I recently had a chance to do something I don’t do that often: head up to the Northeast.
There’s a wonderful bar there called Albert’s Second Story. It’s a friendly spot featuring a large dance floor, two bars, an old-style elevated DJ booth and several additional rooms, including a dining room and a VIP area.
It was also a bit of a homecoming. I ran into several people I hadn’t seen in ages. I had a good time catching up with old friends and bopping to the “back in the day” tunes being spun by the DJ. While there, I took time to speak to the man behind Albert’s, Blaise Waters.
PGN: Are you from the Northeast? BW: Actually I was born in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia. I was raised by my mother and I didn’t really ever know my father. She came from a broken family and I guess history repeated itself as she married several times. We moved back and forth between the Fairmount area and Kensington, depending on who she was married to or what the finances were. I have two older brothers from her first marriage, so they’re in their 70s (my mother was born in 1921). And I have one sister. My sister and I are from her third marriage so she is closer to my age. I was her change-of-life baby: She tells me she thought I was a hot flash. That’s why my name is Blaise, as in heat.
PGN: She sounds like a character. BW: Yeah, she grew up in the Depression and her father died when she was young. She had 16 kids in the family. She and her mother were bootleggers. Her mother had eight boys and eight girls, one leg and no husband. My mother was the oldest girl and so she was like the man of the house. I think that may be why she had difficulty with her marriages; I think she was too strong for the men.
PGN: Your last name is Waters. Any relation to the director, John? BW: Yes, he’s my cousin. I only met him once because he’s from my father’s side of the family and I don’t know them well.
PGN: What were you like as a kid? BW: I was involved in sports. My sister and I both played on baseball/softball teams. I played shortstop and we won the championship. On the flip side, my mother always put us in band. The neighborhood that we grew up in was mostly Polish, so my mother enrolled us in Polish dancing class. We’re 100-percent Irish, so it was interesting.
PGN: What traits did you get from your mother? BW: She was and is a very accepting person. She’s my ... [at this point he gets too choked up to speak and his friend Juan jumps in]. Juan: She’s a special woman. Blaise’s mother has always been such an open, supportive person that it allowed him to be who he was without hesitation.
BW: She used to come to all the bars with me. Everyone knows and loves her. I came out at about 15 so she grew up with me around drag queens, lesbians, gay boys and a whole host of people. She taught me to be open. We grew up in an area that had a lot of bigotry, real Archie Bunker-type mentalities, and I’ve done my best ever since to keep away from it. I’m very uncomfortable when someone tries to tell an ethnic joke around me or uses derogatory terms.
PGN: How did you come out? BW: I called her from Atlantic City and she asked me what I was doing. I told her I was in the middle of the gay pride festival. She said, “You’re not coming out yet are you?” and I said, “Mom, I’m already out!” PGN: Worst job? BW: Bartending at Lyrics. It was — is — one of those straight clubs that says, “Hey, let’s see if we can make some money by having a gay night. We’ll give them the worst night of the week, but they’ll have to take it because we’re the only ones in the area.” I made money for them at first and really tried to build it, but then I was told I was bringing in too many “niggers” and “spics.” It hurt me enough to report it to the human-rights department. They would charge one price for drinks for some people and another price for anyone who looked ethnic. What saddens me was that a lot of people in the community were so desperate to have somewhere to go that they made me out as the troublemaker. They were being exploited emotionally as well as financially. I think of the gay community as once race or culture and hope that we would stick up for and protect each other. It made me irate to see anyone in the LGBT community being exploited. I’m hoping that Albert’s Second Story will be a place that can be a bridge for all people in the community, a place where we’re all treated with respect regardless of color or gender preference.
PGN: How long has this club been open? BW: Since February. I started out at Club Lyrics and then worked at a place called Alfie’s trying to create a spot for LGBT people in the Northeast. They tease me and call me the mayor or the pioneer, because there really wasn’t much for us to do here before.
PGN: What has been a highlight so far? BW: Having Victoria “Porkchop” Parker perform here. I’m a huge fan of RuPaul’s and she was one of the contestants on his new show. Some gay men like Betty Davis and Judy Garland, I like RuPaul and Porkchop! I have a wonderful entertainment director here named Sonnee Daze. He was one of the “Fabulous Fakes” way back in the day with Les Harrison. He’s pretty much retired now, but he brings the girls in and takes care of them.
PGN: Any other sports besides your Little League career? BW: I started a gay bowling league last year. I’m hoping the two other bars will join in.
PGN: What should I know about you? Juan: I’ll answer that one. What you should know is that Blaise is the most generous man I know. If you’re having a bad time and call Blaise, he’ll drop everything to come help you. [Tears up.] He’s like everyone’s guardian angel. He had a friend whose neighbor was going through a hard time. She didn’t have gifts for her kids at Christmas. The friend mentioned it and the next thing you knew, I was in a car with him buying gifts for the kids. He didn’t even know them, but he didn’t hesitate to help out.
PGN: Tattoos? BW: I have a disease called scleroderma. Rennie Kane’s partner Adele has it too. In fact, I took her to Johns Hopkins with me. We all have ways of coping with/curing it; for me, I do tattooing. I feel it gives the disease something to attack, somewhere specific to form scar tissue. I have tribal art, a unicorn, my mother, something for my Irish heritage and a tiger, among other things. I like to tell people I have a tiger in my pants. I also have my daughter’s name.
PGN: You’re a papi? BW: Yes. I had a daughter with an ex using a surrogate mother. We’re in a custody battle right now, so I can’t speak much about it. I’m trying to put my heart in the club in the meantime. It’s like a second child. I’m single by the way and would love to find someone around my own age. Some nice buff macho guy. PGN: What’s in store for the future? BW: I’m hoping to do a night of guest bartenders. I’m doing a drag show on Sundays with Michael Decero and Salotta Tea spinning “back in the day” tunes and a Wednesday night drag competition that will lead up to crowning Miss Northeast and a $1,000 prize at the end of the year. I’m doing a “bear-cub stripper night” as well. I’ve started a new free cyber lounge, which is very cool. Most nights are free here too except for the 25-cent drink night. We have a kitchen, so we cater private parties and hopefully we’ll be able to start doing a regular brunch at some point. I’m getting a baby grand to go in the dining room! That’ll be great: We’ll do a Sunday brunch, a tea dance and then a back-in-the-day party. We’re going to do a drag/open-mic show that’ll be 18 to get in and 21 to drink. And to help people out who may not drive or want to drive, we have a free van shuttle that picks people up at Bridge and Pratt at 9 p.m. and takes them back at 2:15 a.m. And, most exciting, Queen Bebe Zahara Benet, the winner of RuPaul’s show “Drag Race,” will be here in July. Outside of the club, I want to start an AIDS fund of some sort for people in the Northeast to help with bills and food, etc. As I open up new nights, I would love to hear from people in the community to tell me what they would like to have. Maybe a country night.
Albert’s Second Story 3180 Grant Ave. (267) 339-1579