Small Town Spotlight: Freddie's Beach Bar
By, Q Virginia Staff
An army officer, lesbian, redneck, corporate executive, and drag queen walk in to a bar. This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, yet there is a bar in Arlington where you will find all of these people enjoying great food, drinks, and each other’s company in a fun and unique atmosphere. If you’ve never been to Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant, you need to. Freddie Lutz 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.
Q Virginia recently had the chance to speak with Freddie, who shared some heartfelt and hysterical stories.
Q Virginia: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Freddie: Well, I live in the house I grew up in on Arlington Ridge Road. I’ve been collecting Barbie dolls since I was a little girl. I live with my partner, Johnny Cervantes. We’ve been engaged for 17 years. We were waiting for Virginia to legalize same-sex weddings so we could get married here. Last October, Channel 5 interviewed us and asked if we were going to get married now that we could. My partner answered, “No, but Freddie, you can take me to Tiffany’s.” We’re thinking about marriage and have a few ideas.
Q Virginia: Why did you decide to open a gay bar in Arlington, Virginia?
Freddie: I was the maître d' at Café Italia Restaurant for 25 years. After 25 years, I lost my mind and opened Freddie’s. When I did, everyone at Café Italia was very supportive. I’ve had Freddie’s now for almost 15 years. My brother is my silent partner—at least he’s silent when things are going well, which fortunately is most of the time. I knew a lot of people in neighborhood when I opened, which helped. People knew that I would open a respectable joint. Before this space was Freddie’s, it was a dive bar called the Foxhole. When I took over this space in 2001, I never closed the Foxhole. I just came in one evening and started painting everything purple. The rednecks at the bar were very confused. Someone said I should call my new bar, “Freddie’s Hole.” I said, “I don’t think so.” What’s great is the rednecks who were regulars of the Foxhole kept coming after Freddie’s opened. They’re great people.
Q Virginia: Did you have any problems or incidents when you first opened Freddie’s?
Freddie: I should start by saying that my friend, Billy Baynes, owns Crystal City Sports Pub and Crystal City Restaurant (a topless joint). The night I opened up, Billy brought 25 people in to celebrate with me. He’s great. I can count on one hand the number of “incidents” we’ve had. But, early on, we had a few tough looking guys come in and start saying slurs like “fucking faggots” and other things I’d rather not repeat. I called Billy and told him that some guys were harassing my customers. Do you know what he did? He grabbed five of his football buddies and they all came to Freddie’s and escorted those troublemakers out. That’s the kind of support I have.
Q Virginia: What can customers expect when they walk into Freddie’s?
Freddie: When you walk into Freddie’s you know it’s going to be all about fun. We’re kind of the gay Cheers. Some of the DC bars can have attitude. We don’t get that here. Part of the magic of Freddie’s is the diversity of the crowd. Young, old, black, white, transgender, cross-dressing, LGBT, and straight… they all come here. We are the only gay bar in northern Virginia (but we’re straight friendly).
Q Virginia: What kind of unique events have you hosted?
Freddie: I knew Jim and Sarah Brady growing up thru Café Italia (you know Jim Brady, the one who was shot with Reagan and Sarah who started all that gun control legislation). When Jim died a couple of years ago, their son, Scotty, called me to see if they could do a memorial event for Jim at Freddie’s. I didn’t think it was the right place for a memorial, but Scotty said they were looking for some place fun. I said, “Well, we’ve got LOTS of fun here!” So, we hosted a fun memorial for Jim Brady.
Q Virginia: Who has been your favorite customer?
Freddie: One of the regulars from the Foxhole, Evelyn. She was an older military wife with a helmet hairdo and big red lips. She always sat at the bar smoking cigarettes (back when you could do that) and sipping white wine with a glass of ice on the side. I took one look at her and said to myself: “She’s a keeper!” I mean, she was such a character that I wanted to keep her as a customer when Freddie’s opened. She was not crazy about the gays, but I was determined. So I reached out to her and told her to join us for a New Year’s Eve party. I said, “we’re all getting gussied up and you should join us.” She said she didn’t usually go out on New Year’s and wasn’t interested. I was not going to take “no” for an answer. I told her that I’d send a car to pick her up and that she simply had to come. She still wasn’t sure. So on New Year’s Eve, I sent a limo to pick her up and, well, that did it. She joined us and we had a great evening. She became a loyal patron of Freddie’s and even started liking the gays. She became part of our extended family. She’s no longer with us, but I know she’s up there in heaven, still loving the gays.
Also, we get lots of families in for Sunday brunch. A family recently brought their two young boys in to expose them to the gay culture so they wouldn’t a get bad impression of the gay community at school. The mom had heard some disparaging things about gay people from other kids at school. She wanted to educate her boys about diversity. So the whole family came in and they all had a great time at drag brunch.
Q Virginia: What role do drag queens play in your business and in the LGBT community in general?
Freddie: We have lots of drag here. There’s Freddie’s Follies (the longest running drag show in northern Virginia), Drag Brunch, and Drag Bingo. Our girls, Destiny B. Childs, Ophelia Bottoms, and Regina Jozet Adams run everything. I want to give a shout out to our General Manager, Russ Colbourne and our other manager, Ray Martin, too. Maybe the role of drag queens has changed over the years from political activism to entertainment. But they still provide us with great entertainment and fun. I think drag queens are as fun as they ever were!
Q Virginia: What role does the military play in your business?
Freddie: Every third Thursday we host a Pentagon Happy Hour. It’s a nice gay military happy hour. Tammy Smith, an Army Brigadier General and the first openly gay military officer, and her partner, Tracey Hepner, are regulars. Kristin Beck, the first openly transgender former Navy SEAL, is also a regular. You know, she’s running for Congress up in Maryland. Let me think… Amanda Simpson, the first openly transgender presidential appointee, is a regular, too. (Editor’s note – Simpson is the Executive Director for the Army Office of Energy Initiatives.) Oh, and when the DOMA decision came out in 2013, we were packed with a HUGE military presence. Former generals who could never come out before, came out to openly celebrate. Everyone was cheering. Tammy Smith had an American flag framed in box with rainbow stars and a certificate showing that the flag was flown over Bagram in Freddie’s honor for providing gay people from the Pentagon a safe place over the years. (Editor’s note – Bagram is the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.) A military guy came up to me at that event and said he met his boyfriend at Freddie’s. It made me cry.
Q Virginia: What makes you proud about being a prominent LGBT business owner in Virginia?
Freddie: Well, comments like that. I keep going back to the military thing. I was an army brat. Both my parents are buried at Arlington Cemetery. If they were still alive—now I’m tearing up—they would be very proud of me. That means a lot.
Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant
555 23rd Street
Arlington, VA 22202 (YES, honey… VIRGINIA)
Hours: Mon-Fri, 4pm-2am | Sat-Sun, 10am-2am