It’s no secret that bars hold the ability to bring people together, forge new friendships and be the place where lifelong memories are forged. But some bars — and the people who run them — are more than just a social hotspot for fun, dancing and drinks. This is true for lesbian/queer bar A League of Her Own, affectionately known as ALOHO for short, and its general manager Ally Spaulding. Connection is at the core of everything Spaulding, who took the helm earlier this spring, does.
“I think originally, people did see us as just a bar, which is great,” Spaulding says of the genesis of the Adams Morgan-based bar, which she helped get up and running back in 2018. “When we first opened, that’s what we were. But with that growth, we’ve been really lucky that it’s become more than that. It’s a safe space.”
Over the past three years, ALOHO quickly solidified itself as a place for the LGBTQ+ community to see themselves and be seen by others. Spaulding was there every step of the way alongside the team and saw the bar carve out this space within the District — and as one of the few lesbian bars in the country.
A self-described communications and LGBTQ+ history nerd with a diverse background in politics, gender studies, social media, drag performance and more, Spaulding now leverages these skills to not only assist in rebuilding the bar in the wake of the pandemic but to continue to be a beacon for inclusivity and innovation going forward.
“That’s really the biggest thing: watching people make those connections and finding people who understand and see you for who you truly are,” Spaulding says of both her role and ALOHO’s mission. “You can be your authentic self in our space. However you identify, however you present, whatever your name and your pronouns are, we accept you exactly as you are. That has easily been the most fulfilling part of my job. It’s why I took this position. I love seeing our community grow and feel safe and happy.”
Spaulding then tells the story of several separate groups who came through ALOHO in February to celebrate the birthdays of Aquarian friends. The groups connected despite Covid precautions, dancing in their seats and sipping on special Aquarius-themed shots made by Spaulding at the bar. At the end of the night, she facilitated the tables in sharing their socials and phone numbers, noting that “clearly, they were all meant to be friends.” Today, Spaulding sees the groups have kept up their connection via social media or trips back to the spot where it all started.
Of course, ensuring ALOHO is a thriving spot and a welcoming space is not without its challenges. Spaulding notes the hurdles she and the rest of the team faced when getting the word out about the bar being open to varying degrees and emphasizing that the health and safety of staff and patrons was at the top of their priority list — to this day. Even still, she forged forward to not only rebuild their in-person community, but to grow the bar’s digital footprint and further foster connection online.
“In March, I did a social campaign for International Women’s Month. I wanted it to be not only educational but incredibly intersectional and diverse. Out of the 17 women we featured, only four were white. That was really important to me, especially with everything that’s going on right now. Instead of just highlighting Black trauma, we really needed to highlight Black joy, Black history and Black importance; Latina history and Latina importance; and so on.”
Spaulding hopes that in these social media posts, people found themselves, learned something and felt connection — no matter the intersection of their identities.
“I really wanted people to see that even though times are really challenging right now and we are struggling as a nation — and we should be doing more — here are the people who came before us who made it possible for us to do these things. We should be building on their legacy.”
As Spaulding works to continue the legacy of ALOHO and her mission of education and connection, she has much to look forward to. The spot will celebrate its third anniversary this August, and they’re planning a “total blowout,” whether they decide on an in-person, virtual or hybrid event. Similarly, Spaulding has big goals to continue using ALOHO and its platform to encourage mutual aid around the D.C. area and the LGBTQ+ community at large.
“That’s something we started in the pandemic, and I’ve continued,” she says. “I constantly want to be signal boosting because it’s the least that we can do. I really would love to see our community come together for more of that. It’s been a struggle to get people to really bring in donations. We have our good Samaritans who come every month and bring us stuff, and I’m so grateful for those people. I would love to see more of our community come together for our community.”
And her aforementioned experience as a drag queen? Spaulding hopes to incorporate drag into ALOHO’s programming in the future and will continue to strive for representation in welcoming that aspect into the space. After all, her graduate thesis was on the first 10 seasons of the iconic show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” exploring gender, fashion and acceptance through the lens of the show.
“I hope to bring more AFAB [assigned female at birth] drag, nonbinary drag, and drag king and queens to the bar. Since we are a queer bar, I really want to have that representation. Looking forward, we will hopefully have more of that as well.”
Whether using ALOHO’s platform to educate, advocating for her community and her staff, planning new programming, or taking care of locals through campaigning for mutual aid, Spaulding is leading the charge with communicative compassion as ALOHO enters a new era.
Learn more about ALOHO at www.alohodc.com and follow on Instagram @alohodc. See what Spaulding is up to @allisonclover.
A League of Her Own: 2319 18th St. NW, DC
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