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Rehoboth Beach’s LGBT-owned restaurants and bars make sure there's always a welcoming place for people to go – all people, whatever their orientation – for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The tradition, born of a time when many, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were not welcome at family dinners – estranged or just far away – continues now in these more equality-minded times.

But back in the 1980s, and ’90s, discrimination reigned almost everywhere and gays sought safe, welcoming havens like Rehoboth Beach as a hometown of choice. In those days, a few restaurants and bars stayed open on Thanksgiving for folks with nowhere to go. The owners might rather have been around their own dining tables with friends, but they went to work anyway, cajoling their staff members to come in as well. The restaurants staying open most surely made a difference in many people’s lives.

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Bars and restaurants like the Blue Moon and the Purple Parrot proved to be a refuge for singles, couples and groups, often open all day on the holiday, providing a barstool and a friendly bartender to get the party started.

Over the past 25 years the site where Rigby’s Restaurant now stands has been at least three other gay-owned venues – all serving as a refuge on Thanksgiving Day. Rigby’s owner John Gilstrap, happily ensconced on the site for many years now, is determined to carry on the tradition in their cozy dining room to “give people a sense of home.”

Local bartender Stephanie DaLee remembers working at the Frogg Pond (now the Pond) and helping the restaurant start its first Thanksgiving feast back in the ’90s.

“I knew there were a lot of people with no place to go,” she says. “We were always busy on that day.”

Hugh Fuller of the Purple Parrot knows why he stayed open at his first restaurant.

“I had nowhere to go myself, so I knew we had to be open,” he remembers. “And we were there for a lot of people.” Now, at the Parrot, it’s a long-standing tradition to be open for the holiday.

These days, more and more people, of all orientations, are choosing to dine out for a gourmet Thanksgiving with no dishes to wash afterward.

Steve Elkins, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth Inc., an LGBT service organization, says, “Since many of us have given new meaning to ‘extended family,’ it’s great to have places where we can gather without having to work as hard as our mothers did!”

With the Delaware beaches being called the Culinary Coast, more restaurants are keeping the lights on so everyone who needs a place to celebrate, whether alone, with friends or with the family in tow, can have a warm, delicious and wonderful Thanksgiving.

And so, too, since those old days, much of Delaware, not just Rehoboth Beach, has become a welcoming home to LGBT residents. Delaware, with its forward-thinking anti-discrimination laws, and of course, its early marriage equality vote, has improved the lives of many of its residents.

But it’s also as good as certain that there are still people, throughout the state, alone and in various stages of coming out, who, for whatever reason, cannot go home for the holidays. And others, who just have nowhere to go for the turkey and stuffing.

For them, and for everyone else wanting a terrific holiday meal without the mess and a bartender to listen to their stories, Rehoboth’s holiday tradition continues. Bring your friends, bring your biological family or bring your family of choice.

Some suggestions

• Blue Moon – 35 Baltimore Ave. (302) 227-6515. Open Thanksgiving 3-9 p.m. with regular menu plus a seasonal gourmet addition – guaranteed not your traditional turkey dinner. Reservations a must as it always sells out. The bar is open late into the evening.

• Dos Locos Fajita & Stone Grill Restaurant – 208 Rehoboth Ave. (302) 227-3353, www.doslocos.com. Open 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday. Full Thanksgiving dinner, $14.99 per person including dessert. Reservations are recommended. The bar will be open for its legendary margaritas. 

• Double L Bar – 37298 Rehoboth Ave. Extended, (302) 227-0818, 3 p.m.-1 a.m., www.doublelbar.net. This bar in Rehoboth’s outer Gayborhood will stay open its regular hours for beverages, music and bartenders providing a holiday refuge.

• The Pond Bar & Grill – 3 S. 1st St. (302) 227-2234, www.Thepondrehoboth.com. Open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, so you can eat, drink and enjoy karaoke.

• Purple Parrot – 134 Rehoboth Ave. (302) 226-1139 www.ppgrill.com. The restaurant opens at 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving with a turkey dinner special plus the regular menu.

• Rigbys Bar & Grill – 404 Rehoboth Ave. (302) 227-6080, www.rigbysrehoboth.com. Traditional Thanksgiving buffet 4-8 p.m.

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