A fixture in Detroit's nightlife scene for years, Detroit Police Officer Anthony Winn might not have seemed to be the likely candidate for his role as a party-starter, but he certainly earned that title. He started small at first, throwing parties out of his house on Detroit's west side in 1997, but it wasn't long before he branded himself as the better-known Strongarm Productions and moved the fun to bigger venues like Regine's Off the Park and the Charles Johanson Gallery in Eastern Market. Still, as many parties as he threw, Winn's biggest success was no-doubt Strongarm Saturday nights at Club One X on Michigan Avenue just west of downtown. At its height, Winn was able to draw 600 people at a time to the venue and it was hands down the biggest thing going on in Metro Detroit's black, gay party scene.
"I started Strongarm in part after experiencing what I saw taking place in the club scene in cities I had started to visit like in D.C., Chicago, Atlanta and New York," Winn said. "The black gay club scene during the late '90s was booming in those cities and part of that boom had to do with those black clubs introducing R&B and hip-hop to their music/dance format. I could see the reception of it was explosive and greatly received."
One X was large enough to feature two music rooms — a smaller one up front for the hip-hop heads and rap fans, and a large one in the back where house music could be heard. In addition, the club featured an outdoor space and a spacious VIP room upstairs.
Not only was the night a local sensation, but Strongarm Saturdays at Club One X started making a national name for itself. After being featured in an article in Vibe magazine, visitors to the club started popping in from all across the country.
"The basis of article highlighted the DL phenomenon, or what they back then affectionally called 'homo-thugs, and many of the club spaces where these black young men, even women, hung out and could be found," Winn said. "In addition to The Warehouse in NYC, our club/party in Detroit was highlighted and written about as well. That international recognition and exposure changed things for us and took the business to entirely new heights."
A Stop to the Party
As popular as the events were, however, nothing lasts forever. Winn said that One X got greedy and tried to cut Strongarm Productions out of the action and produce the Saturday night party itself. When that effort failed, the two parties reconciled, but according to Winn things were never quite the same. And when a fire broke out at the club the events ended up stopping.
Despite this setback, Winn was not phased. For nearly two decades, he continued to serve on the Detroit Police force and produce events at night. And while he never publicly came out while wearing the badge, his sexuality wasn't a secret to those familiar with his role in the city's nightlife.
"I didn't go out of my way nor feel a need to bring my personal life, or rather aspects of it, into what I was sworn and hired to do for 1/3 of my 24-hour daily life," Winn said. "But it was common knowledge about the Strongarm parties and events. Hell, quite a few officers attended many of those events and a few even worked them as security, DJ and even as part of the Strongarm staff."
After One X, Winn produced parties at various locations around Detroit including the Tangent Gallery and Menjo's among others. In 2014, he retired from the DPD after 25 years of service. The following year, he moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
"I tell people that I live where everyone else in the world vacations," Winn said. "It's just a beautiful place to wake up in every day. Always sunny, very peaceful, unlimited things to do, and a very laid-back, relaxed, chilled, open-minded environment — it helps we don't pay [state income] taxes down here either."
Before long, Winn was dipping his toes into producing events for the South Florida gay party scene. Under the auspices of Anthony Winn Entertainment, or AWE, Winn slowly began producing events in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
"Given my newness to the region, I was more interested in partnership than I was in attempting to do anything alone as a single entity," Winn explained. "It was with Dwight Powell of Sizzle that I decided to initially work and partner together to make that happen. The added partnership with the Rails Marketing Group came a short time later and it was our first party partnership in August of 2016 that launched things to where they are now."
Currently, Winn, in conjunction with the Rails Marketing Group, throws weekly Friday night parties at RED IVY and Sunday night parties at Tatts & Taco, both in Fort Lauderdale. The differences between throwing parties in Detroit and South Florida are many, Winn said.
"My Detroit party-goers have always been consistent and loyal to a fault. Detroiters have always showed up and showed out no matter what the weather condition or circumstance," Winn said. "Since this is a vacation capital, I've long noticed that my Miami/Fort Lauderdale parties and events can often times be hugely attended by out-of-towners and tourists, so the club patronage look can often change and vary from week to week."
Winn added that the way parties are set up an organized today looks very different than it did in the '90s because of social media.
"I've had to up my game in that field way more so than I did when I was back in Detroit," Winn said. "People here are also a lot more social, due in part to the fact that they just get out and about here more thanks to the year-round summer weather, so I've had to up my game on the social level here as well. Like I did in Detroit, I still make it my mission to personalize each patron's club experience at my events. That part of me is universal no matter where I'm at."
And Winn is making waves today, too. In fact, Winn's parties drew so much attention that he was offered his own stage at Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride last summer.
"This was the first time a black event promotor — or black anything for that matter — had been given his own stage and made a major part of the festival," Winn said. "The flawless success of that event and how greatly my staff and performers pulled it off led officials to ask me to participate in an even bigger and historical world stage event. I'm talking about the very first Pride of the Americas here in Fort Lauderdale.
"Being invited and asked to be a part of this is beyond anything I could had ever imagined or could conceive of doing," Winn continued. "This platform, this African-American-led platform, speaks to how far we've finally come and while we're still very much on the march and have a way to go, the breaking of this particular glass bottle is major and very significant. To be the point man for this is the accumulation of everything I've worked and strived for. Throughout the many years, it has been far from easy and certainly not without its many letdowns and disappointments, but this monumental achievement has made it all worthwhile."