Douglas Schantz has lived in Washington DC for over 18 years. He sees the area as vibrant and a melting pot. He took a massive risk in 2007 and applied the “melting pot” analogy to his next venture, a gay sports bar, in the Shaw U Street Area commonly known as Black Broadway. Far from the city’s well-known gay district, many critics saw his venture as a wild card. At the time, it was uncommon for a gay sports bar to exist, as only less than 5 such bars existed across the US.
“There was nothing around except for a club in the DC area. A lot of people thought it was crazy to open a gay sports bar,” said Schantz.
“We took a big risk as the gay neighborhood was 10 blocks away. But they saw it as a destination and it worked. It became an instant iconic neighborhood and surprised a lot of people. They call it an institution and are usually surprised that’s it’s been open for that short.”
Today, combining both the sports bar and the gay community has proven a popular niche. It is inviting and friendly, yet both straight and gay-friendly. Assimilating the sports arena and the LGBT community has become more tangible after marriage equality passed in 12 states and DC.
Celebrities are coming out of the closet in a non-chalant manner while gay allies have multiplied in supporting LGBT issues. Acceptance is more prevalent.
“During this time, there’s no single stereotype. Gay has become mainstream where it’s everywhere. It’s not just one portion and now the stereotype is all over now,” said Schantz.
Named after Schantz’ eccentric great grandmothers, Schantz called his bar Nellie’s Sports bar with an emphasis on the title to attract everyone. Many patrons may also take note and notice that it reclaims the derogative term used for effeminate male.
And as Washington D.C. is the country’s capital where marriage equality is also legal, Nellie’s serves the melting pot allegory perfectly well.
It’s a restaurant collectively known as a neighborhood bar and gay bar where everyone, regardless of orientation, can hang out. But the most noteworthy factor is that Nellie’s has won the gay, neighborhood and sports bar award in Washington, D.C. It’s the best gay bar in D.C., period.
“It’s a huge compliment and a huge task to be the best neighborhood bar, the best gay bar and the best sports bar,” said Schantz. “It’s insane to be in two categories, but it’s an accomplishment we obtained all four years in a row.”
Schantz notes Nellie’s has received state coverage like the Washington Post and Washingtonian, all the gay papers like Blade and the urban publications in the City Bar. To note, Nellie’s received rave reviews on Yelp.
As a pioneer in gay sports bars, Nellie’s spectrum reaches DC, Virginia and Maryland and is known for catering to gay sports teams and local sports teams with no beer company sponsorship.
On any given night, there will be frat boys mixing it with drag queens or the natives conversing with the hipster college kids.
“Nellie’s is a melting pot like D.C. attracting all different parts of life,” said Schantz. “We get all different people from the straight to the gay to the sports fanatic.”
Schantz remembers researching gay sports bars and there were not that many in D.C. or in general. He remembers three notable bars: Boxers in NY, Sidelines Sports bars in Florida and Roscoe’s on 7th in Illinois. Crew in Chicago opened around the same time as Nellie’s.
“Many people thought sports and gays can’t go together and they actually mesh well together,” he added.
Now there is a gay sports bar in every metropolitan city in the United States. Aside from Nellie’s and the four bars, Boston opened Fritz while Wisconsin opened Woof’s. The Gym franchise opened both in Los Angeles and New York.
Nellie’s has gathered a reputation for being a friendly neighborhood bar with a good sports vibe and mixing the straight and gay communities.
“I hate going to a bar and being treated like shit,” said Schantz. “My goal was to have a bar that everyone’s comfortable in. A place where you don’t have to hide and everyone comes together. It was the right time, right place, and right idea.”
Schantz prides itself in having his workers to be friendly and not pretentious or stuck-up. The bar also cares for their customers. Nellie’s has a mailing list with 11,000 people. They send birthday emails. “My grandma doesn’t do that anymore,” laughed Schantz.
Considering its popularity, the owners of Hi Tops in San Francisco visited Nellie’s for research. Hi Tops became the first gay sports bar in San Francisco and received acknowledgement for the first gay kiss in Sports Illustrated. The two men kissed during the playoffs as their home team, the San Francisco 49ers, won.
Each of the bars has a fusion vibe combining sports bar and the gay community.
The typical straight guy would feel threatened by same-sex flirtation, but is not threatened at a sports bar. At the end of the day, it’s a haven for anyone to connect over sports.
Nellie’s has the typical trivia night, poker night college night with an accompanying DJ but also has drag bingo and karaoke night catered for the gay community.
Their most popular event, Drag Brunch, is booked until April 15 with the summer dedicated to their dance party, Guil-tea.
But even with all the gay-themed events, many of these establishments see themselves as sports bars rather than gay bars. They still have the “bro-pride interior” with sports memorabilia and lockers. No matter what’s on, Nellie’s will always play sports on the television as it’s “always the default.”
“We provides gourmet dinner with a gay bar and a lot of variety. It’s a mix from Cuban to healthy to traditional bar snacks. No sports bar has this,” said Schantz.
Because both straight and gay patrons are a mix, the clientele is hard to differentiate for their sexual orientation, as it’s tricky. For the owner it’s an irrelevant issue.
The need for gay bars has dwindled in the past years. In San Francisco’s Castro District, there have been over 7 bars closed in the past decade. On a memorable account, the Patio Café closed around 2001. The Patio cafe has been closed for over a decade with the longest ongoing construction in San Francisco with the past 5 years dedicated to remodeling.
“Like Speakeasy bars, gay bars serve its purpose,” said Schantz. “There was no obvious gay area and it was a place where gays can congregate and be social. It’ll never go away like sports bars, but they’re not as strong as they were 20 years ago.”
It’s a different nightlife after the tech boom of the early 2000s and the resurgence of the nation’s tolerance of LGBT issues.
Sports bars have a specific niche that is in popular demand. For 2013 and beyond, a gay bar has to be something mainstream, located in metropolitan arena and include everyone to succeed in this tough recession. There’s no need for segregation.