WASHINGTON — Soon, locals near and far can grab a coffee or cocktail and hit the dance floor at the new As You Are (AYA) queer bar coming to Southeast D.C. this spring.
Co-founders and combined 20-year veterans of the service industry, Jo McDaniel and Rach Pike, put careful thought into the design and execution of the bar, set to open in the Eastern Market neighborhood. The space will function as a café early in the day and transition into a bar as the sunsets.
The couple has worked to leave no stone unturned, from draping their upstairs dance floor area in dramatic black velvet for intense noise cancellation to their plans to hire ambassadors who will help connect fresh faces looking to meet new people at the bar.
“We just realized how impactful a space like this is, that breaks the cultural norms of bar life and nightlife,” Pike said. “And then to collaborate with the community to build a space that makes sense for keeping the entirety of the queer community, all its intersections included, safe, and a place to fellowship and grow together.”
The pair applied for their liquor license in November 2021 and began getting to work on the pages of paperwork and round-up of tasks it takes to open a bar's doors. All of their efforts so far were put on full display as the duo, alongside passionate community members, advocated for the spot’s license approval to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in January.
Among those who spoke out was ANC 2B Commissioner Mike Silverstein. He shared firsthand how meaningful a space like As You Are can be for young people looking to find their place.
“Coming of age and growing into adulthood is difficult. But it's exponentially more difficult if you happen to be in the LGBT minority,” Silverstein said of his comments at the meeting. He detailed a moving story, leaving some in tears, McDaniel and Pike reflected, of being in college during the Stonewall Riots. At the time, he was deeply afraid of losing friends, a shot at his dream career, distressing family and getting forced out of his fraternity, all as a result of coming out.
“But because other people worked so hard and had the courage that maybe I didn't, it became easier for me to be myself,” he shared. “And people like Rach and Jo are doing exactly that . . . providing a place where people can be themselves without being judged, to socialize, meet other people who affirm who they are, their value, their self-worth. It means the world.”
The board voted unanimously to approve the license on Jan. 25. But, of course, the couple still has more work to do before opening day.
Pike and McDaniel, who became best friends while working at another D.C. bar, fell in love and are soon to be wed, spent months searching for the perfect space for As You Are. They settled on Southeast for its relative ease of access when compared with other spots in the city, and the fact that they feel queer bars are underrepresented in the area.
The bar will serve fare from pastries to soups and sandwiches in the earlier hours with both vegan and gluten-free options, as well as a host of spirits in the evening as people take to the dance floor.
McDaniel shared that the inspiration for the bar’s name, pitched by Pike, came from a past experience at a local pop-up party. “A friend of ours was, like, really getting down on this dance floor. And I was like, 'Oh my gosh, she is taking up so much space. Look at her go,'” she remembered with a smile. “That's exactly how we want people to show up: just as they are.”
The bar is set to open its doors at 508 Street Southeast, and those anticipating its opening are encouraged to keep checking the website or Instagram for updates on when everybody is officially welcome inside.
“If you want to sit in the corner and bring a book, drink one cup of coffee and sit here for two hours: come as you are. If you want to go upstairs and jump up and down on a dance floor until you're dripping with sweat: dance as you are. Play as you are, love as you are.”
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