CAMP Memories: Rehoboth's Gay History The Renegade
|by Fay Jacobs and Libby Stiff|
This is one article in a series of remembrances, oral histories and tales of the way we were in gay Rehoboth during the Twentieth Century. The short vignettes are based on interviews, newspaper clippings and whatever lore has been passed down through the years in our gay-friendly town.
A 21st Anniversary Summer at the Renegade
The Renegade is a pink and blue landmark just off Route One at the very entrance to Rehoboth Beach. In operation for over twenty years, the restaurant, lounge and dance bar has evolved, changed with the times, and been a continuous presence in the personal history of thousands and thousands of gay, lesbian and gay friendly shore visitors.
By a conservative estimate thirty thousand people dine, dance, see shows, and lately, catch some karaoke at the site each year. And, according to Renegade owner Glen Thompson, it was packed from it's opening night on May 7th, 1980. "All you had to do was make a few calls," Thompson says, "and word was out."
But, according to Thompson, that opening night was a long time in the planning.
Already affiliated with clubs in the D.C. area, Thompson had wanted to open a place in Rehoboth as early as 1970but getting a license proved difficult. It wasn't until 1979, that he was able to lease the building and get started. "We weren't the first bar on the property. There was an old nightclub called the Bloody Bucket nearby, and the rumor was, if you could see over the bar they'd serve you."
Thompson made sure his establishment played by the rules and by the book. "We paid all our bills up front, cooperated with the county in every way, and got involved in local organizations."
Busy from the first night, the Renegade was a smash. But less than eight weeks later, on July 4th weekend 1980, the place burned to the ground in the middle of the night. Was it a hate crime? Thompson doesn't think so. "We really had no trouble with the local people."
Whatever the cause of the fire, it devastated the business and the summer crowd. Determined to rebuild, Thompson parked a trailer on the property, posted someone there round the clock, and began clearing the debris. "It took a month just to get rid of the old building. But the county did everything they could to help us get permits and get back in business. We got along great with the contractors, and reopened by Labor Day."
Thompson remembers the 1960's and 70's here in Rehoboth as having a huge contingent of gay weekenders and vacationers. "Beach volleyball was big, and house parties at happy hour." Once the Renegade opened, people would pour into the club at night, and many would wind up with a late, late breakfast at the Robin Hood on Rehoboth Avenue. The Renegade offered name entertainers, as well as shows inside the club and outside by the pool.
While the early years saw the Renegade hosting many more men than women, by the mid-80's when the dance floor filled for "It's Raining Men" there were lots of women there, too.
How did the community react to the Renegade? "I saw very minimal prejudice in those days. We had security that first year, and every now and then there was a problem out in the parking lot. We posted an armed guard and called him Sgt. Pepper. But there was very little problem. And we were always openand busyyear round."
From its reopening in the fall of 1980, the Renegade expanded. Initially, they bought some 1940's era motel units and had them moved to the site. In 1985, they added the 20-unit motel.
In 1987, Wayne Hodge, who now manages the Renegade, came to town to help Thompson with some computer work. By the summer of '89, Wayne was floor manager at the Renegade and by 1990 he relocated here permanently as the general manager.
How has the Renegade changed over the years? "In the 80's and even early 90's the bars were the focal point of gay life," Wayne says. "Now, there are many more places for people to go and socialize. To keep their customers coming, the Renegade has done what most successful enterprises have donewe diversified."
Not only does the Renegade offer a restaurant, dance bar and accommodations, but there's the pool, video lounge, Karaoke nights, cabaret shows and a host of performers, contests and special promotions.
And the clientele has diversified as well. "Over the past two or three years," Wayne says, "the straight community has discovered us. We have a wonderful mix of customers."
Wayne is right, judging by the mix of folks who gathered last season to see the incredibly popular Christopher Peterson cabaret shows and Karaoke diva Gladys Kravitz and her Saturday night soirees in the video lounge. Wayne reports that both performers will be back this summer as well.
With a crew working last week in the pre-summer heat, refreshing the pink and blue signature paint and readying the Renegade for it's 21st big summer, the place is ready to continue it's role in Rehoboth's gay history. It's living history. Check it out.
Can you tell us more about these and other Gay Rehoboth memories? Rehoboth residents and visitors wishing to contribute their recollections, photos or other printed matter, may contact the authors through CAMP Rehoboth, or email Fay at firstname.lastname@example.org or Libby at email@example.com. We'd love to hear from you!
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 10, No. 5, May 19, 2000.