''There are a lot of new things this year, because we didn't realize the Eagle was going to be open,'' says Patrick Grady, chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend, organized by the Centaur Motorcycle Club.
He's not kidding. The DC Eagle, which has gotten an extension on its lease, will in fact be open every night of the weekend, launching Thursday, Jan. 10, with the Former MAL Titleholders Bar Night. But a slew of new weekend events, both official and unofficial, are on tap at the MAL host hotel, the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. And that's just for starters.
Among other new events elsewhere, there are two new tea dances for the weekend – an unofficial bears Tea Dance and Cigar Party on Saturday, Jan. 12, and the official MAL Tea Dance on Sunday, Jan. 13.
''Knowing how much everyone likes a good tea dance, we wanted to do something that was slightly different to keep things fresh,'' says Danny Linden, the Centaur MC member in charge of the Inaugural Tea Dance 3.0 at U Street Music Hall, which this year subs for the standard Reaction Dance at the 9:30 Club.
''Going into a [Sunday evening] dance at 10 p.m. on a three-day weekend, then coming out at 4 or 5 in the morning, is all well and good,'' says Linden. But this year, Monday is a workday for most to avoid the madness and hotel pricing of the 2013 Presidential Inauguration over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
While the MAL Tea Dance will start and end hours earlier than the Reaction Dance, as long as folks are enjoying themselves, Linden says the party will go past the originally announced end time of midnight.
Besides the hours, another difference with the tea dance is that the U Street Music Hall – U-Hall for short – holds about half as many people, roughly 500, as does the 9:30 Club, so patrons can expect a more intimate experience. But Linden assures that the club, infamous from a shirts-on dust-up last summer, is prepared to welcome men dancing shirtless, with or without a leather harness or vest, as well as wearing other leather attire, including chaps. ''[The U-Hall staff] have been very, very gracious and easy to work with throughout this process.''
This year's music won't be a drastic departure. ''We had approached him before he even left last year about repeating again this year,'' Linden says of DJ Quentin Harris. ''I know I had the best time on that dance floor than I had in many years.''
The day before, two local bear clubs have teamed up to host another new tea dance, this time at the Rock and Roll Hotel.
''It's a really fun venue, great for a multifaceted kind of event,'' says Eric Jennings of 495 Bears. Jennings is organizing a Tea Dance and Cigar Party with Jim Slattery of Bear Nonsense – as a benefit for Brother, Help Thyself – at the three-story H Street space. Two DJs will spin tunes on both indoor floors, from the first floor dance hall to what Jennings calls the ''crazy second floor, kind of like an 1890s bordello hotel with sofas and different rooms.'' Meanwhile, the heated roof deck, the site of a monthly Friday night bear happy hour hosted by Joe Tresh, will be the preserve of cigar smokers. ''The cigar party returns to MAL!'' Jennings trumpets. ''That used to be a big part of the weekend.''
Jennings is expecting upward of 300 people at the event, and that the party will include food – ''Bears eat and drink a lot,'' he jokes. And he hopes it becomes at least an annual MAL tradition – or maybe semi-annual, factoring in Capital Pride.
But what does this have to do with leather? ''There's a lot of crossover [between bears and leather],'' Jennings says, noting that Chicago's popular bear weekend is an offshoot of the International Mr. Leather contest the city hosts ever May.
As Chicago goes, so might D.C.?
''I'll say right now, D.C. probably has the largest, most active bear environment,'' Jennings asserts. ''I think we have a larger variety of events that go on [and the various bear groups] all get along. There's just no drama.''
For information about the tea dances and other events, please see the listings section of this feature.