What happens when you give a group comprising drag queens, vintage furniture enthusiasts, theater kids, and a mixologist free reign over a vacant storefront for six weeks? A lot of glamorous fun, apparently, as evidenced by photos (courtesy of the organizers, shot by neighborhood photographers Studio5) from the recent opening of The Club Car in the former Windup Space in North Avenue Market.
Since January 12th the venue has been slinging cocktails, wigs, pulp queer smut, and the pop-surrealist paintings of Alix Tobey Southwick to patrons including John Waters (who made an enthusiastic appearance opening night) and neighbors excited for a new watering hole in a city weirdly evermore lacking in gay bars.
“Despite this city and specifically this area, having such a thriving queer scene, there is a lack of brick and mortar representation of that queer landscape,” explains co-founder Darius K. McKeiver ( a.k.a. Stealya-Manz Blue). “The Club Car is a gift to ourselves and our community—a queer, curated and operated space.”
Like the the Windup Space was to me, I hope to continue the tradition of this being a hub for artist of all disciplines and patrons of the arts to gather, share stories and experiences, dance, sweat, and create. It’s one of the many spaces in the Station North area that inspired me and gave me the opportunity to evolve as performance artist. We hope to continue that tradition.
Darius McKeiver, A.K.A Stealya-Manz Blue
Many in Baltimore have fond memories of 12 W. North Avenue—whether they be from its incarnations as the Windup Space, RITUALS, or most recently, as the venue for QueerScape. The team behind The Club Car are no exception—indeed, they cite paying homage to the space’s history as part of the motivation for launching the pop-up art space, cocktail bar, and performance venue at the storied location.
The founding/curatorial team—Ryan Michael Haase, Kitt Crescenzo, Darius K. McKeiver (Stealya-Manz Blue), Joe Pipkin, and Stacey Antoine (Karmella)—also includes some of the brains and brawn behind Queerscape, who we spoke with ahead of the festival’s launch last summer. In fact, they’re bringing back an R&B edition of QueerScape at the Club Car on February 24, with details to be announced shortly. Like that endeavor, they hope this temporary platform can evolve into a more permanent place for the community, depending on the support they receive these coming weeks.
Their inaugural visual arts exhibition, Bad Casting and Other Questionable Decisions: Paintings by Alix Tobey Southwick has already been such a hit with visitors it’s been extended through Sunday, February 4th, with a closing reception from 5 – 10 pm. Otherwise, the bar is open Fridays and Saturdays from 6 pm to 1 am, with rotating cabaret-style performances including drag, burlesque, musical theatre, comedy, opera, and small-scale instrumental and vocal collaborations. Artists interested in performing at the space are encouraged to email [email protected].
This weekend’s lineup includes Friday Piano Night with Ben Shaver (8 pm – 11 pm), a performance from Egypt Chloe on Saturday (9:30 pm), and Showtune Sunday (5 pm – 10 pm).
But really, the space alone is worth a visit. Drawing on their backgrounds in theatrical set design, installation art, and vintage furniture dealing, designers Kitt Cescenzo and Ryan Haase have gently transformed the beloved venue into a cozy lounge evocative of the later decades of train travel’s golden age. That includes art deco detailing, midcentury modern seating, and even some 60s pulp erotica one might’ve found ditched in a train station bathroom by a commuter heading home to their family in the suburbs. “Aesthetically we landed a luxe midcentury vibe, but with some really unexpected touches,” explains Crescenzo, who also developed the bar menu of new twists on classic cocktails. “It’s a queer focused space so we wanted to embrace elements of camp and some subversion. We want the space to feel inviting but also elevated. And sexy. It’s sexy!”
For those who haven’t swung by yet, we have photos of the opening night festivities by Studio5!
Highlights, Zeitgeists, and Weirdness (Including Shows You Can Still See)
There is no other “must-see” event on the ever-more-esoteric Aztec calendar of art world “can’t miss” events that fills me with as much eager anticipation and simultaneous existential dread.
But the art here makes it all worth it.
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Navigating book bans at African American Museums, Sandy Williams IV sculpture in DC, Baltimore/Brazil artist exchange, and the Baltimore Sun's decline—with reporting from Baltimore Magazine, Hyperallergic, Baltimore Banner, and other local and independent news sources.