Right before Halloween 2010, Ryan Dryden and Joe Velasquez, a gay couple, opened The Lodge, a gay bar outside Hagerstown in western Maryland. But The Lodge wasn't the area's first gay bar. In fact, it wasn't even the first gay bar in the space.
''Originally this was a hunting lodge in the 1930s,'' explains Dryden. ''And [then] it turned into a restaurant. When the restaurant went out of business in the '70s, it turned into a gay bar. And it's been a gay club since then.''
''I never realized it, being from D.C.,'' Dryden continues, ''but there's a very, very strong [LGBT] community up in this area.'' That community has long been centered around The Lodge, formerly known as the Deer Park Lodge. ''It's pretty rural, but it's pretty tolerant,'' he says of the region, roughly an hour-and-a-half from D.C. The couple hasn't encountered any outward homophobia. They've even hosted a successful fundraiser for next week's statewide ballot measure supporting marriage equality. While Dryden isn't sure a majority of the region will vote for the measure, he appreciates the general live-and-let-live attitude that he says pervades local sentiments about sexual orientation.
Dryden and Velasquez have worked the past two years to enhance The Lodge's reputation as a truly welcoming place for all. ''Joe and I really tried to make it more open and comfortable to anybody,'' Dryden says. For example, The Lodge doesn't have ''naked pictures of guys on the walls or things like that.'' Plus, the club features regular nights devoted respectively to the transgender, bear, leather and lesbian communities. ''We try to attract a diverse crowd in here.''
And then there's the area's surprisingly strong drag community. ''I would say it definitely rivals D.C. and Baltimore drag,'' boasts Dryden. This Saturday, Nov. 3, as part of its 2 Year Anniversary party, the Lodge will open a brand-new Illusions Lounge, ''a club-within-a-club'' complete with a stage intended for additional drag shows. The lounge is in some ways a gift to the venue's drag show producers, many of whom have been at it for more than two decades.
On Friday, Nov. 2, The Lodge offers a dance party with Joey-O, just one of several DJs known to D.C. residents that Velasquez regularly schedules at The Lodge. Others include Keith Hoffman and Teknoir. ''We really cater to our DJs,'' says Dryden. ''We rebuilt the DJ booth. And most people who play here are anxious to come back.''
The 2 Year Anniversary party is Saturday, Nov. 3, at The Lodge, 21614 National Pike, Boonsboro, Md. No cover. Call 301-591-4434 or visit thelodgemd.com.