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Freddie Lutz is the proud owner of Freddie’s Beach Bar, the only straight-friendly gay bar in Northern Virginia, and Federico Ristorante Italiano. He has been a staple of the Arlington LGBTQ+ community for years and has received multiple awards as well as a recent proclamation from the Governor of Virginia for Freddie’s 20th anniversary. We spoke with Freddie about his experiences in Arlington and his restaurants.
Let’s start with a bit of background on yourself and how you ended up in Arlington.
I was born in New York City, my dad was in the military (an Army Colonel), and we moved to Arlington when I was three years old. I live in the house I grew up in since I was three years old. Both of my parents were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
How did you get started in the restaurant industry?
I went to art school—I have my BFA from RISD. I came home, and I wasn’t a famous artist, so my mother suggested I get a job at Portofino as a waiter. The owners of Portofino then opened a second restaurant, Café Italia, where I began working. I’ve been on 23rd street in Crystal City, working in, managing and owning restaurants for over 45 years.
How did you go from working in restaurants to owning restaurants (Freddie’s Beach Bar and Federico Ristorante Italiano)?
I went from helping paint and open Café Italia to a server to the manager. I was the manager there for 25 years, and then as I was getting a little bored, I told my boss I wanted to try something on my own. We’d talked about opening a gay bar together, but I decided I wanted to do it on my own. Now, I’ve owned Freddie’s for about 20 years. A couple of years ago, Café Italia became available, and I took it back. I re-opened it under a new name, Federico Ristorante Italiano.
What is the most unique characteristic about Freddie’s Beach Bar?
A writer once wrote that when you walk into Freddie’s that it’s all about fun, and I think that’s very true. We have an incredibly large military clientele because of our proximity to the Pentagon. We also have a large transgender crowd that considers Freddie’s to be a safe place.
Could you talk a little bit more about the military clientele?
Tammy Smith, the first openly gay brigadier general in the U.S. Army, once said to me: I don’t think you realize what you did here—you opened a gay bar, before the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, but you advertised it as a straight-friendly gay bar. This gave everyone cover to come in. We all knew it was a gay bar, but everyone could go because you said “straight-friendly”.
And, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the diversity of the place —Freddie’s is the most diverse bar that I know of. It bridges the gap between the straight and gay communities. We advertise Freddie’s as a straight-friendly gay bar— that’s one of the most magical things about it.
Do you have anything planned for Pride Month this year? What do you usually have planned?
We will have our Pride brunches, drag shows, drag brunches and our karaoke going on during Pride Month. We’ve won best float in the Capital Pride Parade six times. After the parade, we are always incredibly busy, of course
What is your favorite item on the menu at Freddie’s? Or favorite event or experience?
The fish and chips. Everything’s good, but I particularly love the fish and chips. I love the drag shows and the drag brunch. The karaoke is fun, there are some nights I’m in there, and everyone is having such a good time. I look out into the crowd and get goosebumps; it’s such a great atmosphere.
During the pandemic, you donated meals to help the community, could you tell me a bit more about that.
Amazon reached out to partner with us to serve 10,000 meals to the first responders. We elicited the help of other restaurants on the street and handled that incredible catering event.
What’s next for you and Freddie’s?
I’m opening another Freddie’s in Rehoboth Beach as we speak. It will be opening this summer.