The C Word … Community
—Tootie is synonymous with Lips, executive director at the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association, and chair of the Mid-City Community Parking District, vegan and mahu. Contact Tootie at Nefertootie@gmail.com.
All great community events have an open-door policy, “all are welcome,” and you find out that not all come, but some just end up there. Is this how we all ended up in North Park?
For years, North Park has been a neighborhood with a motto of “Come as you are.” I think it’s safe to say that we came with our colors flying. In the heyday of Hillcrest when everything was shiny and the large clubs ruled, when homes were being replaced by businesses and the remaining became out of reach, North Park became the alternative — Hillcrest’s affordable, basic sister. Basic not in the millennial definition, but it’s easygoing, dressed down, gritty sister. Some outliers to make things simple: the internet happened, recession happened, and people found refuge in a bedroom community that had its doors open to anyone, late into the night. Wolf’s was pumping; Shooters was glistening; Bacchus House was “getting wet and wild”; the donut shop at 30th Street hosted trans women and drag queens. North Park took “fringy” from Hillcrest to another level … and till this day, Pecs and its regulars for 25-plus years still beckons a good time from the other side of Park.
Today, North Park is a patchwork quilt of many communities. It’s large so there is room for everyone. If you are a south University Heights resident, you may consider yourself from North Park; if you are a Normal Heights resident, you may consider yourself a North Parkian; if you are a North-South Park resident, you may consider yourself a North Parker. Being from North Park is more of an attitude rather than a location. It’s more of a lifestyle rather than a location. It’s part of your identity. In 2017, the Times of San Diego ran that, “Two popular internet sites ranked San Diego’s North Park neighborhood as the third hottest hipster neighborhood in America because of its indie businesses and strong housing market.” The days of transition brought us Ray at Night, the San Diego Indie Music Festival World Cup soccer on a big screen in the middle of the street, and at the former Wolf’s, you can hear the cheers of soccer fans echoing out of Bluefoot. The North Park farmers market is growing, and The Observatory is the next incarnation of the North Park Theatre.
The venue draws amazing live music acts, Morrissey, The Cure, and … it also hosts the Gay Film Festival. Scolari’s Office is an old dive bar that became The Office with live music. Claire de Lune was an early onset hip coffee place that served local North Parkers and gay youth late into the night with hot baristas (my best friend married one). Claire bought the building, which is the old Masonic Temple and is currently an amazing events venue — think wedding receptions, charity events and quinceañeras and (I hope I’m not blowing the cover) is soon opening a basement speakeasy live-music venue. Early settlers, ex-pats from Hillcrest lament the “good old days.”
A resident and hairdresser said, “There’s too much drinking and throwing up, and crime, and people crossing the street where they aren’t supposed to, parking in the neighborhoods and late-night drunks trying to find their cars.” The Redwing is a North Park community unto itself, not just a bar or a watering hole but a community of gay, straight and bi homo-flexible residents. The Redwing residents are regulars daily and by night, they welcome in customers from all walks.
Look no further than the amazing turnaround of the Lafayette Hotel on The Boulevard. A glorious getaway in the ’40s and ’50s for Hollywood types, it took a downturn in the ’80s and ’90s only to be revived as the jewel of North Park and The Boulevard and a popular Sunday afternoon, all-swim pool party destination with a pool that Johnny Weissmuller designed 70 years ago. Gorgeous people and an eclectic mix meet to get soakin’ wet. The Lafayette earned a spot in National Geographic’s 20 best places to visit and stay in the country for 2016.
The sign at the entrance says it all. And so does owner Sarah Critchlow, who bought The Redwing Bar & Grill from the Liptons in 2006, with a dream of opening a men’s bar. Sarah grew up as a bartender in the clubs of Hillcrest where the party raged on till 2 a.m. She said, “Tootie, I loved the way gay men partied.” I know Sarah from The Flame, which hosted Hillcrest’s Tuesday night go-to gay event. The party was fun, and everyone was out. To Sarah’s pleasure, The Redwing became home to countless charity events always supporting the community, and a group of irregular regulars. The Redwing has been the location that folks will recount as being like home in years to come with proposals happening there and even a wedding. Love overflows at The Redwing. Recently, Sarah married her long-time love, a retired police officer. Her daughter, who is a chef in Northern California, recently joined the efforts in launching a menu and the kitchen at The Redwing. Let me tell you: kitchens are drama. But all I’ve heard is raves on the menu. Sarah is delighted that she has employed some of the same employees who have worked there for 17 years, who run it like it’s their business. Friendships have grown out of employee-customer relationships. Many a drag queen have fallen off of those bar stools and landed on some straight guy’s lap. Even the hours are built with family in mind: Sunday through Thursday, The Redwing closes at 1 a.m. so everyone can get home safely and at a decent hour.
