There is no question whether Washington, D.C.’s As You Are is a place for queer people. Rainbow streamers hang on the outside patio. The smells of nag champa, buttery loaves of bread, and coffee linger as you walk into the sunlit street-level café. Women’s sports play on the 80-inch TV behind the bar while Marvin Gaye, Amy Winehouse, and Elton John croon in the background. People are on afternoon dates, coworking, or playing board games. They’re drinking matcha lattes, wine spritzers, and zero-proof cocktails. On a Saturday afternoon you might even find Elliot, a three-year-old and known regular, with her two moms, commanding the attention of everyone after soccer practice.
Walk upstairs and you can feel the energy shift: White sage and cologne permeate the air; black velvet drapes the walls; and people wearing everything from leather harnesses to dashikis share the dance floor. This airy Capitol Hill bar and restaurant, which opened earlier this year, is the kind of queer-centered local joint that always feels like home at a time when such spaces are becoming fewer and far between.
According to a recent study, almost 37% of gay and lesbian bars shuttered between 2007 and 2019. Gentrification in major cities has forced rents beyond what many bar owners can afford; the rise in dating apps playing matchmaker—and the general shift toward digital socializing—has led to less in-real-life cruising; and to top it all off, there was 2020’s global lockdown, which affected bars and restaurants of all stripes. But beyond these quantitative factors is a collective cultural shift.
Today, reclaimed and redefined, the word queer has become shorthand for a broader, more inclusive vision of LGBTQIA+ identity and ideology. Baked into this definition is a rejection of the status quo, including outmoded approaches to consent, race, patriarchy, and transgender issues often found in more stereotypical cis gay male-centric spaces. For As You Are’s cofounders, Rach Pike and Jo McDaniel, the venue is a physical manifestation of this rejection. “Our goal with As You Are,” says McDaniel, “is to queer the gay bar agenda.”