OUTstanding Virginians 2016

 

Freddie Lutz

Host, Restaurateur, Designer, Float Maker

freddie 3According to Unite Virginia Magazine, when Freddie Lutz opened Freddie’s Beach Bar, he didn’t just open northern Virginia’s only gay bar, “he created a destination that the LGBT, military, and neighborhood communities can all call home.”
Home is an important theme in Freddie’s life. He lives in the Arlington house he grew up in surrounded by neighbors he’s known his whole life. Freddie’s only sustained time away from Arlington was the four years he spent in art school at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Coming home with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (“but not a famous artist),” Freddie found work at the Portofino Restaurant, a local culinary landmark still thriving after nearly fifty years. In 1976, when the owners opened a sister restaurant called Café Italia, they hired Freddie to be maitre d’. As Freddie recalls, Café Italia was very gay friendly. It advertised in the Blade and hosted a popular drag show on Halloween.

In 2001, after a quarter century at Café Italia, Freddie had the opportunity to provide a kind of home to the area’s LGBT community. A bar called the Foxhole came on the market and he saw the potential to turn it into a gay bar, something the Northern Virginia region lacked. So, Freddie said a fond goodbye to Café Italia, and with the encouragement of his former employers, he set out on his own.

Calling upon his inborn design sense and the skills he picked up in art school, he transformed the place without ever closing the Foxhole. “I just came in one day and started painting everything purple,” he recalls, and added disco balls and Barbie dolls from his collection for decor. As for the name, Freddie explains, “I was inspired by a little travel trailer I had in Rehoboth Beach with that color scheme.”

Although many of the LGBT community’s victories in the fight for equality still lay ahead when Freddie’s Beach Bar opened its doors, the establishment was well set-up for success. For one thing, Freddie himself was a prominent member of the local business community. “I was very well known and respected by the Beverage Control board and the police,” he says. “Also, the timing was right. It would have been hard to open the place ten years before,” he says, “but [by 2001] the police were doing diversity training and the neighbors could see we were a good group of people.”

From the start, Freddie made sure the experience of going to his bar was about having fun and feeling welcome, regardless of background. He advertised the place as “straight friendly” and a lot of straight people came, including many regulars from the Foxhole.

Today, Freddie’s brings together a remarkably inclusive community. “We have the most diverse clientele,” Freddie says, “LGBT, straight, black, white, Hispanic—everyone shows up.” Many cross the river from the District of Columbia, a high tribute to the atmosphere at Freddie’s. With buffets on Saturdays and Sunday champagne brunches, Freddie’s is a destination for many families. Freddie tells of one patron whose kids regularly say, “Let’s go to the Rainbow Place!”

Freddie’s is famous for its weekly drag shows—the longest-running in the area—and for annual events like the Mr. and Miss Freddie’s pageant and a purple anniversary party celebrating the establishment’s anniversary. Last year’s party featured a strikingly realistic Cher impersonator. There’s also drag bingo on Wednesdays and karaoke every night. According to Freddie, the perennial karaoke favorite is “Sweet Caroline.”

A recent review of Freddie’s stated that after taking one look at the place, “you know it’s going to be all about fun.” Nonetheless, a lot of important history has taken place within its walls. Being located in Crystal City, practically next door to the Pentagon, Freddie’s has always enjoyed a steady clientele from the government, including lots of high ranking military officers. In the days before the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy was repealed, it was a safe, discreet hangout for gay and lesbian service members.

When DADT was overturned, Freddie hosted a huge party. “It was wonderful,” Freddie recalls. “People signed napkins and passed them around as souvenirs, including generals who had until that moment been in the closet.” To celebrate the repeal, Tammy Smith, the Army’s first openly gay general, presented Freddie with a flag that had flown over Bagram airfield in Afghanistan, with a certificate of recognition for Freddie’s having provided a safe refuge over many years. The shadow box frame was engraved with rainbow striped stars.

For Capital Pride’s annual celebrations, Freddie takes the beach bar atmosphere to the streets with over-the-top floats, several of which have won design awards. “Our coolest to-date was a Wizard of Oz float,” Freddie says. “It had a castle that represented Crystal City. Dorothy and ballerinas rode on the float and soldiers walked beside it.” Last year’s float had a “Turn Back Time” theme, featuring Cher and 75 sailors against a battleship backdrop. Some were actual sailors, a sign of changing times.

During the daytime, serious work for the community gets done at Freddie’s. Members of AGLA (Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance) have regular business meetings there over coffee, and Freddie’s was the site of Cause for Paws, a fundraiser for the Arlington Rescue League. Freddie serves on the board of the Crystal City Business Improvement District and is president of a neighborhood business development group.

Freddie admits he’s “not sure where we’re headed with gay bars.” He has noticed that “so many young kids have no prejudices.” It’s great thing, he feels, even though it means the special role of LGBT-centric bars as safe havens may fade over time. But for the moment there is still a need. For his military clientele, he feels the next big step will be in military transgender rights. “We’ve accomplished so much, but transgender people in military still haven’t got all they need to get,” he says. In the meantime, says Freddie, “I hope that they will say I created a safe haven for them too.”

As Freddie’s and the march toward equality go on, Freddie Lutz can count on the support of a devoted community, a brother who is his silent partner (“silent when things go well,” he quips), and his partner, Johnny Cervantes. The two are engaged and hope to be married soon. “Johnny is my rock,” says Freddie.

 

Celebrate our victories this year and honor the 2016 OUTstanding Virginians by joining us at this year’s Commonwealth Dinner!