On Cloud 9
Hey, ladies and gents, remember when we were all on cloud 9?
It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a decade since the Cloud 9 Restaurant and Bar turned off its lights forever. Lots of people are still missing the great restaurant and its last grandfathered dance floor in downtown Rehoboth. But none so much as the women’s community.
The Friday evening Ladies Happy Hour at the Cloud became a legend. For all of its history, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. on Fridays, the bar area and dancefloor were raining women. The lesbians in town never had to make plans for Friday nights; we’d just show up at Cloud 9, have cocktails, smile, laugh, meet, and greet. And then organically, folks would either stay to dine or filter out by twos, fours, and sixes, for the rest of the night someplace else.
There were local DJs and singers like Viki Dee holding forth, creating a packed dancefloor and women three deep at the bar.
Cloud 9 began its existence at 234 Rehoboth Avenue in 1993 just as I started visiting here for weekends. Looking back, I realize how many of my milestones and special memories, along with those of many women, happened at the Cloud.
My wife Bonnie and I were in our 40s, weekending here, arriving as unknowns, sitting at the bar and introducing ourselves to owners John, Paige, Michael, and Kelly. Sadly, Michael and Paige are gone, but John Berdini and Kelly Harp soldiered on for the whole crazy ride.
Cloud 9 hosted my father’s first-ever gay bar visit. I assured him there’d be other straight people there. Not, as it turned out, on that frigid December night in 1995.
Amid a gaggle of gays on this 12-degree night, one bunch of guys, God love them, stood out. They wore sleeveless undershirts, leather vests, earrings, and other eye-popping mid-90s gay couture. And my parents were the only heterosexuals in the room.
Glassy eyed from both the experience and one of those humongous Cloud 9 martinis, my father, who was roughly the same age as I am now, said rather loudly, “okay, okay, so there are a lot of gay people here. I just want to know one thing.”
Oh God, what? A suddenly hushed crowd leaned in for Dad’s question. “Are they gonna vote? Because Clinton and the Dems need all the help they can get in ’96.”
“God, yes,” said a man with a Mohawk haircut and painted fingernails sitting next to us. And soon half the guys and gals in the room were thick as thieves with my gin-fueled Dad, jabbering about politics.
Once, in the late ‘90s, we arrived in a blinding snowstorm. Outlets—closed; gas stations—closed; 7-11—closed; Cloud 9—open! We’re nothing if not hardy.
Which reminds me, Cloud 9 stayed open year-round and I can still see winter coats layered a foot high on the backs of the barstools.
It was right there in December 1999, at the big circular table for eight by the door, that we dined on steak and lobster, discussing stockpiling Dinty Moore and bottled water to survive the computer chaos of the coming Y2K event, when the world would end. It didn’t and we were all back on the dancefloor the following Friday night.
Cloud 9’s cuisine was the proud product of Chef Richie (who later went on to be chef at MIXX at 26 Baltimore Avenue) and Chef Marcus. We had good food and great fun. Cloud 9 hosted 40th, 50th, or 60th birthdays, anniversaries, dance parties, and commitment ceremonies in lieu of weddings.
In its later years, it became a dance club for the guys on Friday and Saturday nights late as well—all the while catering to the Rehoboth’s entire diverse community for dining.
Back in 2004 Bonnie and I hosted a champagne-fueled back-room dinner party there to celebrate the launch of my first book. So, too, did I launch my second and third books there, with book signings and disco parties. It was a blast!
My head is bursting with random thoughts of friendly bartenders from Paige to Chad to Stephanie to Brenda, knowing what you drank before you asked. I recall parking several blocks away and coming in the back door, right into “I Love the Nightlife!” on the dancefloor.
I remember too the owners’ generosity to the community, special breast cancer fundraising events, and the overwhelming support for CAMP Rehoboth. I’ll always remember the Cloud 9 family for their donations, their caring, and their community spirit.
Since the hot spot’s closure there have been two or three Women’s Cloud 9 Reunions in whatever restaurant took over the space. Each time we had 150-200 women show up for a Friday night event. The owners were amazed but never invited us back on a regular basis.
We do have a splendid Ladies Night at Port 251 on Thursdays, and it’s a blast. But it doesn’t include the many weekenders that converge here.
It’s amazing how many women are still talking today about those fabulous Friday happy hours—we sure have our Cloud 9 memories….▼
Fay Jacobs is the author of five published books and is touring with her one-woman sit-down comedy show, Aging Gracelessly. Her reports on Rehoboth’s LGBTQ history can be heard on RadioRehoboth, 99.1.