Community also takes the form of team sports. Visit gayvarsityleague.com/san-diego where you can hook up with others who share the same idea of fun, sweat, balls, and camaraderie. We caught up with Jeremy from the Gay for Play Kickball Team, yes … a kickball team that practices and plays at Morley Field. For many of us, any organized sport meant heartaches and rejection, but a team like this loves all comers. Jeremy got involved years ago as the “token” straight boy, which didn’t last long because the team is made up of every LGBTQIA … EIEIOh my. Currently there are eight gay guys (is straight acting even a thing anymore?), three straights, a couple lesbians and a bi girl. Jeremy assures us the lines become grey when the drinks start flowing. There’s plenty of that because after a game, the main event starts … pub crawl! I asked about their rebranding to the name Gay for Play and was told that happened when half the team was straight. Doing the math, they either brought in a professional recruiter or the grey areas became real grey. Knowing where I was going with this line of questioning, Jeremy offered up that he stopped drinking because, “[I] got tired of losing my underwear.” I wondered about other teams visiting their home turf in North Park. Did they encounter the same kind of razzing we all took 20 years ago in middle school? Having a team name that says you’re “gay for play” has to bring about some attention. Jeremy responded, “All day, one [guy] recently asked me how much, then he said, ‘I’ve got two dollars,’ I told him, ‘You can’t afford me, sweetheart, however I can refer you over to the donkey — you’ll know who he is when you see him.’” It has got to be tough, but there’s always the option of running Grindr or Scruff while at a game. Seems like fair play to see who’s who in the competition. Are there cheerleaders? Where do I apply? Are there spectators? Are there groupies? Jeremy, who is a handyman/kitchen-installation specialist serving North Park, doesn’t notice. Typical North Park attitude. It’s the land of hipsters, beer and flexible sexuality. Thank God! He says he knows some romance has started on the field, and that’s a reason for joining up and taking one for the team. If you’re interested, visit gayvarsityleague.com. There they will have information about kickball, dodgeball, bowling, volleyball, and flag football for those who like to play extra grab-ass. At the beginning of every season, the league has an open play where you can go play for free, get a feel, and talk to their teams. You can sign up as a free agent or sign on with a team if they have room. If you’d like to be a fly on the wall and see the entire interview with Gay for Play kickballer Jeremy, visit our online site and enjoy.
Jeremy the kick ball team straight boy
Tootie: Is It gay for pay or Gay for Play?
Jeremy: It is Gay for Pay but the team wants Gay for Play next season.
Tootie: Yeah I think that makes more sense and it’s kind of tongue in cheek, kind of. Fine, where did Gay for Play come from?
Jeremy: When we originally decided to rebrand from an old team, half of the team was straight.
Tootie: Oh! And who converted them all? Did you bring in a professional?
Jeremy: LMAO! I think a couple cocktails is all it took to convert them.
Tootie: Probably. How did you get involved, and how many cocktails did it take?
Jeremy: I got involved because one of my BFF’s, Shawn Zarazua played and asked me to be the token straight boy. At the time and now I currently don’t drink. Got tired of losing my underwear.
Tootie: Hahaha How many people on your team?
Tootie: I remember there being some kind of mixture straight, gay, bi …
Jeremy: Two straight girls one bi girl, 1one straight male, two lesbians, and eight gays. And I’m sure there are gray areas when the drinks start flowing.
Tootie: Girls always have to be so extra. Do Other teams underestimate you or bust your chops about Gay for Play?
Jeremy: All day, one recently asked me how much, then he said I’ve got two dollars, I told him you can’t afford me sweetheart, however, I can refer you over to the donkey, You’ll know who he is when you see him.
Tootie: Hahahaha WOW. Guess it spices things up. Any thinking on getting rid of the gay part? Or lowering your prices?
Jeremy: The general rule of thumb is quality or quantity. You can’t have both.
Tootie: Pizza … quantity. Kickball … quality. You practice at Morley field?
Tootie: Are there cheerleaders? Groupies? Love interests, stalkers?
Jeremy: I hear about them but I’m so oblivious to that sort of thing that I only notice when it’s pointed out.
Tootie: Which ones?
Jeremy: Groupies, love interests. However I have seen romances amongst players in other seasons.
Tootie: Have any of your gay team members ran Grindr or Scruff while at a scrimmage?
Jeremy: LMAO! Nobody has said anything to me. I’ll ask and get back to you on that.
Tootie: Seems like a good way to check out your competition … on other levels.
Tootie: One Last question. Do you guys do anything outside of kickball together? Baby showers? Golden showers? Barbecues?
Jeremy: Just pub crawls.
Tootie: Thank you so much. Is there anything else you’d like people to know about kickball or how they can get involved, how they choose a team?
Jeremy: They can go to www.gayvarsityleague.com.
There they will have information about kickball, dodgeball, bowling, volleyball, and flag football for those who like to play extra grab-ass. At the beginning of every season, the league has an open play where you can go play for free, get a feel, and talk to their teams. You can sign up as a free agent or sign on with a team if they have room.
Tootie: That’s great info!