amazon happy hour for their employees, some of which are already here, and that was really great,” Lutz said. “It was a mix of straight and gay employees — they had their Glamazon group represented.”
Plans for the headquarters’ development are proceeding and the tech giant has been making contributions to local schools and nonprofits, but the effects of the new headquarters are also worrying some in nearby localities. In Alexandria, the city is scrambling to put together a plan to keep intact affordable housing nearby at risk of gentrification.
But Lutz sees Amazon’s arrival as an opportunity to make up for some of what was lost as the federal government moved thousands of jobs out of the Crystal City area starting in the mid-aughts, hurting local businesses.
“I’m not the least bit concerned,” Lutz said. “I know some residents are concerns about increased traffic and so forth, but I don’t have any concerns about that. When [the Base Realignment and Closure Act] happened we lost like 25,000 people and vehicles, so to replace that with Amazon and all the new infrastructure: I don’t think that’s going to be an issue at all.”
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